You think creativity is a special activity. Only special people can create. Can you create? Of course you can. I mean all of you can create. There’s no such person as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.
Read the following story by Jesse Schell. It’ll change how you think about creativity.
Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses
As I mentioned earlier, I worked for several years as a professional juggler. When I was about fourteen years old, and my repertoire of tricks was limited to two, I attended my first juggling festival. If you haven’t attended one, they are remarkable to see—they mainly consist of jugglers of all levels of skill and ability standing around in a large gymnasium, talking about, experimenting with, and sharing new techniques. It is a place where you can attempt the impossible and drop without shame. But attending alone, my first time, it didn’t feel that way. I was incredibly nervous—after all, I wasn’t a “real” juggler. I mostly walked around, eyes wide, hands in my pockets, terrified that someone would point and shout, “Hey! What’s HE doing here?” but of course, that didn’t happen. Everyone at the festival had learned just like I had—they had taught themselves. Once I grew comfortable, I shyly took out my beanbags and did a little practicing of my own. I watched other people do tricks, and I tried imitating them—sometimes I could do it. But as I looked around for more examples of techniques to try, there was one juggler who stood out from the rest. He was an old man in a powder blue jumpsuit, and his tricks were not like the others at all. He used patterns and rhythms that were unique, and his tricks, though not astonishing in their difficulty, were simply beautiful to watch. I had to watch a long time before I realized that some of the tricks that seemed so special and unique when he did them were things I could already do—but when he did them, they had such a different style, a different feeling, that they seemed like something completely new.
I watched him for about twenty minutes, and suddenly he looked at me and said, “Well?”
“Well, what?” I said, kind of embarrassed.
“Aren’t you going to try to copy me?”
“I—I don’t think I would know how,” I stammered out.
He laughed. “Yeah, they never can. Know why my tricks look so different?” “Uh, practice?” I managed.
“No—everybody practices. look around! They’re all practicing. No, my tricks look different because of where I get them. These guys, they get their tricks from each other. Which is fine—you can learn a lot that way. but it will never make you stand out.”
I thought about it. “So where do you get them?” I asked. “books?”
“Ha! Books. That’s a good one. No, not books. You wanna know the secret?”
“The secret is: don’t look to other jugglers for inspiration—look everywhere else.” He proceeded to do a beautiful looping pattern, where his arms kind of spiralled, and he turned occasional pirouettes. “I learned that one watching a ballet in New York. and this one…” he did a move that involved the balls popping up and down as his hands fluttered delicately back and forth. “I learned that from a flock of geese I saw take off from a lake up in Maine. and this,” he did a weird mechanical looking movement where the balls almost appeared to move at right angles. “I learned that from a paper punch machine on Long Island.” He laughed a little and stopped juggling for a minute. “People try to copy these moves, but they can’t. They always try… yeah, look at that fella, over there!” He pointed to a juggler with a long pony tail across the gym who was doing the “ballet” move. but it just looked dumb. Something was missing, but I couldn’t say what.
“See, these guys can copy my moves, but they can’t copy my inspiration.” He juggled a pattern that made me think of a spiralling double helix. Just then, the PA announced a beginner’s workshop—I thanked him and ran off. I didn’t see him again, but I never forgot him. I wish I knew his name, because his advice changed my approach to creativity forever.