How’s that for a bold headline? I’m a searcher so I accept that my definition may change again but here we go.
First, I’m a student of the creative arts but I would never claim to be a true creative. I’m neither classically trained in any creative art nor could I claim it has ever been my profession. But at 13, I was singing and playing guitar; by 24 I was working full time with art directors and copywriters in an ad agency and I’ve built concepts in the media business.
In my younger years, creative meant an entirely original idea. A poem, a song or painting. A creative person was that unique personality who could create something from nothing. That became too limiting as it didn’t accommodate other professions and people.
During young middle age, I learned the whole left brain/right brain thing. Whether fact or cultural fiction, we’ve all been told our right hemisphere handles the artsy, creative stuff while the left processes logical, STEM-type stuff. And so, that became my working definition – use my right lobe when coming up with advertising ideas, my left when doing the marketing research for those campaigns.
In the end, that felt like a bit of hogwash and now both culturally and scientifically the concept is losing ground.
My working concept of creativity for another 20 years held that taking two or more existing things and putting them together one can make something unique. An example I would use with students is that Pierre Omidyar saw auctions were very inefficient while noticing buyers and sellers were spending more and more time online. And so he put them together to build EBay.com which democratized the auction process and built a massive business.
But neither an art-based definition nor a business one quite accommodates what I’ve eventually learned creativity to be. It is simply seeing something others see…differently.
Michelangelo saw “the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”.
George Bernard Shaw famously said, ““You see things that are; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?”
And back to business, Steve Jobs once said, “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do anything. They just saw something.”
On the famous side, John Roebling saw the Brooklyn Bridge; Frank Lloyd Wright saw Fallingwater, Edison pictured a light bulb, Bell a telephone and so on. I’ve seen foster parents seeing successful adults, trainers of returning citizens seeing great chefs, mothers of autistic children seeing independent contributors to society and billionaires seeing their fortunes as a resource for societal change.
And so, that’s where I’ve landed: creativity is just seeing the same thing differently than others. Why is that important to all of us?
It is because creativity is a universal and democratic pursuit. We are all creatives.
We should let go of the simple idea that we are seeing the same things over and over and accepting that’s all they are. A beholder brings dynamic perspective.
Like my grandson who yesterday perceived his great grandmother’s cane to be a four-pronged water sprayer to water the garden and my granddaughter who saw an overturned kitchen chair, put socks and shoes on the legs of it and retrieved her medical bag to administer to her fallen victim.