Helping Creative People Create

15 Widespread Creativity Myths

Chicago Urban Golf Memorial Day Weekend 2008
Creative Commons License photo credit: BrokenBat

It never ceases to amaze me how many myths float around the internet concerning creative people and creative thinking. Many of these myths probably come from outdated business practices or mindsets, but others are honest-to-goodness  public perception of creative people. Well, today we’re going to set the record straight.

The answers to these myths might surprise people, as us creative folk aren’t as different as you might think. So let’s dive in, shall we? Oh, and feel free to leave other myths in the comments below. I don’t want to leave any out.

1. Creative people are weird.

Ok, this one may be the closest to the truth than any of the others (at least in my case). The problem is that everyone is a creative person. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but even the most stuffy, straight-laced person is a creative person. It’s just how we use our creativity. So the statement “Creative people are weird” suddenly turns into “All people are weird”.

And what’s so wrong with being a little odd, anyway?

2. Putting a bunch of people together in a large room will produce creative ideas.

Ugh. This might be one of the worst myths. Creativity isn’t a pattern, and you definitely can’t artificially create it in a meeting room. Collaborating creative ideas is usually done in a setting where ideas are quickly bounced back and forth, and a board room full of people arguing and trying to talk at the same time is hardly optimal.

Studies have shown that working alone or even in virtual groups is much better than in face-to-face meetings with a bunch of people.

It’s not that some meetings can be very good in terms of brainstorming ideas, it’s just that most businesses don’t really know how to have a productive brainstorming session.

3. Only creative people have creative ideas

Many of the best ideas ever were put into motion by some of the most common people. Why? Because great ideas build on common concepts. All anyone needs for a killer idea is to satisfy their own need or a problem. Innovation is usually born from a need, not “creative thinking’. It’s all about connecting the dots, not making the dots.

4. Deadlines spark creativity

In school it was a common practice amongst my friends to say that there was no greater motivator or source of inspiration than a fast-approaching deadline. Usually, that meant that they wrote a crappy paper.

Some organizations still keep this mindset. They impose unreal deadlines on their employees in the hopes of stressing the creativity out of them. It has been my experience that whenever anything is squeezed out of a person, the result is usually crappy (pun intended). You just can’t force creativity.

While deadlines can be good for finding simple solutions and just getting a project done, you can’t impose creative thinking on someone. You can inspire creativity, but that’s about it.

5. Competition is better than collaboration

Sometimes bosses create an environment where the employee with the best idea is rewarded, so that there’s always a competition amongst ideas. While this method can work, it works for all the wrong reasons. By keeping ideas to themselves, the ideas aren’t allowed to be refined by anyone else’s input. Instead, greedy workers silently work on ideas and horde them until they’re released to a “meh” reaction.

Collaboration gives an extra something to even the best ideas. Without it, the idea is limited to just one perspective could have been helped along by a couple more great minds.

6. Creatives are Messy

Creatives are sometimes known for the messy, “carefree” surroundings that we work in. Organization typically isn’t something that is high on the priority list of a Creative.

While this can be true, it’s also a stereotype. I like to consider myself a fairly organized person, and have many other extremely creative acquaintances who are some of the most organized people I’ve ever met.

Anyone can be messy and unorganized.

7. Structure is bad for creative thinking

Everyone likes the idea of working on a “blank canvas”. No boundaries, just limitless possibilities to start creating.

Ha!

Even a blank canvas has four corners. There are always limitations to any project. Limitations shape how the project or idea will be developed. And it’s not a bad thing. Structure gives you the opportunity to think outside the box, because without structure there is no box! Just let that marinate for a bit.

The real creativity comes when you’re able to work around the structure and limitations place. Structure also ensures that the project isn’t too wide open and the scope isn’t set to broad.

8. An idea WILL come in one sitting

Many people sometimes assume that if they set aside a block of time to think, an idea will surely come. This hardly ever happens. Ideas usually come when you least expect them. One never knows when an idea will happen, and odds are it will be at the worst time. That’s why you have to capture them when you have the chance.

9. Creativity requires high-level thinking

Eli Whitney claimed that he had the idea for the concept of the cotton gin by watching a cat try to pull a chicken through a wire fence, and only some of the feathers were pulled through.

