How creativity benefits everyone, even if you’re not an artist

Close up of art made from string and nails by Dominique Falla. Photo used with permission.

Close up of art made from string and nails by Dominique Falla.
Photo used with permission.

Think creativity isn’t relevant for you because you’re not an artist, designer or musician?

Think again.

Just like physical fitness isn’t just for elite athletes, creativity isn’t just for artists.

At the recent Pause innovation festival, creativity experts and thought leaders explained how creativity can benefit everyone, even those of us (myself included!) who don’t usually think of ourselves as creative. 

Here are four common myths or excuses about creativity that were dispelled:

 

Myth 1: “I don’t need to be creative because I don't have a creative job.”

If you’d benefit from an additional level of problem solving ability or resourcefulness, or would like to improve your mental health and wellbeing, exercising your creativity will help, according to Dominique Falla.

 
Dominique Falla speaking at Pause festival. Photo by Jade Tjia.

Dominique Falla speaking at Pause festival.
Photo by Jade Tjia.

 

Falla, an artist and author of the upcoming book Creativity Fitness, defines creativity as ‘making new connections’. She quotes Steve Jobs, who told Wired magazine in 1996:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.”
Close up of art made from string and nails by Dominique Falla.  Photo used with permission.

Close up of art made from string and nails by Dominique Falla
Photo used with permission.

Matt Taylor, Director of Narrative Strategy at Deloitte, agrees the need for creativity isn’t determined by your job title.

“Creativity is a big word that we all use. Stripping back creativity and thinking about what it really is, is important.
A lot of people feel that they’re not creative, and I feel there are a lot of people in creative industries who don’t necessarily do creative things.
There are loads of manual, repetitive jobs within creative industries which aren’t necessarily inspired or thinking of new things, and there are loads of people who work in all sorts of everyday jobs that have to find new solutions.”
 
Matt Taylor speaking at Pause festival. Photo by Jade Tjia.

Matt Taylor speaking at Pause festival.
Photo by Jade Tjia.

 

Taylor summarises,

“Creativity is how we move beyond box ticking and nudge ourselves to do things in new ways.”

In addition to improving your problem solving ability, creativity can help shift your perspective and therefore improve the quality of your life. “Am I making a fear-based or curiosity-based decision?” Falla likes to ask herself.

 

Myth 2: “I’m just not creative.”

Many of us confuse the concept of creativity with artistic ability. “They are two separate ideas,” argues Falla.

“Creative people don’t always make things. It is about curiosity.”

Similarly, in a panel discussion on ‘how to make ideas happen’, it was said that artistic people aren't necessarily more inherently creative, but they are generally better at unlocking their creativity.

Panel discussion on ‘how to make ideas happen’ at Pause festival. Left to right: Duncan Tuner (Managing Director, HAX), David Kjelkerud (Director of Design, Dropbox), Jack Mussett (Creative Director, Motherbird), Jess Huddart (CEO, Josephmark), Diana Williams (Content Strategist, Lucasfilm). Photo by vert. used with permission.

Panel discussion on ‘how to make ideas happen’ at Pause festival. Left to right: Duncan Tuner (Managing Director, HAX), David Kjelkerud (Director of Design, Dropbox), Jack Mussett (Creative Director, Motherbird), Jess Huddart (CEO, Josephmark), Diana Williams (Content Strategist, Lucasfilm).
Photo by vert. used with permission.

It can be helpful to think of creativity as a mindset - one that you can choose. David Kjelkerud, Director of Design at Dropbox, says that creativity is not a talent that you either have or don't have. Instead, Kjelkerud describes creativity as a ‘mode of operating’ that is about being in the right frame of mind. Referencing John Cleese, Kjelkerud explains that we can choose to function in an ‘open mode’ (relaxed, exploratory and playful) or a ‘closed mode’ (tight, rigid, focussed - how most of us operate at work when we are striving to meet deadlines and targets).

Taylor shares an aligned perspective:  

“Being creative means thinking like a child, having a sense of fun, encouraging possibilities, trying out new things and seeing what can happen.”

Letterpress art by Dominique Falla.  Photo used with permission.

Letterpress art by Dominique Falla
Photo used with permission.

Falla likens creativity to a muscle and believes that everyone is born creative. She says children are naturally creative because they have high levels of ‘creativity fitness’, but as we grow up we have the creativity ‘polished out of us’ and many of us let our creativity muscles atrophy and become ‘flabby’. Why does this happen? Falla explains that the education system incentivises us to be ‘right’ while creativity requires us to be comfortable making mistakes. In addition, society generally considers creativity frivolous.

Even if you’ve been a creatively flabby coach potato lately, Falla insists that you can improve your creativity fitness with regular exercise. She encourages us to shift our mindset from “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this yet.”

 

Myth 3: “I don’t have any original ideas.”

Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean having completely original, unique or new-to-the-world ideas, Falla says. The idea or approach just needs to be new, novel or a fresh approach for you.

Duncan Tuner, Managing Director of HAX hardware accelerator, agrees that creativity doesn't have to involve coming up with something new or original - for example, you can take something existing and apply other knowledge to it, or bring it to a new market. 

So don’t self-sabotage by giving up just because you think you don’t have any amazingly original ideas – you could be on the verge of a valuable breakthrough or a solution to a problem that has significant impact in your life or career.

 

Myth 4: “I don’t have the time / money / energy to be creative.”

“Sometimes - maybe all the time - constraints force you to be more creative,” says Jess Huddart, CEO of design studio Josephmark

Art made from string and nails created by Dominique Falla for the cover of her upcoming book. Photo used with permission.

Art made from string and nails created by Dominique Falla for the cover of her upcoming book.
Photo used with permission.

Falla emphasises the importance of giving yourself permission to be creative and to consider it as important as physical exercise. “I will let you in on a secret. Physical exercise is socially acceptable. Mental exercise is not. Not everyone will support your creativity fitness journey.”

As little as 20 minutes a day has long lasting effects, according to Falla. She believes that finding time is about setting priorities, deciding what is important and being firm in saying no to everything else. Falla herself has a full time day job at a university, saying she works 50-60 hours a week and creates her art on the side.

paper unsplash brandi-redd-122054.jpg

Creativity doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Falla invites us to start with daily journalling as the “key to unlocking your subconscious”. She recommends a daily exercise called the ‘Morning Pages’ which involves hand-writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness without stopping, every morning. The idea is to get whatever’s on your mind out of your head and down on paper. Over time, you'll be able to access your subconscious, unblock your creativity and enhance your personal growth. 

This journey is about self-expression, courage and allowing yourself to make mistakes. Measure progress, not perfection, and allow yourself a fresh start every day.

Being aware of your habits is crucial. How is your mindless Facebook scrolling enhancing your creativity? Protect your energy. “Treat your energy like money, don’t let people steal it,” cautions Falla.

Art made from string and nails by Dominique Falla. Photo used with permission.

Art made from string and nails by Dominique Falla.
Photo used with permission.

Find ways to refresh your inspiration. For Huddart, it’s about getting back to nature at her farm where she grows organic food. As a contrast to designing the productivity tool Dropbox, Kjelkerud enjoys looking at creatives in different disciplines such as comedy, gaming and movie-making for inspiration. Diana Williams, Content Strategist at Lucasfilm, and Jack Mussett, Creative Director at graphic design studio Motherbird, like to challenge themselves in ways they haven’t been challenged before.

 

What new perspective on creativity have you gained?

 

Pause is a three day event that brings together creative, tech and business people and perspectives every year in Melbourne. Pause founder George Hedon generously gave me the opportunity to attend this year with a media pass.