Creativity Isn't Magic, and That's a Good Thing
They say you should never meet your heroes, but meeting some of mine was one of the most formative moments in my creative career. The experience taught me something deeply surprising—and inspiring—about the nature of creativity.
After five years of working in corporate marketing at a fast-growing education technology company, I found myself sitting in a conference room, preparing to meet with our agency partners on a national advertising campaign for the first time. I was still new in my career at the time, and this was new to me; I half-expected Jon Hamm playing Don Draper to walk through the doors and hit us with a magical campaign right then and there.
But something much more interesting happened. I met our agency counterparts, who came from some of the largest agencies in the U.S., and they were normal.
What do I mean by normal? They were there to do good work, solve problems, use their imaginations and create value. No magic is required—just hard work, dedication and a heap of optimism.
Little did I know then that this would put my life and the course of my career on a very different trajectory, because through that interaction, I demystified what I believed and thought about creativity. Before, I would have told you creativity came from white castles and geniuses with special superpowers and that only a select few could carry true creative genius. But at that moment, in a nondescript conference room in San Diego, I realized something—you, me, all of us are creative, and that simple truth can change your life.
Since that experience many years ago, I've grown and scaled multiple creative agencies, of which I'm incredibly proud. Yet, as I look back on how my career led to where I am today, I can't help but think that reshaping my view on creativity was a crucial element in my journey.
Creativity is an action.
Our culture has a dramatically skewed idea of what being creative looks like. We operate on a belief that geniuses carry out true creativity—whether that's our personal heroes, like my agency counterparts years ago, or famous figures universally celebrated for their creativity, like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney or Elon Musk.
But all creativity really is, is a nascent skill that you can choose to invest your time and energy into developing or not.
In their book Creative Confidence, David and Tom Kelley make a case for creativity as an action. They position creative confidence as "the combination of thought and action"—bringing home the crucial tenet that creativity is as much about getting to work daily as it is the big, dazzling ideas we tend to celebrate.
The book also perfectly sums up the real reason "creative genius" archetypes tend to rise to the top: Our heroes' " 'strokes of genius' don't come about because they succeed more often than other people—they just do more, period."
With this approach in mind, it becomes easier to democratize creativity without demoting it from a well-earned place of respect. Creativity is something you can do; the more you do it, the better you get at it. The more success you experience. And often, the more "genius" you seem over time, even though the only real magic trick is working at it, day after day, project after project. We all have the power to do that—we need the commitment to match.
Creativity is resilient.
Remembering that creativity is something you can train, practice and develop helps to negate the long-suffering effects of both imposter syndrome and creative resistance.
I'm not saying these cease to exist—in my experience, they never really go away. I am saying that when you release yourself from the expectation that one day creative pixie dust may be sprinkled over your head, and on that day, you deserve to call yourself "creative," a world of possibility opens up.
In his book The War of Art, writer Steven Pressfield makes the case that most creativity is rooted in having enough resilience to overcome resistance, and that the ability to do this is trainable. But first, you decide to beat the resistance at its own game by showing up no matter what lies that resistance tells you.
Throughout my career, I've seen firsthand what can happen when creatives let themselves off the hook of genius expectations and get to work. Refusing to let resistance—or the fear of not having that "magic" creative touch—stop you, frees you up to make something, to make anything. Concentrate on solving a problem instead of getting distracted by whether or not you fit the mold of what it means to be creative. And then begin the real work of making whatever you made better, bit by bit.
Creativity is a group effort.
Another essential part of demystifying creativity is acknowledging that the best creative work rarely happens in a vacuum. Instead, most creative successes are the result of collaborations.
Throughout my career, I've found that every client project, community initiative and entrepreneur pursuit has been much sweeter when done in creative collaboration with others. Our best work happens when connected.
Growing one of the largest CreativeMornings chapters in the world was only possible due to the collective creativity of an incredible organizing team that came together around our deep belief in what was possible for our community. The growth of Grizzly, the agency I lead, is no different. It's a team sport, and it wouldn't happen without the collective effort of a team of contributors. This belief drives one of Grizzly's core values: Win together. We believe everyone is creative, so our team collaborates and collectively contributes to solving creative challenges daily.
If we want to see a thriving culture of creativity in our work and, more broadly, in the world, we have to start by celebrating the fact that creativity is inherently collaborative.
When we treat creativity like our collective work, we are empowered to come together and create something truly remarkable. When we see creativity as something we all have access to and the ability to leverage, the scarcity mindset, perpetuated by the myth of creative genius, loses its power. Then we can focus on what's essential: continually creating meaningful and impactful work together.
Creativity isn't magic, but it can be your superpower.
Ultimately, demystifying creativity isn't just about self-actualization and a collaborative attitude—it's about embracing the opportunity that creativity gives us to transform the world around us.
It doesn't matter if you're a career creative, a stay-at-home parent, or an accountant. Creative solutions that can improve your life, work and environment are there for the building—you've just got to embrace the idea that you are capable of creative solutions and get to work.
In the end, the "geniuses" we admire—in the creative industries and far beyond—are nothing more than people who saw a problem and applied optimism, rigor and lots of ideas to create potential solutions. And if everyone believed they have the power to be creative? Think about what we could make and accomplish. Accepting this truth, versus believing only some people hold the power of creativity, has no downside.
Creativity can and should be your superpower—it can be all of our superpowers, and we don't need to wait for a radioactive spider bite or a magic spell to get it. Instead, we need to invite it in and stick to it.