Was this high level thinking? I hope not.

It was watching a slightly macabre (or comical, depending on your preference in humor) scene on a farm. The stuff that knee-slapping stories spawn from. No, Whitney just happened to see the right “scene” that triggered the idea in his head for that “Eureka!” moment. This is true for many great ideas. You don’t always need Einstein’s chalkboard and quantum physics to have a great idea.

10. The only motivator for creative thinking is money and fear

If you work for a business that has this mindset, run far, far away. True motivation can never come from either of these sources. Like we stated earlier, the you can’t force creativity, but you can encourage it. Here are a few things that might foster some creative thinking:

Essentially, a clean, stimulating environment is the best place to really get those creative juices flowing.

11. Ridiculous ideas are worthless

False! Some of the most ridiculous ideas end up being some of the best creations we’ve ever seen. You can’t afford to discount anything when it comes to ideas.  Ridiculous ideas aren’t worthless… you just never know which ones are going to take off.

Also, “pointless” projects aren’t always so pointless. It’s these side projects that introduce new ideas and concepts that might not have been around otherwise.

Just remember: the Pet Rock turned it’s inventor into a millionaire. I rest my case.

12. Only certain jobs use creativity

It’s amazing how many people discount “professional” creativity as something reserved for people like designers and writers. Not true! In fact, I’d argue that just about any job can be helped by a healthy dose of creative thinking.

13. Creative people always have great ideas

Most creative people only have a few great ideas out of a barrel-full. It’s these few “gems” that make the process worthwhile for the dreamer. Like any part of life, failure is a great thing and is even encouraged. Failure drives us to try harder the next time.

14. I’ll never forget my ideas

If you’re like me, you can’t even remember what you had for breakfast. Yet every time I have a great idea, I fight the urge to “just remember it”. Yeah right.

Not only do ideas sometimes come at the worst possible times, we can’t rely on our brains to hang on to these ideas. There’s just too many things that happen in a given day, and as our days grow more and more hectic, relying on our noodles to remember our ideas is risky business. Here’s a (slightly obscure) way to look at effective idea capture.

15. More and better technology will yield more and better ideas

As our lives become more connected to technology with things like iPhones, Blackberry’s, Twitter, and a slew of other new technologies, the more apparent it is that technology doesn’t help with creativity, it actually hinders it.

Technology doesn’t do anything for creative thinking. In fact, it can sometimes slow it down. Constantly staring at a screen with tons of distracting things like dings and popups won’t get you thinking creatively. It zones us in on the computer screen (or phone) and keeps us scatter-brained.

While it could be argued that technology helps with idea capture, the best things for creativity sometimes is breaking away from the technology. Reading a book, talking a walk, exercising, and other common tasks usually lend themselves to better ideas than technology ever could.

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  • http://zenhabits.net Leo

    Excellent post, Glen! It's a great exploration of the stereotypes of creative people in our society.

  • http://jdwired.com joemillerjd

    MYTH: Our Educational and Hiring Systems Are Reliable Tools For Separating the Creatives From the Un-Creatives.

    Standardized test scores and traditional teaching stifle creativity more than they promote it. If the U.S. educational system were adequate for presenting managers with the full range of talents in the workforce, and if businesses were not beholden to antiquated behavioral benchmarks that were originally designed for line workers, the U.S. would be leading the world in innovation, which it really isn't anymore.

    • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

      Great one Joe. The education system does have room for improvement with respects to fostering and encouraging creativity.

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  • http://www.YinVsYang.com Peter

    Great post. I am in the creative field and can definitely say that this is a MUST read for anyone entering any creative field.

    http://yinvsyang.com/

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  • http://tools-for-thought.com Andre Kibbe

    1. Observations like “weird” and “messy” are self-fulfilling. If a person holding these stereotypes sees a valuable idea from a so-called creative that who isn't eccentric, the that person focuses on the idea itself rather than the person who generated it. If the stereotyper sees a valuable idea from an eccentric, it validates the stereotype.

