Growing up as a kind of artistic kid, who’s always been ’good at drawing’ it seemed like there are two types of people in the world: those who are creative and those who are not. The creative ones are always making something – usually something artistic -, but even when they aren’t, they are thinking about ideas. The non-creative ones are just incapable of doing so, and even if they tried, they’d end up failing. To me, they always seemed accepting of their incapability; why would they try if there were others, who are, by default, better anyways. Our society teaches us this: creativity is for the few talented ones, and you should only do something if you are at least somewhat good at it.

In any setting, I was the designated „creative”, which often made me wonder, what exactly makes me better for the job, than others? Is it something you are born with? Something you learn? Something you can become if you’re determined enough? Creativity seemed such a slippery term, and in these settings it mostly meant that one has a good aesthetic eye, and is able to put things together so that they look visually pleasing or interesting; in other cases it just means that the creative is making weird, maybe even unsettling, difficult-to-understand-for-everyday-people stuff. Which, to me, has always been a distorted and trivialized view of what it actually is, but sadly, a lot of people think about creativity in these terms, as something they are outsiders of anyway.

During my studies in psychology I met with the theory of the ’flow’ by Csíkszentmihályi – which a lot of us are familiar with as an everyday term, but the „extended version” fascinated me so much that I became a fan of him immediately. The fact that he’s also Hungarian made me extra proud but that’s not at all connected to anything that I’m trying to say here. What I’m trying to say is, three years ago I spent my Christmas gift card from my dad on Csíkszentmihályi’s book, Creativity, and it changed my life.

I don’t want to lie and say I was always on a quest to find out what creativity is, because even though I wondered about it, I was always too lazy to actually go after the answer. So I started to read the book with no expectations and just the trust that I already liked one idea from this man, I might like another.

Here I want to share what I learned about creativity and some of my own thoughts on the matter that were inspired by the book.

First and foremost, I was knocked for a loop at the very beginning – creativity is not just making art. The book studies and interviews several creatives who have contributed to the world: philosophers, authors, economists, astronomers, mathematicians, computer scientists, actors, biologists, chemists, business executives, geologists, and so on. I did not know all of these fields were creative! But then again, seems like I had no idea what creativity is.

Creativity is human. It’s what makes us human.
It’s doing something for it’s own sake, for the enjoyment of it, not for success, or fame, or money. Being in this creative state is a fulfilling experience, and it’s not just for a lucky few. I saw a snippet of a podcast on Tiktok some time ago – even though I curse Tiktok and social media in general, it always leads me to good places – where the podcaster was talking about how deranged it is to do think that you are only allowed do something if you are good at it. You shouldn’t be singing or painting or dancing because you’re good at it; you should be doing it because you are human. We as people at some point decided that it’s shameful or awkward to participate in creative activities if you don’t know what you’re doing – which is the complete opposite of the role they are supposed to be playing in our lives.

No scientist knew from birth the knowledge they acquired, no businessman was born with the skills to be great, you have to start and enjoy the trying, enjoy not being good at it, because you’re not doing it to be good at it – you’re doing it because you are human.

Our future is shaped by creativity.
It also doesn’t simply come from a mind of a single person – it has many components and is essentially a synergy of many sources – the people around us, the people who have come before us, what knowledge and practice we have access to, many-many things. A lot depends on circumstances and our internal workings, and a lot of what we like to call „luck”. Being biologically, socially or in any other way determined has always been a hard pill to swallow for me, but this is the truth here.

That being said, we have almost infinite access of what came before us within our reach, to observe it, to learn from it, to be immersed in it. Fill yourself up, see the beautiful, the groundbreaking, the simple, the innovative creations of the past, learn why they became what they became, read the books and listen to the podcasts, don’t try to be entertained, try to be inspired.

According to the book there are different types (or levels) of creativity, and not everyone can be creative in the same way. I try not to contradict myself, because creativity is for everyone – that being said some people are more creative than others.

All creatives like to think, to come up with new ideas, to learn, to practice, and so on - but to be a Creative with a big C, as the author describes them, who leads a creative life and, potentially, shapes the future, takes a bit more.

