Creativity often comes from discomfort


Creativity comes to those who want or need it. Those who are hungry for change, something different, a shake up.

Comfort is debilitating when it comes to creative thinking. The act of creativity thrives in moments of tension, when there is struggle there is an opening for creativity.

You cannot merely will creativity. You cannot "try harder" to cause it to occur. It requires a gap, some type of discomfort, or another type of provocation to occur.

Consider your appetite for food. It’s hard to see the appeal of food when you’ve just eaten a large meal. No matter how much you might enjoy food, it can be hard to stomach another bite after you’ve over indulged. The appeal of a really good meal is partially in the hunger for it. The same is true of creativity.

If you don’t see a need to break from routine or change your thinking, the notion of creativity will not only seem unappealing, it will become difficult to realize. Why question the status quo if it’s giving you what you want? Why push boundaries if their confines are comfortable? Even if you don’t know things could be better, it’s easy to convince yourself good enough is... well, good enough.

It’s those who feel an itch to change things in their life, those who are unsatisfied with their work or processes or other aspects of life are more likely to experience a creative breakthrough. The ones who dare to look out and ask: “What if this were different?” are the ones who often make it so.

We call this perspective “openness to new experiences” and it’s one of the primary attributes that determine whether or not someone is creative. Associate director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas, Magdalena G. Grohman believes openness to experiences is the single most defining trait that makes creative success possible.

This helps explain why boredom is so valuable to creativity: it instigates exploration, it creates an opening for novelty. It also explains why those who travel or read diverse content and expose themselves to different ways of thinking are the ones who tend to produce more creative ideas and work.

Perhaps one reason some of the most creative artists and musicians in history are also the most troubled: the struggle they encounter in life is what pushes them to try new and different things.

If you want to be more creative, embrace the uncomfortable feeling brought about by peeking outside your routine and asking: “What else is out there?”

To think creatively you merely need to look closer at things

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.

Creativity is often a means of understanding the world

Why do we make art? Why do we write, or dance, or sing, or generally pursue creating something from nothing? How do these drives propel or hinder our ability to think creatively?

In a 2011 interview, New York artist Chrissy Angliker explains one reason she paints is to make sense of the world:

“Making art helps me process the world around me. My surroundings are my inspiration. They are constantly changing, therefore my relationship to them always changes and I have endless inspiration that I’m working with. I use making art as a tool to make sense of it all.”

Creation as a means of exploring and understanding the world around us is a common theme for many artists, writers and inventors.

In 1946, writer George Orwell shared that putting pieces together and seeing things more clearly was one of four reasons we pursue creativity.

“To see things as they are,” Orwell wrote, “to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”

In your everyday life you may find yourself driven to make sense of the world around you through means you don’t immediately relate to creation. Journaling, talking openly with someone, meditation, mentoring others, are all good ways to make sense of the world. These acts also serve a powerful purpose for unlocking creativity, as they give us the perspective from which we build our ideas.

When we seek to understand, and do so in a way that creates some byproduct as a result, we’re taking a step towards creativity by connecting the why with the what.

It’s when we acknowledge this connection that we begin to not only see what’s there in front of us, but also what could be.

Your memories of creativity affect what you can do with it

What is the most powerful memory you have of feeling creative?

Was it when you were recognized for being creative? A time when an idea or solution came as a surprise? Was it recent or long ago?

When it comes to how we think and work, our memories shape much of what we perceive as possible or not.

If your most powerful memory of being creative was when you created a great painting or wrote a successful story, you’re far more likely to associate those acts with creativity than others. Or if your favorite memory of being creative entails being recognized for your efforts, you’re far less inclined to pursue creative ideas unless recognition or praise is a predictable part of it.

The reality is that creativity takes many different shapes and forms, and our very perception of past experiences with it can cloud us from what we can do with it in the future.

For a long time society at-large has viewed creativity in relation to anything artistic. We’ve done so not because art is an accurate representation of creativity, but because it’s easier to associate creativity with art simply because there are less logical constraints in that industry. Creativity is not art, it’s the mental capacity to dream up new and useful ideas.

Yet how many of us are inclined to believe that creativity has to do with art simply because our most powerful memories of feeling creative—of experiencing a moment of “Aha!”—dealt with creating something artistic?

