On Being Creative . . . who are creative people?


David’s List of Behaviors that Lead to Being More Creative

I came up with a list of traits some time ago that seem to be common among the creative people I knew. Take a look at my list below. Highlight those that seem to apply to you, and consider those that do not. Note those that you might want to incorporate yourself. The list is in no particular order, so go and explore. Just reading them over may prove instructive, for these are the characteristics I feel that leads to being  more creative.

• Creative people love putting things together . . . especially things that at first do not appear to fit, but later the arrangements appears obvious. These things can be words, images, musical notes, colors, shapes, physical objects and ideas . . . .

• Creative people are curious, they are intrigued by what they might create, they are curious about the physical world around them, relationships, and the inner world of ideas and emotions.

• Creative people are different, and they do not mind being different. My mother would tell me as a child: "Yes, David you are different, but in being different, you are special." She gave me permission to accept my "differentness"; that is the permission creative people need to give themselves. (It would helpful if those who love or work with creative people were to offer the same acceptance of this differentness.) What makes them different? Let’s take a look:

Creative people are playful and childlike. They enjoy fooling around with things, playing with ideas. They do not take things too seriously not even serious things.

• Creative people love to put things together--they love to play with colors, shapes, objects, people, ideas, words, sounds, scenes, especially things that at first do not appear to fit, but later the arrangements appears obvious.

• Creative people do not play by the rules. They enjoy being outlaws, breaking rules, and thumbing their noses at convention and conformity. They invent new ways to do old things.

• Creative people want to keep inventing, While they enjoy putting things together (or take therm apart), they do so in order to discover what’s possible. Creative people do not like to produce the same thing over and over. It’s the discovery of what’s possible that is the kick . . . that provides the “buzz.”

• Creative people are adventurous. They love to travel, to see new things, and to explore the world around them as well as the inner world of their minds, hearts and souls.

• Creative people have trouble being accurate, punctual, and proper. Other things are more important to them.  Having to be accurate gets in the way of being spontaneous and trying new things. Creative people are more interested in discovery and the big picture than in the details.

• Creative people are spontaneous. They need no script to lead their lives, certainly not someone else’s script. They take direction from each day's events and from the work they do. Creative people love to respond to events, rather than perform to someone else's standards. They make up their own rules, create their own map.

• Creative people are funny, they have a sense of humor and they see humor in the world around them. They like to tell and laugh at jokes. They make fun, have fun, and are fun to be around.

• Creative people are independent. They have an ability to work alone, to be alone, and to stand alone in their convictions. They defend their vision and their projects . . .  often against great odds and the objections, even ridicule from others. Creative people can be independent to the point of stubbornness.

• Creative people are sensitive to art and beauty in more than art and beauty. For them beauty is not only in the form and color of a flower, but in the function of a well-designed machine, the harmony of a political system, or the perfection of an idea.

• Creative people are enthusiastic, idealistic, responsive and passionate. They believe their passion makes all else possible. Some people consider them hyperactive, suffering from ADD, or absentmindedness or single-mindedness, or arrogance, or an inflated ego.

• Creative people are bold, they act with a confident, charge-ahead, single-mindedness of people who have important work to do and know what that work is even if others don't. They are free with their opinions because they like to test ideas and see if someone will challenge them.

• Creative people see things where others do not. Photographers will see possibilities on a rainy day, for it is then that the light is softest. Creative people put things together, on a canvas or in a stew pot. They may put two and two together and come up with 22 instead of four.

• Creative people take action. Thinking creative thoughts is not being creative. There must be an action, a product, or a performance, some work done, some creation for there to be creativity. Sitting and dreaming is fine, for it's often where ideas come from, but action is what creates.  Action, even without thinking is better than waiting to think of the right thing to do. Dreamers often refuse to begin the work until they have thought up what it is they are supposed to do. They “think” too much without acting. This is not necessarily a good way to go about being creative. The old adage of “ready, aim, fire,” seldom leads to great works. The creative mantra is “Fire, aim, and now maybe you’re ready.” It takes phone calls, drawings, letters, proposals, work prints, rough drafts, a model, a note to or a conversation with someone to get the creativity started. Thinking is fine, but do not just think, act! Get started. Build momentum, even if it is the wrong direction, or you are confused about the direction. Once you see what it is you have done, or have produced, only then can you adjust your direction.  Even mistakes can lead you toward your goal. It’s easier to change direction once moving than to get started, so get started.

