“To be creative you actually have to do something.”
- Do you tell yourself that you’re not a creative person?
- Do you think creativity is reserved for ‘artistic’ people who are blessed with natural talent?
- Did anyone ever tell you, way back in your childhood, that you weren’t very good at art?
- Does your family playfully tease you for being so uncreative?
- Do you worry about how your creative work looks compared to other peoples?
- Do you seek out approval or reassurance from others?
- Do you find yourself playing safe and creating work that fits a popular and familiar convention?
If you can answer YES to any of these questions – this blog post is for you!
When people tell me I’m lucky to be so talented I remember vividly a school report that I brought home at the age of 7 which read;
“Susan is hard working but lacks imagination”
I remember the shame of being told I didn’t have the golden gift of imagination and I spent the next decade wrestling with my urge to be creative. My ego constantly scolded me for being so rubbish and for being a loser in the genetic creativity lottery.
Decades later I can read this description of my younger self and understand that the key to unlocking my imagination lay in the first part of the sentence – “hard working”
Being ‘naturally talented’ at something is only part of the picture – practicing and developing your craft over long periods of time is what really makes the difference.
In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell discusses a study done in the early 1990’s by the psychologist K Anders Ericsson and two colleagues from the Berlin Academy of Music in a paper entitled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance
This study of professional musicians indicated that the most successful and ‘talented’ musicians had, by the age of 20, totalled 10 000 hours of intentional practice over the course of their lives. That’s about 20 hours practice a week over 10 years.
“There was no evidence of any ‘natural talent’ rising to the top with fewer hours of practice. Nor was there any evidence of anyone who had invested 10 000 hours in their craft who hadn’t reached the top of their game”
The thing that the most successful musicians had in common was their commitment to putting in the hours of practice – they quite simply worked harder than everyone else.
The conclusion to this study was that 10 years is roughly how long it takes to put in 10 000 hours of practice.
You’ve got to really love your craft to put in that amount of hours – and I don’t think you can do it with steely willpower alone.
In my own practice there are two things that drive me to invest time in my work – two rewards that I’m constantly chasing:
- Finding the Flow
This is when you’re completely ‘lost’ in your work. You’re so absorbed in what you’re doing nothing else exists in time or space. You’re ‘in the zone’, time is irrelevant and it’s easy to invest hours of practice because it feels easy and like a meditation.
2. The Dopamine Hit
This is that little rush of pleasure you get when something works well and you’re happy with the result. I think it’s the same buzz that actors get when they walk out onto a stage, or that an artist feels when a painting is ‘done’.
Chasing these rewards is what keeps me on task. It keeps my eye on the ball and helps me put in the hours to constantly improve my work.
External rewards such as approval and product sales are, of course, important and valuable – but without my two intrinsic drivers I wouldn’t be able to invest the time needed to do my best work.
Don’t wait to be told that you’re talented to start practicing your craft – practice your craft and you’ll develop your own talent.
But – it’s not always easy to fit those hours into an average day. If you have to work full time, or do more than one job, if you look after a family, a home, all of those things that eat into our allocated 24 hours a day it can be impossible to find even 30 minutes a day to do that thing that you really love and want to improve at.
Crochet became my go-to craft around 10 years ago when my children were young and I was juggling making ends meet with two jobs, a house renovation, an elderly parent, several chickens, cats, and a vegetable plot- there really was very little time to be creative. So I chose a discipline I could easily squeeze into my life – and into my pocket.
For anyone with a busy life crochet is the perfect craft. It fits so well into those little pockets of time that are scattered, almost invisibly, throughout the day.
I like to work with multiples; small hand sized things of beauty that, once you’ve remembered the pattern, can be completed in the time it usually takes to scroll through your social media feed, drink a cup of tea, or catch up on the news.
It’s delightful to empty your pockets at the end of the week and discover you have a growing collection of crochet flowers, or granny squares, that can become part of something bigger- small acts add up to big achievements; this is the compound effect and you can apply this principle to any aspect of your life.
Yes, there is an argument that the best work is generated as a result of deep thinking, immersing yourself for sustained amounts of time on a project with no interruptions or distractions – but the reality is that for many people, especially women, this simply isn’t possible.
So if you want to put in the hours to improve your practice ‘a little and often’ is the best way forward.
OK, so that’s the hard work bit covered- but all that hard graft and industry does sound a little joyless.
What about the creativity and innovation? How do we nurture these and successfully break out of our comfort zones?
I honestly think one of the best things you can do is switch off your social media feeds.
