What It Really Takes to Be Creative

Hugo Lindgren, editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, just published a wonderful article* about what it really takes to be creative. It’s titled “Be Wrong As Fast As You Can,” but that’s just part of it. The title is a quotation from a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar. (I often use Pixar as a case study when I’m teaching executives how to manage innovation.) Lasseter says

Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another. People don’t believe that, but it’s true.

I believe it. Take the Pixar movie WALL-E, and listen to how horrible this pitch sounds: “After humans destroy the planet and all life on it, by smothering it with their huge piles of trash, we watch a silent robot for 30 minutes as he cleans up piles of waste.”

As Lindgren puts it, this is “an acknowledgement of just how deep into the muck of mediocrity a creative project can sink as it takes those first vulnerable steps from luxurious abstraction to unforgiving reality.” He continues:

I know that the next brilliant brainstorm is never going to be the one that will just write itself, any more than the last one did. Ideas, in a sense, are overrated….It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.

A lot of people have a huge misconception about creativity: They think it’s about having a brilliant idea. They don’t realize that it’s not about the idea; it’s about the unpredictable, winding path that you stumble down as you work to realize the idea. That’s why I’m calling my next book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (coming in March 2013, preorder it now!).

I love this quotation from writer Thomas Mann (from page 323 of my 2012 book Explaining Creativity):

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

If you smile in recognition (or even in pain) when you read this, then you, my friend, are a writer.

*Lindgren, Hugo. 2013. “Be wrong as fast as you can.” New York Times Sunday Magazine, January 6, pages 44-45.

3 thoughts on “What It Really Takes to Be Creative

  1. great post. so much truth here. I saw this fact all the time in my creative writing students; the ones who succeeded were not always the most talented. They were the most driven. Which meant they respected the importance of the revision process. revise, revise, revise.

    1. Some people are empowered when they learn that they can be more creative by working harder. Other people are disappointed, because they want to believe in the magic of sudden insight as a gift.

      All successful creators know the truth: It takes long hours of sustained, hard work to make anything worthwhile.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s