How rare is creativity?
When I was growing up in the 1950's and '60's, I absorbed the general cultural attitudes about creativity. Creative work was special, something in which artists and writers engaged. Creative products were rare, to be prized, like expensive works of art. The source of creativity was mysterious. There was something mystical and wonderful about being able to create something new. I became convinced that the ability to be creative is probably humanity's most important asset.
I have studied creativity, in various ways, ever since. I tried to be creative in different ways, some worked well, others were a bust, but that is another story. My interest in metaphor is partly fueled by my interest in creativity, for few things are more creative than a good metaphor.
Through all my attention to creativity, I retained the sense that this was a truly remarkable phenomenon. The ability to create something new where there was nothing before--what a gift. Humanity will need this gift as it passes through the uncertainties of the coming century.
Yet as I thought about creativity, I came to the conclusion that some of the received wisdom about creativity is not correct. Creative work is not as rare as had been assumed. In fact, ordinary people call upon creative efforts every day. The ordinary spoken sentence is an example. We do not usually say the same thing again and again. We come up with new thoughts and put them into sentences that are new. Our everyday communication is creative. As I studied metaphor, I found metaphors cropping up everywhere, being coined by many anonymous creators. Creativity is not something cornered by artists and writers. It is part of the repertoire of all humans.
So if everyone can be creative, then the products of creativity are not rare, only found in museums. In fact, everyday life is a creative product. Everywhere we look we see people being creative, if we only have eyes to see. Our reality is a social construction, as one school of social thought contends, and this constructivism is creativity in action. When we think about our creative processes as we speak, cook, strum guitars, exercise, etc. it helps us appreciate the creativity in what we are doing and how to re focus it to other parts of our lives. It is true we tend to find our niches where we are comfortable, but we can change when necessary and produce a very different life for ourselves.
This insight contends that creativity is part of the tools that all humans come into this world with, and they use this tool every day. So where does creativity come from? We still do not know, and I doubt that any scientific method is going to tell us. Science is good at looking at statistical large numbers, but creativity is as individual as each separate person. Science is good at describing trends from past events, but creativity is about stepping outside of those trends.
So creativity is everywhere that humans are, in the words and metaphors we use, the thoughts we think, the realities we co-construct. It is our most precious possession, I believe. Let us see it clearly wherever it appears and try to nurture it in others. Let us try to minimize the fears and pressures that work against creativity. For in uncertain and dangerous times, our creative selves are going to need to stretch their muscles and pull us into a new and uncertain future.