July 28, 2016 Brent Alexander

Putting a Tap on Creativity

Personal advice for creatives

Creativity is a funny thing. It puts you in a predicament of sorts. It’s one thing to be creative and originate great ideas, put pen to paper and start creating. It’s entirely another thing to combine this with making an income, meeting goals, looking after personal and business relationships, raising children, paying bills… The list goes on and far exceeds the pre-requisites to be creative.

Suffering from ADHD myself, balancing life’s ongoing distractions with the creative process adds a further dimension. As designers, we can find sitting down to a blank sketchbook or new Word document or scoping a new brief pretty daunting at the best of times. I certainly do.

I’m a designer, visual communications professional, consultant and serial entrepreneur. I have worked creatively for the duration of my 16 year career in many forms; from deep-etching hundreds of poorly photographed products for catalogues, or trying to squeeze 30 different key selling points into an A4 advert, to guiding marketing execs in turnover strategies and running my own business. As a result, I have a lot of t-shirts; but one thing remains the same – the thing that is always asked of me. Be creative.

What is creativity?

“Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.” Linda Naiman

Honestly, I just typed “what is creativity?” into Google. But it’s a pretty profound definition by Creativity at Work’s Linda Naiman. It makes no reference to artistic ability, nor the norms of perception being that I need to be able to draw more than a stick man in order to be ranked as a creative person. Nor do I need to be able to play musical scales on a piano. It’s all about problem solving and innovation in the fast paced global community we call “life”.

I often have this debate with my wife, who is a Financial Manager and a qualified CA (SA). She doesn’t define herself as creative in anyway. Her profession is worlds apart from the pixel pushing, drop shadowing life of a designer. Yet I believe the realms of her creativity in private equity are pushed beyond mine in many ways. Example: Modelling a 10 year fund without knowing the timing or quantum of investment capital or returns in a relatively unpredictable economy.

I design some pretty complex illustrations that sometimes slow my computer to a colourful outburst of expletives, but modelling an Excel spread-sheet so complex that it crashes a computer makes you think differently about the tools and mechanisms to create.

I think the desire to create and innovate until a solution is found transcends communication of a visual idea, and even more so, a profession or industry.

Ancient Creatives

Creativity had no definition in ancient times, to the point that we lacked the basic concept of creativity. Humans were not considered to have the ability to create, except as an expression of a divine connection with God. It was left to Greek Muses who would meditate in the sole province of the Gods to gain the means to inspire. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that creativity began to be recognised as a human ability and not a Divine incarnation. It was through the philosophy of Humanism that individual talent, imagination and genius was recognised. It was not until the late 19th Century, though, that our creative forefathers of the world would begin to discuss their processes in a public forum. But these weren’t artists or composers; these were mathematicians and scientists.

Graham Wallas is considered to be the first to publish and present a model of the creative process; but even his process was still in the realms of sub-conscious ideation, a large distance from practical processes. The term “creativity” is attributed to Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher, who coined the term in 1927; but it still remained veiled in metaphysics, psychology and cognitive science.

Modern Creatives

Today, several attempts have been made to develop a creativity quotient model similar to the IQ model, but none have been successful. It seems that creativity will remain an elusive psychological phenomenon and an exhaustive theory built on psychiatric research studies.

Nonetheless, it is no less prevalent across its diverse spectrum of individuals, cultures and industries.

I often ponder the mechanisms of creativity and how these mechanisms are utilised to create useful or at least meaningful solutions in our world today. I always come to the earth-shattering conclusion that, without creativity and nurturing innovation, we would all return to the Stone Age and have to begin the process all over again. We are without a doubt in an age of innovation, rapid growth and even more rapid change. Today, the business of creativity is a matter of survival, not only for businesses in a world economy but for us as citizens of a global community faced with monumental environmental challenges which may decide our fate as a species.

Back to Basics

Beyond all the theory and paradigms, I am still faced with the challenge to remain creative as a professional, not only to put food on the table, but to be able to say I have maintained a sense of fulfilment in my daily life. I may be adding a negative slant by referring to creativity as a challenge, but for me it is, as I’m sure it is for many others. Having been clinically diagnosed with ADHD and depression (both of which are becoming common afflictions in modern society), buckling down and putting in the hours on my projects is not always easy. You may not suffer from ADD or ADHD, but I have found a number of ways to make coping with this process easier. These techniques are based on personal experiences that I have had throughout my creative career, whether it be freelance or permanent, and have really helped me harness my creative self.

I would like to share these with you on my blog over the next few weeks. Whether you are a freelance creative or a permanent employee, I hope I can help shed some light on harnessing creativity, building a good daily routine, keeping a balanced schedule, designing your creative process and building a good network of fellow creatives.

I am working on a mailing list, but for now please follow Epik on Facebook or LinkedIn to stay up to date.

Until next time.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

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About the Author

Brent Alexander Freelance Creative, Visual Communications Consultant and serial entrepreneur.

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