I’m an architect and furniture designer by trade and not a week goes by without someone saying something like this to me: “I wish I was creative like you,” or “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body!” Typically I laugh off such sentiments because I don’t consider myself naturally creative (see confession below). But after hearing this repeated time after time, it dawned on me that a lot of people have the DESIRE to be creative but no idea HOW to be creative. Well, I didn’t spend 7 years in design school without learning a few things about creative thinking!
I am not a creative person by nature.
Some people seem to have a natural ability to create; I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m absolutely terrible at sketching. Awful. So bad that in grad school I practically hyperventilated during a required sketching course where we had to go to the chalkboard and sketch something dictated by the teacher. It was a total embarrassment and I barely passed the class. But that didn’t stop me from being a pretty darn good furniture designer if I do say so myself, with pieces shown in Milan, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York.
So how did someone who can’t draw end up in a creative profession? I am a good learner. Which brings me to this nugget of wisdom: Creativity is a skill that can be learned. Just like riding a bike or swimming, creativity is a skill that once learned is not easily forgotten. But it IS learned and cultivated, nurtured and honed, and is not without a lot of failure. I mean a lot of failure.
And the idea of failure brings me to the #1 tip that truly freed me to think creatively:
The #1 Creative Thinking Tip:
Make now, critique later.
The number one thing you should NOT do when making anything is critique while you create. Just stop that right now. If you look at every move you make with critical eyes you will be paralyzed from the start. In fact creating and critiquing are totally different processes; to do one you must turn off the other. Eventually you will want to analyze your work but while doing creative explorations make sure you turn off the critic inside you and just let your ideas flow. The concept of flow has been studied by psychologists and you can read more about it here.
Creative Thinking Exercise #1:
To begin using this tip, I want you to sit down with some materials and no expectations. Spend a few minutes observing the materials, stare at them, touch and feel them, pull them apart if you like, then spend a few minutes using them. You can draw or build or reconstruct them, but the most important thing you should do is to forget about the end product. Just have fun tinkering without any plans.
Give yourself 10-15 minutes total for this, then take apart or recycle whatever you made. I do not want you to keep it. No keeping! Stop seeing everything you or your kids make as precious. Instead see things you make as explorations. Eventually you’ll be amazed at the solutions you find and the art that you make when you silence the critic in your mind.
If you don’t know what materials to start with, here are a few suggestions:
- Colored paper, scissors and tape
- Clay, paint, and rollers
- A cardboard box and markers
- Pipe cleaners, a hole punch, and a paper plate
- Toy blocks and hot glue
I believe that every single person has the ability to be creative. The problem is that too many people in our lives steer us away from creative thinking by telling us that we need to follow the rules or not dream big because we’ll just be disappointed. The design and art establishment is also at fault for making creativity seem like this mystical power that only a select few people are capable of. I love what artist Charles Gaines says about creativity in this video. “Being able to draw and being an artist are two entirely different universes. They’re not really related.”
If you want to do more reading on your own, here are a few books you might want to check out: