Top 10 Creativity Myths DebunkedNatalia Persin
The exact source of creative ideas has mystified people for eons. Myths and superstitions are frequently used to explain how and why people feel the need to express themselves with creative endeavors. Because so many find originality enchanting, the myths we attribute to artists and other creatives are rarely based on any sort of facts.
In general, this doesn’t cause very many problems. If someone chooses to believe that the muse visits them only under highly specific circumstances, they can act accordingly without much risk. But for professional creatives, working under the impression that creativity myths are true can waste great amounts of time and effort.
Read on to find out about some of the most pernicious creativity myths and the reality behind them. Creatives can avoid falling victim to the more rose-colored view of their roles with a more practical perspective.
How Creatives Work
Most people imagine painters in their studios, musicians at a concert, or theatrical productions when they think of creativity. As more companies have warmed up to the idea of design thinking as part of their business process, professional creatives have evolved separately from the standard artist stereotypes.
Professional creatives might work remotely or they could be part of a larger marketing team or art department. Sometimes they look like digital nomads and other times they still sport the same wardrobe as other professionals do.
Deadlines and projects are more likely to be handled on cloud-based platforms and coworking software than in any sort of workshop or studio like we tend to imagine. It’s more important to tackle the myths surrounding creativity itself rather than trying to define exactly what creative people look like.
To some degree, most jobs are creative. That’s why this article should have value for those in creative roles as well as those who work alongside them and even people who work in roles that aren’t typically considered creative even though they do require some outside-the-box thinking.
Magical Thinking & Creative Work
One of the most harmful effects of believing in myths about where creativity comes from is that this belief can lead to magical thinking. We don’t mean you’ll be coming up with more magical ideas – it’s more likely that a superstitious approach to creativity will prevent you from using observation and real-world evidence the way design thinking would have you do.
If that seems like a bit of a stretch, perhaps an example would help. A well-known creativity myth is the eureka moment. An idea suddenly strikes the creative and the whole project unfolds before them like an angel dropped it there. Let’s compare a hypothetical person waiting for their eureka moment and someone else who is being more proactive.
The Myth of the Eureka Moment
Two versions of the same person are hard at work coming up with a new design for an app. Like it or not, this is the type of work most designers and other creatives are occupied with most of the time.
The first person believes strongly that some kind of divine intervention or unconscious function of their brain or the world will inspire them suddenly like a thunderbolt. The second is working iteratively and investigating how and why similar products have worked and what real-life users think about similar projects and what kind of pain points they’re experiencing.
Which of these two creatives is more likely to be putting in the effort that will lead to a workable solution?
While this illustration is overly simplified, it can still be instructive for creatives. If you’re waiting for a eureka moment, you might be more likely to give up if it doesn’t arrive.
But even worse is a misconception about the nature of that aha! that hits your brain. It’s not magic at all. In fact, it’s the result of your brain making and linking different patterns. Perhaps you can’t see all the links your mind is making which is why it feels like a bolt from the blue sky, but the eureka moment is nonetheless the end result of lots of cumulative mental effort.
Endeavor to understand eureka moments and similar moments of mental clarity so that you can better recognize the stages of your mind at work.
Top 10 Creativity Myths Debunked
Read through the following creativity myths and see which ones are most prevalent during the course of your creative work. Treat them almost the way you would with unconscious biases and make every effort to avoid them so that you can work more effectively.
1. The Myth of Originality
Anyone who knows how creatives work is likely familiar with the demands for originality that come from stakeholders and from the minds of more individualistic creatives. Much like the myth of the eureka moment, viewing originality actively removes ideas from their context in the real world.
Every idea starts from another one. In most cases, there isn’t a single source but a collective number of stimuli that spark an idea. That’s not only important for professional creatives. It’s the way information works, which means it’s vital for everyone to understand.
What does it mean to abandon the myth of originality? Does it mean that creatives should give up on crafting new ideas, stop attempting to break the mold and disrupt the old ways of doing things?
Of course not. The critical difference between the typical originality myth and the acknowledgment that ideas never spring from nothingness is that creatives need to pay more attention to the source of their ideas. It will make them more accurate and more effective at the same time.
2. The Myth of Talent
Busting this myth might sting a little for people who grew up getting lots of praise for their efforts in creative fields. The myth of innate talent appears to have been exaggerated in a very similar way to the eureka moment and originality, in that all three inspire magical thinking.
Hard work and practice underlie the success of every single creative. The ones who don’t have a history of dedicated effort are probably coasting on family connections. Big fish work hard at their craft to ensure they remain on the cutting edge and outshine the competition.
It might be going too far to say that people don’t have certain gifts. Child prodigies are an extreme example while those whose minds are given toward a certain practice area like math or science are more common.
But the degree to which these define people – and especially creatives – is often overstated. All the talent in the world without practice can’t hold a candle to someone who might be less naturally gifted but who has put in the time to perfect their craft.
3. The Myth of the Artist
In some way, all of these false conceptions could be labeled as the myth of the artist. This third item is specifically addressing the notion that ideas are centrally the brainchild of individuals. Think of the mythos surrounding the big names in Silicon Valley for an example.
