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I recently received an email regarding my emphasis on creativity and suggesting that seeking creativity as a means to an end was unnecessary since we are all creative by nature. I thought it was an interesting perspective but needed some clarification about what I mean when I talk about creativity. 

I totally agree that pursuing “creativity” as a means to an end is circular—we are all creative by means of being human. You don’t have to be an artist to be creative—try raising children without being creative!

So I’m not suggesting we need to become creative, but rather that we can improve and cultivate our innate creative abilities like any other skill. Mozart may have been a creative genius from birth, but without the practice, supportive environment, and hard work that ensued from his earliest years, his brilliance would never have skillfully developed to produce his best work later in life.

What I am referring to when I encourage people to be more creative is based on the notion that the opposite of creativity is fear. And I think we’d all agree that while every child is boundlessly creative, the opposite is true for most adults that are products of an education system that promotes group thinking and discourages, if not outright squashes non-conformity.

Fear is what holds most people back from being true to their own vision instead of what they think others will approve of. This has become especially prevalent in todays online world of photography where we’ve become addicted to the Facebook and Instagram “Like.” It’s also present in the photo industry and their solution to making better images; BUY more gear (which is much easier than the scarier proposition of being more creative in your picture making.)

You don’t become more creative by simply trying to be more creative or different, that just leads to comparison and imitating others. You get there by becoming more curious, by challenging established norms, and by questioning your assumptions and biases at every opportunity; getting out of your comfort zone. This is a skill that most have not learned and runs against our cultural norms, but can be practiced like every other skill.

According to research by psychologist and psychometrician Robert Sternberg, “Creative people are creative … not as a result of any particular inborn trait, but, rather, through an attitude toward life. They habitually respond to problems in fresh and novel ways, rather than allowing themselves to respond mindlessly and automatically.”

He says creative people habitually:

  • Look for ways to see problems that other people don’t
  • Take risks that other people are afraid to take
  • Have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up for their own beliefs
  • Seek to overcome obstacles and challenges to their views that other people give in to.

So that’s what I want to promote most of all; being more confident and true to yourself, and that to me is enough to be different in a way that is both meaningful and encouraging to others. No ego here, simply beginners mind.

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