The three problems with creativity

David O'Hagan
4 min readApr 16, 2020
Credit: NPR

We live in a world where there are some very nice creative jobs—artists, architects, and various types of designers. But for many of us unfortunately, our jobs are pretty routine.

We often simply (and quite diligently) follow a set of tasks outlined in our job description. With little deviation nor encouragement to throw on a creative hat, get our hands a little dirty, and boldly create something more/better/exciting.

Many people do like being creative, when they’re given the opportunity. Whether it’s painting a mural on a community center wall, or creating a gorgeous (and functional) salad bowl in a pottery class on a friend’s birthday.

But the general population doesn’t often go out of their way to find new creative outlets. Partly because many feel that they’re not actually very creative. Which often stems from the false belief that it’s something you’re born with. Which is sad.

Creativity, like enthusiasm, can be learned and nurtured.

And this is very good news.

That though, brings us to the three problems with creativity in our world today:

Credit: Magnolia Box
  1. Education system: Our academic and color-inside-the-lines education system doesn’t really encourage or support much creativity in the classroom. So we need: Much more out-in-the-world team-based collaboration, where students have encouragement and freedom to explore ideas, co-create solutions, and challenge one another and the status quo.
  2. Employment: So many of the jobs today don’t have a whole lot of diversity within their tasks and responsibilities. So we need: More opportunity and space (both physical and mental) for employees to toss around more off-the-cuff and unrefined ideas, and then together build on those ideas in organic teams and spaces.
  3. Effort is required: Like most things in life, in order to learn something new and to excel in it, it takes effort, practice, and some trial and error. Especially when it comes to creativity because of numbers 1 and 2 above. So we need: To resist the urge to stick to the comfortable and cozy status quo. Instead step up and enthusiastically explore our own creativity — with colleagues, peers, and friends. We need leaders and we need momentum.

Unfortunately (and I’m an optimist!), much of the world has resigned itself to just accept the often mediocre ideas and opportunities that trickle out as a result of numbers 1 and 2. And they just go about their day with no strong urge to explore anything new.

However(!), the small cadre of curious and gritty individuals that heroically buck the trend and embrace number 3, are the ones that end up not only creating more ideas and better solutions, but they also have a lot more fun doing it! (My heroes!)

Credit: M Catherine Thomas

And in case we’re not quite yet on the same page, creativity is actually very good!

  • Creativity betters our world with new ideas, and those ideas can turn into new and better products and services, that bring costs down, drive value and success up, as well as create peace of mind
  • Creativity inspires other people to be creative in their roles and their lives (the ripple effect, baby!)
  • Creativity provides an outlet and an opportunity to shift away from mediocrity, repetition, and boredom of old and tired processes, that have slowly sucked us in and taken us hostage

Number 3 is not the easier road, for sure.

But in my opinion, it’s wildly worth the efforts of excitedly pursuing number 3. Trying and failing (and trying again), teaming up with other like-minded creativity enthusiasts, and together enthusiastically pressing on to live out a more creative (and fulfilling) life.

Credit: Journal of the American Revolution

So if you’re ready to make a positive change in the world (and this current pandemic is a perfect opportunity), team up with others, and get creative about flexing your creativity muscle. And doing it together with others is much better, because #creativityisateamsport (And watch Steven Johnson’s 4-minute animated talk Where Good Ideas Come From for more on that.)

Take care out there, but see you on the (creative, and much more interesting) other side!

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David O'Hagan

On a mission to find: innovators, status quo crushers, culture builders, hungry creatives, and warm sandy beaches