The Creative Mind

There are a few creative people in my family with an interest in subjects such as art and photography. As such, I always felt like I was encouraged to be creative too. When I studied game programming I found that it was actually quite rare to come from such a background and most of the people I talked to were better at subjects like Maths and Science. When they noticed that I was able to create decent looking sprites to put in my games they would comment on how creative I was. One of my closest friends would always put himself down, claiming that he just wasn’t capable of being creative. I always remember one of the things I learnt from a book about drawing, that you should never say you can’t, but that you’re learning. I believe that we restrict ourselves by forming such strong beliefs about what we can’t do. As such I would try to encourage my friend whenever it was required of us to do something more creative.

A lot of people seem to link creativity to skills such as painting or writing, but it’s actually beneficial in other areas too. To be creative is to be able to generate lots of ideas and then eventually hone in on a solution to a problem. Creativity isn’t a talent, but something that all people can posses. People that are considered to be creative however, tend to be more curious and inquisitive in nature. According to The Bedside Book Of Psychology by Christian Jarrett and Joannah Ginsburg (Cognition, creativity, p 64-65) people that rank high on intelligence tests are usually less creative because it requires a different mindset.

There are two ways of thinking referred to as convergent and divergent (or lateral thinking.) To think in a convergent way is to be able to remove all distractions and hone in on the right answer. To think in a divergent way is to be able to absorb more information and process lots of ideas at once, even though many of them may be wrong. Creative people usually find it easier to switch to the divergent style of thinking and have less strict filters for incoming information. To be creative it’s important not to fear failure as the stress and anxiety caused by this prevents us from being able to explore freely. The more ideas we can work through the more likely we will be to find the best solution, but we have to be willing to make mistakes along the way.

In the brilliant talk by John Cleese on Creativity, he refers to the two different states as being open and closed. In the closed state we tend to be under pressure or tight constraints to get a lot done. Everything we do must be purposeful and creativity is impossible. In the open state we are relaxed and playful; Not everything we do has to be purposeful, but that’s integral to our exploration. It’s usually most beneficial to be able to switch between the states, being open at the start but then closed when the work needs to get done.

I watched a program a while ago that broke the creative process up into different stages – I can’t recall what it was called. I tried looking this up, but there seems to be many different versions of it. There are however, three main stages: Preparation, Incubation and Insight. During the preparation stage lots of different ideas are explored. The Incubation period happens after you’ve stopped thinking about it, but your subconscious continues to work on the problem; That’s when you have that moment when for no reason you have a realization about something. The Insight is the Eureka moment. We usually only share stories of the moment when we have the insight, giving the impression that creativity is something that happens effortlessly. In truth, creative people usually put lots of work in behind the scenes that lead to the final product, such as an artist’s sketchbook, a designer’s prototype or a writer’s journal.

So to be more creative it seems that it’s important to relax and give yourself time to play, while allowing yourself to make silly mistakes and to iterate through lots of ideas. As for my friend, we later realized that he was in fact capable of being creative, his ideas were just very different to mine because of our backgrounds. We worked on a game together, allowing us to bring both of our strengths to the table. Some of his contributions were really good and in areas that I would have probably overlooked. I’m usually more visual, while he enjoys creating elaborate systems; he’s since come to realize that this is his own way of being creative.

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