I spent a lot of time in school learning to conjugate latin verbs. I ground my way through trigonometry. The dates of medieval wars. I memorized the key exports of African countries, the table of elements, and the names of all the US vice presidents.
But I never, ever studied the very thing I’ve made a living from my entire adult life.
In no country on earth, as far as I can tell, do they teach the creative process in school.
Not as straight-up part of the curriculum. Not in elementary, high school, business school, not even in art school.
Rather than teach it like any other useful discipline, we treat creativity like some weird alchemy, a God-given gift, a luck of the draw.
But it’s not. It’s a process which has basic elements, that can be written on a blackboard just like the pythagorean theorem.
And these basic steps, once understood, can be used to unlock creativity in any field. Art, music, finance, medicine, sports, tech, politics, you name it.
It’s a mystery why creativity is a formal part of the basic curriculum.
Like most essential skills, the creative process makes theoretical sense when written down but it takes a lot of work and practice to put into useful practice. Just as a teacher can write Every Good Boy Does Fine on the board, it takes years for her students to master the violin. Studying Organic Chemistry doesn’t make one a gifted surgeon. And football coaches run drills and drills and drills in preparation for the coming season. Creativity works the same way. Practice makes it habit.
School is the ideal place and time to study the basics of creativity from a young age and then inculcate that process so that every student learns to be a successful problem solver. As it doesn’t happen in school, pay attention and I’ll take you through the basics here instead.
Creativity has three main steps. Let’s call them Ready, Fire, and Aim.
First, you must get ready. Gather your materials. Reap, harvest, hunt the elements that will go into your creative stew. Embrace the riches of the universe. Watch movies. Read books. Study the masters. Listen to all sorts of music. Have conversations with strangers on the bus. Wander, roam, explore. Fill your brain until it groans at the seams. You have to develop a marrow-deep habit of open curiosity, delving into all disciplines and cultures for the way they approach problems, innovate and improvise. Cultivating an energetic, open, absorbent mind is the first part of the creative process.
As you get ready, your subconscious mind will be diving deep into this reservoir of inspiration and making connections. It’ll put disparate pieces of information together in random, infinite ways. Linking a musical theme with an historical fact with a snippet of converstaion with a data chart and a recipe for Greek meatballs. The cauldron is going on simmer and the ingredients will melt into a rich broth.
That takes time. Private time. Just the reservoir of your brain perking and bubbling with no adult supervision. You can’t open the oven door in the middle, you gotta just distract your conscious mind, and let the juices flow.
No amount of straining or worrying will help. Quite the contrary. You gotta trust in the process. Take a nap. Play a game. Stare out the window. Take a shower. Floss.
And suddenly, poof, stuff will appear. Ideas will pop like kernels.
At this stage, you will spew out all sorts of ideas. Good ideas, bad ideas, weird ones, and useless ones. You will be a well-fed meadow, your rich soil a magnet for seeds from across the world, sprouting up flowers and fruits and weeds and trees in abundance. An unmanicured, cacophony of abundance.
But that’s not the end. Because what appears is still raw, full of potential, but not ready for prime time.
Next, the hardest part. You gotta polish. You gotta prune. You gotta evaluate. You gotta execute.
This requires a gear change. You have to switch from the wide eyed stage of readiness and the wild energy of firing to a methodical, critical period in which you cull the herd down to a few solid ideas to be tested, refined, critiqued and polished into gems that can change the game.
Creativity is, at its heart, a teachable, learnable process. Learn and apply it and you will be prepared for any career path, any eventuality.
You will write creative legal briefs, make creative contributions to your manufacturing process, launch creative tech startups, create new recipes, symphonies, traffic ordinances, and budget proposals. Creativity is an essential skill and it’s never too late to learn and practice it to make the world a better place.
Related post: Let’s get rid of Art Education in schools.