Creativity is for Everyone

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This weekend, my boys and I finally got to see the show my husband is producing called The Aluminum Show. In this wonderful multi-media production, dancers use common materials like aluminum air conditioning tubes and strips of silver mylar to create luscious and entertaining rhythms, characters, and movements. In the audience, a true cross-section of society was represented: elderly couples, families with young children, businessmen, students, and everyone in between.

The show offers lots of audience participation and a very kinetic connection between the audience, the materials, and the dancers. It also transports people back to the child-like innocence of pure joy and uninhibited self-expression. You can see it in their excited, smiling, and joyful faces as they bat huge mylar balloon 'pillows' over head in a mega-pillow fight or when they 'swim' in a sea of silver tubes that invade the audience and flow back, passed along by smiling participants' outstretched arms. During the final number, the dancers shoot lots of silvery mylar pieces into the audience like huge confetti, covering them in shiny scraps and blotches which they then take home as souvenirs.

What got me thinking about "creativity is for everyone" is what happened when the show ended. As the house lights go back up, many members of the audience, having just experienced this amazingly expansive use of such materials, begin to demonstrate creative, divergent thinking themselves. They pick up the mylar and begin spontaneously creating - hats, scarves, a wedding dress, bow ties, and more.

People have let down their guard during the show, and, having been exposed to creative uses of the materials and having experienced a positive, light, fun, energetic 90 minutes, their creative juices seem to be in full swing. They feel inspired and prepared, and their inhibitions about 'looking foolish' or 'not making perfect art' are gone (or seriously reduced).

What can everyday, ordinary people do to become more creative?

What lessons can we take from this scene back to the office to infuse more creativity? How can you foster more creativity in yourself and others?

1. Exposure to creativity begets more creativity. The more people are surrounded by or allowed to witness creative thinking, creative ideas, and creative problem-solving, the more likely they will be to model that kind of divergent thinking.

2. Positive emotions and lowered risk-aversion increase creativity. The more positive and uninhibited they are, the more likely people will be to think more creatively. If they feel like they have to act very seriously and be perfect and error-proof, the less likely they will be to take risks or let down their guard. Their creative thinking will be stifled as a result.

3. Take yourself outside of your comfort zone. Being in a new and different environment, or using things in ways they weren't meant to be used, can help creative break-through thinking and spark new ideas.

In recent years, scientific data has been amassed about the creative process. In a 2006 Time Magazine interview, Washington University psychologist R. Keith Sawyer, author of Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, offered the following advice for becoming more creative: 

"Take risks, and expect to make lots of mistakes, because creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time. Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work. Develop a network of colleagues, and schedule time for freewheeling, unstructured discussions. Most of all, forget those romantic myths that creativity is all about being artsy and gifted and not about hard work. They discourage us because we're waiting for that one full-blown moment of inspiration. And while we're waiting, we may never start working on what we might someday create."

Some more resources to help you get more creative:

Here is one interesting (and interestingly-made) video that depicts some more lessons:

A great blog post on the creative process where we learn that "Creativity is like a snake swallowing a series of tennis balls."

CopyBlogger has offered up a list of 8 habits that will crush your creativity as well as a great list of 'ultimate creativity killer' quotes.

How will you benefit by becoming more creative?

Photo by El Pelos Briseño via Flickr Creative Commons