The idea of “creativity” has a certain aura about it. What comes to mind when you think of creative people or things? Paintings, poetry, or performances? Steve Jobs, Edgar Degas, or Beethoven? Maybe Paris, Seattle, or Silicon Valley?
What about habit?
It’s time to debunk creativity on two fronts. First, creativity is a skill to be developed, not solely the product of innate gifting or spontaneous inspiration. Counter to conventional thinking that suggests creativity is for the gifted elite, creativity is a skill available to all. The question is not whether or not you were born creative, but whether or not you will hone your creativity through hustle and habit. It’s not that genius and gifting don’t matter – it’s that creativity fully realized usually has more to do with perspiration than inspiration.
This raises the second issue with creativity, namely, that it is not an end in itself. Because creativity is a skill, it is a function of the process, not a destination. In other words, the goal after your new product is released, your writing is published, your is project presented, or your process is re-imagined is not to see if your finished work is “creative.” Creativity was a part of the development of your product, writing, or project. Creativity came through in how you sought to solve problems, craft sentences, and approach solutions. This is why you’ll hear people talk about the creative process – not creativity as something to be arrived at.
These twin truths about creativity cannot be overstated: creativity is both a skill and a process. As the legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp says, “The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone.”
Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way. -Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Sure, prodigies exist and inherent talent varies from individual to individual, but even Mozart had to dedicate serious time and energy to composition. In fact, his hands were crippled by age twenty-eight because of the hours he devoted to his craft. “People err who think my art comes easily to me,” wrote Mozart to a friend. “I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to compositions as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”
Here are four ways you can develop your creative habit:
- Prepare – Creativity is not synonymous with spontaneity. Great creative work requires various levels of preparation. Take time to study the experts, seize new opportunities, assemble the right tools, and look for inspiration everywhere. As Tharp says, “Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity.” Set time aside to develop a game plan that will enable you to accumulate and assemble all of your little ideas into a big idea.
- Practice – Habit doesn’t just happen. Unless you’re the legendary super-athlete Bo Jackson, you need time to apply what you have prepared. Practice can take a variety of forms like prototypes, soft-launches, or focus groups. The goal with practice is to build a bridge between the big idea your mind has conceived and what you actually produce.
- Perform – Performing is all about going live. As Tharp says, “there’s a fine line between good planning and overplanning.” Eventually you have to get out and test your work. Preparation and practice are behind you – now is the time to use your skills on a project, lead a team, solve a problem, develop a strategy, compose a work, or communicate an issue.
- Polish – Review how you performed, make notes on how you could do things better, and then begin the process from the top (prepare, then practice). Ruts and grooves will come, but remember the wise words of Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Creativity sweats. It requires quality, continual, diligent hard work. At the same time, creativity is a process. Embrace the time it takes to develop your creative routine and expect results to follow. “Creativity is a habit,” Tharp notes, “and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That’s it in a nutshell.”