Why the best creatives are often makers too

When you look at what differentiates many creative thinkers from everyone else, one common thing is their craftiness. That is: their ability to not merely have ideas, but to execute on them too. Unequivocally, the most diligent creatives are also builders.

The best creative thinkers build things, either as part of their creative work or in their free time. They build businesses, apps, websites, books, artwork, jewelry, groups or conferences, toys, furniture, clothing, you name it.

Look out at any of the most prolific creatives of history and you'll see the point is true: each was not merely someone who had good ideas, but someone who built ideas into real, tangible things too.

But why? Why are so many creatives also makers? One reason is simply that it’s hard to critique something that doesn’t exist yet. To determine whether an idea is really any good or not you have to get it out of your head. Ideas are useless until we get them out of our heads, to see what they can do. You have to build the ideas in order to effectively evaluate them.

When you have an idea it exists as a volatile connection of neurons in your brain, little else. And because an idea exists entirely within the brain, it's possible to do anything with it. You can imagine an idea as being remarkable, or useless. You can imagine it being difficult to execute and build, or you can imagine it being effortless. You can imagine the idea exactly as it should be with little to no regard for how it may actually work.

Until the idea gets out of your head, its value is going to be difficult to accurately measure. You have to know how to get ideas out into the world in order to better gauge them when they occur.

Creatives are also makers because making gives us an additional layer of thinking about the world around us. And this is important: to understand what ideas we might build, we must have a better understanding of how things get built in the first place.

Instead of seeing something simply for what it is, the creative maker can view the object as many different parts, each with its own history, attributes, and modifiable values. This sense that can only be developed by making. It’s hard to know what goes into making anything if you’ve never built something.

Harvard researchers are beginning to study this notion—that learning to build enables more creative thinking—by looking at schools which teach making over more traditional, classroom-based learning. As Director of DesignME program at Park Day School puts it:

“In my experience with the kids, [building] allows them to more quickly gain a deeper understanding of what makes up that object and its purposes and its complexities... As kids try to express their understanding in three dimensions it adds so much more to how they engage with a concept and wrap their mind around it."

Having a better understanding of what it takes to build something also helps explain why so many creatives tend to be artistic or entrepreneurial: because those are the exercises with which they learn to look, adjust perspective, make do with what is available or be resourceful, and try things before evaluating them.

It's a common behavior to critique an idea before we've had sufficient time to ruminate on it. We tend to be our own biggest obstacles to creative thinking. But by learning to be makers—learning to get ideas out of the cloudy space within our heads—we can develop better habits for identifying which ideas are worthwhile and which may not be.

If you want to be more creative: learn to make. A painting, a draft of a novel, a ceramic bowl, a piece of jewelry, a video, a photographic print, a picture frame, anything that can help you grasp the process of turning an idea into something real and tangible. Also surround yourself by creatives who make. You never know what insight they might share or perspective they can help you see from.