• Creative people push beyond, around, or through the walls that confine them. Every problem is an opportunity; every obstacle is a challenge. A creative person looks at a challenge in the same way a mountain climber looks at a mountain. The higher and more difficult the climb, the greater the opportunity to grow and greater the reward at the end.

• Creative people are constantly stretching, growing and learning. To stretch myself, I seek out adventure and high risk activities, especially in sailing. For many years, I sailed, alone, the 2,000 miles from Maine to the Caribbean. For two weeks I was totally at sea, out of touch with my office, with land and my land-based life. I was forced to be self-reliant and at one with the weather, the sea, my boat and the experience. There is risk to be sure; otherwise there would be no challenge. But having made the voyage many times, the experience of overcoming the risk has raised my level of confidence and helped me stretch. The lessons learned while wrestling with hurricanes and the unknown I apply to my work ashore as a writer, educator, and entrepreneur.

If the people around you and the place you live

are interfering with your creative purpose,

do something about it

• Creative people are driven; they are passionate. What fuels the creative engine is of some importance, but it needs to be there. John Gardner, the novelist write that a psychological flaw, may be the root of creativity . . .  something  that provides the passion to overcome the obstacles that will stand in the way of reaching your goals.

• Creative people are not content with the obvious, the mundane, the mediocre, and the cliche. They are seldom satisfied with their first discovery. The payoff, for the person who keeps pushing, is the joy of discovery and accomplishment--the excitement of a house materializing out of a pile of boards, a story emerging from a stack of blank paper, or a print coming up in the developer tray. Failure, I've come to realize, is always not going far enough.

  • Creative people know when to let go and move on. The desire to finish a project or meet a deadline can overwhelm creativity. So can a hectic or chaotic work environment. When the creativity evaporates, it's best to get away from our work for a while, if only in our heads. Another kind of letting go is just as important for being creative. We all have the power to become who we want to become. The trouble is, we often pick up the wrong script and spend years acting out someone else's life. How does that happen? We listen to guidance counselors; we try to fulfill our parents' expectations; peer pressure and fashion drive us down the wrong paths. For some people, that kind of role playing is an act of retaliation. For others it is an attempt to please. Sadly, many people play out the wrong scripts because they don't know they have become someone they are not. They do not know how to stop and turn to becoming more of who the really are. That’s where these workshops I developed over the years have been the most effective. A one-week workshop provides creative people with an opportunity to become someone else, perhaps someone they are better at being, their true self.

Acting takes a lot of energy, especially if we are acting out roles that are ill-suited to our personalities. It takes so much energy to be the people we are not, we have no energy left over to be good at being our true selves. I learned that lesson by trying to be a musician.

Everyone in my family is a musician-my father was a concert cellist, my younger brothers are accomplished instrumentalists. For seven years, I too trained on the piano and guitar. When I was 14, my father, who recognized a bad act when he heard one, said, "David, I release you from ever having to play a musical instrument again." Greatly relieved,  I turned my attention to two instruments that I could master, and they ruled my life for many years . . .  these two instruments were my voice and the tape recorder. I had my own radio show at age 15. I could bring music to an audience, but through the talents of others. This led to my first career as a music producer. I started a folk-music coffee house in the early 60s and was the first person to pay James Taylor to sing. Later, the camera became my instrument, and it still is, that and the written word.

• Creative people are impatient. Time is an important ingredients in creativity, but often, we expect results overnight and demand success immediately as if life were a one-hour Fotomat store.

