Kitty Ireland
May 19, 2019

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Everyone starts life as an artist. Maybe you didn’t have a grandmother who would let a two-year-old play with her watercolors, or a mother who would take you out of second grade to go to her community college art classes with her (like I did), but I’d bet $10 that before you could speak in full sentences or read “cat” you were doing something creative.

Creativity is deeply tied to how we learn, and it is the key to how we solve problems. When presented with a familiar situation, you generally know how to respond, or at least know how you responded last time. Over time you learn what works and what doesn’t and develop behaviors based on whatever has the best results.

When presented with an unfamiliar situation, you have to rely on your creativity. You have to make something up.

You may have a frame of reference, like observations of others’ behavior or memories of similar situations. But when you’re a baby, you are usually starting with no information at all, so you have to be very creative and experiment until you solve the matter.

I’ve always cringed at the term “creative” as a noun that defines a person. It implies that some people are and some people aren’t… and I just don’t buy that.

If You’re Not a “Creative,” When Did You Stop?

It’s unfortunate that education in the United States generally undervalues soft skills and creativity in favor of standardized test scores. I was going to say in favor of marketable “hard” skills, but stupidly the education system in this country doesn’t spend much effort on those, either. For an observer who hasn’t been in school or otherwise involved in education for a long time it feels like the system is geared to maintain social inequities and feed the for-profit college industry more than it is to help people become educated or functional in the world.

(sorry, #minirant)

In any case, you were probably taught to stop valuing your creative capacity sometime in early elementary school, which is a damn shame. It’s a shame for you, because (IMHO) a life devoid of creative output is just… #sad. Not to mention that creative thinking is how you become truly successful at anything. Look at anyone who has become super rich (who didn’t start out that way), and you can trace their wealth to a handful of creative ideas. Bill Gates may not fit the mold of “The Creative,” but he has used creative problem solving and creative negotiating to get to where he is today. Pick any successful person who made their own way and you will see a pattern of picking the road less traveled (creative thinking).

It’s also sad for everyone else, because a dearth of creative work and thinking in the world means the status quo is winning. And the status quo really, really sucks.

The Status Quo is Killing Us.

The status quo is killing the planet. We need creative problem solving to fix this more than we need activism. Arguing about it doesn’t help. Trying to convince climate change deniers is a waste of everyone’s valuable time and attention. Making individual efforts to recycle and drive hybrids has very little impact. Like most big problems, we need large-scale, structural and institutional solutions. We need policies. We need international cooperation. We need every major corporation on board and participating in the solution. And to get there, we need creative thinkers. But, because most people were discouraged from developing that skill, it seems like most people prefer being divisive and shouty over being solution-oriented.

The status quo is breeding hatred and violence. The economic inequity of the current flavor of capitalism in service of profit (for shareholders) and growth (of profit for shareholders) is not sustainable. We’re talking pre-revolution-France level concentration of wealth, which history shows does not end well. While this ugly system teeters on the edge of implosion, the growing population of very poor people are sometimes choosing crime rather than poverty. They are sometimes so despondent they use drugs and alcohol to drown out their grim reality. And a lot of them are looking for a place to lay blame. If you hear shouting about how “they” are stealing “our” jobs, you are listening to someone who is desperate for some security in this unstable and unfair economy, and who never learned the vital skill of big-picture critical thinking. They can’t see the real enemy because it’s too large to perceive. So they get stuck in their own bigotry. Stuck thinking like this indicates a lack of imagination. And an aversion to creative solutions.

The Toxic Myth

The main problem with the idea of “The Creative” is that it’s a form of elitism. If you believe that only certain genetically gifted individuals can be creative, you may discount the notion that you could ever have a creative idea. You may start to think that your old, well-tread ideas are the only right ideas, and that there’s only one way to do things: how things were done before. AKA, the status quo.

Meanwhile, these special individuals who have been dubbed “creatives” run around thinking they’re all that, while often operating as cogs in the status quo machine, churning out brilliant ad campaigns for light beer or getting into affiliate marketing on their blogs about how to get into affiliate marketing.

What if we just imagined for a moment that everyone is more-or-less as creative as everyone else? I mean, sure, some people are born with an uncanny ability to draw realistic portraits of animals or play stringed instruments. Others are born with limited capacity due to a disease or injury. But in between those extremes is most people. And most people would be doing themselves and the world a big favor if they used the creative capacity they were born with.

So…I Should Learn to Draw?

Well, sure, if you want to. But ability or interest in drawing, painting, crafts, playing music or writing poems is not a prerequisite for using your creativity.

Be creative in your daily life. Want to change your diet? Learn to cook something. Or, use creative problem solving and find a meal delivery service that suits your new diet. Break yourself out of your routine in any small way and you’re feeding your creativity.

Be creative at work. Are there things you think should be done differently? Write them up and propose them! Or just do them and see if things get better. Just because something was “always” done this way, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things

Word of warning: being creative requires a level of risk and vulnerability that can feel uncomfortable at first. Putting your idea or work out there leaves you open for criticism, which is another reason many avoid accessing their creative nature. It’s easier and safer to stay inside the box assigned and not rock the boat too much.

Whether or not you’ve ever considered yourself creative or even appreciate “the arts,” recognize that you have a creative capacity. The more you can tap into it and use it for good, the better off we’ll all be.