Creativity Is a Process, Not an Event

Creativity Is a Process, Not an Event


Table Of Content(toc)

1. Intro


Nothing can be more predictable than a creative process. The more you repeat it, the more it repeats.

Creativity is a process and not an event, so you need to treat it as such.

If you want to get yourself into a good creative groove, don’t start off by trying to make all your ideas come together in one moment of inspiration (which is a very common mistake). You need to be patient and work through your ideas one at a time.

It’s not just about discipline, either: it’s also about patience and perseverance. You need to go through iteration after iteration until you end up with something that works – even if it feels like the whole world has collapsed around you because of your efforts at the beginning.


2. The Conceptual Framework


Robert Burton, the English physician, and philosopher is perhaps best known for his fourteenth-century work The Anatomy of Melancholy: “Man is endowed with an understanding which he cannot control, and a will in which he is incapable of being persuaded; both these faculties proceed from a common source and are equally apt to deceive.”

Burton believed that the process by which creativity developed was one that began before birth, as an innate drive within us. He referred to it as “creativity” because it is a process that, when left to its own devices (without outside interference), will often lead to new ideas and concepts. But it can also be a very conscious process that requires the conscious attention of the person involved.

He thought we were born with this ability: children have no choice but to be creative — their minds are set on something else. But today we realize this ability only through practice: where there was once nothing at all, we must insert ourselves in order for our children’s creativity to flourish.

We have a few tools at our disposal to help us do this: schools promote creativity across disciplines through curriculum design — they help build on critical thinking skills (like problem-solving & critical thinking) and also provide students with opportunities to engage with all kinds of creative activities like math & science fairs as well as art & music competitions; employers support managers in encouraging employees’ creativity by providing certain benefits like vacation time or paid time off; companies provide resources for individuals seeking creative solutions like mentorship and funding programs; individuals can access resources like courses through platforms like or Skillshare or take classes at local universities and colleges; etc.

So how does all this fit into the concept of product-market fit? Well, when you start out on your product journey you should be doing everything possible to get your product into the market before making any marketing decisions about it (remember what Marc Andreessen said about “doing better than Apple?”). But once you do get into the market you need to focus on creating products that are not only useful enough but also interesting enough so people will want to use them — so that they notice them when they stumble across your website/blog/newsletter/press release / etc. There are three ways you can do this: 1.) Be curious about what people (especially early adopters) want 2.) Find out what your customers really need 3.) Find out how people perceive your competition


3. The Fundamental Assumptions


One of the most common questions I get is “what is your creative process like?” and it sounds like it’s almost a requirement that a startup founder must answer this question. It’s not. If you want to be creative, you need to focus on the process in question.

The first step is to define your creativity. What exactly do you mean by “creativity?” Do you mean an ability to conceive new ideas or do you mean being able to make them come alive in real life? You may want to answer this question in detail, but don’t be too detailed about it. The reason for this is that once you start defining your creativity, there will always be people who will pose less-than-perfect questions about exactly what creativity is and how best to pursue it.

One way of thinking about the question “what is my creative process like?” is as follows:

• Your Creative Process Is Your Artistic Process: Art doesn’t have a particular set of rules; it just has rules (which are often different from those laid out in any given book or article for artists). The main thing about rules for art (aside from their universality) is that they keep people safe by stopping them from messing up. There are many ways of going wrong with art; these are just some examples:

(a) Not making enough effort while doing something well (i.e., painting):

(b) Fixing something instead of making something (i.e., playing Chopin instead of piano):

(c) Getting stuck in a rut (i.e., painting the same thing over and over again):

The only way of preventing these kinds of mistakes from happening with art is by carefully following rules, which means working hard on learning how to keep yourself safe through following them — this takes years, not months. You can learn very quickly how to follow one rule well and then move on when necessary, but that takes years as well — they both take time! For example:

(a) Make enough effort while doing something well: try harder than usual, be more focused than usual, push harder than usual on things which matter most to you;

(b) Fixing something instead of making something: do things differently than usual later on;

(c) Get stuck in a rut: stop trying completely when


4. The Methodology


“I have often seen in the minds of great writers, that while they were writing, the form was passing away, and the ideas remained. I never see it happen with myself. I always see my ideas fixed while I am writing them, or when I get to the end of one line. Perhaps this is because I have a strong habit of fixing them in my mind; but even so, there is no doubt that when I am doing something new, whether it be drawing or writing a poem or painting a picture — anything creative — the ideas are there; and often one can find them as soon as you start working.”

One of my favorite quotes that springs to mind following this is: “He who has not created something new in his life has not lived.” In other words, it’s not just about “seeing” something new but instead making it happen. That’s what we do here on the Lean Startup blog: we create something new by iterating upon existing principles (e.g., Product-Market Fit). The process itself is what really matters — and in order to be able to identify which principles are most useful for us and which aren’t much use at all (such as “I don’t think our audience will pay $50/month for email software that doesn’t deliver a high ROI!”), we need to have plenty of opportunities to experiment (e.g., Product-Market Fit) with various prototypes and then revise our conclusions based on those experiments (e.g., Value Proposition).

In practice, this means that we need lots of opportunities to actually make things happen before we can say with any confidence that what we are working towards is truly valuable and worth pursuing — before we can go ahead and say “Yes! Let’s do this!” There needs to be lots of work happening across many different domains (e.g., product, marketing, customer support) before you can reliably call yourself a Lean Startup.


5. The Results and Analysis


The result of this exercise inspired me to write about the results and analysis of a long-term study on creativity done with Barbara Fredrickson. I’ve known Barbara for a while and have spent many hours talking about creativity with her, so it seemed like an appropriate moment to take a look at her work.

The study was done using the Princeton Inventory of Creativity (PIC), which is a collection of questions designed to capture creative abilities. The PIC has been used by psychologists as one of the best proxy measures we have for measuring creativity since the early 1970s. The subjects were asked:

• In a list of 100 words, select the one word that best describes your most recent creative experience.

• Which word best fits: my most recent creative experience or any other word?

• If you had difficulty choosing which word to use, what would you say is your most recent creative experience?

• Rate your creativity on a scale from 0 (lowest) to 9 (highest).

The study even tried to untangle those feelings later on: after asking subjects how they felt about their creative experiences, subjects were asked if they felt like they succeeded or failed in their endeavors in terms of being “successful” (1=failure; 0=success). In other words, did they feel like they succeeded or not? This was compared with asking subjects: If you think you succeeded, then tell us what you think are some things that contributed to that success. Subjects were also asked whether their present sense of success was: more than 50% (1); less than 50% (0), or not sure what it was. As I go through my notes it seems there are several follow-up questions asking different kinds of information from these two questions: how did each person feel about their successes; how often did each person feel like they succeeded in their creative pursuits? Since participants were anonymous and second-guessed about their responses it is not clear what this signifies — but given that there is only one way these answers can be interpreted I think we can safely assume that this data is meaningfully related to self-report measures such as self-esteem and positive thoughts about themselves — though such questions may also be driven by celebrity status and/or wealth issues.

I found the results interesting enough that I wanted to take a deeper dive into Barbara’s research on them as well as some more general interesting findings she had been studying


6. Conclusion


Every day, I am inspired to write, draw, or think about a topic.  I don’t always know where the inspiration comes from, but when it does, I believe that it is something more than just a moment of inspiration. 

I believe that creativity is a process; an ongoing process of exploration, discovery, and refinement.

My blog post on this topic, linked above in this sidebar, offers some interesting thoughts that I hope you’ll consider.


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