Creativity is 20% inspiration + 80% practice


e're trained to think that creativity is something given to few of us, at birth. It is commonly assumed that one is born as a creative or not creative person ("he's a artist…"), and there is practically nothing to do about it. Art Classes and Books celebrate the creativity of these rare genius minds, able to spontaneously procreate great ideas, great music, great books, great design…

In this matter, the definition by Wikipedia (en) is very relevant: "Creativity is the ability to generate innovative ideas and manifest them from thought into reality. The process involves original thinking and then producing." The first part of this definition seems to perpetuate the myth that creativity is given to someone, by enabling this person to "generate innovative ideas". This person would be creative, and that one wouldn't be.
When you observe how children between 1 and 10 play and behave, it is very difficult - probably impossible - to tell if one is creative and the other is not. All the kids are, in their very own way. They express their creativity in many ways: by drawing, by the use of language, music, bodily movements, etc. Then, as growing adults, we decide - or we are encouraged - to develop specific aspects of our being: the capacity of analysis, the capacity of written expression, the capacity to perform physical activity… On the way to adulthood, we drop a lot of our capacities in order to specialize ourselves.

Being specialized is becoming a single-minded tool designed for a single-minded operation.

Specialization is not a good way to develop our creativity. By focusing on being an expert at one single activity, we loose the chance to rapidly change perspective whenever we need to. For instance, an engineer specialized in satellite telecommunication programming will be excellent at optimizing an existing solution, but will have trouble discovering an alternative technology, just because he would never have practiced another way of thinking. Being specialized is becoming a single-minded tool designed for a single-minded operation. Obviously, creativity requires to develop more than one capacity and thus to become what Human Resources specialists call a T-shaped person.
T-shaped people are experts in one particular skill (the vertical bar) and have a general understanding in several others transversal and complementary skills (the horizontal bar.) During the last decade, T-shaped people have demonstrate their capacity to respond adequately to the challenge of design for the web. Designing for the web is, by definition, a multi-faceted activity. The Internet being a young industry, web designers had to efficiently combine multiple skills from multiple domains: communication and information, marketing, human-computer interface, programming, graphic design, data analysis, etc. And it became obvious that the best internet designers were the ones who could best combine all these activities.

Becoming a T-shaped person is not a birth gift. It’s hard work.

Becoming a T-shaped person is definitely not a gift from birth. It's hard work, whatever it comes by circumstances or by will. Web designers are pushed to learn more than what they have initially trained for. Interface designers have to learn programming, front-end developers have to learn the principles of human-computer interface science, content strategist have to build their skills in database architecture, etc. Only by learning more, we can develop the capacity of thinking out of own comfortable box. Interestingly, some areas are more open to the development of T-shaped profiles.
Design is apparently one of them and there is several reason for that. First, design schools are probably more open to diversification than other specialized schools: the general context of a design school is less subject to social success than business schools. Second, the study of design offers a large variety of practices: sketching, concept design, photography, interface design, story telling, prototyping, front-end programming… It open the students' brains to a greater flexibility.
Finally, trained designers are used to switch between abstraction and concrete ideation. They can manipulate concepts that relate to physical objects as well as to abstract elaborations.

"Innovations are not borne by chance, but by rigor an discipline."

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

Designers have developed methods to generate ideas, to visualize concepts and to build systems. These methods combine into a state of mind, a way of thinking. Design Thinking is in fact a practice, accessible to everyone wanting to develop it. In his book "Change By Design", Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO brillantly explains how innovations are not borne by chance, but by rigor an discipline, whether it is for a new bike, a new mobile phone or a new social program.
In fact, anyone can have ideas. Take anybody in the street and drive him into a properly-conducted session of ideating, you'll get a lot of insights and potential ideas from this person. In the context of Design Thinking, generating ideas is not a big deal. The practice of design can do much more than generating brilliant ideas, it can bring evolution in the way of envisioning our work and our society. In creativity, as it is for building a bridge, a website or a car, inspiration is important but practice of implementation is the real challenge.

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