Hello. It’s Monday and we have a brand new the creative process post!
For new readers: Much has been written about The Creative Process, which in its purest form is simply a way of solving a problem. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Creativity and its process, contrary to popular belief, is not just reserved for artists and designers. I believe that everyone can benefit from learning and understanding the numerous ways of the creative process. I will invite people to share their own personal creative processes with us and hope this will help you with identifying your own.
Today I’m excited to hand over the platform to Mark Seabright of In the Moment. I met Mark a couple of years ago. His knowledge, encouragement and wisdom are truly outstanding. Mark has an MSc in Organisational Behaviour and 25 years’ experience as a qualified accountant. Basically, don’t mess with him:-) Right, I’m going to shut up now and hand you over to the man himself!
The Creative Process – Mark Seabright
I am not a creative. The word does not appear in my job title or my job description, but I need to be creative to do my job. I have created a structure for thinking – hardly a thing of beauty, but surprisingly effective – but even the most generous critic would consider it to be functionally rather than aesthetically pleasing. Like many of us, I tend to associate creativity with art, music, literature and live performance. If pressed, I would reluctantly concede that certain scientific and technological breakthroughs may also be considered creative, provided they are both significant and inspirational. However, as a psychologist, I have a firm view that creativity is not the exclusive preserve of a select few, but something that we can all aspire to, and more importantly something that all of us can achieve on a regular basis.
Research supports this view. There are over 10,000 peer-reviewed articles on creativity in academic journals, and a new psychometric test developed by Dr Mark Batey at Manchester University helps us to explain and measure individual creativity.
How can a psychometric test hope to measure creativity?
Traditional psychometric tests are based on the (in my view, wrong) assumption that you can measure traits in personality. The new breed of psychometric tests, which include Mark Batey’s Me2, measure behaviours. In other words, looking at what we do instead of who we are. While I am not creative, there are several artists in my family, so I grew up with some understanding of the artistic mindset. Putting that experience together with twenty years of working with creative businesses and the research findings, three behaviours emerge as critical to successful and consistent creativity. There are no real surprises, as you can see below. Far from being disappointing, this should be very reassuring, because these are behaviours we can improve with practice, and this helps to explain why genuine creativity is something we can all do.
The Big Three
Rewards are invariably bestowed upon those who are relentlessly curious. In practice this means being like Einstein and asking the interesting questions; Why do we do it like that? Why doesn’t this exist? How can we make this better? What would something that does this look like? What happens if we change this?
David Hockney recently said that the reason his work looks the way it does is because of the time he spends observing before he starts painting. You have to look at a scene or an object for a very long time before you can see the real colours it contains. This requires patience, as well as both active and passive observation; zooming in to details, and stepping back to absorb the whole frame.
It helps with the creative process to be able to see familiar things in an unfamiliar way. One of the most inspirational images I’ve ever seen was an early colour photo of the Earth taken from the moon. It spoke to me simultaneously of the beauty of our planet and of our insignificance in the great scheme of things. I am still moved when I see it now. Perhaps the most critical aspect of shifting perspective is that it helps you to suspend judgement. When you’re trying to come up with new ideas, deferring judgement, in any way, is essential. It allows left field solutions to survive until the appropriate evaluation criteria are known. In other words, good creatives don’t kill good ideas too soon by dismissing them as irrelevant. These behaviours are a far cry from the traditional view of creative ideas arriving, Eureka like, in blinding flashes of inspiration. Creatives know that in the real world Eureka moments very rarely happen out of the blue. As Johnny Marr, quoting Picasso, recently said; ‘Inspiration does exist, but it has to find you working.’ This echoes Brian Eno’s view that his most reliable way to encourage inspiration is to go into his studio and tidy up a bit, looking for happy accidents.
The key message from the psychologists is; “It’s not how creative you are, it’s how you are creative.” From a behavioural perspective, understanding your creative profile helps you understand what you’re best at, and when you’re under pressure, what kind of help you may need to get the job done. Profiling teams of people in this way can also help with team selection, efficiency and recruitment. But the thing I find that most appeals to the creatives I coach is that knowing your profile gives you a better understanding of how you work creatively. That, in turn, can allow you to get your creative work done much faster, leaving you free to do the fun bit; being more curious, having more time to observe, and playing with perspective.
Thank you Mark for sharing your wisdom. I firmly believe that everyone is creative and hope that more people come to realise this. Well, this is the last Creative Process post of the year. The next one would have been too close to Christmas. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and we’ll resume it in 2014. Thank you all for the continued support.