What does it mean to be creative?

My wife complains I walk around with my head in the clouds. It’s true, I spend extended periods of time in an imaginary reality, consciously creating alternative scenarios to the issues I face.

Fortunately I have made a career out of my ability to dream, to imagine, to create, design and innovate. This is what these words mean to me:

Imagination – is our ability to mentally visualise an alternative reality, or dream.

Creativity – is our ability to turn those dreams into ideas that have value.

Innovation – is the successful implementation of these ideas.

Design – is the entire process where an idea becomes a reality.

I am not sure whether design found me, or I found design, but for as long as I can remember, I have been drawing, and building, creating with whatever I could get my hands on.

I believe there are 3 key attributes a person needs for creativity:

Curiosity – being inquisitive, and asking the question why not? From birth through our nurturing, education and career, we are told what to do and how to do it, our education system and our culture instil a fear of failure, we are not taught creativity, we are taught out of creativity. If you are not prepared to be wrong, you cannot be creative, so it is important to keep our natural childlike curiosity.

Sensitivity – for an idea to have value, it needs to be relevant, so it is vital to understand the underlying needs and desires of those you are creating for, what is triggering the trends, what changes are affecting society, the socio, economic, political, legislative, technology changes and their consequences. So it is important to have an open mind, to have a broad set of interests to understand societal behaviours. In the 15th Century there was the notion of the Renaissance man, to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments and in the arts, epitomised by Alberti and da Vinci.

Passion – passion to create, to put forward your idea, to want to participate, and collaborate in the creative process of bringing an idea to life. This is an attribute that unites all artists – “having something to say”.

For innovation to occur, and to stimulate creativity it requires more than just creative individuals.

Firstly there needs to be a clear reason why. The issues you are resolving, with clear objectives and vision, to galvanise the creative team and get everyone’s head pointing in the same direction. There needs to be the resources to achieve those objectives, in terms of people, time, facilities and budget, and then a process that will stimulate creativity. The creative process is a mix of collaborative interaction and of time alone to develop ideas, bringing together ingredients that haven’t been combined in that way before, so it’s important to be able to work in a group, and equally to work alone.

The creative process is not just a problem solving process, it cannot be substituted thankfully by algorithms. The most successful projects I have been involved in, is when the unexpected happens, when there is that moment of lateral thinking which manages to pull together the purpose of the product. It is these moments, and then the realisation of them which is the rewarding nature of creativity, bringing those ideas to life.

– Carsten Astheimer