You don’t need a toolkit to think creatively, just the right conditions

Creativity thrives under certain conditions, while it is debilitated under others.

Knowing what those conditions are and how they influence us can help us to think more creatively, even if our intent isn’t to do so.

Unfortunately we often get stuck on attempting to circumvent the circumstances that promote creativity. We want a quick way to generate the perfect idea or to uncover the best solution to a problem without having to put in the work necessary to formulate the right types of ideas.

The result of this approach to thinking creatively? We pay for books and “programs” we don’t need. A self-help book or a “creative toolkit” isn’t likely to make you think more creatively unless it promotes that form of thinking itself. Most of these types of resources are instead focused on the act of creative expression, not the creative process itself. I think this partially explains why so many books on the topic of creative thinking are full of little but hot air.

In a recent blog post, Author Matthew E. May introduces us to the keys to creative conditions by stating:

“Want real creativity? Stop paying for ideas, in any form. Think about removing the obstacles you’ve put in the way of innovative thinking up and down the line. And stop coddling people with smile training and personality-based kid gloves.”

What May means here is that we don’t need to buy a fancy toolkit or subscribe to a certain system in order to think creatively. Those things rarely helps us because they don’t have any influence on the conditions required to think creatively. Instead, we should pursue ways to introduce the proper conditions for creative thinking, removing anything that stands in our way of meeting those conditions if possible.

I’ve written about the ideal conditions for creativity before:

“The most ideal condition is one in which we are mentally stimulated with a task, but at the same time free to explore possibilities unhindered.”

May echoes this statement in his own words by explaining how toolkits for creativity typically fall flat of being able to provide the wider conditions we need to think creatively.

I want to empahsize this point, the reason toolkits and how-to-guides struggle to help us be more creative is simple: the only way to build an environment where creativity can thrive is to change the system or environment itself, not to introduce a new tool or mentality into the mix. Whether that means physically moving yourself, or changing how you work, you have to ensure you have the right conditions for creativity to bubble-up in order for it to do so. May writes:

“Mostly, you’ll need to focus on undoing what you now do, not doing more. You’ll need to break the current habit, and a starter kit won’t do that.”

To summarize May’s keys to creativity:

  1. We must have clear and dramatic goals. Attempting to think creatively without a clear problem or goal in mind is like attempting to put a puzzle together without having any idea of what the final picture will look like.

  2. Establish a clear role as you move forward. Are you going to play the part of an artist or an innovator? Knowing your role can help you set the right mentality for tackling the problem or task at hand.

  3. Ensure you have total freedom to tinker and innovate as needed. If you can’t test ideas out, your creativity will be stifled. You need to have boundless freedom to explore ideas as necessary.

That’s it. As long as the conditions for creativity are met–through May’s three keys” we will find ourselves readily stumbling on new and worthwhile ideas.

You don’t need a self-help guide to thinking creative. You also don’t need the perfect tool (or even a toolkit) to discover your creative potential.

All you need is a goal, the belief that you can be creative, and the freedom to be so. Some tools and books exist to help you do just that, but most are too focused on the outcome and less about the conditions.

Which of the three keys are missing from your life today? What one thing could you change to get all three keys into your life? What’s stopping you from doing that one thing right now?

Photo by Matilde Zacchigna.