“Think outside the box.”
We hear that phrase a lot. But I ask you – is it accurate? Are there really boxes at all? Or are they figments we build from life and living and expectation? Are they just self-imposed limitations?
(this post is part of the Writers: How to Be Creative resource page)
Creativity, people say, is about getting yourself to think outside the box. But, what if it’s really more a matter of just realizing that the boxes are no more real than anything else we “believe” in. What if creativity is always there just ready for you and to access it all you have to do is recognize it?
Here is a list of things that keep us boxed in (inspired by myriad websites which I list at the end). These are things we “believe” in which are for the most part common to all of us. As you read the list ask yourself, what if you stopped believing in these things?
- There is a right answer
- Things need to be logical
- You must follow the rules
- Work and play are different things
- Ambiguity is not acceptable
- Being wrong is bad
- Great creativity is for a limited few
- You have to be an expert first
- Edit as you go to make something better
- Failure is bad
- You can only do it if others believe in you
- You need to do all your research first
- Limitations exist
- It has to be perfect before you should let your project go
- You have too many other “important” things to do first
- Creativity cannot be learned
- Creativity is…(fill in the blank)
Even when it comes to the concept of creativity itself, we box ourselves in with definitions and restrictive concepts of what a creative person is like.
But here’s the no box truth of creativity – creativity is what you make it. No matter that no one else agrees with your definition or with your creative output.
E. Paul Torrance, an educator and academic, is known as the “Father of Creativity.” What I like about his proposed definition of creativity it that it allows for more individuality and angles (though beware, even though it’s a bigger box, it’s still a box. He proposed that
Creativity is composed of 4 elements:
- Fluency, or the number of ideas
- Flexibility, the variety or number of different categories of the ideas
- Originality or the uniqueness or rarity of the ideas
- Elaboration, or the amount of the detail in the ideas
When most people speak about creativity they are often referring to #3 – originality. I offer Torrance’s definition to you to help you to consider that if you are good at elaborating on ideas, you are creative, If you come up with lots of ideas, you are creative. If you are able to think on a lot of different topics and areas, you are creative.
As we approach another year it’s a good time to strip away your existing notions of what creativity is, and to consider dumping those belief boxes that you’ve allowed to hold you back. This is the time to explore your creative strengths and to find some new meaning in your own creativity.
Here is a creative activity designed to give you a boost in understanding your own creativity.
How do you best like to express your creativity?
Often, when it comes to creativity we don’t even truly know what we’re good at. Or what we love. If you’re reading this post you’re probably a writer of some form. But don’t limit yourself to that. The point of this activity is to explore your feelings about expressing yourself, with words or not. What mode of expression do you enjoy most? Writing stories? Finding pictures? Creating pictures? Musical expression? Do you love using the computer and pictures? The computer and words? The computer and music?
Pick one or more of the following activities and explore your creativity.
Form a story—written or in your head—about one page in length. Find pictures (any number, any sort) that remind you in some way of the words in your story. Cut out the pictures, and put them together so that your images together to visually tell your story.
Write some of your favorite words down and form them into a short story or idea of several paragraphs. Draw or paint images that in some way reflect what those words mean to you. Put your images together to tell the story you want to tell.
Write a short story on the computer. Find clip art, photos, or other images that remind you in some way of the words in your story, or the story itself. Put your images together to tell the story, without using the words you typed into the computer.
Combine music and words in some way that means something to you. For instance, use a song someone else wrote and write new words to the tune. Or, use the words someone else wrote for a song, and create a new tune. Or, write a story then find music to go with it. Or, pick your favorite music then write a story that goes with the music.
When You’ve Completed Your Project/s ask Yourself:
- Which activity did you enjoy most? Expressing ideas with words or images?
- Could you feel a difference in your enjoyment of each activity?
- Was one method harder or easier?
- What mode of expression felt the most comfortable?
- Did you love all of them? None?
- Did you gravitate toward painting or another art form, or were you more high tech– using the computer and searching for clip art?
Use the way you answer these questions to help you understand where some of your areas of creative strength and enjoyment lie. This gives you the opportunity to expand your creative thinking about yourself and to understand that without doubt, there is more there than you’ve previously considered.
And of course, there is no need to limit yourself to the activities listed here. Is expressing yourself with LEGO an awesome experience? Cooking? Search for new ways and combinations to express yourself to expand your self-imposed creative limitations.
And consider the idea that thinking outside the box is not really necessary because boxes are only self imposed limitations that don’t really exist at all.
Inspirational resources for this post: