Want to be more creative?
Creativity is within your reach if you can cultivate the proper habits. You need to cultivate proper habits because connecting the dots and thinking creatively is a process for all of us. It’s a long-term process rather than a single event. Those people who are more inclined to expose themselves to new ideas, people who don’t mind embarrassing themselves, get to improve upon their creativity. Those people who wrestle with creative ideas for years get to refine their ideas and reap the fruits of their labors.
In an excellent post about creative thinking, writer James Clear exposes the myth that is the “eureka” moment, the so-called “light bulb” moment or the “aha!” moment. He demonstrates that a single flash of genius isn’t really what it is made out to be by citing the most iconic eureka moment in the history of scientific storytelling: When Sir Isaac Newton saw an apple fall to the ground in 1666.
When you think of Isaac Newton, you probably imaging he was born a genius. But, he wasn’t. When Newton was young, he did so poorly in grade school that his teachers gave up on improving his grades. And yet he grew up to become the greatest English mathematician of his generation. How did he do it? He kept improving himself throughout his life despite any ridicule and disapproval he faced.
Concerning Newton’s most famous work on gravitation, Clear writes:
“In 1666, one of the most influential scientists in history was strolling through a garden when he was struck with a flash of creative brilliance that would change the world.
While standing under the shade of an apple tree, Sir Isaac Newton saw an apple fall to the ground. ‘Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,’ Newton wondered. ‘Why should it not go sideways, or upwards, but constantly to the earth’s center? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter.’
And thus, the concept of gravity was born.”
However, what people fail to realize, Clear continues, is that Newton worked on his ideas about gravity for nearly twenty years. It wasn’t until 1687 that he consolidated his brilliant thoughts and published his groundbreaking book, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.
“The falling apple was merely the beginning of a train of thought that continued for decades,” Clear points out.
In other words, the real creative work, the connecting of the dots, the bridging of seemingly unrelated and obscure ideas happened between the years when he first got the flash of insight and when he published his iconic book. Creativity is a process, not a single event.
Exercise your creativity despite judgment for as long as it takes
Judgment of our creative work or thoughts should not be feared. That judgment is a useful feedback metric. Creators need it because, without it, there is no opportunity to improve and make our ideas better. Without it, there is no verification of work completed. So, don’t let fear of being ridiculed, embarrassed, or humiliated stop you in your tracks. Even Albert Einstein’s work was criticized and rejected.
In the 1972 classic book Albert Einstein: Creator & Rebel, authors Banesh Hoffman (Einstein’s former scientific assistant) and Hellen Dukas (Einstein’s secretary for many years) reveal in the most intimately knowledgeable and touching way how the scientific community criticized, ridiculed, and rejected a patent clerk who published a revolutionary theory.
Though criticized and rejected, Einstein, the lowly theoretical physicist, wasn’t discouraged. He pressed on with his creative work and as time went on, more and more scientists saw the validity and incomparable brilliance of his work and thoughts.
Today, Einstein is recognized as the creator of relativity, godfather of quantum physics, and bender of time and space. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect in 1905 and “for his services to Theoretical Physics.”
There will always be a critic who dislikes your work.
Every creative person worth his sorts will face critics. It’s almost inevitable. And if you truly care about your work or ideas, you will experience creative uncertainty, doubt and fear many times, especially when releasing something new you’ve created to the world. Only those who stand firm and don’t let fear of disapproval or embarrassment smother their creativity will rise and leave a mark in this world.
“Being in the top 1% of intelligence has no correlation with being fantastically creative,” writes Clear. “Instead, you simply have to be smart (not a genius) and then work hard, practice deliberately and put in your reps.” The most creative people share a willingness to labor in their craft, ship their best work, and respond to critics and the audience in a smart way that enhances their next creative cycle.
Remember, the risk of your work being judged, of making a fool of yourself, pales in comparison to the terror of inaction and regret of missed opportunities due to fear of being embarrassed.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Think about what it would be like to be embarrassed for exercising your creativity. Would it really be as bad or humiliating as you think it would be? In most cases, you’ll find you’re worried about things that aren’t humiliating, disconcerting, or enduring. So, let go of your fears, embrace discomfort, and start creating.