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On Creativity
April 9, 2013

On Creativity



I recently gave a little talk to my fellow Damsels in Cardiff about Creativity and what it means to me. Not wanting to give a talk without a prop (in the hope that my audience looks at it , not me ) I doodled a little book which can be folded out of a sheet of A4 feel free to download and print out a copy here…. creative zine PDF (This link will show you how to fold it)
Here is a little book (a ‘zine) about the things I’ve learnt about creativity over the years, years in which I have moved from being a sad and frustrated creative soul- for 15 years I hid my natural and urgent creative spirit under the bushel of a career in local government, for goodness sake! – to a fully fledged “creativangelist!” *(ed’s note- made up word. I’m a creative, I’m allowed :) )

Creativity means different things to different people. There are many definitions but one I like is that creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.
To some it is a source of entertainment, others use their creative skills to effectively communicate their ideas- others, maybe in business, use it to solve problems. You may be creative in the kitchen, the garden, the art studio, in the boardroom or even in the bedroom but I guarantee if you look you will find your creative spirit. And when you do, it will lead you to a full and satisfying life.


Creativity is full of paradoxes. In the next 5 minutes I’ll contradict myself several times. For example, I’ll tell you that inspiration will strike at any time- often when you least expect it and always when you don’t have a pen to hand…. And yet, you can’t just hang around waiting for it.

Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “ I write only when inspiration strikes” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9.00 sharp.”
Preparation, focus and routine is a critical part of the creative life. Twyla Tharp wrote a whole book about this in The Creative Habit.

I get inspired by looking at other peoples’ work- I’m a very curious, borderline nosey person, and yet, here’s the paradox. This hunt for inspiration, or ‘research’, can stop me dead in my tracks as I compare myself unfavourably to the amazing work I’m witnessing. The same goes for many other daily distractions- my kids, my garden, the wonder of nature, all can inspire or distract me in equal measure. My goals and ambitions can open me up to creative endeavour, but also provide a fertile feeding ground for Resistance. A blank page can inspire- but more often it can reduce me to paralysis.

The most important thing I’ve discovered about creativity- it is an anti-depressant more effective than Prozac and more thrilling than crack cocaine. When I’m in a dark place, I find that through art journaling in particular, a combination of paint and words, I can meditate, express gratitude, embark on a process of self exploration and self expression- there is nothing more uplifting than finding flow in a creative endeavour. By flexing my creative muscle in however small a way, I make it a daily practice.

Flow is the thing. I thought I’d discovered it but in fact a chap called Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about it some years ago. When I’m in flow I know exactly what I’m doing- there’s a balance, at last, between challenge and achievement- I have no fear of failure- I’m utterly un self -conscious- I have no sense of time passing.


I have far more interest in the process than the result. I try and remember a mantra- pleasure is what matters, not the perfection of the end result. I’ve learnt too that it has to be authentic- I don’t mean just about copying the work of others- there is nothing new in art after all- but that the only satisfying work is work for its own sake, that speaks to your heart, not for fortune or attention or applause.
Our challenge then, if we are in business, is how to monetise our creativity without losing the passion for it.

We are all creative. You can deny it all you like, but it will get you in the end. We ignore our creativity at our own peril, and failing to nurture children’s’ creativity and imagination in schools is a huge loss to a world undergoing a technological revolution- there’s a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson in which he says that the ‘power of imagination is everything’. But education is trapped in the 19th century with a focus on a few core subjects and a constrained teaching environment.

In conclusion we are all creative. The stakes are high if we don’t accept this, It’s the thing that sets us apart from the animals, and the future of our world may depend on creative thinking. But here’s the final paradox. The stakes are also high if we lay ourselves open and vulnerable to the risks involved in being creative. Like a troublesome toddler, it is frustrating, inspiring, addicting, all consuming, fickle, erratic and risky. But I wouldn’t be without it!

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