Practicing Creativity (or...Napkin Material)

What is creativity? Can you learn to be creative or are you just born with it? How do you develop creativity? These are commonly asked questions and the following is the universe's greatest dissertation and final answer on them.

Creativity is the ability to find new paths, new ideas, new patterns, new flavors of Cheerios, etc. outside of the traditional ones. It is originality. Imagination. It is easy to think of icons of creative genius - Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs...we tend to make plaster busts of them and put them up on a pedestal, without understanding the process by which they achieved their world-changing creativity.

But they do have a process, even if there is no universal step by step method to copy and paste for our own creative achievements. A common declaration by such geniuses is that they are nothing special. They simply persisted where others gave up. They self-taught when they were curious (which is all the time).

Think of the poor guy who invented the soap, Lever 1. It was a failure. Then he invented Lever 2. Also a failure. He kept inventing and finally after the failure of Lever 1,999, he gave up, a broken man. Little did he know he was only one more iteration away from huge success!

Creativity and genius are pretty much the same thing. The ability to make connections that no one has made before. Like any ability, it can be learned. Sure, there are those who just seem to pick it up easily, but it's always learned. It probably won't just fall into your lap, like the crumbs of an Oreo while you're binge watching Netflix.

Sometimes that does happen, though. We've probably all experienced a moment where we were doing something mundane like taking a shower or driving in traffic or thumb-wrestling albino sloths in a circus in Argentina when that really cool random idea came out of nowhere. Kapow!

I've dubbed this Napkin Material (Before cell phones were around) because I would grab the nearest thing around (a napkin) and write it down so I wouldn't forget it. But that napkin doesn't do any good just sitting in your pocket, unless you spill your drink while thumb wrestling the sloth. You have to workshop the idea. You have to get past the point where it looks like the idea was a dud and it just isn't going to work.

You have to keep learning, keep trying, keep failing until you finally DO make the new connections and apply it. It can be long and frustrating experience, but if you stick with it, well, you'll probably still fail, will have practiced the art of creativity. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you get. One of those times you will take your napkin material and break through the wall of commonality.

When you're on the cover of Famous Creative People Monthly, your interviewer will ask, "how in the world did you come up with that idea?! You are a creative genius." You'll think back on all the hard work you put into it, the holes in the wall where you kept banging your head, this article,

and you'll chuckle. "Yes, it just came to me."