Creativity is the process of generating ideas that are both unique and valuable.
But who does an idea need to be valuable for exactly? Is it enough for an idea to be original to a small group or even just an individual? Must an idea be wholly original to the world at-large? Is there a scale where creativity tapers off: where ideas which are valuable to an individual are still creative, but not as creative as those which influence a grander audience?
In his timeless book Where Ideas Come From Steven Johnson explains the seven or so requirements for spurring creative thought: everything from serendipity and slow hunches, to large networks and competition.
One of the crucial drivers of creativity, Johnson explains, is the concept of an adjacent possible: an idea cannot readily come into existence—let alone consciousness of any individual—until certain circumstances make it available. There are very real steps toward any one creation or idea, invention and creative output are only possible within the bounds of the adjacent possible, the realm of possibilities in any given moment.
The adjacent possible means everything we take for granted today came into existence when it did partially because the technologies and resources available then made it so.
But resources and technology are not equally shared throughout the world or even within small groups. This is nowhere more apparent than the bustling city streets of American cities.
I'm living in the San Francisco area and here we have a large homeless population placed right next to those who live with excess. If an homeless person were to come up with a way to stay warm, get food, and work their way out of homelessness: is that creative? On the other end of the spectrum: if someone invents a new way for your car to drive itself to the gas station, is that creative?
In either case the ideas are both valuable and novel, but getting yourself food, shelter, and a job is on an entirely different level than inventing a new technology for car systems. The person who has those things may not think much of the idea, whereas the homeless person may not find any value in the autonomous driving technology.
We can begin to see here a scale of creativity.
There is undoubtedly creative things you are doing every day which are creative: the subtle way you optimize your day, the way you resolve problems at home or work, the things you create. Though each solution, creation, or resolution you come up with for your life may not be as unique or valuable for the larger population, each is still, unequivocally, creative.
We've become so accustomed to hearing of grand inventions or world-changing ideas, it's easy to conflate those things with what it means to be creative. The reality is even brining value to yourself with new ideas and experiences is absolutely creative. And yes, the larger ideas and inventions which influence and shape more lives are also creative, but that should not diminish the value of personal creativity.
It's important to learn how to master our own personal creativity. Learning how we generate creative ideas that are impactful in our own lives and seeing how those same processes might scale to larger, more impactful creativity.
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