Embrace crazy: How to fuel your creative genius.People often talk about creativity as if it were some mysterious, spiritual commodity, the result of being touched by the hand of God (or at least blessed by genetics). Creative geniuses tend to be portrayed as if they had sprung into existence fully formed, doing advanced physics or penning operas before they could walk.
But when you ask a profoundly creative person how the creative process actually works, divine inspiration rarely comes up. Choreographer Twyla Tharp rises at 5:30 each morning and takes a taxi to her New York City gym for a two-hour workout, and says this simple ritual--waking, taxi, gym--is the foundation on which her prolific talent rests. Beethoven went for a walk every day with notepad in hand o jot down the music that streamed through his mind.
Physical rituals like these can cue creativity, clearing the mind and activating subconscious wells of thought. But if there is one habit of mind that creative souls share, it's probably the rigorous (and sometimes unrelenting) practice of their chosen vocation. Frank Gehry says the daily grind of designing shopping malls laid a foundation of technical skill that served as scaffolding for loftier flights of inspiration. "You learn from everything," he says. Tharp, in her book The Creative Habit, notes that even the consummate prodigy Mozart didn't stint on his scales. "By the time he was 28 years old," she writes, "his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing."
"One thing most creative geniuses have in common is quantity," says Michael Michalko, author of Thinker Toys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques and other best-selling books on creativity. "They create great quantities of ideas, and most of these are bad." Michalko suggests that anyone waiting for a lightning bolt of inspiration should instead give himself an "idea quota" of, say, 140 ideas, writing down even the dumb ones. "You'll find that the last third are the most complex," he says.
Another quality of the creative mind, Michalko says, is the embrace of crazy notions and the ability to learn even from abject failure. "When Thomas Edison failed 5,000 times to come up with a filament for his light bulb, an assistant asked. "Edison said, 'I don't know what you're talking about--l've discovered 5,000 things that don't work.' " To cultivate an Edisonian outlook, Michalko recommends the exercise of generating the most absurd ideas possible to solve a problem, making each one crazier than the last.
All of this is to say that cultivating creativity is largely about recapturing a childlike openness, fearlessness and ability to see ordinary things from novel angles-qualities that original thinkers like Einstein, who approached his work as a form of joyous play, relied on.
Jeannine McGlade and Andrew Pek, the author of Stimulated! Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work, offer the following tips for opening up and getting our of the grown-up mental ruts that kill creativity:
(1) Shake things up. Pick up a magazine that you would never read normally or drive to work a new way. Your brain needs to see and experience new things to stimulate fresh perspectives.
(2) Visit different spaces and places to find inspiration--a park, a cafe, a library, a theater, a museum. Different environments help you to attract different "spark moments."
(3) Take a nap or meditate every day. Thomas Edison was famous for tackling his biggest challenges after a power snooze.
(4) Keep your "eyes wide open." The real voyage of creativity consists of not seeing new things but of gaining fresh perspectives.