"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
Creativity is a divisive word.
For some of us it is crucial, yet for others it's only an added extra, a sweetener in a bigger more serious life.
It is needed in many aspects of life from devising the latest cutting edge invention to dreaming up your next art project.
Some say it is part of a route to our happiness, yet others see it as a route to embarrassment and vulnerability, and no right-minded person would willingly be exposed to that.
But where precisely does creativity come from?
Let's start with a game:
What do you think of when you read the word: Creativity?
Is it playfulness, an escape from everyday duty and responsibility?
Is it that stroke of genius you would love to claim as your own, except you cannot explain how it came to you, so how could you claim it as yours?
Is it something reserved for other, more free-spirited people than your hard-working self?
Or is it something central to who you are and how you interact with life, the universe and everything else?
Let's agree on a loose definition to work from: Creativity is the process of making something both novel and useful. (Rex Jung)
Useful doesn't have to mean practical; useful can mean getting to know yourself better, expressing something or allowing you access to a particular emotional experience.
What are the ingredients of creativity?
Understanding what makes up creativity will help us find its roots.
Play is the base ingredient.
Play gives us permission to mess things up; to move things about without an end-goal or obedience to our previous experience. Children play, perhaps because previous knowledge or the pressure of acting 'grown-up' does not yet limit them. But we also know that this is a big part of how they, and so we, learn.
Invention is a result of creativity – an output we judge as valuable or useful. But the qualities of willingness and openness to the possibility of new or unknown outcomes are central to creativity. Humour is part of it too – a willingness to tread the fine line between genius and embarrassment.
Imagination is our ability to read our impulses, instincts and thoughts. Creativity is how we make it reality.
Boldness, risk-taking, simplicity and vulnerability are other qualities required to feel creative.
Where else do we see these qualities of creativity?
All the above are celebrated qualities in progressive business thinking. They are often given the label 'innovation' – nothing more than an acceptably 'grown-up' word for creativity.
Well-rounded people able to engage in wholesome relationships also need these qualities. If we want to be interesting and engaging to our friends, colleagues and loved ones, we probably need the humility to exhibit the qualities of creativity.
But most crucially, these qualities have been essential our basic survival. Without creativity, how could we have invented the things that we have needed to survive this long? Take another word for creativity: problem solving, and we can start to see creativity as a fundamental quality in us.
In fact, looked at this way, we value creativity so highly it is the measure we use to test the intelligence of other creatures. This suggests that we understand creativity as a central quality of being intelligent, or even what makes us unique as humans.
So where does creativity come from?
Creativity comes out of the necessity to solve problems.
Creativity comes anytime we need to question the rules, status quo, or even ourselves.
Creativity comes from many sources, including socialising, problem solving and play. We are creative anytime the rules are not sufficient to achieve a desirable outcome.
Saying that creativity only comes when we're relaxed enough to enjoy a little painting, crafts or art is to diminish it to just being a leisure activity. It is much more important and constant than that. When we realise creativity exists unconsciously throughout our days, and could be consciously enjoyed if we chose to, creativity becomes a fundamental part our days.
So where does creativity come from?
Simple: it comes from each of us and our interactions with life, the universe and everything else.
Start being creative today.
There are a near infinite number of ways to be creative.
Begin with something you're excited or intrigued by, something simple: do a doodle, make a mix tape or write a ten-minute stream-of-consciousness.
Then maybe move on to something that requires a bit more resourcefulness, invention and dedication (and so satisfaction): a stained glass window, a wall mural or a kinetic sculpture.
But always return to simple things, the creativity in your everyday: make a sandwich, tell a joke or write an email.
In all you do, simply ask yourself the question: "is there another way to do this?"
Do that and you're being creative – and touching this fundamental quality of being human.
"We shall not cease from exploration..."