Creativity really stems from being able to understand the characteristics or behaviors of any thing, its circumstance, or the relationship between it and other things.
When you begin to explore and understand those things, you can change them, or imagine what the world would be like if any of those details were to change. And when you change one or more of those characteristics, you end up with something uniquely creative.
This is really all creativity is: the changing of one or more attributes of any thing. The removal of an element, the addition of something else, the relocation of the thing to a different circumstance or environment.
When changes occur simply for the sake of change what you’ll often—though not always—end up with is art.
Picasso experimented with changing the colors and placement of facial features in his paintings. What would the world look like from behind a more abstract lens? How would faces be interpreted and understood if they were represented as flat, static artworks rather than dimensional images?
In 1917 the French-American artist Marcel Duchamp wondered what would happen if he placed a urinal in a museum. How would the environment influence the porcelain fountain, and similarly how would the urinal change the environment?
In either case the result was artwork: change for entertainment or wonder. Neither exploration yielded much in the way of pushing humanity or invention forward, but each helped provoke the imagination of an audience.
Creativity differs from art in that the change must produce something both unique and useful. Utility is a primary factor of creativity, either for a large group or civilization itself, or even the individual.
Perhaps this is another reason why art and creativity are so commonly conflated: the process of creating one or the other is often the same, but the results vary.
When you change your routine just to see how it will influence your day, and you learn there’s a faster route you could be taking to work or school, that’s creativity.
When the team at Apple were experimenting with the iPhone and they decided to remove as many physical buttons as possible, that was creativity.
In your own life and work: by looking at the characteristics, traits, behaviors, and contexts of the things around you, then wondering what might happen if any of those things were to change, you begin to reveal creative thought.
What would happen if an element was removed?
What would happen if you replaced one element of the thing with that of another?
How does the context or environment influence or impact the thing?
Who would benefit from the changes? Who would suffer? What cost would any change occur? What’s the simplest thing to change now? What might be easier to change in the future? What’s the relationship between this thing and another, and what would strengthen or weaken that relationship?
It’s by exploring the attributes of any particular thing, then imagining how changing them might influence the larger whole, that we being to develop and uncover novel ideas. It’s identifying the ideas that are both novel and useful that we stumble into creativity.
The creative process is very much about understanding and exploring.