Three types of creativity

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Naive creativity

What you already know (or think you know) can be a barrier to creativity. If you believe that “things have always been done this way,” you’re less likely to come up with new ways of doing things.

Being new and naive creates a fresh canvas. You see possibilities. Your mind is open to trying something that has never been done before. Your vision isn’t limited to an existing path.

This is why kids are so naturally creative. Questions, ideas and artwork just pour out of them. The world is a blank page for them read to try something. They continue to be this way until they are shown the “right” way to do things or they are trained to be more “productive.”

Pablo Picasso said, every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist when we grow up.

The trick to retain that artistic mindset is to remind yourself to think like a child. In Buddhism, this is called the gift of the beginner's mind.

You can cultivate this mindset by asking what are known as “naive questions.” These are basic questions that can produce novel ideas when you get stuck in the status quo. Examples are, “What am I trying to accomplish?” “What if…?” or “why not…?”

Incremental creativity

The Beatles broke onto the American scene with fairly conventional songs like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They were still creative, with flourishes like the final jazz chord in “She Loves You” that were unusual for their genre during that time period.

But they didn’t stop there. The Beatles continued to push rock music forward with albums like Revolver, Rubber Soul, The White Album and the masterpiece concept album St Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. They experimented and incorporated new sounds like psychedelia, sitar and even a 40-person orchestra.

This is the creativity we’re most familiar with, and can be seen in the progression of musicians like Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead or Wilco. Incremental creativity builds off a foundation and adds a splash of novelty here or a breakthrough there.

Incremental creativity is less likely to produce a new sudden insight like naive creativity. But it does have the advantage of taking something that might be already proven to work, and improve on it.

Connection creativity

“Creativity is just connecting things,” Steve Jobs famously said. He also talked about how Apple “shamelessly” stole the best ideas they could find.

Jobs wasn’t necessarily talking about usurping patented technology. Instead, he’s referring to being inspired by the world around him and applying that to Apple’s designs and goals.

For example, before the iPhone was invented, cell phone ring tones were the traditional shrill bell ring or cheesy jingles with poor sound quality. Jobs wanted to turn an iPhone ring into art that “alluded to cultural sophistication” every time you heard it, and also showed off the fidelity of the new iPhone speakers.

To accomplish this, Jobs used the dulcet tones of an African and South American instrument called the marimba for the default ring tone. The whole fascinating backstory can be found on Quora.

Jobs connected an African instrument with his phone technology to create a new use for the sound. To accomplished this, Jobs used what’s technically known as “cross domain knowledge.” That’s a fancy way of saying “creativity is just connecting things.”

I’m sure there are other types of creativity, but these three first came to mind. What are your observations?

Written by

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity:

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