There are hundreds of definitions of creativity, and many of them are valid. There’s no singular “correct” definition of creativity—the purpose of this article is thus is to help you find the answer to the following question: What does creativity mean to you personally?
In this article, we’ll look at common definitions of creativity, and share a simple strategy that will help you find your own definition. Why does this matter? Because it’ll help you access your own creativity more easily, and will help you to express yourself more creatively in whatever medium you choose.
Common definitions of creativity
Let’s first look at some of the more common definitions of creativity:
- the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work – Oxford dictionary
- Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one…What counts is whether the novelty he or she produces is accepted for inclusion in the domain. – Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- the ability to create – Merriam-Webster
- the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas – Cambridge Dictionary
- Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. – Wikipedia
- rising above the conventional way of thinking, to improve and create unique approaches to ideas – ArtInContext
- Creativity is the ability to transcend traditional ways of thinking or acting, and to develop new and original ideas, methods or objects. – Kelly Morr
You can see that there are two main ways of looking at creativity: the first is about creative thinking, and the second is about artistic creativity. But we want to go much deeper than that.
How to discover your own definition of creativity through asking questions
Let’s now find out what creativity means to you by asking yourself a few simple questions.
- When in your life were you creative?
- Why do you even care what creativity means?
- Who are your creative heroes?
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
When in your life were you creative?
What were times when you felt creative? What were some creative things you’ve done? Go through your memories and find specific moments or experiences that made you feel creative, where you did things in an original way that really felt like your own, rather than the application something you’ve learned before.
Look for moments when you really cared about it.
I’ll give you an example from my own life: I was terrible in school. High or drunk pretty much every day, even during class, daydreaming, throwing insults at my teachers. A total misfit. One day we had an assignment to write a short story, and that was one of the few times I did my homework. I was often reading books during class (books that had nothing to do with the subject the teacher was talking about), and one of my friends asked me if I had written a story. I said yes, and he asked if he could see it. He got all excited after I shared it with him. “This is really good. You gotta read this in front of the class.” There was no way I’d read in front of the class. My friend handed my story to one of the girls—a girl I liked, which he knew. My friend was a clever mofo. The girl read it and then asked me if I would let her read it out loud. My head turned red like a tomato and I nodded.
Came class, she indeed read the story out loud. Afterwards everyone stared at me. The teacher looked at me with big eyes. This teacher hated me, and I had given her any reason to hate me. But she said: “You and I we have our differences, but you have genuine talent. This is a great story. I would like to introduce you to the editor of a magazine for young writers.” I tried to be cool and pretend I didn’t give a fuck about what she thought of my work, or that editor of a magazine for young authors, but inside my heart was bouncing around full of joy—mostly because the pretty girl read my story for me. My classmates didn’t treat me like an idiot anymore, but like an eccentric literary genius. (Well, it doesn’t take much to impress a bunch of seventh graders.)
Retelling this story now brings back feelings in me. Maybe you have a story of your own, at a time where you did something creative, and it changed the way others looked at you, or you got a strong reactions from others. It’s these kinds of stories you want to find in your own life. The more personal they are, the better. That’s often where you can find what creativity means to you.
Why do you even care what creativity means?
Spend some time to meditate on this. Finding your why is an incredibly powerful way of getting to the core of what drives you, your deeper motivations.
Most people will come up with some simple answer when you ask them what creativity is, and they won’t spend another minute thinking about it. But since you’re reading this, you have a deeper level of questioning and curiosity about the topic. Explore this. Let this curiosity be your guide.
Who are your creative heroes?
Make a list of creative people you can think of. These can be famous creative people, or people that never achieved fame with their creative work. Just write down their names, and any particular attributes of them that come to mind, or when you first learned about them, or became interested in them or their work.
