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What Is Creativity?

Creativity is a frequent topic in entrepreneurial and marketing circles these days . We all want it: We want to understand it, to discover its secrets and utilize its power. But what is it, really? Are we born with it? Can we learn it? Can it be harnessed?

First, we have to understand it.

Work at Spadina Station gave me the opportunity to explore textures and infrastructure.

Work at Spadina Station gave me the opportunity to explore textures and infrastructure.

A recent LinkedIn article argued a one-to-one correlation between life experience and creativity. How then, would you explain twins with similar experiences, one of which becomes an artist, the other a manager? It’s hard to argue any kind of one-to-one connection, except perhaps with obsessive interest.

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Obsessive interests, however, are common to creative people. To name a few obsessive creators with limited life experience – John Keats, Marie Curie, Steven Spielberg, Thomas Edison and Wayne Gretzky. Each developed a love for their life’s work in their early teens and rose to the highest level in their chosen fields.

Gretzky? Hell yes. An urban myth goes that he was scouted as a child but went unsigned because he neither skated like the wind, possessed a powerful shot, nor a big frame. The scout could only say that he was a “genius”. He turned out to be right.

What the Great One and the Greater Ones shared was the prime necessity for creative thought: an orientation towards play, discovery and continual betterment. Creativity is always around us but very few enter the realm in which time means nothing and absolute perfection is demanded.

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The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee), in his work about happiness, notes that creators are remarkably similar in their description of their ideal work state. They speak about becoming a vessel for ideas and visions that flow through them, almost as if they themselves don’t exit. He calls this state “ecstasy”, where one literally stands outside oneself – Ex, meaning outside and Stasis, meaning standing, in Greek.

Not everyone can get there with regard to their work, but one can experience something remarkably similar in game play. Game worlds offer participants an experience where one’s best technique is challenged to the limit of one’s ability. As technique improves, the game gets harder. In other words, games mimic creative worlds in which the player is oriented towards play, discovery and continual betterment – a realm in which time means nothing and absolute perfection is demanded.

Gameplay

In the world that artists, scientists and other pioneers live in, there is no ROI, except for the thrill of the experience and the final result. It’s not a coincidence that so many artists, composers and writers die penniless. They worked obsessively in a world that could not reward them unless their work could be applied. That, of course, is a shame.

However, the successes of Curie, Spielberg, Edison and Gretzky prove that creativity can be harnessed by sharing space with the real world. Real world needs, like deadlines, can be scheduled in the creative world. It’s an interesting paradox that constraints can be particularly useful for creative individuals.

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So what’s this all mean? For one thing, entrepreneurs can better harness the power of creatives by understanding what makes them tick. Hitting targets and advancing sales percentages don’t mean as much as telling them what their work has allowed the company to do. Secondly, understand and accept that the world of the breakthrough and its application are often far apart. Creators need room for play. And finally, take the advise that Dmitry Shostakovich left behind when he said that creative people only need three things: Praise … praise … and praise.

(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn)

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