Creativity is and should be joyful if done correctly. If not properly managed, it can become stressful or boring. Most of the writing after the intro will be from my personal experience – as this is the only emotional universe I can adequately judge. You may want to complement this article by reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
About a quarter of the Keytostudy materials were written while I was vacationing or sick, while the other three quarters over weekends. Why do I choose to spend my time this way, when there are many other possibilities?
One of the best musicians ever, Paul McCartney, claimed that Beatles were trying different things each time, simply because otherwise they would get bored. Also, music tends to be a great therapy: you feel better almost as soon as you write down the verses or riffs of what you really feel.
I think this is a sort of interviews one can watch many times, each time finding a new perspective. You are welcome to do this, while I should probably continue with my own stuff.
The small steps
There are many kinds of creativity, just like there are many kinds of visualization. If you can visualize the face of your mother, your favorite cake or the living room of your home – then you can visualize. In the same way, if you can generate something in your mind and take a part of it into any form of media, you are creative.
You do not need to invent something entirely new to have a patent: you just need to prove an innovative step with respect to existing solutions. In 96% of inventions, this step is incredibly small (please refer to Altshuller’s TRIZ research for statistics). Even in the 4% of inventions where the inventive step is pretty large, it is typically not very useful.
In a similar way, most musical works simply rearrange the same riffs and ideas. Something completely new often comes from obsessive dreams, missing limbs and faulty equipment like transistors in Roland 808. This is very motivating, yet entirely unplanned. Yes, even your failure can build up into a huge success, but you probably will prefer building successful ideas one upon another or using a working formula. So let us think about different kinds of creativity and the relevant joys.
The right mood
I am not the world’s best in anything, but I had my fair share of creative outbursts. One of them was in 2004 when I wrote 2 books of poetry (in Hebrew). That year I was between girlfriends, working on a boring job for a huge company, and not busy with anything important. There was too much creative energy in me without any clear way to be expressed.
So every day, around 11am and around 3pm I was sufficiently focused, energized and rested to do much more than my job asked for. I used that time to create poems. Twice a day if I did not have a meeting. The rest of the day I was playing with words in my head or looking for ideas, but when I was just in the right mood, I would write poems. It took me about 40 min to write a poem. Some poems required multiple sessions.
When writing, I was always in the “flow” state, as writing is fairly complex and requires watching for so many things. Each completed verse filled me either with satisfaction or with an obsession to do it again, but this time properly. I literally felt like all of my days focus on the two periods of creativity. It was awesome. Then I met Anna, and my creativity found new expressions.
Occasionally we get obsessed with a feeling that “there must be a better way to do something”. When I met Anna, her 1:1 course was 100 hours long, and sometimes even as long as 150 hours long. This was a crazy marathon. Anna was leading the person each step of his way, correcting each and every exercise. Completing Anna’s course I understood that this is simply too hard, and there are must be a better way.
Obsessive creativity is bitter-sweat. Sometimes it interferes with eating habits and sleeps. I gained quite a few pounds during that period. I was constantly revisiting the subject with Anna, trying to cut a few hours from her program. Just for reference, currently, Anna’s 1:1 are between 4 and 8 hours. So there was a huge way to go which we passed painfully. Each time Anna mourned a couple of hours I shaved from the schedule, argued with me and demanded scientific proves. It was extremely hard on our relationship. But it was never boring, as we were attacking the issue from various angles until we found some formulas that worked.
Working was a formula is very rewarding and in a way almost too easy. There are many formulas for creativity. Occasionally I mention some of them here. The easiest form of visualization is taking the first association that comes to our mind and adding some details to it.
More complex visualizations involve fixed structures: linking, chinking, mindmaps and mental palaces. We take the simple visualizations, and connect them with each other creating an intricate web. There are several formulas which allow doing that: simply follow the relevant steps one by one and you will end up with unforgettable visualizations.
Choosing what to visualize is more complex. We work with multiple attributes and perspectives by asking questions and reframing. The focus should follow the words that are rare and appear to be strange in the context of the article.
With some experience, even creating new proprietary methodologies follows clear formulas of adding, removing, multiplying and combining elements. Like take the mental palace and combine it with mindmap to get mental cities and mental forests.
Using formulas can be very rewarding, as creativity is easy and almost always fruitful. It can also be very boring. I wrote many patents in my life, and actually writing a patent is one of the most boring experiences in my life. You actually need to cover all the relevant combinations of the ideas, to the point that everything your competition can think of will already be in the patent. The inventive step may be very cool, but covering all the combinations is not very cool.
