Many years ago, a seventh grade social studies project found me using a fancy new (huge!) printer to make a faux-old note on tan paper. A lighter and some delicate edge-burning later, I’d built a middle school masterpiece–what I considered a true homage to important documents of years past. It was supposed to be a letter someone famous wrote to someone else famous-explorer types, if memory serves–but it was my letter on my topic in my words.
Proud of my masterpiece, I showed my friend and her mom the project the day before turn in. The mom, as well-meaning as she was blunt, took a look and said, that’s not creative. That’s just burning the edges on a piece of paper. You can imagine the slight arch of the back and the bristle hearing this from a teacher (whose own daughter in my class hadn’t done anything for this project yet, mind you) summing up my efforts, from the words to the edges, as nothing special.
Years later, it’s a poignant memory. It set me on a quest to discover and define creativity and to know it in a way that I’d be positive not to again be caught short in public. Friend’s Mom, who I love dearly, actually did me a favor engendering a lifelong quest to understand over and over again where we would draw lines around and through creative work.
In the years since, I’ve been privileged to work in creative companies with infinitely creative people and teams that multiply the collective power to create new things out of old, something out of nothing, imagination out of rules. It’s got me thinking about what I know consider as creative or decidedly not so. (Tell me if I’m being Friend’s Mom here….)
- Creativity accelerates with constraint. Especially the constraints you hate in the beginning–a low budget, hardly any time, no materials, the team you don’t think you’ll get along with.
- Creativity is what happens when you’re planning for other things. Such as the idea in the shower or how the hairstyle magazine in the salon teaches you something you can apply to your marketing processes.
- Creativity happens so often that we only recognize it once in a while. We take for granted all the little moments of it that add up like millions of grains of sand to make one big sandcastle that impresses the hell out of us.
- Creativity favors preparation, much as luck does. If your mind is open to expansion and ready to be a vessel for new thought, in any which way, you’ll be receptive at the right time.
- Creativity is in the eye of the beholder. Mine doesn’t look the same as yours. Your painted picture of perfect black and white photo of a cityscape is my secret poetry, is my paper heart project on burlap canvas.
- Creativity is measured in individual growth, not grand, universal scales ranging from yes to no. It’s an up here thing (taps head), not an out there thing (points to world).
- Creativity likes an audience, but it loves just you with your pajamas at the computer at 3am or in the middle of a hike with a notepad in your backpack. Like a dog, it expects no outward trappings of success–only an open heart.
So I’m going to take my burnt edges, because I liked them well enough for where I was at. And the writing was good. The writing has always been good. The paper was the sleight of hand, the one I found myself almost apologizing for.