Creative people often think there is a great deal to be done in life, and never enough time, but they also know how to be patient. They know how to wait for objectivity to return. They know how to bring an open mind to their work, for it is often the work that tells them what to do next.

• Creative people don't mind being lost.  We don’t call it “being lost,” we call it taking the longer, more interesting way around. For a photographer, all roads lead to good photographs. I discovered that being lost is just not knowing where you are right now, but later you will. That takes faith, a belief that time and your process will lead you out of the woods to a place of knowing. While sailing with a friend I learned this. After a few days at sea, my friend became edgy, fearing we might be lost.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"Oh, about 100 miles some place north of Bermuda." I answered. That was not good enough for my friend. He grew rigid and uncooperative. So I went below to fuss with the charts and navigation instruments came back on deck and said. “We are here,” pointing to mark on the chart. My friend felt better and became a functioning member of the crew again. Of course I had only a vague idea of where we were, and that was fine for me, but my friend needed to believe in something, even it it was a lie, even my erroneous mark on the chart but he felt better believing in my lie, while I was still uncertain exactly where we were, but I did not need to know, not then. I’d learned years ago that a poor navigator will make a mark on a chart believing that is where they are, while a good navigator will put their out-stretched hand on the chart and say: “We are somewhere under my hand.” Of course GPS makes this all a moot point, as we now know just where we are.

• Creativity requires faith, faith in your vision, faith in your craft, and faith that the creative process is working even though our rational mind cannot see how.

In sailing I found that if I fix a position on the chart based on insufficient information, and then draw a course from that supposed position, I stand a much better chance of steering into disaster than if I wait until I am closer to my destination and more accurate information is available.

• Creativity requires courage and willpower to withstand the winds of objection and criticism. Sometimes objections come from those who fail to grasp our vision; the harshest criticism comes from ourselves. The first book I read that dealt with creativity (there are few and this one still is relevant) is Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. I heartily endorse it to you. It’s not easy to remain creative, spontaneous and fresh when all around are demeaning your silliness, procrastination an hair-brained ideas.

• Creativity requires the ability to concentration, and an ability to focus our energy on a single purpose. I have heard this rule from dozens of artists I have interviewed and worked with:

Work every day at what you do. Do not wait for inspiration to come and get you started. Work, so that when inspiration does come you will already be working. Working each day, regardless of how you feel. This discipline keeps your skills sharp, and as the Greeks knew Inspiration (the Muse) is more apt to visit the busy artist than the idle one.

• A word of warning. Creative People can be a Pain in the you know where . . .

It has been my experience that people who are well behaved, accommodating,predictable and cooperative lack that gene that leads to being truly creative. People who are good followers and able team players, are less likely to be creative then those who are loners. Creative people can be difficult to work with or to befriend. Many of them drive their families and loved ones crazy with their unpredictability, irrational behavior and seemingly selfish attention to their ideas and projects.

• Creative people can be inconsiderate, inconsistent, arrogant, and downright cantankerous.

• Creative people are unpredictable, they do not follow the crowd, or behave rationally.

• Creative people are usually late and they seldom finish anything. Their projects are always “works-in-process” for they feel there is always something more they can learn, or can be added. They  also hate giving up the process and the thing they have made, even if only partially done. They have ownership of their ideas, and they love the process of discovery, not necessarily the process of finishing them . . .the smart ones have found that turning their projects to others is the only way to get anything published

• Creative people are irrational, they do no think straight. They think tangentially. This drives rational, Left Brain people nuts.

• Creative people may appear irreverent, as they are not usually on the same wave-length as their more rational, predictable counter-parts.

• Creative people may appear absent minded, or single-minded, out of touch with reality, and perhaps they are. They may already living in the future,a future the rest of the world will discover later.

The Creative Personality

An essay on what characteristics lead to greater creativity.

© 2000 David H. Lyman

Just playing is a great way to being creative. Making something out of something else is creativity at work. Havana at work with his Legos. Photo by DHLyman.

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