There’s a red and green tie-dye poster of Bob Marley sitting across from my desk, and I like to believe that it helps me write. I’m not sure if it really does — but it’s always nice to have somebody else in the room with me.
On nights like tonight, I’ll kick back with my nootropic drink of choice and the cursor will stare back at me, waiting on my command. I have to get creative, instantly.
Talking about creativity is hard for two reasons:
Most people think that unless they are going to be an artist (singer, painter, writer, etc), creativity isn’t really necessary in their day-to-day lives or careers
The public in general has the misguided idea that creativity is something you’re born with — either you have it, or you don’t.
Both assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth.
Creativity isn’t some esoteric quality that only the Bob Marleys and Salvador Dalís of the world possess — it’s a learnable, trainable skill that can be honed into a process.
Once you have the process down, you can use it to solve problems in innovative, interesting ways that make others look at your work and say, “Hey, that’s neat. Why didn’t I think of that?” Whether the problem you’re solving is a musical scale, a business plan, a painting on canvas or a line of code — creativity is your power tool.
Today, we’re going to explore the working processes of three of the world’s most creative people: Pablo Picasso, Stephen King and Albert Einstein — and learn how you can apply their creativity secrets directly to your own life.
Lesson 1: Work Backwards (Pablo Picasso)
To many beginning entrepreneurs and artists, nothing is more daunting than the blank slate.
“What type of business should I start?”
“Is my idea any good?” (Use this strategy to figure it out)
Nagging questions like these haunt us — and honestly, they make throwing in the towel before we even begin seem pretty attractive.
Coming up with good ideas is so freaking hard.
Picasso knew this, so he devised a strategy to work around creative blocks. It’s pretty simple. He said:
“I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.”
For Picasso, the key was getting started before you knew exactly what you were doing.
Doing the work IN SPITE of yourself.
Inspiration then, comes not from the original idea — but from what happens when you allow yourself to start working without restriction or fear of “messing up.”
In order to find a great idea, you have to start backwards: First start working. Then, let your work lead you to your highest creativity.
Remember, the root of “creativity” is “create.” So start making something.
Lesson 2: Set Daily Quotas For Yourself (Stephen King)
Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers of our generation, having written 55 novels (49 of which became bestsellers), hundreds of short stories and half a dozen non-fiction books. Oh…and he’s also pulling in about $40 million per year, which makes him one of the wealthiest writers in the world. So there’s that….
The guy knows how to GET IT DONE!
But how does he unleash the creative beast so consistently, and with such high quality? His answer shouldn’t surprise you:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
You might be wondering how much qualifies as “a lot.”
According to King, he writes about 10 pages a day — which equates to about 2,000 words. Seven days a week. Every week. Even holidays.
Do you think this type dedication and consistency sounds crazy? Consider the fact that creating a daily quota and sticking to it is one of the most powerful habits you can ever create. Just imagine what your life would be like if you took that “hobby” and finally became serious.
Learned that language. Started that business. Wrote that book.
What would happen if you worked on it for 365 days without stopping? You’d have incredible results. You might be the next Stephen King of your field.
Start with a small quota for yourself and work on your craft every day.
(PS — Hemingway only wrote 500 words a day. I think I’ll copy him instead.)
Lesson 3: Engage In “Combinatory Play” (Albert Einstein)
Yes, yes. Einstein was history’s most famous physicist.
But did you know that he was also an amateur violinist and pianist who often incorporated ideas from his musical background into his physics work to help he deal with challenging problems.
In order to break through plateaus in his work and see these problems from different angles, Einstein used his mind to “mash up” several different ideas and concepts and rearrange them at will — a process which he called “Combinatory Play”.
The following is from a letter written to a colleague in which he describes the process (taken from his book Ideas and Opinions)
My Dear Colleague: In the following, I am trying to answer in brief your questions as well as I am able. I am not satisfied myself with those answers and I am willing to answer more questions if you believe this could be of any advantage for the very interesting and difficult work you have undertaken.
(A) The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined.
There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above-mentioned elements.
But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought — before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.
(B) The above-mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.
(C) According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for.
(D) Visual and motor. In a stage when words intervene at all, they are, in my case, purely auditive, but they interfere only in a secondary stage, as already mentioned.
(E) It seems to me that what you call full consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully accomplished. This seems to me connected with the fact called the narrowness of consciousness (Enge des Bewusstseins).
While it may seem a little “out there” for some, Einstein’s approach is actually pretty simple: strip down your ideas to their most basic components — without words.
Next, use those visualizations as puzzle pieces and test different arrangements and orientations to see which pieces fit together.
Combine seemingly disparate elements and look for new patterns. Play.
Learn To Break The Rules
If you take the time to study more of the world’s greatest thinkers, you’ll see over and over again that they don’t adhere to conventional wisdom about what’s “supposed” to work. Everybody’s creative process is different — but just like these three geniuses, you can find something that works for you. Then you’ll be unstoppable!