“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams
With creativity we can create magical things that touch the hearts and souls of people. A song, a poem, a painting or just an idea can have a great impact on somebody’s life. It is like magic.
For us artists, creativity is one of the tools we rely on the most. And this does not only apply to artists: Anybody whose activities require original thinking or problem-solving benefits from knowing how to increase the chances for creativity to happen. Yet, the ability to produce something new through imagination often seems so hard to do. Look back at your last composition or your last live performance, and ask yourself: Was I truly creative? Did I create something original, meaningful, and artistically strong? Or did I rather reproduce something I already knew, or something I or somebody else had done before? Most of us tend to recreate instead of create. While I don’t believe you have to reinvent the wheel every time you pick up your instrument, I think we can all agree that it is the artist’s sincerity that truly touches the hearts of people.
Creativity has little to do with intelligence or talent. The IQ of a person does not have any influence on his ability to be creative. Rather, it requires a deep, broad, and flexible sense of self-awareness. While, it is hard to come up with a manual of how to be creative, it is possible to learn how to bring yourself into a situation that favors creativity.
Have you ever seen a video clip of Miles Davis playing? Every time he picks up his trumpet, you see him getting into a certain mode. His body language conveys someone who is focused, yet relaxed at the same time. It is this so-called open mode that we need to dive into when we want to be creative. It is the mode in which kids play with their friends. In this mode, mistakes do not exist. Instead, they create opportunities for something new to happen. Most times unfortunately, we are in the closed mode.
In his lectures on creativity, Monty Python’s John Cleese identified four requirements that are necessary for entering the open mode: Space, Time, Time (yes, twice!), Confidence and Humor.
SPACE: Create an oasis separate from your everyday life. Seal yourself off in a place where no interruption is possible. Switch off your phone, unplug your internet, do not check email, avoid Facebook, Twitter, and forget about your TV for a while. Stay in this space for a certain amount of TIME. For example, an hour and a half has proven to be a sufficient amount. This is your time to PLAY. Experiment, try new things out, connect random ideas with each other. Chance is your best friend; it may lead you towards a new path. Notes played by accidents lead you to new ideas. Collect material and don’t judge it. “Exploration leads to discovery”, said Herbie Hancock.
You will probably notice how your mind starts to wander and get off-topic. That is ok. Every time you notice it, bring you mind back to your task.
Once you have created your space and stayed in it for certain amount of time, you need more TIME. It is imperative to stick to an idea for longer than you think. The longer you gently orbit around a problem, the more likely you will discover an original solution. In our fast-paced Western world, more than ever we want quick answers. We might think we are wasting time if we have already found a solution to a problem and don’t go on using that first solution. Furthermore, the unknown creates discomfort in us. However, the better we learn to tolerate this discomfort, the stronger the outcome will be.
CONFIDENCE: The fear to make mistakes stifles creativity. If you work with other people, surround yourself with friends or partners with equally open minds. You must not feel intimidated by them. With confidence, you will be courageous enough to try out the most bizarre things.
Finally, according to Cleese, HUMOR works as an accelerator that can catapult you into the open mode like nothing else. Being humorous does not mean that you do not take your work seriously. There is a big difference between seriousness and solemnity. The first welcomes humor, the latter does not.
Decisions are important of course. Once you decide on something, stick to your decision, at least for a while. Switch into the closed mode, the mode in which you execute best. A perfect example of the closed mode is the time right before an important deadline, in which we are furiously trying to finish an assignment. And we usually succeed. Try setting yourself very short deadlines. This will help you get into the closed mode and execute! After working in the closed mode for a while, switch back into the open mode and review your work. Edit if you need to. Ideally, you will effortlessly switch back and forth between the open and the closed modes.
All these tips and tricks do not guarantee a creative and original outcome. You can sit on your chair or behind your piano for days in a row and feel like nothing meaningful has come out of you. This is part of the process. There is no need to be discouraged. It will come and it just needs time. The beauty of it is that once, something does come out, you will be amazed by its magic.