The kind of creative people that come to your mind and that resonate most strongly with you will reveal a lot about what creativity means to you. Let’s look at some creative geniuses, and you’ll see that they all have their own unique kind of creativity:
- Leonardo DaVinci
- Vincent Van Gogh
- Nikola Tesla
- Stan Lee
- Tim Burton
- Casey Neistat
- Bob Dylan
- Steve Jobs
- Jimmy Hendrix
- Walt Disney
- Elon Musk
Creative individuals come in all kinds of flavors: some are very much focused on the application of divergent thinking to commercial success, others are much more dedicated to their pure art, others care mostly about breakthroughs in science or an understanding of the world. Nowadays, many digital native creators, like Charli d’Amelio, Khaby Lame, Adam Waheed, or Anwar Jibawi make their art on social media. Some are more focused on problem-solving, while other are more focused on the creative process as it applies to fine arts.
Many business-focused people, especially with technical backgrounds, nowadays admire Elon Musk for his creative solutions. If you look at the transcript of his Twitter DM exchange on how his ideas for transform Twitter, you can see a lot of real-world creativity being deployed.
Example: When I was a young kid, I had an uncle who was very much into art. He always had stacks of books about different artists laying around. One day, I opened a book about Picasso. It was full of these weird, yet strangely compelling paintings. I was fascinated by The Tragedy, The Weeping Woman, La Vie, Guernica, Le Demoiselles, Girl Before a Mirror, and the spectrum and variety of his works, including his statues. But what fascinated me more than anything were pictures of him working in his castle. Big stone walls, and paintings, statues, colors, brushes everywhere, all around, and the intensity of his gaze. You could tell this man was living in this world of art he had created through passion and hard work, and that he seemed fully committed to his own imagination, without compromise or care for what others thought of it. I didn’t know or understood much about Picasso and his art back then—it was more a feeling of fascination. He had physical manifestations of his creative ideas all around him. This reveals a lot about what creativity means to me. Now, what are some narratives of your creative heroes? Write them down.
Different perspectives of creativity
Sometimes it can be helpful to consider completely different views of creativity when you want to come up with a new perspective on the matter. Did you know for example that in ancient times, many cultures didn’t even thought of creativity? Neither the Greeks, nor the Chinese, nor the Indians had a concept of artistic creativity. For them, art was about discovery, about finding a quality or characteristic of the world, or receiving inspiration from a higher power.
Many artists, even today, describe their experience of creativity along these lines. Authors or songwriters often mention that they believe many of their best ideas already exist out there, in some form, and that they, the artists, are simply recipients rather than creators of these ideas.
This is very different from the belief that creativity is a result of neurochemical activity in our brain, of brilliant outside the box thinking, or that creativity is one of many personality traits, like introversion and extroversion.
I love this take on creativity:
Creativity is a fundamental aspect of being human. It’s our birthright. And it’s for all of us. Creativity doesn’t exclusively relate to making art. We all engage in this act on a daily basis. To create is to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before. It could be a conversation, the solution to a problem, a note to a friend, the rearrangement of furniture in a room, a new route home to avoid a traffic jam.Rick Rubin, The Creative Act
The truth is: We can’t know which of these views of creativity is actually correct. Yes, neuroscience can tell us a lot about how creativity is reflected in the brain, but it can’t actually make us more creative.
There have even been attempts to measure creativity objectively through creativity tests, similar to how intelligence is quantified through IQ, and while I personally think this is a very limited measure of creative abilities, it’s still worth studying how they researchers went about assessing creativity and intelligence.
And while you read all this, keep one thing in mind; if I were to ask you in ten years from now “Hey, 2032 version of you, what does creativity mean to you?”, your answer might be very different from the one you give in 2023.
Make sure to answer the questions listed above, and explore the meaning behind them. It will help you get more in touch with your own creative side and deepen your understanding of what creativity means to you. Once you know how you define creativity, and why it matters to you, you’ll be able to tap into your own creative force a lot easier, and new possibilities appear in front of you.
Whatever you want to accomplish and make happen: You can find your own creative ways, which are a result of your own choices, and lead to greater creative expression.