January 10, 2011

Curiosity and Creativity: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts that explores the subject of creativity and its role in experiencing a satisfying retirement. Creativity is a word that sometimes scares people. Many of us have this self-limiting view of the subject and believe we aren't gifted in that way. If that describes you, then it is important to understand what it means to be creative. 

What is Creativity?

It does not have to be anything to do with painting, writing, sculpting, or any of the things we usually think of as being creative. Rather it is seeing the familiar in a different light. It is the desire to work on something because it’s interesting, exciting, satisfying or personally challenging. It is about expressing what is uniquely you. It is being unconventional when needed, or part of a team when that is required. It involves being driven to find a answer. 

We use creativity every day in every aspect of our lives. Our creativity is evident in the clothes we wear or the style of our hair. Creativity is expressed in the way we talk to others or write a report. It is exhibited in our ability to play sports or dance, or perform yoga movements. Creativity is happening when you understand your own feelings or those of others.

One of the problems people have in seeing themselves as creative is the fear of not being perfect, to do something well right from the start. That holds us back and keeps us from expressing ourselves fully.

The Core of All Creativity

The core of creativity is a sense of curiosity. Without wondering about how things work,  how something is made, or how to improve something, creativity isn't needed. Curiosity is what pushes you to learn something new or try a different way of solving a problem. It can be as simple as wondering what would happen if you added rosemary and salsa to the recipe or tried to grow a tomato in a pot on the porch. It could be as as complicated as building a kiln and learning how to fire pottery. It could be as mundane as finding a new way to organize your daily chores so you finish sooner.

The point is, creativity covers virtually every aspect of our life. Only when we construct a comfort zone and place a wall around our ideas does creativity stop. Then you meet no new people, you experience no new sensations, you try no new way to solve a problem. At that point what happens is your life begins to die just a little every day.

Author Jordan Ayan in his book, Aha! uses a strong image to describe the curiosity that is the driving force behind creativity. He says to think of a funnel. Through the hole at the bottom of the funnel flows what you know. The main body of the funnel holds what you know you don't know. Then above the top of the funnel lies what you don't know you don't know. That is what you explore when you become curious.

The Characteristics of Curiosity

There are several characteristics a curious person possesses. The first is openness. This is the willingness to respect something new and accept a different way of doing something. It is being open to new people, thoughts, and things.

Another important characteristic is the ability to accept ambiguity. If an answer to a problem or a fresh idea isn't immediately available, a curious person is OK with that. The lack of certainty is the opening for creativity to begin.

The acceptance of risk is important. This isn't the type of risk involved in betting everything on a spin of the roulette wheel, or jumping out of a third story window to see what happens. It means being OK with failure. It means risking that you might look less than perfect. It also means taking the risk that you will discover something new and exciting.

Another quality of the curious is energy. Mr. Ayan talks about not just the physical energy to work at a task. There is the mental energy to think through a problem or confront something unknown. There is the energy of passion that drives you forward.

Optimism is a characteristic that I believe to be essential. This is the belief that whatever is being done will ultimately pay off. While failure may happen again and again as new ideas are explored, that is OK. Each wrong approach gets you closer to the right one. Even if the entire experience does not end in the result you want the process was still rewarding. That is optimism.

The exciting thing about discovering your own creativity is once you start it is almost impossible to stop. Each new discovery opens up a new inspiration or approach. Each step forward makes it easier to take the step after that. Creativity begins to feed on itself. Sounds great, doesn't it. But, how exactly does one tap into this flow of creativity? If we all have this ability, how do we use it to enhance our life?

I think I can help. The next post in this series will begin to detail exactly how you discover your inherent creativity. I will give you several specific steps you can take to begin to use your curiosity and the talents you may not even know you have.

Part 2 of Curiosity and Creativity will post January 17th.

Questions for you: Tell us about a time when you discovered a creative answer to a problem. Have you been ever startled by an idea that just suddenly popped into your head?

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  1. Bob,
    I think that we all are naturally curious. We get it beaten out of us along the way- some early and some later. Retirement is a fine time to find it again. As you say, it doesn't take much to get started but it can be intoxicating once you start. Looking forward to part 2.

  2. Ralph,

    I agree completely. We are born curious and creative. Between schooling and life these important facets tend to get subjugated. Retirement is a time to let them out of the box.

  3. Every time I write a character into a corner I have to think of some creative and logical plan to write him out. Writing aside, Christmas wrap was my latest creative venture. I needed a sack and soon the end of a silk pajama sleeve and some left over ribbon took on a whole new life. I find the more I think outside the box - the easier it becomes.

    I'm looking forward to Part II too.

  4. I can relate. Everytime I can't think what to write about next, I get creative... I look at other peoples" blogs. Just kidding (that was creative).

    The sleeve and ribbon is a great example of what we can do when we look at the everyday in an uncommon way. By the way, I really envy a fiction writer creating an entire reality from her mind and talent.

  5. Great post, and looking forward to part 2 and trying some of the exercises. I concur with your expansive definition. Speaking of expansive, in the last year one of the things I have been especially interested in is opening up to "what I don't know."

  6. Evening J,

    One of the exciting and terrifying things about "I don't know what I don't know" is that it is infinite. The opportunities for growth are endless, but how do you ever know if you know?

    What usually happens is we deal with the "I know I don't know" problem and it suddenly opens up into something we hadn't even considered before. Then, real learning begins.

  7. I too look forward to Pt. 2. My husband is the really creative person between the two of us. He is a musician, an artist, and he taught himself every thing there is to know about computers from writing software to repairing computers. He made a career out of it too. He went through a lot of trial and error and sometimes still does depending on the code he is writing. He took risk and they paid off. I have learned a lot from him and from my two boys who are pretty much just like him.

  8. I'm looking forward to Part 2 also....I hope my ideas and suggestions are on the mark!

    You've described the creative process perfectly, Sue. Curiosity and a lack of fear of making mistakes took your husband from an avocation to a vocation. And, as you noted, he hasn't stopped experimenting, the true sign of a curious nature.

  9. For me the key thing is a willingness to take a chance, to step outside of my comfort zone. I can be somewhat set in my ways and trying something new means I will have to learn and that I will not be perfect at it right away. But there is so much out there to try and I am learning..slowly...

  10. Dave,

    We all tend to operate on autopilot more often than not, don't we. It is called a comfort zone because it is. Those in our age group have the image of being stuck in our ways more so than others. I am glad to read all sorts of recent research that shows that is not true. We are pushing back against the edge of box every day.

  11. Bob, This is a wonderful exploration. I would define myself as less than creative, but you've opened up whole new meanings of the word for me. That's fabulous and I thank you so much. I can't hardly wait until your next post on understanding our inherent creativity.

    For the moment, I am trying - very gradually - to swim more in the right side of the brain.

    I really appreciate the creativity you demonstrate on your blog. There's always something new and fascinating here.

  12. Sandra,

    I must disagree. You are extremely creative. Your write with passion and a real understanding of the human spirit. I find your blog inspirational and motivating.

    I am very pleased you have found something useful in this post. I am already at work on the followup.