What it means to be a creative
Creativity is a commonly misunderstood characteristic. Outsiders are only able to appreciate the positives, and insiders often struggle to communicate the negatives. It’s less a known condition than it is an attractive term to throw about on CVs and LinkedIn profiles, with the desirable suggestion that you’re an incubator of future-setting and highly lucrative ideas.
In the purest sense, any individual is capable of a creative act, of producing a thing that hasn’t been produced before and which sets a new curve. To say an individual isn’t creative is akin to suggesting they have no imagination. And if somebody is unable to imagine a reality outside of their immediate (even if only one compelled by their hopes and desires), then there’s something seriously afoot.
Creativity is that childhood friendship that inspires a creative’s love and hate in equal measure. The positives and negatives of the phenomenon aren’t mutually exclusive. Creative thinking is lonely thinking; it’s a state of isolation in which the conditions for a better future can be envisaged from outside the box, in the dark and cold, looking in through the kitchen window as the glass dampens the carefree laughter of everybody else.
Steve Jobs, the media-styled father of innovation, understood creativity as a result of connections: “If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative … you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does.”
This won’t mean for everyone what it meant for Steve Jobs: searching for spirituality in India and becoming Buddhist. But it does mean that the creative experience is necessarily divergent.
Known better for his poetry, Robert Frost famously wrote “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference.”
A creative individual may find themselves continuously isolated from those around him, as if an invisible void existed based on mental thinking alone. To be different is necessary to creating difference. This is largely why creativity and innovation are bountiful in smaller start-ups, and scarce in larger corporations. Whereas one is inspired by difference and the possibility to create it, the other believes in uniform structures and is institutionally resistant to change.
People are rewarded in public for what they practice in private. For the most part, creativity is the same story; a daily saunter into darkness, difference and isolation which may result in the occasional innovative idea. It’s never just a light bulb moment in a coffee shop; it’s a capacity to harness the negatives, of understanding that difference is a gift and not a curse.
The road less travelled belongs to the creative. They may walk with no one at their side, and the isolation may occasionally result in despair and a maddening uncertainty of direction, but such is their compelled fate. Separation becomes the fuel of creativity – to know life differently to the person standing next to you, or to an entire room of synchronous voices talking of change and innovation in flirtatious whispers.