Three Bullsh** Lies About Creativity

“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.” - Steve Jobs

Are you a creative “type,” and what does that mean exactly? Typically, creative people are able to break with tradition, value things outside the status quo and then use that difference to create original ideas.  As a society, we value the innovation that comes from creative people, but are oddly biased against creativity in everyday life because it represents risk.

Perhaps this contributes to our simplified, often black and white, ideas about how creativity comes into existence. Just as Ancient Greeks believed creativity came from muses, the 21st century has some odd ideas about the origins of creativity.  Here are three very pervasive falsehoods about creativity that are circulating in today’s society.

Lie #1: Some are Born Creative and Others are Not

Well, some studies imply there may be a genetic component to creativity, but they are studies of adults, and many, like Sir Ken Robinson in his famous TED Talk, argue we are all are born creative and it gets driven or trained out of us while our brains are growing and changing.

As Picasso famously said: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  And science agrees. In fact, encouraging divergent thinking in young people increases their divergent thinking skills -- a key element in creativity.

Is it too late for us adults, who were discouraged from thinking divergently or grew out of their brain’s plasticity? Gerard Puccio, Chair of the International Center for Studies in Creativity, says it’s never too late, and purports that creativity can be, and should be, taught to adults.

But how?  By breaking down what constitutes the elements of a creative mind and working toward cultivating those qualities, which, according to this Scientific American article, The Messy Minds of Creative People, are:

  • Plasticity - An openness to experience, extraversion, high energy, and inspiration. AKA: Novelty Seeking.
  • Divergence - Non-conformity, impulsivity, low agreeableness. Aka: Independent thinking.
  • Convergence - Precision, persistence, and critical sense AKA: Passion and Dedication.

Lie #2: Only Right Brained People are Creative

This idea spawned from the Nobel Prize-winning research of Roger Sperry in the 1960s. Sperry, cut the corpus callosum in epilepsy patients as a form of treatment. In doing so, he was able to determine where in the brain different functions originated.

Pop psychologists ran amok with speculation and latched onto the theory that creative ability resides in a “side,” specifically the right side, of the brain. But modern research, reported here at LiveScience, has debunked this notion.

According to Dr. Jeff Anderson, director of the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service at the University of Utah, who is quoted in the article: “It is not the case that the left hemisphere is associated with logic or reasoning more than the right… creativity is no more processed in the right hemisphere than the left."

Lie #3: Addiction Feeds Creativity  

Janis Joplin, Ernest Hemingway, Jimi Hendrix . . .  we could go on and go, but maybe if you want to be a renowned novelist or musician, you should have a drink. Or not. It’s undeniable that there is a link between addiction and creativity, but a link does not imply causation or even a direct correlation.  

Ever hear of the homicide / ice cream example for illustrating the deceptive nature of statistics?  Homicides go up when ice cream sales increase, but it’s pretty obvious that there’s not causal relationship there. The cause and correlation is elsewhere -- some might jump to heat as the factor.  But looking further may implicate an outdoor population surge in urban areas at night.

Such is the relationship between creativity and addiction according to this Scientific American article -- Is There a Link Between Creativity and Addiction? The answer is, “yes, they are linked,” but not in a drugs-make-you-creative way.    

Here is the reason creative people often succumb to addiction, according to neuroscientist David Linden, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “There is a link between addiction and things which are a prerequisite for creativity. Addicts feel pleasures more weakly and are more likely to try more to achieve more.” He speculates that this tendency toward “novelty-seeking,” labeled here as plasticity, is what lies at the heart of an addict’s creative abilities and their openness to trying (and drive to continue using) drugs.  

The moral here is to forget about your genetics, what side of your brain you use and your boring, tee-totaling lifestyle.  If you want to be creative, you can learn to be creative. So go forth and unleash your creativity.

Human Unlimited
Human Unlimited