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The Mental Picture

Bringing your definition of creativity into focus

If you want to build a company with creative agility and a creative culture, you have to know what creativity means. There are several ways to define it, but the most basic idea focuses on the act of bringing something new into existence. It can be a totally new creation or a new combination of existing things and ideas.

Creativity is about generating--not reacting. Evaluating and judging are reactive, and it's easy to stifle our creativity by judging too quickly. To truly let loose and create, you have to let the brain's associative processes do their work. Stay in the generative creative mode long enough to let one idea spark another and another. Even if something is initially unworkable, it could lead you to the very thing that will work brilliantly.

Every creative act begins in the unknown. Try visualizing creativity as the zone between the known and what is so far out it scares you. The creative zone begins one step over the line that separates the known and the unknown, the comfortable and the unfamiliar. It always takes some courage to make that first step. The zone ends when you get too far out--it's nearly impossible to be creative when you're overly stressed.

Often when people think of creativity, they reduce it to a set of techniques. Techniques are used to bypass the usual pattern-making tendency of the brain and help us encounter ideas we wouldn't otherwise. They are very powerful, but they're only the beginning.

The ultimate goal of creative skill-building is adopting a creative stance, a way of being. When viewing the world with open and curious eyes, anything can spark a new idea. In this stance, you have what the Buddhists call "beginner's mind." You see everything as full of possibilities. It's very different from a closed mind that knows exactly how things work and how things should be. Every interaction between ourselves and the world has the potential to spark our creativity. Our challenge is to learn how to evoke and use this natural talent we all have.


Juanita Weaver is a creativity consultant and coach.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Mental Picture.

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