Creativity does not require genius

Posted: May 1, 2008 in Harvey Mackay

Based upon an independent survey of advertising and marketing executives, which was reported in USA Today, there are three common misperceptions about creativity:

  • That the time of day when people tend to be the most creative is at night,
  • That the common causes of creative block are lack of inspiration and concentration, and
  • That the best way to prevent creative block and keep ideas flowing is to focus harder on the task at hand and talk to others to gain their perspectives.

The truth of the matter is that most people are more creative in the morning. Most of us do not work better under a tight deadline. And taking a break is the best way to avoid creative blocks.

Notice I said most people. Everyone is different. Beethoven poured cold water over his head when he sat down to compose music, believing that it stimulated his brain’s creative process. And no one ever doubted his creative genius.

In my case, I’m sharpest in the morning after a good night’s sleep, or when I’m exercising. But ideas hit me at all times during the day and night. That’s why I always carry a pen and paper with me, or keep a small recorder nearby if I can’t take time to write. If I get an idea during the night, I have a pad of paper and pen on my nightstand, and I get up and write it down. Sometimes I even call my own voicemail at the office to jar my memory in the morning. I don’t trust it to memory alone. I hate to waste an idea, even if it doesn’t turn out to be great when exposed to the light of day.

One of my favorite cartoons in the New Yorker magazine showed two assistants preparing for a sales meeting in a conference room. One says to the other, “And don’t forget the little pads in case one of them has an idea.”

Like many people, I don’t think well when I’m hurried or under pressure. I tend to go a mile a minute, but I think better when I’m relaxed. Did you know that some truly creative people spend their most productive time looking out the window? They are thinking. It’s one of the most important things we do.

Of every study known to mankind, not one—zero, zilch, nada—says there is a correlation between IQ and creativity. This is good, because it means every one of us can become more creative.

When I speak to groups, I give them this lesson: If I give you a dollar and you give me a dollar, we each have a dollar. But if I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we both have two ideas.

Thomas Edison, who was awarded more than 1,000 patents, was a prime example. He said, “The ideas I use are mostly the ideas of other people who don’t develop them themselves.”

Edison visited Luther Burbank, the famed horticulturist, who invited every guest who visited his home to sign the guest book. Each line in the book had a space for the guest’s name, address and special interests. When Edison signed the book, in the space marked “Interested in,” Edison wrote: “Everything!”

That was an understatement. In his lifetime, Edison invented the incandescent light, the phonograph, the hideaway bed, wax paper, underground electrical wires, an electric railway car, the light socket and light switch, a method for making synthetic rubber from goldenrod plants and the motion picture camera. He also founded the first electric company.

Edison refused to let his creativity be stifled. He was curious about everything. See a connection?

“Ideas are somewhat like babies,” said the late management guru Peter Drucker. “They are born small, immature and shapeless. They are promise rather than fulfillment. The creative manager asks, ‘What would be needed to make this embryonic, half-baked, foolish idea into something that makes sense, that is feasible, that is an opportunity for us?'”

I like that thinking. It validates all my little scraps of paper and two-word dictations, among them my best ideas in infant form. Developing them and watching them grow, seeing where they go from a little seed—and seeing what other bright ideas grow right along with them—that’s what gets my creative juices flowing.

Mackay’s Moral: Creativity has no script; it is inspired ad libbing.

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