Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
There's no shortage of smart people in the world. But there is a shortage of creative people in the world. Thinking is the hardest and most valuable task any person can perform. Don't stifle it; encourage it. Remember, there's no correlation between I.Q. and creativity.
Why aren't more people creative? Sometimes people are afraid of trying something new and getting ridiculed for it. Sometimes people don't believe that something could be better so they don't bother trying to be more creative.
Whatever the reasons, the biggest risk can sometimes be not taking a risk.
In the book "The Creative Executive," Granville Toogood says that we are by nature creative, but most of us fail to recognize our creative potential. We race through our careers, often never recognizing that creativity is as important to business as DNA is to evolution. And when creativity pops up around us, we are often quick to mock it. Corporate cultures talk creativity, but the herd favors mediocrity, he says.
How can you improve your life? If you keep doing what you're doing, you're only going to keep getting what you already have. To get a better life, you need to do something different, and it all starts with being creative.
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while." That particular piece of wisdom is from the late Apple founder Steve Jobs.
What may seem obvious for a software engineer at Apple seems utterly amazing to me. Who would have ever imagined the power of the Internet? Twenty years ago, who would have ever imagined that you could have the entire Internet in your hand?
Certainly, great artists, writers and composers come to mind when the discussion turns to creativity. But did they all create something new? Artists work with the same three primary colors, plus black and white. Writers all start with the same 26 letters. Beethoven and the Beatles used the same musical notes.
In all those cases, they've taken the familiar in a different direction. They didn't reinvent the wheel. They just changed the wheel's course.
Anyone can do it. Being creative is not the same as being original -- that is, you don't have to start from scratch to be creative. Consider this advice:
-- Connect ideas. Some ideas are better than others. But instead of waiting for that stroke of genius to hit you, take a couple of pretty good ideas and look for ways to connect them.
-- Repeat. Analyze what you've already done, and try creating it all over again. Chances are you'll find a way to improve it, or perhaps give it a fresh angle. You may also find a way to save time or use new resources by exploring what you already know.
-- Consider the impact. Who else does the problem affect? You may gain valuable insight and build support by including others in your analysis and solution.
-- Do some extra research. Don't assume you have all the facts you need. Before trying to solve the problem, dig deep into the background and the issues surrounding it. You may uncover something new that will lead to a fresh approach when nothing else has worked.
-- Limit yourself. Sometimes having a wide variety of tools at your fingertips can overwhelm your brain. Take a few ideas at a time, and discard those that get in the way.
-- Stick to a schedule. Inspiration will find you more easily if it knows where to look. Set a regular time and place for your creative work so your mind gets used to searching for ideas on a predictable basis.
-- Accept mistakes. Don't obsess over perfection. Try things even if you're not sure they'll succeed. Often you'll stumble across a different strategy or a better path along the way.
How's this for a creative approach? A man bet a friend that he could make a million dollars selling rocks. After his friend took him up on that offer, he packaged rocks in cardboard cartons that looked like pet carriers, filled them with straw, and called them Pet Rocks. Do I need to tell you that he made more than a million dollars?
Mackay's Moral: "Creative genius" is a misnomer -- you don't have to be a genius to be creative.