Of course creativity has a place in the realm of art, but if everyone always stuck by the preconceived notion of creativity being the same as art, Leonardo Da Vinci would never have looked at the mathematics of the golden ratio in order to create the Mona Lisa. Nor would M.C. Escher have divided planes to challenge what was perceived as impossible mathematically. For centuries math and art have had a long and empowering relationship.

But the common perception of creativity remains: "creativity is art!” Why? Because many of our fondest memories of feeling creative, of tackling the unknown, of accomplishing what once felt impossible, were artistic in nature.

Maybe not. What’s certain is that creativity is not what many of us have been led to believe it is, which in-turn, stiffles what we think we can do with it.

What’s your fondest memory of creativity? How do you think that memory might be influencing your understanding of what it means to be creative? What would happen if you purposefully tried to shake that belief?

After-all, creativity is a lot more than we give it credit for.

Where exactly does creativity exist within the brain?

Where does creativity exist within the brain?

If you’re like most people, you probably grew up being taught that the right hemisphere of the brain is where creativity and subjects like art primarily reside.

This is a common fallacy, one which is important to understand if we’re to better understand how we can be more creative (or what might be blocking us from doing so).

The common fallacy of creativity being a predominantly right-brained activity originally stemmed from historical studies of the brain’s anatomy and how different parts of the brain control different, distinct physical reactions.

Writing is primarily believed to be a left-brain activity, whereas music awareness is believed to be managed by the right side of the brain. Damage critical parts of the left side of your brain and you’ll not only be unable to control your right hand, you’ll have difficulty trying to write anything at all. Or damage the right side of your brain and you’ll struggle to use your left hand, as well as to comprehend the various sounds and melodies that make up music.

Because intuition and imagination are believed to be primarily managed by the right hemisphere of the brain, a common misconception has shaped around that theory: we believe that creativity itself resides in the right side of the brain.

And yet, asking whether or not creativity belongs to the left or right side of the brain is like asking what flavor yellow is. Or how long short is. Or why the sky isn’t a sound.

Creativity doesn’t belong to any single part or region of the brain. It’s not an act or trait that can be associated with any particular part or region, and it’s certainly not an artistic endeavor to begin with.

Instead, creativity is the result of different sections of the brain interacting with one another in order to generate novel patterns through the use of existing ideas or concepts.

As Bradley Voytek, cognitive scientists at the University of California, San Diego, puts it:

“Imagine asking ‘where is video located in my computer?’ That doesn’t make any sense. Your monitor is required to see the video. Your graphics card is required to render the video. The software is required to generate the code for the video. But the 'video’ isn’t located anywhere in the computer.”

The same concept goes for creativity.

Creativity doesn’t exist in any one place of your brain, but instead exists as a function or many different parts of your brain working together to develop understanding or to create new concepts.

Everything from our short-term memory and the types of memory encodings our frontal lobes, temporal lobe, and thalamus deal with, to the way we interpret and emotionally respond to stimulation and memories in the amygdala, then mash it all together in various parts of the cortex and the hippocampus. There is a science to creativity in the brain, but it’s a complex one to say the least.

What we can be sure of is that creativity—the mental capacity to generate novel and useful ideas—doesn’t belong to any one part or region of the brain, nor does any set of networks within the brain belong to a creative process.

The reality is that creativity is the result of many different parts of our brain working together to shape and understand mental constructs as they relate to the real world.

Doodling or writing in a notebook might utilize many of the parts of your brain that reside in the left hemisphere, but trying to figure out how you might draw or write your way out of a complex, creative puzzle is going to also require logical thinking, short-term memory, and even subsets of mathematical skills.

Why does this matter? Because not only does creativity exists as a result of interactions within the brain, but also within your entire body.

The neural networks that make up you reach all the way from the top of your brain, down to your fingers and toes. It’s through this vast neural network that we, of course, shape our experiences, knowledge, and beliefs.

Therefore, the sensation of touch, sight, smell, sound, or hearing something can spark new ideas just as much as sitting and trying to think of them can.

Creativity exists within the experiences we have and the way we interpret and seek to understand them. If you want to find ways to be more creative, experience things that will activate different parts of your mind or body. Like writing about how the color blue tastes, traveling to the end of sound, or simply trying something new and different.