“Luck has a huge hand in deciding whose C is capitalized. But, if you don’t learn to be creative in your personal life, the chances of contributing to the culture drop to even closer to zero. And what really matters, in the last account, is not whether your name has been attached to a recognized discovery, but whether you have lived a full and creative life.”
In Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores the creative process, creative people’s lives, and how creativity transforms culture. He also wrote Finding Flow and uses flow theory in explaining the creative process. Creativity is the result of the human mind interacting with its surroundings to shape the world. Our language, artistic expression, scientific understanding, technology, and values, distinguish human creation from any organic or random expression in nature. This human expression creates a feeling of personal fulfillment and cultural meaning. Creative accomplishments that change our culture are the result of a synergy of many sources and not a single mind or a sudden insight. Those individuals that channel this synergy and made a significant difference in their domain of culture are the ones who are “creative with a capital c” and the subject of the research which is the basis for this book.
Csikszentmihalyi chose ninety-one remarkable innovators as participants for his research from a range of cultural domains including the arts, science, and business. He included successful, influential writers such as Madeline L’Engle, scientists like astronomer Vera Rubin, and business leaders like John Reed, former CEO of Citicorp (now Citigroup, my employer). Through interviews, he identified commonalities and identified the traits, behaviors, circumstances, and experiences that contribute to individual creativity (which in turn contribute to cultural change).
This book is incredibly insightful and useful in understanding individual creativity and cultural innovation. It is unusual to possess the unique traits and serendipity of circumstances which allow an individual to make a cultural change, but, we can all practice creativity. For this summary, I will focus on how we can increase creativity in our lives to enrich our experience and enhance our work.
The Big Idea
Cultivate Curiosity and Interest
"Creative individuals are childlike in that their curiosity remains fresh even at ninety years of age; they delight in the strange and the unknown. And because there is no end to the unknown, their delight also is endless."
Creative innovators often channel their curiosity into a genuinely interesting, particular occupation. The most ordinary things are mysterious to children, but as adults, we lose our sense of awe and life becomes routine. It is possible for all of us to cultivate more curiosity and interest. As we become more curious and interested, we allocate our attention to things for their sake and discovery becomes its reward.
Become engaged and interested. Notice the differences in things around you. Surprise yourself, look for remarkable features in foods you eat, people you meet and things you see. We tend to be creatures of habit. Surprise others, break your routines, say something unexpected or ask someone to go someplace or do something new with you. Experiment with your appearance. Write down your new observations and experiences so that you can relive them and see a pattern of emerging interests. Once you discover new things that capture your interest, learn more about them and continue developing curiosity.
Develop Habits to Avoid Distractions
"We must erect barriers against distractions, dig channels so that energy can flow more freely, find ways to escape outside temptations and interruptions. If we do not, entropy is sure to break down the concentration that the pursuit of interest requires. Then thought returns to its baseline state — the vague, unfocused, constantly distracted condition of the normal mind."
Find time for emerging interests. Organize time, space, and activity to your advantage. Mundane tasks are some of the worst thieves of time and energy. Simplifying everyday tasks like dressing, cleaning, eating, shopping, and chores can free hours of time for creative thought. Increase your efficiency, identify the time when your creative energy is most productive and alter your schedule to fit your natural rhythm. Adjust your sleep routine if it clashes with your intrinsic orientation. For example, I sleep about five hours a night, but I find spending two or three additional hours in bed contemplating optimizes my energy, while longer periods of rest leave me agitated. What is your optimal routine?
Avoid constant busyness. If you feel uncomfortable when you are not engaged in a task, consider your work to be taking the time to reflect, and allow new ideas to evolve. Relaxation for reflection does not need to be idle, and it may involve an activity like walking, showering, or crafting. Engage in activities different from your usual tasks to allow your mind to work in various ways. Organize your space to harmonize with your activity: you don’t want to be constantly interrupted to look for something. Your environment should be neutral and not interrupt creative thought.
Develop Creative Personality Traits
"To change personality means to learn new patterns of attention. To look at different things, and to look at them differently; to learn to think new thoughts, have new feelings about what we experience."
Creative personalities are flexible. Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges that changing our personality—our habitual way of thinking, feeling, and acting—is hard. If we spent the same amount of time and energy enhancing our psyche as our appearance, we could solve many problems. He uses an example of an introvert deciding to become more extroverted. I was very introverted as a child, but as an adult, I realized I would miss valuable opportunities unless I decided to become more extroverted. As a result, I discovered extroversion is an enjoyable part of my nature, and I was able to contribute more by connecting with others.
Developing traits that you lack is one way of creating more flexibility in your character. Another way is to allow your mind to wander, and then shift to concentration. Alternating between being open and receptive, and focused promotes discovery of new facts and generates connections between them. Aim for complexity. Become comfortable with opposing tendencies. Developing a more flexible personality enhances creative insight.
Expanding personal creativity enhances our lives and enables us to make a greater contribution. Cultivating a sense of curiosity and wonder establishes new interests. Developing habits to protect our time and creative energy provides the time and energy required to pursue our broadening and evolving interests. Improving flexibility in our personality promotes feeling comfortable with paradox and diverse aspects of our personality. Practicing these things enhances our creativity and leads to more discovery and enjoyment.