“There are people who appear to be able to invoke creativity on command.  They sit down and BAM, creative inspirations suddenly leap from their lips like spawning salmon.  Want to know their secret?”

image by Kyle SteedI’m a big advocate of creativity, and spend a lot of time both exploring the process and ways of cultivating more of it.  Part of the reason the Roundtable Podcast excites me is the opportunity to take what is usually an “in-your-own-head” experience and pull it into the light with a group of like-minded people.

Between my experiences on the podcast and the articles, posts, and books I’ve read on the subject, I’ve discovered that there is an inherent disconnect in our notions of creativity and the processes that foster it.

Creator as Rebel

There’s a rebellious quality to the notion of creativity.  Look at the words we use to describe it:  creative people break the mold, defy convention, and ignore the rules.  We cast creative people as destroyers, knocking down the walls and barriers of the “old ways” and “out-dated thought” and erecting new paradigms in their place.

When the time comes to actually engage with our own creativity, we tend to transfer those aggressive perceptions in a very bullish, roll-up-the-sleeves, head down, teeth-gritting kind of way.  We “attack” a project or idea, hacking at it like it’s a piece of stone that needs to be pounded into shape.

After about fifteen minutes of such activity, we have more doodles in the margins than useful notes on the page, our brain hurts, and we’re ready to just turn on Doctor Who and forget about it.

Ironically, THAT’S when the ideas usually start kicking in.

Creativity is Not a Skill

There are people who appear to be able to invoke creativity on command.  They sit down and BAM, creative inspirations suddenly leap from their lips like spawning salmon.  Want to know their secret?  They understand the truth: creativity cannot be forced.  You can’t control it or make it happen, because creativity is NOT A SKILL.

That’s right… you can’t learn creativity.  Have you read all those books and articles on becoming more creative?  Examine them very closely and you will find that at no point anywhere in all those words is there an exercise that claims to make you more creative.

Nearly every exercise, however, DOES change either A) your environment, or B) how you perceive it.  Ah HA!  A clue!

Here’s another one: psychologists and sociologists have tried for years to create a Creativity Quotient (CQ) that works the same way as their Intelligence Quotient (IQ).  With all due respect to Dr. Torrence and his remarkable achievements, the best we can manage is to identify the symptoms of creativity, not the process itself.

Those are profound clues to the nature of the creative impulse.  It stands to reason that, if no one can teach you to be creative, then…

You Are Already Creative

If you are human then you are hard-wired with the ability to imagine that which does not exist and then take action to make it real. Bam…. creativity.  Innovation and imagination is what distinguishes us from every other life form on the planet.

Those books and articles are NOT trying to make you more creative, but rather make you more aware of your inherent gift, to strengthen the connection between your conscious mind and a process that is utterly ineffable and unquantifiable.  Trying to define it, analyze it, or deconstruct it is the same as trying to force it or control it… an extension of that aggressive misconception that clouds our understanding.

One Word

So what is the secret?  What is it that all those books and experts are trying to get us to do?  I can distill every treatise on creativity down to a single word…


Not as in “give up,” but as in relinquishing control.  Abandon the need to “master” your creativity.  Release preconceptions and expectations.  Accept that the answer you receive may not be the one you thought you were looking for.  In fact, what you discover in a creative flash may so utterly amaze you that you might be tempted to think it came from somewhere other than your own remarkable mind.

That last bit borders on the spiritual and I have no intention of getting into that discussion (not without a few rounds of Jameson in a darkened pub, anyway).  But think back to your most inspired creative moments.  I’ll bet they didn’t occur when you were consciously pounding away at something.  I’ll bet they happened when you were A) thinking of something else entirely, or B) so deeply engaged in a process (like writing) that you had entered a kind of meditative state.

In both cases, the clutter and mayhem of your conscious mind was either distracted or subdued enough for the intuitive insight to come into your awareness.  You had surrendered your rational and analytical control and allowed something profoundly deep and powerful and awesome (in the true sense of the word) to occur.


Stop forcing (it’s already there… listen)

Stop controlling (what you get is probably better than what you want)

Stop judging (don’t be “good”… be “true”)

Stop “trying” (there is no “try”… really)

To BE creative is to live in a state of wonder and delight, unfettered by judgement and expectation.  Creativity flows when it can follow its own course, unconstrained by what we think it should be.

It’s an invitation, a courtship. Court the muse, and then surrender to her when she takes you.

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