I often have the occasion to work with people who don’t necessarily work in what society considers a creative field. For example, a sales person will request a piece of content from the marketing team. They often have some vague direction like “I want it to be sexy.” or “Jazz it up a little.” I have to laugh because in addition to giving completely unhelpful direction, it’s clear that they don’t understand the creative process. They don’t even understand that creativity is a process. I’d love it if I could just crank out creativity on request, but it doesn’t work like that.
So, how does creativity work? How do you be creative? How do you start the process of being creative?
I’ve identified the 4 steps to being creative. These things work for me and I think they can work for you. Honestly, you’re already doing these steps and may not realize it. Or maybe you do realize it but feel shame or guilt because you think you are doing step one wrong.
Step One – Copy
How do I start the creative process? I start by copying.
I know right? It sounds so evil. We’re told all our lives to do our own work. Be original. Find your own voice. Discover your style. That’s all good advice, but unfortunately it does not tell us how to do those things. How many times have you wanted to create something but you have no idea where to start? That really is the big problem with creation. How do you even begin working on something original if you have no reference point?
The key for me is to copy. It’s okay to copy. Find work that inspires you and copy it. Learn what is out there already. We don’t create in a vacuum. Understand the landscape. Look to art history. You are struggling to create something unique? How will you even get close if you don’t know what had come before.
Copy the masters in your craft. Copy the best of the best.
I’m not talking about plagiarism.
I’m not talking about cheating.
I am talking about the creative process.
The point of copying is that it’s a place to start. It sets you in motion. It gets your brain churning. But most importantly it will lead you to step two in the creative process:
Step Two – Fail
In the process of copying work you admire… you will fail. It’s almost a guarantee. Great creations are not a result of a single attempt.
Again, society teaches us that we shouldn’t fail. Failure is not an option. Don’t screw up. We’re naturally afraid of failing because we don’t want to look bad. We don’t want to bruise our ego. Above all, we don’t want the pain and work that comes with going through failure and trying to recover.
We have to learn to love failure. We have embrace it and expect it. We have to change our mindset. If you are failing you’re on the right track!
Failure naturally comes with side effects. Happy little accidents. Creation. Sometimes entirely new and amazing ideas are born from failure. Sometimes all that comes from failure is redirection. All of the outcomes in this part of the process are okay. Learn to be okay with failure.
Step Three – Learn Something
In the process of failing, you will learn something. Most obviously you will learn what didn’t work. The natural response when we fail is to cover it up. Erase your mistake. The problem with this is that we can easily forget what led to the failure. It’s better to document and study our failures. Even share them! Think of how much knowledge, experience, and inspiration we could gain from each other if we didn’t let our ego get in the way of sharing our mistakes. Some creative failures can be creative masterpieces in the right hands. When we study our failures we learn. In the process of learning, you will create something new.
Step Four – Create
I don’t know why, but when we go through the process of Copying > Failure > Learning > It’s much easier to then capture lightning in a bottle and create something wonderful. After we struggle, that’s when a little flash of true creativity will arrive.
Will Smith said:
God places the best things in life on the other side of terror.
It’s absolutely true. Creation is not easy. It takes risk. It takes failure. It takes learning. Society is so quick to reward what they perceive as creative genius. I say we should praise the hard work that went into the process. Are we too quick to accept praise for the wrong reason? Next time you see and admire a person’s photography and wish you could be as good as them remember what they’ve been through to get where they are. Use that inspiration to start your own creative process.
What do you think? How do you find creativity? Let me know in the comments.