Creativity, like love, is a word loaded with personal significance and experiences. The fact that you’ve known creativity in a certain way doesn’t imply that’s all there is to know about it. To enjoy personal growth and professional accomplishments, there can be different ways to manifest your creativity - your ability to adapt to unexpected events and invent a new life.
A way to express a talent
Creativity is a word that makes some of us feel special. It brings back a precious childhood memory when we did something, like drawing or dancing, that absorbed us entirely. We then discovered that the feeling of absorption was seen as a talent by others. In time, we learned we are one of the creatives.
Surreal fine art photographer Dasha Pears spent her childhood drawing images of imaginary creatures. Nowadays, she is on an artistic mission to make intangible emotions tangible in her photos.
Dasha defines her creativity as a way of “not seeing boundaries … always experimenting, and trying new ways ...”. (interview 24th May 2019)
A way to untangle a curiosity
Alternatively, for some others, creativity can remind us of a particular teacher or mentor who captivated our attention and nurtured our confidence in a domain of knowledge.
Cecilia Payne is acknowledged as one of the most prominent women scientists in astronomy. When she was five years old, she was out for a walk with her mother when she looked up at the sky, saw a meteor and found the stars fascinating.
Fifteen years later, when she attended the lecture of a renowned professor in astronomy announcing his findings on an eclipse expedition, Cecilia’s world was transformed. She was so absorbed by the lecture that she wrote it word by word when she returned to her room. It was then that she decided to study astronomy.
What did she think of her creativity?
“If my work has been of any value, that value consisted in bringing together facts that were previously unrelated, and seeing a pattern in them.” (An autobiography and other recollections, pp.172)
A way to innovate
Creativity is a word that drives some of us to shape the material world. These are the people who work on daring projects and are willing to consume their energy and risk their reputation to see their ideas take off.
These are the innovators in technology, science, economy, and politics. For instance, computer engineer Paul Buchheit is best known as the creator of Gmail and FriendFeed. There’s a lot written about his entrepreneurial successes but little attention to his creative personality. At an early age, he understood that he didn’t like the idea of working for someone else. In college, when his colleagues would tell that they were going to their rooms to check their emails, Paul saw email as information. “It shouldn’t be stuck in a box.” So, he started thinking more and more that email should be accessible online anytime and anywhere.
Moreover, he was curious to work on Linux-related problems. So, freshly graduated, he started applying for jobs in start-ups that were technically interested in Linux issues. In the Summer of 1996, when he didn’t get any job, he founded his own company and began programming a web-based email. Yet, the implementation turned out to be too laborious, so he decided to look for a job again. And Google hired him.
Two years after being employed by Google, he received the task of developing an email service. Hence, Gmail was created starting from the lessons learned in the Summer of 1996 about how not to approach building up a web-based email service. After seven years at Google, in 2006, Paul left Google to work on the social networking startup FriendFeed, which was bought by Facebook in 2009.
Not only does Paul show behaviours of a creative individual - flexibility to experiment with new ideas - but also he talks like a creative person. In 2008, he wrote a blog on what is most important to understand about new products and start-ups, where he emphasised the difference between “random” and “accidental” inventions. “There are clues all around us, we just need to watch more closely.”, he wrote about the importance of paying attention to opportunities to chance inventions, like MySpace.
As it happens, discoveries that appear random or accidental to an external observer result from higher sensitivity in observing the environment, such as questioning why email can’t be web-based. Sensitivity traits characterize creative people like Paul.
Indeed, Paul has a business mindset reflected in his angel investments. But, more than that, I wonder, what does he think about his creativity? To what extent does he validate the input of his creative personality to his current success?
A way to nurture relationships
Creativity is a word that, to some people, represents a way of expressing yourself in relationships. These uplifters and ever-surprising people make those around them feel good through inspired jokes or kind gestures.
Are you the person who magnetizes the attention of others through your way of being? Or, do you have a family member or colleague who spontaneously makes comments that amuse you?
“If we didn’t spend time together, we wouldn’t have so much fun.” my uncle used to say. He was the stand-up comedian in the family. Was he aware of his creativity? Yes, he knew he would have preferred to become a musician, but he ended up practising accounting. As a result, he harnessed his creativity in humour, making everyone love him.
A way to do your work
Creativity is a word that, to some of us, means a way of behaving in our professional roles. These folks ask, “Why is it so?” and “What could we do differently?”. Everyone else can rely on them to come up with refreshing ideas, from new suggestions for the next team building to work procedures.
Vincenzo Cerullo is a professor at the University of Helsinki and an advocate of creativity in research. He recognizes that in order to increase the odds of breakthroughs, researchers need to have intrinsic motivation for their tasks. Therefore, when Vincenzo recruits new doctoral students, he starts the conversation with the students’ topics of interest rather than handing out a list of topics to choose from.
At the same time, he himself shows signs of creativity in conducting immuno-therapy research and in the way he talks about it. For instance, in a podcast interview, he uses the analogy of police forces to explain to the non-expert audience that conducting immuno-therapy research is like educating the police to fight cancer. So, he’s scientifically interested in best using the individual police in each body. What’s the speciality of the police in a particular body, and how to help it recognize the intruders?
How does Vincenzo define his creativity?
“This is a long time ago, before meeting you, when I started to think that probably, probably I am creative. I felt like there is one thing that nobody can ever steal is the amount of ideas that come out anyway, that I cannot stop. It’s like sweating when you don’t want to sweat. You’ll sweat anyway, and the more you think about it, the more you sweat.
Another example is the words of my ex-American boss, who is a great scientist and works with super good scientists. I don’t think of myself as a great scientist. I just think that I am somebody that is very curious and wants to learn. But I remember that once he told me: ‘Ah, you have been one of the most productive scientists I’ve worked with!’. But he didn’t mean in terms of publications, but rather in terms of idea generating.” (interview 9th May 2019)
A way to spend your free time
Creativity is a word that, to some others, represents a way of living our personal lives by dedicating plenty of time to creative outlets. Acting. Improv classes. Painting. Pottery. Singing. Video Games. You name it.
For instance, the amateur group theatres in Helsinki, such as the Finn-Brit Players and Thespians Anonymous, attract journalists, researchers, and all sorts of serious professionals who become enthusiastic performers when the evening falls and the curtain lifts for a theatre play.
I was one of them, mainly as a playwright, at times, as an actress. What was the understanding of my creativity back then? To me, being creative was the same as being an artist. So, as an amateur artist, I poured countless hours into the theatre. I liked writing. I wanted to express emotions and life values through my fictional characters. The emotional richness of the fantasy worlds was a perfect complement to my everyday life.
Since then, my understanding of creativity has changed. Later experiences opened my eyes to the fact that being creative is more than being an artist. This was one of the main motivations for writing the book “How to Develop Your Creative Identity at Work”. To share with readers a more open-minded perspective on what it means to be creative and the possible life scenarios under each new angle.
Out of the six meanings of creativity, what are the categories you relate to?
Creativity. This magnificent word refers to a powerful and little-understood human ability.
Creativity is an intangible and versatile personal resource that is at your disposal. Does it intrigue you?
You may have some creative potential to use it with humility and generosity. However, behind the meanings that any of us assigns to creativity, there are biological predispositions that drive us towards fitting activities.
For now, are you engaged in an activity that reflects one of the current meanings you assign to creativity? Can there be some activity that you don’t know about yet, but it might match your creative impulses like a glove?
“How to Develop Your Creative Identity at Work” guides you to explore your four possible creative impulses and take ownership of your life.