The Nature of Creativity

We create because we are creative.  Sounds silly to even put that into words.  Yet it is a distinctively human quality that we are not content to simply survive and reproduce, we want to change the world in some way, some unique way that leaves a mark echoing our unique individual presence.  Some of us become artists, some writers, many just working to carve out a living and trying to ignore the call to uniqueness in a sea of 7 billion other unique souls.  But there is no other you, there is no other me.  Funny, we don’t tend to look at the world around us and ask questions like, “do the birds each want to write their own song?” We tend to just listen and take the world in as if we were the primary audience.  Yet each of us longs to be unique and uniquely loved, having the song written for us alone.

My wife and I founded a non-profit called LOVEHuntsville ( focused on using interactive art to inspire action.  We are both musicians and, while she is the artist in our relationship, I have a fair amount of creative gumption in my software background.  When we started out, we were leading two events for a group of worship team members to explore the creative process, the two events were Creative Focus and Creative Blur – one focused on inspiration from intentional focused effort and the other just a random get together focused on having fun and letting the lines blur.  We would use TED talks and articles to spark conversation and games to create thoughtful environments.  We still do a good bit of those things in our brainstorming for LOVEHuntsville.  We were really after, and still very much are, what sparks the creative process.  The question of the nature of creativity itself is deeply rooted into my heart and history.

I recently got the opportunity to lead a rather interesting private research activity on “Co-Creation” (of which Crowdsourcing is a subset).  My rather eclectic background of software projects gave me a broad brush start, but the intent of the project was to foster innovation on a broad scale not just in software.  One of the focus areas of our team’s research was on the nature of innovation – what sparks ideas.  There are some good books on the subject and I dove headlong into studies about world-changing inventions that were fostered by competition, revision, and exploration.  I find that the surface answers are unsatisfactory, however, for explaining the drive itself. Sure, necessity is the mother of invention and all of that; but really, most of our needs have been met long ago and yet we still have the drive inherent in each of us to create.  The expression that captures this ironically well is “the greatest thing since sliced bread”… really, think about it.  Necessity may fuel invention, but it is not the founder.  Our idea of “great” creativity is highly subjective, and perhaps one of the most crippling ailments to the creative process.  Dispense with the idea of greatness – creativity is in all of us, so start by removing any comparison to “great”.  Most of the “great” inventions were fueled by crowds, not just individuals.

But individuals form groups, with the groups being unique precisely because they are made of unique individuals.  Consider how many variables you bring to a group simply by your very presence.  Fingerprints. DNA. Facial recognition. Voice prints.  We are so amazingly unique as individuals that it isn’t even fathomable – more than 7 billion unique individuals alive today, and each one as different as one snowflake is to the next.  When all the snow falls, the uniqueness is lost in the blur of powdery consistency; like the snow, we often simply comply and blend into the crowd.  But snowflakes we are not, with warm pulsating vibrant creativity coursing through each of our veins.  We are unique, and desire to be uniquely loved, noticed, and appreciated.

So, if you want to spark creativity, to get at it’s very nature, then notice someone in the crowd.  They are unique.  You have 7 billion opportunities to notice a unique, individual creation.  Find something in their eyes that is special, singular.  Then look at your own.  Stare deep.  Creativity is not something you pull out of the air, it is something you draw up from within.  While your creativity may change the world, that should not be what drives you to be creative in the first place.  You should, instead, be driven to creativity because you are unique, you create because you are creative at your core.  Your song is not like an echo of a melody that every bird of a certain breed sings – it is your song, and yours only.  The nature of your creativity is woven into who you are because you were not simply formed, but you were molded; crafted into the image of your Creator in a way that only you can reflect.  Only you.  Then, create out of the nature of who you are; and through the process of creativity discover both yourself and your Creator.

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