When you ask someone directly if they are creative or not, often people initially see this as a yes or no question. You either are or you aren’t and tend to base their response on their ability to do something that is socially seen as creative, like paint, play music etc. So the question of creativity in my case is met with a lot of emotion around my perceptions of what it means to be creative.
This month, Think Further is focussing on creativity and innovation and so our team have been busy curating resources around this topic and it got me thinking. Most people who know me well would describe me as someone who is very creative.
I spend all of my spare time crafting in many different ways, from crocheting jellyfish to sculpting harry potter wands. However, when someone asks me if I see myself as creative, my initial reaction is to question if I really am creative or not. Personally I’m not someone who has eureka style, light bulb moments of creativity. Everything I make is initiated from a pattern or spotted on Pinterest (which I don’t know how I used to survive without). So I often feel that I’m not truly creative because I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “I know I’ll hand felt a thesis mentoring logo onto a silver superhero cape, what a wonderful novel creative idea that it” (by the way, such a cape does exist and I did make it!). All my creativity comes from lots of different sources of inspiration and then merged together.
However….putting together the resources on creativity this week, watching some of the videos that my colleague Kay Guccione has created like ‘where do research ideas come from’ has changed my mind about my creativity. The resources have made me realise that creativity isn’t just those light bulb moment ideas, for many people it’s the way you take your previous knowledge, influences of others around you and different ways of thinking about something which gives you those creative moments. This is exactly the process I use for much of what I create, both in my hobbies but also the way I carry out my role as a researcher developer developing new initiatives and it’s a totally valid way of being creative. So when researchers are asked where their great ideas came from, many talk about how they look the knowledge they gained during their PhD, combined it with a different way of working during their postdoc contracts to generate a creative new direction for their research. For others, it’s talking to people during conferences or hearing about other peoples’ research in a seminar that sparks a new way of thinking about their own field which generates the creativity.
Reading an article by Elizabeth Gilbert who shares ways to think smartly about creativity entitled ‘fear is boring, and other tips for living a creative life’, she points out that it can often be the word creativity itself that holds us back. She argues that people often say “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” as an automatic response to creativity like some label they were giving as a child and have worn ever since. But that if you replace ‘creativity’ with the word ‘curious’, it becomes a ridiculous thing to suggest you don’t have it. It releases the burden and anxiety people have around creativity and reveals that everyone is creative as long as they follow their curiosity.
So would you like some help developing your approach to creativity? Vitae’s creative researcher booklet has a top 10 tips for nurturing creativity which is a good starting point for ensuring you find techniques that support you in creating an environment which allows creativity.
Something I haven’t covered here is creativity through problem solving. This is something I feel more comfortable in admitting I’m good at and probably is the case for many others in research. Outside of my role at work, you can often find me happiest when challenged to make really random things for my daughter’s dance shows, like “can you just make us some goat puppets for a scene in the sound of music” and “any chance you can make a train for 7 children to carry onto stage whilst tap dancing”. Creative…me????? Well… maybe I might be a little.