Yes – I know!
I love all your likes and follows and encouraging comments on Facebook and Instagram – but if you want to develop YOUR OWN practice sometimes you just have to switch off the noise.
Stop looking at, and worrying about, what other people are doing and trying to measure up to everyone else. We all know that social media is an echo chamber that just keeps feeding us more of the same until we’ve gorged ourselves on sameness and lost our self in a comfort zone curated by algorithms.
Over exposure to convention is really bad for your creativity.
Convention monitors your thoughts and actions; it’s constantly editing and controlling your life so that it fits a safe and acceptable aesthetic.
A playful creative process is a liberating experience; you’re not bound by other people’s laws – you can make mistakes, undo and redo things as many times as you like until you feel that buzz and know you’ve finally found your way.
It’s liberating to make the rules up as you go – they’re YOUR rules and it’s OK to break them. You can solve problems along the way and discover new ways of doing things – your way of doing things.
There’s a much discussed ‘creativity test’ that was carried out in the late 1960’s by the scientist George Land who, in 1965 founded a research and consulting institute to study creative performance.
NASA had approached Land to develop a test that would help them select the most innovative engineers and scientists to work with them and the test proved to be very successful. Land decided to try the test out on children – with remarkable results. (frustratingly it’s impossible to find any examples of the test papers online…..)
The research study tested the creativity of 1,600 children ranging in ages from three-to-five years old. He later re-tested the same children at 10 years, and again at 15 years of age. These are the ‘creativity scores’ he collected with the results being the percentage of people scoring what Land called “Creative Genius Level”
- At 5 years old: 98%
- At 10 years old: 30%
- At 15 years old: 12%
- Same test given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%
So 98% of 5 year olds are a creative genius and only 2% of adults are?
Isn’t a genius someone born with extraordinary gifts? Strange and unusual ‘other’ people like Albert Einstein, with a head so full of big ideas there’s no room to remember where you put the house keys.
Land explained the notion of creative genius by describing 2 different types of thinking processes ;
- Convergent Thinking. Where you judge ideas, criticise them, refine them, combine them and improve them, all of which happens in your conscious thought. It results in a neat and tidy ending.
- Divergent Thinking: Where you imagine new ideas, original ones which are different from what has come before. They may be unresolved and a bit rough round the edges.
Children, it seems, are brilliant at divergent thinking. They can let their minds run free, imagine new things and be completely original.
In child’s play there’s no editing, evaluating or visualising of a practical application or end result and it’s this ability for divergent thinking that fuels their creativity.
We adults on the other hand tend to fast track our thoughts to end products or practical solutions , imagining how our ideas might be received or rejected before we’ve given ourselves the chance to fully explore an idea.
We’re there with the buckets of cold water ready to put out the flames before we’ve even seen how beautifully they can burn.
We’re generally taught to use both kinds of thinking at the same time but Land suggests that people need to split their thinking processes into these two different states in order to work more effectively.
“Divergent thinking is the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one” Sir Ken Robinson.
So what can you do to develop your divergent thinking skills and exercise your creativity muscle?
Here’s a suggested list of activities that are perfect for this:
- List 30 different uses for …….. (fill in the blank) eg. PAPERCLIP/BRICK/BLANKET/BALLOON/STICK)
- Draw 30 circles on a page and turn each one into a different motif or design.
- Make a mind map (spider diagram) of absolutely anything – make a minimum of 30 connections.
- Choose a household object and draw it repeatedly on a page – but don’t take your eyes off the object and don’t take your pen off the page.
- Do the above exercise with your other hand.
The key things in all of these activities are:
- Be non- judgemental.
- When you feel like stopping because you’ve run out of ideas or your hand’s hurting – keep going and push through your comfort zone.
You’re welcome to join me in this Doodling Warm Up Activity which is part of my Creativity Firestarter Free Trial. It’s light hearted and playful – and absolutely anyone can do it.
Of course there are so many different reasons why we engage in our crafts and we’re not all trying to be ‘top of the game’ or experts in our field. But whoever we are, and whatever stage of life we’re at we can still challenge ourselves and grow. In fact unless we want to become fossilised- growth and development are essential.
So – are you feeling inspired to push at your boundaries and climb out of your comfort zone?
Why not let me help you -I’d love to see you shine and I only write good reports!
Nip over here to view my online courses in crochet and creative practices.
And you may enjoy these books:
Outliers: The Story of Success: Malcolm Gladwell
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything: Ken Robinson
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life: Twyla Tharp