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Steve Jobs, Pixar, and the Art of Creativity

For a blog that focuses on different aspects of creativity, we’ve done a pretty good job of circumventing the main issue up to now. What exactly is creativity? What does it mean to be creative? How can you increase or enhance creativity… or can you? Steve Jobs once explained it like this: “Creativity is just connecting things.”

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I stewed on that for a while, and thought back to the time I blogged on how it seemed nearly impossible to come up with an original idea anymore. I got a LOT of pushback on that post. Everyone claimed to have original ideas! Good for them, I say. I truly hope they do. My point in that post was that we are not born and raised in a vacuum, so I believe that we are the sum products of our influences. However, the true creatives among us are making connections between things that aren’t obvious to most, and therefore, are the ones most likely to produce something seemingly original.

Jobs’ quote continues as: “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

This concept of broad experiences is one that was raised in our TEDx talk. While I didn’t mention him by name, it was Adam Grant who reported that the more time you’ve spent experiencing other countries and cultures, the more you are likely to creatively succeed. Broadening the human experience broadens one’s ability to create.

Nancy Andreasen, Chair of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and former editor in chief of the American Journal of Psychiatry has extensively studied creative genius, cognitive processes, and mental illness.

Dr. Andreasen reiterates Steve Jobs’ assertion. “…creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.” Interestingly, there’s another side to this coin, and it’s one that involves the ability to self-censor. She states, “Having too many ideas can be dangerous. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist.”

During the course of her research, Dr. Andreasen noted several distinct characteristics about creative people:

“Many creative people are autodidacts.” Auto-didacticism is the art of self-directed learning. Autodidacts tend to choose what they want to learn, the material they want to learn from, and when, and how they want to learn it. Writer Ray Bradbury, painter Frida Kahlo, and musician Eddie Van Halen are among some notable autodidacts.

“Many creative people are polymaths.” Polymaths are individuals who are the proverbial “jacks of all trades.” These folks have knowledge that spans significant numbers of subjects, and allows them to draw from multiples “wells” to solve problems. Nikola Tesla and Helen Keller were well-known polymaths.

“Creative people tend to be very persistent.” It goes without saying that rejection is a part of artistry. When it comes to being successful, perseverance is the great equalizer.

Now that we know who is creative, the next question becomes how can we boost our creative output? Ed Catmull of Pixar fame wrote the book, Creativity Inc. He describes seven basic principles that should remain at the core of any environment that strives for originality.

  1. “Quality is the best business plan.” Quality is a mindset.

  2. “Failure isn’t a necessary evil.” Uncouple fear and failure. A goal of zero failure is useless.

  3. “People are more important than ideas.” Potential to grow is more important than skill.

  4. “Prepare for the unknown.” Empower everyone to own a problem and fix it without asking for permission.

  5. “Do not confuse the process with the goal.” Easy, better, faster and cheaper is not the goal; great is the goal.

  6. “Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.” Chains of command may be bypassed in the name of efficiency.

  7. “Give good notes.” A good note is specific and inspires.

Want one last simple trick? Take a walk! Stanford research has shown that walking can increase creative output by up to 60 percent. It worked for Steve Jobs. He was noted to take brainstorming walks during the day to help unlock the creative process. I can vouch for this, too. One 20-minute working-walk generates about 10 Loud Coffee Press ideas. Okay, that may be a stretch, but it does help work out the sticking points for things like, “what should I write for next week’s blog on creativity?”

“How about something to do with creativity itself?”

For the love of all that's creative, put some red on that heart! Give us your best tips for generating creativity below. Stay in love with life.

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