We all have heard about creativity but did we ever take a moment to think about it for a while. What it really is or what it means? How to be better at it?
Definitions of creativity are actually rather simple. Wikipedia states that Creativity is the ability to improve, adding value. Google quotes Princeton University’s website saying that it’s “The ability to create”.
Creativity is a mental process, involving discovery of new ideas, or new view on the old ideas. The process is powered by our conscious and unconscious mind.
With today’s modern psychology and cognitive science, creativity is still rather unknown field. There are number of theories on the process, but all of them can’t explain it precisely.
Graham Wallas presented his theory about creative thinking in 1926. He is dividing creative process into following steps:
- Preparation – work on a problem that involves understanding it and exploring different views on it
- Incubation – where the problem is injected into unconscious mind
- Intimation – it happens when one get the feeling that idea is going to emerge soon
- Illumination – where the creative idea bursts into conscious mind
- Verification – when the idea is consciously verified, elaborated and applied
My own findings
I started with reading some book on the topic and browsing the Internet. Then I saw TED talk by creativity and innovation expert, Sir Ken Robinson. He inspired me to observe my 3 years old daughter when she was playing. They say that small persons mind is like a sponge. It soaks in all the new encounters.
Things I noticed
A lot of my daughter’s new toys emerged from an item of everyday use, used in a completely new way (laundry basket became a boat, toilet paper roll became a telescope, etc.). She has a great skill to take an item, turn it around, look at it from different angle and than decide what new toy it will be.
My daughter is very good girl and she is hardly ever destructive (I only assume that boys are more talented in this area). She grabs things that are around her and puts them together. New creation is inspected and either accepted as new toy or discarded (sometimes put together in different way).
Kids have more simple/different way of looking at things. This is what makes them so creative. When “Little Prince” saw picture of a hat, he said it was a picture of giant snake that swallowed elephant (perhaps he was right).
Thinking about the way my daughter creates new toys I came to conclusion that creative adult thinking is very similar most of the times. We look at the things from a different angle, look at it upside down, take tools that we have never used to do different sometimes odd job (using shoe as a hammer).
Putting things together is less physical, more mental. It involves taking pieces of information, knowledge, experience, and combine them together to produce something new. A book, real life observations, notes and mind maps turned into this article.
Recall any music interview that you might hear. Musicians typically mention who is their inspiration. Normally they mention another musician/music style etc. You can recognize in their music, tunes from other musicians, same musical patterns, instruments, etc. This is being creative by combining all the bits together in a new way.
Creativity and software development
Above description of creative processes are sounding very familiar to what I’ve been doing everyday creating software. All my experience from working with other people, technical knowledge I have, domain knowledge I acquired and everything else I know influences the code that I write.
I found that knowledge of different languages and patterns that are present in those, helped me to bring new ideas, become more creative at what I was doing. C# experience helped me to introduce some new patterns to Java. Dynamic and functional languages gave different view on type safety and state. Tools that I typically used in one technology, gave new light to a better use of tools in other technology.
I also found that being brave enough to try new things, use of different tools, led me to a new discovery. For example, swapping build tool to brand new, helped defragment not fully automated release process.
Everyone can be creative however it doesn’t mean that it is simple. More information you have (including domain, technical knowledge and everyday life things) is helpful. More willing you are to try new and different things the better.
Try to stay open to information but be careful, as it is easy to get overflowed with it in the age of Internet. Be open to new things and listen to other’s ideas, don’t shut them down immediately.
Handfull of links (somehow references)
- “Unleash Your Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius”, Rob Bevan, Tim Wright
- “Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative”, Sir Ken Robinson