Throughout my career as a designer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what creativity is and why creativity is important.
Especially in a time when people fear that machines are replacing them, it becomes even more important to embrace a creative mindset. According to many sources like the World Economic Forum, creativity is one of the most important skills in an era of automation, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.
I wrote this article with the goal to resolve misconceptions around creativity and help you understand what creativity really is. I also want to show how you can use creativity to your advantage and why you don’t need to worry about the future.
The Myth About Creativity
During my time at frogdesign, where I was working as an Interaction Designer, I would participate in ideation workshops with clients.
These clients often had various backgrounds. From managing positions, to engineering, to sales or marketing.
The fundamental part of an ideation session is to generate ideas and communicate through visuals.
What I had noticed very often during these ideation sessions, was the lack of confidence in using pen and paper to express thoughts. Many participants would simply rely on words and hand gestures to explain ideas.
When I asked them to draw, they shied away with phrases like, “I’m not creative, I can’t draw,” or “I can’t sketch, I’m not a designer.“
This made me realize that a lot of people tied their creativity to their level of sketching.
But this should not be the case.
Creativity has nothing to do with your ability to sketch, paint, or whether you can use a tool like Photoshop.
What Is Creativity?
There is no common definition for what creativity really is, but you will often come across sources that describe creativity as the act of coming up with new ideas and producing novel and useful products.
While I agree that creativity includes the creation of ideas, I don’t necessarily agree that the outcome always has to be a product or any kind of innovation. I believe that this is a very limited view on how creativity works.
Even the way you prepare your breakfast in the morning involves creativity. Do you make the eggs first? Or do you wait until your coffee is done so it cools down while you make your omelette?
Creativity has so many facets and is involved in almost every part of our day.
Instead of connecting creativity with innovation, I would like to give you a broader understanding of what creativity is:
Creativity is a higher form of intelligence that allows you to make connections between domains and come up with solutions to a problem.
Your ability to solve a problem describes your level of creativity.
I believe that highly creative people are able to solve problems in many ways because they tackle problems from different angles. In contrast, people with a low creative quotient can only see problems from limited angles, therefore, only come up with limited solutions.
Creativity Has Been Part Of Human History
The reason why I think that creativity does not always have to result in an innovative product is simple: thousands of years ago, when our species was roaming around the world and living in caves, we didn’t spend much time thinking about making new products.
Our focus was to survive.
In order to survive, we needed to use our creative mind to coordinate hunting, build traps, collect food and complete all sorts of activities to survive. All of these activities required creative thinking, yet did not necessarily result in producing “new, innovative products.” It was simply creative problem solving.
Because of how our species was able to conquer the world, I believe that creativity is an essential part of human nature.
Everyone of us is capable to be creative.
However, as our brain is similar to a muscle, we also need to acknowledge that creativity has to be practiced. If we want the muscle to grow, we need to work it out. If we want to become more creative, we need to challenge our brain in different ways.
How To Become More Creative
Unfortunately, as we grow older, we lose touch with our creative thinking abilities due to the confinement of our society.
The reason why we are so much more creative as kids, is because we were not suppressed by the thinking of our environment and could freely express ourselves.
Having less things to worry about and less restrictions gave our mind the possibility to wander and engage in what if-questions.
If we want to become more creative, we need to awaken our inner child and embrace our experimentation mindset.
Creativity is about seeing hidden patterns and making sense of connections. By making connections between things that aren’t obviously related we are able to come up with new ideas.
In order to make more connections, we need to have more things to connect.
Simply put: we need to expand our horizon and knowledge library by
learning new things in different areas
doing things outside of our comfort-zone
connecting with people outside our normal social circles to engage in different conversations
If we keep expanding our knowledge library, we will have tools in our repertoire to play around with.
As a designer, here is what I do to stay creative:
1. Make sketching / doodle a daily practice
Because sketching helps me come up with ideas that are not limited by physical laws. I believe that sketching and drawing are the best ways to practice my creativity because it requires nothing but pen and paper.
2. Start Side Projects
Compared to sketching, side projects are more focused and it is easier to learn new skills because I have a specific goal in mind. It is also 100% mine and no one can tell me what to do. This gives me the freedom to experiment.
3. Read books outside your comfort zone
Especially books that have nothing to do with design. I love reading books about personal development and science fiction. It helps me to learn about things that are not related to my job.
Don’t Worry About The Future
I understand that many people fear that their jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence and advanced robotics.
Technological advancement is an important part of mankind. Every time new technology is introduced that threatens to change our lives in a significant way, people start to yell in fear.
It is part of our nature to be afraid of things we don’t understand.
While it is true that we are gaining tremendous progress in these areas, we are still in the very early stages of AI. Yes, a lot of redundant jobs can already be replaced by machines and you see many people in factories getting laid off.
Creativity uses our brain to a great capacity. Machines will not be able to reach humans’ level of creativity for decades.
I believe the best question you can ask yourself is: does my job require me to think for more than 5 seconds?
If NO, then there is a high likelihood that your job can be replaced. In this case, I would recommend learning new skills and try to change your vocation. Having work that is also more engaging can increase your happiness level as a positive side effect.
If YES, then the complexity of your task will most likely exceed the capacity of today’s machines and you don’t need to worry. However, this doesn’t give you the permission to become lazy. Keep learning and expanding your skillset.
The Worst Case Scenario Is Not So Bad
But let’s assume we make progress in AI development faster than expected…
In this case, we can see this as an opportunity because we don’t need to waste time on redundant tasks. We can outsource all the time consuming and boring tasks to machines, which enables us to have more time for creative tasks.
We can also start to collaborate with machines to solve difficult problems. Imagine you have a super smart personal assistant…
… that saves you time on grocery shopping because food is refilled automatically
… to do complicated research for your work and provides results much faster so you can make decisions quicker
… so you never have to plan your travels because it knows your preferences and finds the perfect flights and accommodations
… that takes care of your business while you travel around the world with your family
There are so many beneficial scenarios that I could go on forever.
Instead of looking at the all negative aspects, look at all the upsides that an intelligent personal assistant can bring!
If you workout your creative mindset, you will be able to see endless opportunities!
Because I work in the design industry, I’m fortunate enough to be exposed to creative people on a daily basis. Consequently, creativity is an essential part of my day-to-day job.
While creative thinking and problem solving became a habit for me, I also realized that a lot of people are not wired in the same way.
Many people are struggling with their creativity because they don’t work in an environment that allows them to unfold their creative potential.
However, creativity has nothing to do with our ability to sketch or produce fabulous artwork. It is simply your ability to solve a problem, no matter what area of life.
The good news is that every one of us is capable of producing extraordinary ideas and solutions because it is part of our existence. Creative problem solving has been an essential part of humans throughout history.
You also don’t have to work in the creative industry to make use of your creativity.
Look at what’s around you and try to come up with new ideas in your own field.
If you take advantage of your creative mind, you also don’t need to worry about the future. By exercising your brain to look for opportunities and embrace experimentation, you will be able to come up with new ideas easily. And maybe even turn this into something that could potentially sustain your life.