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Columnist: H. James Harrington

Photo: Scott Paton, publisher


Myths and Truths About Creativity

Thinking outside the box is just the beginning.



We hear a lot about what creativity is and who has it. Some of the information is true, and some of it’s misleading. Let’s examine both sides of the subject.

We have a penchant for developing beliefs that often have no basis in fact, but we hold them so strongly that we hamper our ability to discern reality. The following are some myths related to creativity:

Creativity is a God-given gift. This is a half-truth. Nature gives us our mental capabilities. The way we use our thoughts is based on the environments we live in, our individual interests and our personal drive.

Only some peo-ple have creative abilities. Not so; we can all be creative if we’re willing to work at it.

If there’s a lot of it, it must be creative. We often connect quantity with creativity, but in truth, creativity usually equates with simplicity. A person who can encapsulate a concept in one sentence is far more creative than someone who requires pages to present the same idea.

There’s no need for me to be creative. If we do the same old things in the same old way, we can expect the same old results. The rules, education and experience we’ve accumulated over the years might be our meat and potatoes, but the creative ways we use those experiences become our dessert.

Creative people are successful people. This isn’t necessarily true. Often, very creative people are unable to sell the fruits of their creativity or don’t care whether anyone makes use of their ideas. Creation without implementation is a futile exercise and can be more discouraging than encouraging.


It’s important that we understand what creativity is and what it is not. The following basic concepts will help clarify the issue:

Creativity isn’t a single process. Creativity is a number of different processes that make up a system. A creative idea might come to you in a blinding flash or through a very deliberate approach that refines your thought patterns.

Your creative powers can be improved. Methods are available that can encourage you to exercise your creative powers and change the way you think.

Creativity is often an explosion rather than a logical sequence of information. Some of the best ideas occur at unexpected times. Be prepared for those inspirational flashes. Write them down immediately.

Creativity is random. Although you can’t predict when you’ll have creative breakthroughs, you can increase their frequency by preparing your mind and understanding the processes that enhance their likelihood.

Frustration is often the father of creativity. Most people look for rules that tell them how to complete specific assignments or solve specific problems. When our rules fail and we’re uncertain how to continue, creativity kicks in.

Creativity is seeing the same old thing in a different light and/or in new combinations. Many of the techniques to promote creativity are designed to help you change the context in which you view a problem or opportunity, or to recombine elements in a way that leads to a creative breakthrough.

Creativity is risky but rewarding. Doing a job the way your predecessor did it or the way your boss told you to do it gives you someone to blame if something goes wrong. But it also results in little creative progress. Only when we use our creativity to improve do we truly make progress and enjoy a genuine feeling of self-

Creativity is the ultimate source of self-indulgence and self-satisfaction. It’s a satisfying way of proving to yourself that you’re adding value to the rest of the world.

The way you performed in the past doesn’t always reflect your potential. The fact that you haven’t been creative in the past doesn’t mean you can’t be creative in the future. The will to create must be renewed every day.

Trust your own observations. Don’t be limited by others’ thinking. Encouraging diversity rather than conformity is the key to creativity.

Creativity often kicks in when you reject your first acceptable solution. People tend to look at a problem and define how it can be solved, then collect information to prove it’s the right solution. For any important problem, you should develop at least three alternate solutions and choose the one that offers the best value.

The more you use your creative powers, the better they work. The brain is a muscle; like any other, it must get exercise to stay in shape.

Creativity turns work into fun. Too often, we wear masks of conformity and are afraid to relax. We complain about our daily chores and envy children who have fun with everything they do. Let’s free up our creative powers. We can begin by turning the monotony of daily chores into a series of enjoyable experiences.

About the author
H. James Harrington is CEO of the Harrington Institute Inc. and chairman of the board of Harrington Group. He has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 22 books. Visit his Web site at www.harrington-institute.com.