What we get by demystifying creativity

Technology, decades of research, and a powerful curiosity have enabled us to begin to understand the inner working areas of the mind.

Creativity is one such area that has captivated neuroscientists, psychologists, artists, and innovators, for centuries. Yet, today creativity remains a remarkably complex and highly mysterious subject, even to those who specialize in understanding it.

I’ve spent much of the past eight years researching and writing on creativity, and though I feel like I have a better understanding of exactly what we talk about when we talk about creativity, I feel no closer to being able to master those specific parts of my own mind or experience. That doesn’t prevent me from continuing my pursuit however.

And this got me thinking. When we try to disassemble creativity in an effort to better understand and control it, what do we get? Because creativity deals with so much complexity – not only the inner workings of the mind, but genetics, environmental factors, cultural circumstances, and luck – why even bother to look at it as a science to begin with?

On one hand, understanding creativity enables us to do more than we might imagine.

If we could foster creative thinking through education and training, if we could better evolve our own creative capacities, there would be a tremendous push forward for civilization, let alone our own selves.

Who wouldn’t like to be able to come up with novel and useful ideas on the spot? Or be able to resolve issues or solve substantial problems whenever they needed to? Or to express ourselves so clearly and thoughtfully that to create art would take on an entirely new meaning.

Demystifying creativity would enable us to do these things because we would have an understanding of precisely what propels us to think in creative ways.

But by breaking creativity apart into a science, something we can explain clearly and plainly, we might be irreparably damaging what it means to be creative and how we utilize the ability. Because, while creativity primarily takes place in the mind – based on very real factors we can identify and measure and impact – the act of creativity itself has always been about serendipity, uncertainty, and wonder; the opposite of what we seem to be trying to turn it into.

Part of what makes the creative processes so enthralling is the basic wonder of it. When an idea strikes, when we come up with a hot solution to a problem, when we invent a concept, it feels almost magical. If we attempt to harness that process fully, we remove part of the magic.

Part of what makes creativity work is simply not fully understanding it, not trying to control it.

I believe having some understanding of what influences our creativity can be beneficial, like how to organize your ideas or keepings your creative space messy. But I’m not sure we should ever attempt to fully grasp what’s going on in our minds when creativity begins to work. That process is better left to more natural devices, it seems.

Photo by Sybren Stuvel.