The most important thing right now is what’s possible, not merely what you can imagine.
That is to say: creativity requires an idea to be realistic, possible, and yet still different. Without the possibility of being a reality, an idea isn’t creative: it’s imaginative. And while imagination is undoubtedly important when it comes to creativity, the two are completely different processes. When we conflate imagination with creativity, we set ourselves up for failure or disappointment.
It’s easy to believe that creativity is all about turning the impossible into reality, or about making something from nothing, or coming up with ideas out of thin air. But those things are not what exist within the realm of creativity. Instead, dreamy outcomes are what grow from imagination.
Without understanding the realistic aspect of creativity, many of us head into projects, brainstorms, and discussions with the wrong expectations. Believing creativity means that we must turn the impossible into something possible sets us up for failure, or burning out. Because that’s not what creativity is about.
We shouldn’t fear the blank page!
Creativity has little to do with what we can dream up, and everything to do with what we can uncover in the world around us.
In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson describes this point as: the adjacent possible. The ideas that move forward must be founded in reality if they’re to become reality. The adjacent possible is the next realistic step an idea may take at any moment in time.
As an example: the automobile couldn’t have been invented before the combustion engine, or the horse-drawn carriage, or the wheel. Each invention must have had occurred, in succession, for the automobile to ever come into existence. It’d be impossible for anyone to invent the automobile before the idea of the carriage. That’s not to say it would have been impossible to imagine the automobile—a powerful machine capable of using wheels and something like steam or fire—to transport people.
In-fact: many of histories great inventors dreamed up machines well before they could be made a reality. Those ideas were rarely viewed as creative, but always looked at as ambitious, imaginative, and in some cases: crazy.
Creativity is seeing what can exist but does not yet. It’s exploring the edges of knowledge in order to uncover what we don’t know. That doesn’t mean inventing something from nothing, or pulling ideas out of thin air. It means seeing what’s there, imagining what’s not yet there, and filling in the gaps between the two.