Making something from nothing, or quickly solving a creative problem that comes up to bite you or your project in the ass is sometimes a really hard thing to do. Like catching lightning in a bottle, creativity on demand is simply not always easy.
I want to dip into this subject as it’s a skill which I am called upon to exercise on every production but I’ve never actually heard it discussed – apart from perhaps when folk talk about procrastination. When a difficult or complex creative problem comes up on one of my own projects I usually find it quite easy to find solutions but when I am on other peoples projects and I can’t always do what I think is best, I find that to be considerably trickier.
Wil Wheaton once said when talking of creativity that “The goal isn’t to make something everyone will love; the goal is to get excited, and make a thing where something wasn’t before.”
Life doesn’t have a blueprint so having the ability and the discipline to sit down and pull something coherent right out of what seems to be thin air, must be a relentless wheel of effort for some people. Creating this episode out of thin air is my latest problem, but I can give another example of something that came up recently in set.
Creativity is often blocked by trying to be perfect. Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Tony Robbins Unquote
Creative people have open, active minds. They’re usually buzzing with ideas and soaking up inspiration from the world around them. They are always looking for new ways to solve problems as well, which sparks innovation and increased efficiency. It’s a valued skill in any field but in the world of creativity itself, our world, the world of the filmmaker, the artist, the designer the screenwriter etc it is everything. We thrive and earn a living by our ability to “hack” or master creativity, but accessing it can be unreliable.
In a 2019 article for Harvard Business Review, Joseph Grenny said, “Creativity is learnable providence. It feels like an inexplicable miracle when it arrives, and we may never be able to isolate all the variables that generate it. But, in my experience, we can reliably create the conditions to invite it.”
Steve Jobs said something similar - that you can actually teach yourself to become creative. “Creativity is just connecting things,” he explained. “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they sometimes think they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
Creativity gives you license to suggest any possible solution you can think of, however fantastical it might outwardly seem. And the true strength of your creative ideas lies in your ability to think infinitely beyond existing barriers.
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. Erich Fromm
Here are 7 things that get in the way of our creativity.
The mental block. This is where you get trapped by your own thinking. You’re so locked into a familiar way of looking at the world that you fail to see other options. You make assumptions and approach a problem from a limiting premise. Or maybe your Inner Critic rears its head and stops you thinking straight.
The emotional barrier. Faced with the unknown, you may be scared of what you’ll discover or reveal about yourself. Maybe your subject matter is painful, embarrassing or plain weird. All of these fears and qualms are just different forms of Resistance, leading to procrastination.
Work habits that don't work. You work too early, too late, too long, or not long enough. You try too hard or not hard enough. You don’t have enough downtime or enough stimulation. Or maybe you haven’t set up systems to deal with mundane tasks – email, admin, accounting, etc – so they keep interfering with your real work. This is something you can easily assess and change – but it takes a bit of effort.
Personal problems. Life always gets in the way but creativity demands focus — and it’s hard to concentrate if you’re getting divorced/ dealing with toddlers/battling an addiction/falling out with your best friend/grieving a loss /moving house or whatever If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to deal with this kind of thing one at a time — but troubles often come in twos or threes. There are basically two ways to approach a personal problem that is interfering with your creative work — either solve the problem or find ways of coping until it passes. For the first option you may need some specialist help, or support from friends or family. And it may be worth taking a short-term break from work in order to resolve the issue and free yourself up for the future.
Poverty. Well, I know all about that. I’m not just talking about money though, although a lack of cash is a perennial problem for creatives. You could also be time-poor, knowledge-poor, have a threadbare network, or be short of equipment or other things you need to get the job done. Like the last type of block, this one has two possible solutions: either save up the time/money/or other resources you need; or make a virtue of necessity and set yourself the creative challenge of achieving as much as possible within the constraints you have.
Overwhelm. And I know all about that too -I’ve done an episode on it. Sometimes a block comes from having too much, not too little. You’ve taken on too many commitments, you have too many great ideas, or you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming demands and information. You feel paralyzed by options and obligations, or simply knackered from working too hard for too long. That’s when you must recognise that it’s time to cut down. If you take on too many commitments, start saying ‘no’. If you have too many ideas, execute a few and put the rest in a folder marked ‘backburner’. If you suffer from information overload, start blocking off downtime or focused worktime in your schedule.
Perfectionism – I’ve talked about this endlessly and its covered in several episodes. Don’t let your need for things to be perfect, stop you from getting on with what you know you need to do. Perfectionism is the enemy of creation, as extreme self- solitude is the enemy of well- being. John Updike Unquote
Communication breakdowns. Creative blocks can happen between people as well as between the ears. If you work in a team or a partnership tensions are inevitable, and can make it hard to do your best work — especially if you have one of those proverbial ‘difficult people’ in your working life. Sometimes you get blocked by phantoms — merely imagining your work being booed by audiences and mauled by the critics.
I’m not got to hang about with this episode but I just have to drop in here the most famous creativity quote that I know. It was from Albert Einstein who said Creativity is intelligence having fun. There are many fairly simple things that you can do to avoid these creative blocks and generate creativity on demand so lets look at some more solutions to the problems that I have raised here.
1. Embrace all ideas — even the bad ones How many of us have been in meetings where everyone is asked to contribute ideas — and even though we had one, kept quiet? Fear of looking foolish silences even the best of us, but the single most effective way to enhance creativity is eradicating the concept of a poor idea. Having a bad idea — or an idea that just doesn’t work — is often the thing that generates another, more effective scheme.
2. Seek new experiences, and remember them. New experiences, or experiences that make us think in new ways, can have enormous impact on our creativity. The more trips you take, the more books you read, the more conversations you have… all these things imprint important experience and new thought into your subconscious. You’re essentially building your own mental library that you can borrow from whenever you need inspiration. Creativity flows more easily when we have thought-provoking resources to peruse. “youtube warning”
3. Get out of your comfort zone. Stepping out of your comfort zone kills two birds with one stone when it comes to creativity. Firstly, exposing yourself to the unknown stimulates your mind and gives you new ideas to store away in your mental box of inspiration. Secondly, embracing the uncomfortable can generate unexpected dialogues and help you reach new perspectives. The more contributions you have, the more connections you can make — just like Steve Jobs urged.
4. Give yourself space While creativity might be something we can control — to a degree at least — it’s still important to give yourself space when beginning the creative process. Find somewhere you can think without distraction; leave your phone, go for a walk, put yourself in a comfortable environment and let your thoughts flow freely.
5. Trust your process Great work rarely arrives in the mind complete and ready to deliver. Whether you know it or not, you have a creative process. If you have a job in the creative world it would serve you well to write out this process. Think back on past projects. What did you do first? What came after that? No matter how intimidating the project seems, we start at the beginning and trust our process will result in an awesomely creative result.
6. Refuse to be negative. Negativity is the enemy of creativity. Do not allow your brain to assault you with fearful thoughts about deadlines or consequences of failing. Likewise, don’t let yourself whine about your lack of time, equipment, or support. The whole I’m an artist and no one understands me bit will not help you. Just because you don’t feel creative at the moment doesn’t mean you aren’t a fabulously creative person.
7. Start, even if it’s terrible. Blank pages are intimidating, but sometimes you have to suck it up and do the work. Even if it’s bad. Even if you don’t want to. Remember too those immortal words of Ernest Hemmingway, The first draft of everything is shit, so don’t dwell on how bad it feels. Having something to work from, to rework and improve on will always be better than having nothing at all.
Today’s final quote is from Sheryl Sandberg and I want you to remember this one when next you are stuck with a creative problem. She said DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.
Now take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!
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