Once we get bored, our mind starts to wonder. We start asking all the wonderful “what if?” questions. Typically this questioning is fun, but it rarely results in something useful. However, many completely original ideas are reportedly born this way. For me, this sort of creativity-out-of-boredom typically happens at work, and this is the way I usually come up with new algorithms.
One of the coolest forms of creativity is taking something to the extreme. I do not feel I am cool enough to do it myself, but I was involved in a couple of teams who tried to achieve that. Simply working on something that should be the biggest, the fastest, the most flexible, etc brings so many new technological constraints, that we need to be extremely successful simply to proceed. If enough people are doing this and do not take failure as an option, the success of the entire team is phenomenal, and something we can be proud of.
The technical tool which is often used in such situations is thought experiment. We first assume that what we are working on is possible, then we try to imagine how it would work, and only then come up with practical solutions. In a way we reverse-engineer from our vision to the features we need to implement.
When working on something creatively we will usually fail. Failure should not come as a shock but as a known risk we should be prepared for. If we create something entertaining, most people will not want to use it, even if the work itself is beautiful and we invested a lot into it. Typically this is because we lack branding. For very similar reasons, people will not want to learn from us unless we are branded as a success. Technological projects fail due to lack of finance or inability to overcome specific limitations. Often these aspects are connected.
Either way, we will fail almost always, and if we happen to succeed that would be a surprise. Quite often we get so used to failing, that once we stop failing we cannot fully take the credit for the success.
Getting stuck is even worse than failing. We feel as if we can almost feel the solution, yet it is not there. The more we try, the more stressful it gets. If we do not leave the project altogether and return to it later, we will eventually get to stressed to produce any good solution.
Creative under stress
We can promise to be creative if we have a lot of extra time or happen to work with a winning formula. Even then creativity can get stressful. Some people have the tendency to come up with their best ideas in the last possible moment. Probably the stress hormones help them to focus and their ideas to surface.
Other people do not deal with pressure quite well. Personally, I came up with several good ideas immediately after it was decided to activate the contingency plan and the pressure was released.
Even in a stressful situation, we should probably believe we have enough resources to succeed. Otherwise, people tend to try the first thing they can get hold of, or they get paralyzed and unable to come with good solutions.
Interestingly, having too many resources is also bad for creativity, as we tend to procrastinate or go with conservative and well-known solutions. By placing limitations, we are forced to become creative.
Productivity killing creativity
Creativity tends to be risky with a large failure rate and its progress tends to be non-linear. Management of creativity is a nightmare for any project manager. No amount of resources is enough. There is no way to monitor progress. Great ideas require redoing the plans. Moreover, great ideas often challenge accepted norms and enrage experts.
Project managers often kill creativity for a good reason. We can build and implement a not-so-creative contingency plan while allocating some resources to a possible but not necessarily creative breakthrough.
If the creative group is handled by a champion, like a legendary founder, it will give the required resources. Otherwise, all but mildly insane project manager will be tempted to put maximum resources to the contingency plan, while the creative group will have to do with leftovers. Defocus and competition can be even more damaging, as the resulting stress may make creativity improbable.
Trying to force organization becoming creative is another common failure scenario. It is not very reasonable to become creative simply because of senior management asking for it. People can be creative when obsessed with the idea, facing complex challenges and limitations, brainstorming out of boredom or using winning formulas. I did not see anyone becoming creative because he was ordered to do that. In fact, every time I am asked to be creative or demonstrate my creativity I get a total blackout.
I have seen organizations becoming creative by focusing on a single aspect of a complex challenge and obsessing about it for a while. Eventually, good ideas are likely to surface after the bad ideas are exhausted.
Avoid the obvious
We tend to be so focused on the tasks that we get, we even miss big things that are not related to them. Probably the best people in any organizations are those who have enough common sense to explore the big things that need attention and seem to fall between the chairs. Others are not even curious and tend to miss a gorilla in the room.
Taking some time to simply rest and look around is very important for all of us. It can be as little as 5% of our time. If there is an obvious solution, maybe there is another one? When something is not quite like what we expect, maybe there is a good and interesting reason for it? Dealing with something that went terribly wrong, maybe we can reuse the result for the greater good?
In my long description, I did not say what makes creativity interesting. So I may as well tell the way I see it in the summary:
- Creativity is risky, and risk is exciting
- Quite often we are in the “flow” state because we need to face so many limitations
- We get emotionally involved, up to become obsessed with the subject
- We express our inner self, doing something complex in a way that is uniquely ours
- There is a sense of achievement even when we fail
- The alternatives are typically more boring