Sunday, October 19, 2014

What is creativity?

What is creativity? I have attempted to answer this question a few times here and many times in my own mind.

There is no real confusion in the minds of those who do it. But for the outside world, there is often a confusion between aesthetic creativity and problem solving creativity.

Most people only recognize the former as creativity while missing the latter. So, if you ask people, the common answers that you will get on creativity is about music, movies, filmstars and such like. And often creativity is also confused with being 'fashionable' or 'wearing the right clothes' or 'I am different'  and this is creative, no doubt - because even being different is creative, but it may not result in any direct contribution to anything.

So, if you are called in as a 'creative' expert to beautify/colour/spruce up some junk that someone else made, then believe me, you are being aesthetically creative (most likely) or perhaps helping a lazy person survive in the organization, but not really adding value. In other words, you are in the business of constructing decorations as Edward Tufte says. (Honourable exceptions, graphic designers with a knowledge and expertise and people in similar professions.)

Enough rant. So, what is my definition of creativity?

Can the above set of people, create those presentations they are called into spruce up? And if they can, why are they not called into create them? (therein lies part of the answer). Therefore, this kind of creativity is superficial creativity (caveat: it is likely that such people can be genuinely creative). Refuse this kind of work each time it comes to you and ask yourself what is the knowledge you can equip yourself with in order to get there.

But real creativity cannot come with deep knowledge. Without knowledge, you will be employed only for superficial creativity. With knowledge you will be employed to solve real problems.

Creativity then, is your ability to have a deep knowledge of any (or many) fields - and yet being able to step out of the imposed boundaries of those rules and think differently and solve a problem.
If you can, with a deep knowledge of music, create a different music? Think AR Rehman.
If you can, with a deep knowledge of surgery, create a different approach? Think Aravind.

Therefore, If you can, with a deep knowledge of <substitute your field of expertise> solve something there, that is it, you are creative.

Without knowledge, there is no creativity. Perhaps there is, in children - who are being creative without really knowing anything.

If you can retain that healthy attitude of questioning of a child with the knowledge of an adult, you may be onto something.

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