There is no recipe for what makes a creative personality, but there are some common traits that they all share: curiosity in the world, interest in how things work, wonder, openness, fluid attention. They are also quite complex. If you know a creative, or you consider yourself one, this complexity – that’s sometimes even contradictory – might be familiar.

Csíkszentmihályi collected these traits into 10 points, which include: being smart and naive at the same time; being playful but also disciplined; being extraverted and introverted; being masculine and feminine; and the list goes on. What this means is that creatives are able to display a wider range of traits than others, and they move more fluidly between extremes, without feeling the need to stick to only one end of the spectrum.

This person needs to have a passion for a domain and have immerse knowledge about this domain: the rules and theories of music, chemistry, astronomy, business, etc. Being interested in more than one domain is very common, and I can also relate to this – I like and practice many of them at the same time. But this divides attention and even though I have some knowledge about all these domains, I know much less than someone spending their time and energy on only one of them. I don’t mind it because I like them all and I don’t want to choose. Fortunately, being multifaceted can also be helpful. Some ideas are born because of knowledge from different areas of expertise, making unlikely connections between domains.

This brings us to the next point. As I mentioned in the beginning, the creative enjoys working and contributing to this domain or domains for the sake of it. But they also need to bring novelty to it, to think of and create something new, to contribute in their own ways – this is what moves the domain, and therefore, the world, forward. They usually have a lot of ideas, good and bad both, and they need to try those ideas to learn the difference between what works and what doesn’t, because not every idea is worth to pursue.

What they also need is peers.
This would be the field, the other creatives in the domain, the experts. The field varies a lot depending on domains and certain situations, but it’s approval is needed for the „new idea”. Knowing the field and being part of the field is a little bit of the luck and environmental circumstances that we might have limited control over. You need to have access to the field, live, or work, or study in a place where you can meet the others, where you can talk, collaborate, share and show your ideas – there are certainly centrals of art, design, fashion, film, etc. in the world where all this is easier than elsewhere.

Although in the digital world it’s all a bit simpler now. Still, you need the openness to connect, to strike up a conversation, or have the luck to cross paths with likeminded people, so you can become part of the community. The book goes on about how the field has to notice and accept the creative based on their work and contribution to the domain, so being a smooth talker might just not be good enough, though.

There is a question. Is this book one of my favourites because it explained to me that I’m not lazy, I’m just creative? Possibly. And I’m not gonna go into details about the ’creative process’ here for too long, but let me tell you: it is also not what I thought it would be.

Did you ever have a great idea when you were forcing it? Me neither. Some good ideas maybe, but not the best ones. It feels like the more you try to come up with something, the further you are from it.

Frank Offner (engineer, inventor) says, if you meet a problem, the last thing you should do is try to solve it immediately. Not saying that it’s bad to think, and to think hard, but more often than not, some time has to pass before an idea miraculously appears. This is called an incubation period, which ends with those great „random” ideas in the shower, during a walk, or right after waking up. Then we have to decide whether to pursue the idea, as I mentioned earlier, the creative person has to learn to distinguish good ones and bad ones. If we do decide to pursue it, then comes the hard work – and this hard work is supposedly 99% of the creative process! But the inspiration, the spark, the great idea is essential. And for that, idleness is essential.

Freeman Dyson (physicist) thinks those who are constantly busy, are usually not creative, so he doesn’t mind being lazy. Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman (political scientist) needs a lot of sleep so her thoughts don’t become mediocre. Donald Campbell (social scientist) prefers to wonder – and wander – a lot. Natalie Davis (historian) explains how if she doesn’t like something anymore, she doesn’t want to do it, and it’s difficult to stay creative with something you don’t like.

I like this approach. And even though there needs to be hard work, all these people don’t necessarily consider their lives to be spent with that. The cliché might be true – do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life.

With the creative work we have to respect that part of it is out of our hands. It comes from what we were born with, our subconscious, our luck, it can even feel like it comes from a higher being, guiding our hands and minds. It’s a wonder and a mystery, something that transcends us, that cannot be forced and rushed. But it is here for all of us. No one is born to be non-creative and no activities are reserved for the creatives only. All we can do is learn it, learn from it, share it, challenge ourselves with it, and last but not least, enjoy it.