Yes. Actually, it’s necessary to making progress.
From The New York Times Can Creativity be Scheduled?:
What if you don’t have to be “creative” to create?
We all know the archetype of the creatives, right? Eccentric, weird, scattered, messy. The creatives are plagued perpetually by writer’s block (or sculptor’s block or painter’s block or whatever block). They spend most of their time lazing about gloomily, smoking cigarettes and cursing this cruel world. But then, every once in a while, the creatives are so touched by the muse that they are forced to immediately drop everything, go into a trance and become a funnel for the beauty of the world.
Personally, I think that’s a bit too precious. This notion to wait around in the rain until you get struck by lightning to make art (or anything) doesn’t mesh with my experience at all. What comes much closer is the famous Chuck Close quotation: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
The major implication of Mr. Close’s quotation is that you don’t have to be creative to create. So here’s a secret ninja trick that will help: Don’t wait around for creativity to strike. Strike creativity! Invent an obligation for yourself so you have to be creative on purpose.
I once heard a story about a guy who wanted to write a book. But he was too overwhelmed by the enormity of the process, so for a decade, he didn’t do it. One day, he decided to create a 5,000-word monthly magazine and offer a two-year subscription to everyone he knew. A bunch of people signed up, and all of a sudden, he had to do it. At the end of two years, he had 120,000 words to work with to create this book.
So, can you be creative on purpose without waiting for lightining to strike?
Yes, you can be creative on command but in my experience two things have to be true for it to work:
- A well defined problem;
- Deep immersion and then distancing yourself from the challenge.
The first one is the hardest, it’s what gives your mind focus. We saw this in my recent interview with Greg Satell on how the main challenge for every manager and business leader is how to answer “what do I do?”; it all starts with having a well defined problem.
The second part, has to do with not thinking about the challenge and letting your mind wander for a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you just want to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks. It actually helps to loosen up a bit because we’re so used to doing routine work so we have to shock the brain.
This is an important point because one of the main fears of established organizations is that making time for creativity is a waste of time; it isn’t if you start by articulating a well defined problem.
Bottom line: While it is my belief that there is no single path to creativity, creating a constraint and articulating a well defined problem is very powerful to jumpstart the process of making stuff.
Also published on Medium.