Our society values individual efforts and expression, so it makes sense that we would transfer that ideal to creatives. But that does leave out all the various support roles. As coworking software and the users themselves become more and more integrated into the process of creating products and with creative work overall, there is an increasingly higher number of collaborators that aren’t mentioned in favor of the myth of the single artist.
Beyond what we mentioned earlier about every idea stemming from earlier ones, there are also contemporaries at work on projects together only to see the credit go to a single creator. Perhaps there are some ownership rights given to the members of the team or the founders of the company that produced the product, but the public perception is that a single genius creative is primarily responsible.
Numerous problems arise from this single myth. Financially, founders and others who were in on the ground floor could get ripped off. On a purely idealistic or creative level, credit isn’t given where it’s due.
4. The Myth of Motivation
There’s a rule in the business world that the sole and best incentive is remuneration or an impressive benefits package. For the most part, that’s accurate. Most people work to put food on the table and pay their rent, after all.
However, when discussing creativity, there is usually a different source of motivation. A large majority of creatives find their way into their field because they have an interest in making things, designing products, or simply crafting beautiful things. The interest generally precedes the professional career – that’s how creatives work.
Managers and other important decision-makers all too frequently miss this important point. But the larger public and people enamored with the concept of working for passion alone also overestimate the degree to which creatives work from the heart and not out of concern for their financial well-being.
Whether you think it’s unfortunate or simply a rule of the world, professional creatives want that raise as badly as any other kind of employee would. As with many other creative myths, cracking this one is mostly just a reality check.
5. The Myth of Inspiration
Maybe it’s only slightly different from concepts like the aha moment or the muse paying you a visit, but when it comes to the professional sphere where most professional creatives are working, inspiration may not even be part of the equation.
Of course, creatives need to have some source for their ideas, but sometimes it’s just a case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil. Problems need to get solved and professional creatives are hired to do so. That doesn’t mean they’re always inspired to work in a certain way.
Another important consideration about the myth of inspiration is that lots of iterative design thinking is executed through trial and error, particularly in the prototyping stage. Novel ideas may strike from time to time but anyone who thinks it always feels like inspiration is striking can’t be that familiar with how creatives work.
6. The Myth of the Late Night
If there’s one lasting image of artists and creatives more broadly, it’s the one of them staying up til all hours, probably not eating much and working obsessively on their craft. If you’re a creative and that sounds like you, there are some changes you need to make to your work routine as soon as you possibly can.
It’s not healthy and it saps the brain of the energy it needs to be creative. Certainly, some big names have been obsessed with late nights or keeping strange hours compared to the general public, but it’s not for everyone and may not even be advantageous at all.
While it is nice to take a walk through empty streets to clear your head or just see things from a new perspective, no guarantee burning through the time you should be sleeping will leave you any better prepared for the following day. It’s much more likely you’ll be worse off for it.
7. The Myth of the Loving Public
Surely if you build a product good enough, people will recognize your genius, right? Not so fast. There’s no guarantee that whatever a creative produces will be recognized as a great or even as a good product.
That’s why design thinking has impacted how creatives work to such a large degree. It helps them find out what kinds of things people will recognize as being useful and appealing. But still, it’s no guarantee.
The reason people may not realize what a good product you’ve made could be chalked up to the overwhelming amount of noise in the world. In marketing as well as in the aisles of supermarkets and online shops, people are constantly inundated with messages to buy, often touting certain products as being life-changing or the newest and most improved model.
Of course, there’s also a chance that you missed the mark and your final product isn’t as good as you thought it was when you were building it. Since you could be right about the quality of your product and still face the same problem, it doesn’t serve much purpose to doubt yourself.
8. The Myth of the Imposter
A ton of professionals in all lines of work face imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. It’s really common for people working their first creative job, but even seasoned professional creatives feel like they are in over their heads from time to time.
There’s no doubt imposter syndrome is real. The actual myth part of this myth is that the level of expertise where you don’t feel like an imposter at least part of the time doesn’t really exist the way people suffering from imposter syndrome usually assume it does.
It’s not that people don’t gain expertise as they continue through their careers. But the issue isn’t the reality of people’s creative skills. It’s how they feel about it, particularly how confident they are that they can deliver on the things they are expected to.
Perhaps a few people have the requisite amount of ego to overcome the feeling that they are capable enough to execute their position as expected. But even underneath that kind of confidence lurks the idea that they might not be as good as they think, or that they could make a serious mistake.
9. The Myth of Necessity
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. In the current business world, though, that might not always be the case. Sometimes a logo or product update is done to address a small concern just to get it out of the way. In some sense it’s necessary, but it’s not urgent or even very important.
There’s also the consideration of the necessity of creative work the way it’s done in tech and marketing. Is it truly, absolutely necessary? Probably not. That’s not to say that people aren’t doing great things in those positions, but all too frequently the necessity of creative work is a foregone conclusion when it really shouldn’t be.
Creativity is one of the things that makes us human. But we’ve also invented a lot of myths about creativity that can throw off people who engage in creative work.
The myths mentioned in this guide have more to do with our attitudes toward creativity than with the way we think about creatives themselves. Now that you have a better idea about how creativity really functions in the world, you should be able to steer clear of overly rosy conceptions of creative work.