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  • Writer's pictureJeb Brack

Creativity: Switch or Rheostat?

When I show my writings, my drawings, or even my magic to people they will (I hope) admire it, and then they'll often say something like:

"Gee, I wish I was creative."

The assumption they make is that creativity is a binary state, a condition that either exists or not, and because they cannot or do not make things just like mine, their personal creativity circuit breaker is flipped. ("Right here's your problem; ya got this thing set to 'Uncreative'.") Even more disheartening are those people who believe that the switch doesn't even exist--you either got it or you don't, and they don't. How sad, to believe that about yourself, especially since I think it is utterly untrue!

I believe creativity is part of the essential condition of humankind. Every single person in the world is capable of creating something. Mind you, not everything they create is created equal; I'm not trying to compare my scribblings with the Mona Lisa, for example. But imagine, instead of a two-position switch, a sort of rheostat that goes from low to high, encompassing every position in between and you start to see how I think of creativity. Everyone has SOME, but some have more--and some shine so brightly that the rest of us seem to be in the dark by comparison.

Even this metaphor is too simplistic, however. Creativity, the way I see it, is not a trait in and of itself, to be turned up or down depending on the position of the switch. Rather, it's an amalgamation, a spiritual compound made up of at least three separate ingredients, or a coordinate system with at least three distinct axes:

1) IDEAS AND INSPIRATION. Our X-axis is the lightbulb moment, the thought, the concept. A lot of creation starts with this (though not all), but you need lots of them to create reliably. Furthermore, if all you do is state this idea out loud, then you have created something. It's not big, and it may go nowhere else, but congratulations: you're creative.

2) PASSION AND DESIRE. Ooh, sexy. No, not that kind of passion. I mean the drive to do something, to bring an idea farther than the idea stage. Passion and desire, the Y-axis of our graph, is the motivating factor that gets you to spend time developing ideas and seeing where they lead. It can help overcome deficits in the other axes, because the more passion you have for a project, the more likely you are to stick with it.

3) TALENT AND SKILL. When people say they wish they were creative, this is what they most often mean. The Z-axis of the graph is the actual ability to make or build or write or draw or whatever, and many people lack it because they don't have the driving need to obtain the skill. Sure, some people have more natural talent than others, but with enough time and energy you can acquire the skills that will allow you to create the way you want.

So take a long hard look at your own particular creativity plot. Do you have an idea? LOTS of ideas? Great, so how much passion and desire do you have--how badly do you want to express those ideas? Enough to set aside time to work at it, and build your skills? If not, that's fine--but don't come to me complaining that you're not creative, because that's just plain wrong. I've got the graph to prove it.

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