Let the creativity flow in you

Let the creativity flow in you


A common rant against our educational system is that it doesn’t foster originality. While children are coached to spew out answers from textbooks, innovative thinking is not emphasised or encouraged by teachers. In some instances, students may even be discouraged from thinking out of the box if their answers don’t fit prescribed criteria. As the authority of the teacher and textbook is considered paramount, pupils don’t get to flex their generative muscles early on.

Yet, today’s perennially evolving world of work places a premium on creativity and innovation. In his book, Originals, Adam Grant offers inspiring insights on how we can all grow more original and make more meaningful contributions. He defines originality as propagating a novel concept or idea that enhances a specific field.

Change in outlook

In order to cultivate originality, we must first question the defaults or status quo in our lives. Norms, customs and practices are typically manmade. Just because something has been done in a certain way, doesn’t necessarily imply that it is the best way. Honouring traditions doesn’t mean that we blind ourselves to the sociocultural forces that shaped them in the first place. A curious mind will ponder why certain conventions are followed without taking them for granted. Acknowledging the “social origins” of defaults and customary practices emboldens people to consider alternatives.

Next, we also need to abandon the myth that creative people are cast in a different mould from the rest of us. People assume that creators are more daring and embrace risks that few of us can even imagine. Yet, Grant argues that “originals are actually far more ordinary than we realise.” When embarking on a novel project, they too are diffident and second guess their decisions. Grant cites a study conducted by management researchers Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng that shows that they also sport a conservative side. The researchers wanted to know whether people should hold on to their day jobs when launching a new business.

By following around 5,000 Americans who became entrepreneurs between 1994 to 2008, the researchers were able to tease out the risk-takers from their more risk-averse brethren. When starting businesses, the former quit their day jobs, while the latter played safe by keeping their source of bread and butter. However, the researchers found that the decision to stick with their previous job wasn’t motivated by financial factors. Instead, those who threw themselves wholeheartedly into their new business ventures were imbued with confidence, whereas the others were more ambivalent.

But those who stuck with their day jobs were 33% less likely to fail at their new business. So, being creative doesn’t necessarily involve acts of derring-do. In fact, Grant exhorts us not to think of originality as a “fixed trait” but a “free choice.” Likewise, if you perceive your job as being rigid in its requirements, you are less likely to exhibit creativity or enjoy your work. But if you feel you have some flexibility in how you go about your duties, the chances of you showing sparks of originality are greater.

As lay people, we are often awestruck by creative endeavours be it a foot-tapping score by AR Rahman, a Hussain painting where the horses literally gallop off the page, an impeccably choreographed piece by Madhavi Mudgal or a Tagore verse that moves you in ever so many ways. When we see, hear or feel the final product, we are oblivious of the hours of toil that each piece demanded of its creator. Further, for every Mona Lisa or Four Seasons, we are unaware of the number of drafts or pieces that were discarded.

One of the most overlooked facts regarding creativity is that it involves producing a copious amount of work, a lot of which is subpar. As we tend to associate originality with the astounding works of experts, we fail to realise that even geniuses like Picasso and Beethoven generated many mediocre compositions.

So, if you want to flex your creative muscles, don’t obsess over the quality of your work in the early stages. First, ensure that you have a sufficiently large basket of ideas from which you can cull the ones you want to hone and perfect.

While creators have in-depth knowledge and experience in their respective fields of expertise, they also tend to widen themselves by cultivating other interests. Grant cites a study of business people that found that those who filed for patents also pursued hobbies like “drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture and literature.” So, even as you deepen your knowledge in your field, make sure you continue to broaden yourself by engaging in other interests. Grant also suggests that you can expand yourself by getting trained for a new position at your workplace that demands “a new base of knowledge and skills.” Working in a foreign country can also give you a fresh perspective and fuel creativity.

Needs the third eye

Beware that creators, including greats and geniuses, are not the best judges of their own works, possibly because they are too close to it. Grant urges you to solicit feedback from peers in the field as they are more likely to appraise your work honestly.

Another mistaken notion that people hold on to is that they have to be the first in a domain in order to be considered creative. Again, Grant dispels this misconception by arguing that “being different and better” is more important than being the first player, who often tend to be ahead of their times, and as a result, don’t leave a lasting impact.

Most people, who have worked for a few years, bemoan that their jobs are dull and tedious. Perhaps, you can reinvent your job by injecting creativity into your work, no matter how monotonous it may seem. And, to do that you will have to unleash your own creativity.

 (The author is director, PRAYATNA)