Creativity is one of the engines of success, but we’re always told to look outside for inspiration. Rubbish. Time to start thinking ‘inside’ the box.
The idea for today’s blog came to me in a dream.
I was walking on the beach with 1980s Elle McPherson. The sun was setting and she was laughing at my jokes. And then a little yappy dog starts snapping at my heels.
“Hey Jon!” it said. “You need to come up with an idea for you No B.S blog.”
“Rack off” I said, and tried to hit it with the French bread loaf I was carrying. “You’re downing my vibe.”
“But nah, I’ve got a great idea. It’s awesome. It’s a masterful piece of divine inspiration, come fully-formed, straight from the source. It’s witty and poignant. A guaranteed winner.”
“You had me at ‘sauce’” I said. “Alright then little dog, tell me what it is.”
“I already did Jon… I already did.”
And with that, he disappeared, and I was in the office, without any pants on again.
“Good nap, Jon?” said Georgia.
“Aw, I got another visit from that stupid little dog.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
What could it mean? Don’t let your pets distract you from your goals? No cheese before nap time?
I pondered it for a while, and then decided I knew what it meant:
The concept of divine inspiration is bullshit.
I think we have this totally romantic notion of where creativity and inspiration comes from.
It’s the ‘muse’ model of creativity. That is, there is some sort of super-natural being, even God himself, whispering beautiful thoughts into your ear.
The only job of a creative being like a poet or an artist or an ad agency exec is just to write it down.
It’s the archetype of the poet, wondering the forest, contemplating the light dazzling off the threads of a spider’s web, and then BAM! An amazing poem hits him.
He vomit’s it up, fully formed, and that’s it. End of process. He takes the rest of the day off to drink tea and eat scones.
I don’t think creativity ever comes this way. It’s never been my experience.
And I think it’s a disempowering fiction.
First of it all suggests that creativity or inspiration is unavailable to those of us who don’t have a sixth sense for communicating with forest spirits.
If you’ve never had the sensation of an angel whispering saucy thoughts into your ear, then you’re just not a creative person. No point even trying. Drop out of graphic design and get into civil planning.
Now I’m not saying true divine inspiration never happens. But if it does, it’s incredibly rare, and I don’t think it has much to do with a theory of creative practice.
And for me it’s hard to imagine that if the angels or God could communicate directly with us, that ‘odes to flowers’ would be top of their priorities.
I imagine it would be more like “Oi. Stop being dicks to each other and clean up all the plastic. Don’t make me get out the smiting stick.”
The other reason it’s disempowering is that it makes creativity seem like a pure stroke of luck. There’s no work involved. It’s like finding a four-leafed clover.
And so you can’t make creativity happen. There’s no effort involved. Maybe that’s why it’s such an appealing idea. We’re hard-wired lazy.
All you can do is wait until it hits you on the head, like an apple falling from a tree.
The muse model also ignores all of the work that preceded that inspired moment of clarity.
Like Newtown under the apple tree. I dare say that Newtown wasn’t the first person to be hit on the head by a falling apple. But none of the others ever came up with a working model of applied physics.
Newtown could because he’d spent a lifetime trying to fit all the pieces together. Decades of hard work.
The falling apple wasn’t so much an inspiration as it was a catalyst. It was a fresh perspective that caused him to see everything in a slightly different light. Suddenly, everything fitted together.
And that’s where I reckon creativity comes from. It comes from within.
It emerges out of our knowledge and experiences. It’s novelty lies in a new way of putting the pieces together. New structures. New relationships.
In this sense I don’t think you can ‘make’ anything new. All you can do is come up with new perspectives.
And if that’s true, then the only way to get creative – to come up with creative solutions to problems, or bring flair to your work – is to take time out to get a fresh perspective.
And how do you do that? Take a break. Have a nap. Chill out under an apple tree. Stop trying to push the issue.
And if there’s a magic here it’s in the power of the unconscious. Give it a problem and it will go away and work on a solution until it comes up with something.
It’s like when you’re racking your brain trying to remember someone’s name. You can’t quite grasp it. You give up, and then when you’re doing the dishes, the answer suddenly comes.
‘Jon! My names Jon! I should really write that down.’
I tend to think the unconscious likes to get its hands dirty in more than just memory games. It likes to try its hand at anything. Give it a problem, and it will go away, gather all the info and try and fit it together.
And it will let you know… but only when you stop the conscious gears and allow enough quiet for the subconscious to find its voice.
The key to creativity is quiet. It’s allowing what has been nourished and developed with you – giving it the space to blossom and emerge into your work.
It’s not in dreams or muses or talking dogs.
It’s within you.
How do you access your creative talents?