    2. I thought I was the only person in the world who believed the “collaboration” during creative sessions was overrated, and sometimes counterproductive. Even when you tell people to suspend judgement, most participants will hedge on giving input, out of self-consciousness.

    11. Even if an idea is ridiculous, there's usually a useful principle to extract from it that can be used to regenerate itself as a better idea. All ideas, even the best ones, are works in progress.

    Terrific post, Glen!

  • Steve

    “6. Creatives are Messy”

    Actually this might be more true than what you think. I recently was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 22. Being a responsible health consumer, and having a vested interest in my ability to maintain a demanding career, I've done a significant amount of research into the topic.
    During reading a set of self help books, and research papers regarding the study of Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I picked up on an interesting correlation.
    Several sources cited that a greater percentage of individuals employed in “creative” fields are diagnosed with ADHD than in other fields by a wide margin.
    Messiness, and disorganization in general, is a very common trait in an ADHD individual. ADHD individuals are thought to be more attracted to “creative” types of employment because typically less structured attention to tedious details is required in these types of careers. Of course the percentage of “creatives” that are ADHD is still a small minority compared to non ADHD affilicted people.
    Not really arguing with your statement, but I thought it was a relevant fact.
    Good article

    • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

      That is interesting. And I can see why ADHD folk would be drawn to creative employment.

  • http://www.ellendiresta.com Ellen

    Excellent post! I'd like to add one that goes hand-in-hand with your Structure idea. Success metrics stifle creativity. Without having success metrics, you can't tell if you are creatively solving a problem, or just making things up.

    • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

      Ah… success metrics. While I do think quantifying results is important, you can't always put a value on *everything*. Good call.

  • http://thefinancialliberation.com Daniel Richard

    Hey! You called me weird. Hmph.. That makes us all creative people I suppose. :)

    Loved point 13 also. This is a great post you have there Glen!

    - Daniel

    • http://lifedev.net Glen Stansberry

      Hey, if the shoe fits… ;)

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  • http://creatingkaizen.blogspot.com/ Ethan

    “2. Putting a bunch of people together in a large room will produce creative ideas. “

    Too true. Brings to mind the phrase, “A cow is a horse designed by a committee”. Large groups can sometimes come up with awesome ideas, but more often than not the great ones are shot on sight, or watered down so thoroughly they lack all the punch and uniqueness of the original vision.

    • Katie

      While I totally agree that #2 is a myth, it's important to recognize that group work can help a creative process. It just needs to be balanced with time for reflection, which tends to be individual.

      It's really important that we not omit the VAST benefits of exposure to others' ideas, experiences, and expertise. That sort of thinking leads us to blocking 'trivial' websites!

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  • educationinnovation

    Glen, first excellent blog. Working in education, I see evidence of these myths all the time. When we want a new idea we have meetings. Nothing good comes from them, unless whining is a creative method. I have been pegged as being the “Idea guy” because I use creative thinking tools and techniques, which anyone could do. But for some reason they think they have no ideas. I have talked to so many teachers with great ideas, but no one ever asks them. The worst is not wanting to have a bad idea or not wanting to get silly with some strange ideas. It's too bad, because we spend all day with some of the most imaginative people you will ever meet…kids!

  • michit

    Hi,
    Thanks for a great collection of myths. Here is another one I came across: Creativity can not be thaught. Either you are born with it, or you are not. From my experience, this myth is a great excuse for those not interested in further developing their skills. To read more about this myth, visit SIT's innovation blog at http://www.sitsite.com/blog.

  • http://www.chadfullerton.com Chad Fullerton

    Excellent post, and all true.

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  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    no, it is different than that. very uncreative.

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  • http://thewigleys.net Jay Wigley

    About #15, how tech hinders creativity: do you have any evidence? My gut agrees with the idea–I know I have fewer ideas and insight after spending hours with my laptop and smartphone. . .but I'd like some independent evidence.

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  • ed

    did you plagiarize 6 of these myths ? you should give credit where due always!

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  • http://www.cafeterya.com Okey

    Here is another one I came across: Creativity can not be thaught. Either you are born with it, or you are not.

  • http://www.batak--oyna.com Batak oyna

    That is interesting. And I can see why ADHD folk would be drawn to creative employment.

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