As a designer, writer, blogger, author, and content creator, I’ve been blessed to live a life that’s included lots of personal creativity and innovation.
I sometimes marvel at all the projects I’ve been involved in the past few years, and I’ve got more in store right now.
One thing I can share with you is a project that’s caused me to review the lessons I’ve been able to draw from this lifetime of effort, sometimes demoralizing defeats, and occasional victories.
Here’s the background on what will become my next book. It’s on creativity, and this is drawn from the introduction.
A couple of months ago—and not on purpose—I happened to glance at my Twitter feed.
On this day, one tweet caught my eye: “18 Ways to Think About Creativity” it said, with a link. For some reason, something perked up in me when I saw it.
Was it because creativity has been a favorite subject of mine for many years, or was there something deeper at work? In the creative world coincidence, synchronicity, accident are all celebrated as the genesis of many unusual discoveries and world-changing insights. But the causes of these apparently random events remains a mystery.
In any event, I was curious, so I clicked through to see what the article was all about. Imagine my surprise when, as the page started to load, I recognized my own website.
Yes, it turned out that I had written this article in 2010, published it on my blog, where it evoked very little response, and then I promptly forgot about it.
Early Days of Blogging
And yet, here I was, looking at something I hadn’t seen in years. I started to read through the article. There wasn’t a lot there, just a list of bullet points, one sentence each.
Many of the thoughts in the article still rang true, years later. Back then I would write and publish a new article every weekday. I wouldn’t recommend that you do what I did, it’s a brutal publishing schedule, especially for a newcomer.
On many days the biggest challenge I faced was thinking of something new to write about. Days when I would find myself, late at night with no article, staring blankly at my screen, wondering what to do.
One of the ironies of this situation is that the way people responded to these articles bore no relation to the work and effort that went into them. Articles I spent days researching, writing, and carefully editing often got little or no response at all.
Others, dashed off in the dark hours to make my midnight deadline, would instantly attract comments and stimulate conversation.
And so it was with this little post on creativity.
Now, when I look around, it looks like creativity is everywhere. There seems to be so much more respect in our society for people who do creative work than there was in the past, when only the most popular writers, artists, and musicians were able to attract large-scale attention.
Maybe people have learned to look at the world differently. Writers, inventors, the craftspeople who populate Etsy, indie musicians, Youtubers, street painters, mimes, choirs popping up in shopping malls—creative energy is everywhere.
Maybe this eruption of creativity comes from the democratization of the tools of creation. If all you need to make a movie is an iPhone, you have hundreds of millions of potential movie makers walking around, don’t you?
We want these tools to bring us freedom, we want to do our thing, we want to “live the laptop lifestyle,” travel the world if we like, make our living “with our left foot.”
One of the most popular ways to get that freedom is by learning how to employ the technology that enables us to do business online. “Guerrilla marketing” takes on a whole new meaning when a woman, sitting in a spare room in her home, tapping at a computer, can gather a community of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and compel those people to act.
It might be to act as voters, expressing their preferences. Or maybe to attend a free educational event. Participate in a special learning opportunity. Go on a trip that will enhance their work, or their lives.
Or she might use that ability to create, almost from nothing, a media channel complete with an audience, themes, and regular programming, with the aim to teach, as well as to sell.
These are some of the thoughts that floated up in my mind as I read that old blog post on creativity. And reading it, I recognized something that had eluded me back then.
How a Blog Article Becomes a Book
There was so much more to say on each of these modest topics, and there were topics that hadn’t occurred to me back then. Creativity is at the heart of what I do, whether I’m writing, designing books, creating new products, or giving live presentations.
I decided to expand the article, one point at a time, into a short book that I hoped would help other people on the long journey of the creative life.
In a very real way, the only thing I have to offer other people is the contents of my mind, and the accumulated experiences I’ve had over the years that I’ve been involved in printing, design, advertising, direct mail, internet marketing, and book publishing.
Considering the challenges facing us in the world today, I think there’s nothing as important as finding creative solutions.
Creating something new, something that never existed before is the essence of creative action. That something new can be an extension of what came before, or it can break completely with everything else we know.
But the fact is that the world is constantly changing. Understanding how to creatively meet the challenge of this change is what our future relies on.
For the individual artist, creativity is even more important. If, in some small way, you understand that as a creative, conceiving something new, something that never existed before, is an existential imperative.
In other words, if you’re someone who just has to be creative, learning to access your own creative source can mean life or death for that special, deep, and idiosyncratic part of you.
Creatives need to live, to write, to paint, to play our music, to sing at the sky, to dance when the spirit moves us. We’ve learned to attend to the quiet place inside where the torrent of images, ideas, words, sounds—the veritable maelstrom of invention—is roiling with the raw materials from which we elicit the works that will make us who we are.
Go and create.
Adapted from the introduction to 27 Ways to Think About Creativity: A Small Book About Big Ideas (forthcoming). Photo: David Saddlerr. Maya Angelou quote: Photo: Ron Mader.