How to turn on your creativity

“I think I’m not creative” is a mental construct.

If everyone is and can be creative, how can it be activated? Tze shares some steps you can take to become self-aware and break away from the trappings of feeling uncreative.

Summary

  • The first step to turning on your creativity is in understanding your personal constraints: how has your upbringing affected your fear of raising opinions, and what is the medium of creation you are most confident and comfortable in?
  • Sometimes being too confident in a medium or language can also become a crutch that inhibits you from exploring newer ways of creating, but finding that one medium you are somewhat comfortable in is the first step in creation
  • The second step is in finding ways to stop yourself from self-censorship: what are some ways or platforms you can use to allay those fears so that you can actually share your ideas? Is it through self-effacing? Through humour?
  • “I think I’m not creative,” is a mental construct, it’s in the way we have grown up and conditioned ourselves to not do certain things as opposed to innately not being able to do it
  • If given all the available options and resources, people tend to default to what they are comfortable with, what they grew up with; when given constraints, that’s where creativity comes in to turn those constraints into possibilities if only one can accept the possibility of failure
  • “The reality is convenience is the biggest crutch.”
  • The challenge for companies is to balance the need for constraints to keep their teams creative and utilising the resources they have to accelerate processes

Full Transcript

Humour is a good one right, because you can sneak your idea in under the guise of, “I didn’t mean this to be a good idea, I just wanted to make everyone laugh,” but then later after everyone stops laughing, they go like, “Hey actually there was something nice about that.”

MATTHEW
If I’m a person who says that I’m not a creative and now I’d like to get some advice on how I can maybe take that first step to be creative, could you help me to understand how the fear of judgment ties in with this?

TZE
Do you mean to say how you can start? Like what approaches or what strategies you can take to kind of switch off those or switch on creativity?

MATTHEW
Yeah.

TZE
It stems from first understanding what are your own personal constraints. Personal constraints might be your past experience, so it could be growing up and wanting everyone to like you or it can be your educational background and having to say yes to whatever the teacher says and not raising your point of view for fear of being beat up (beat up is not appropriate now of course) or of being singled out by the teacher. And I think once you realise, once you understand what it is, you can start by… Two things right, one is either finding that the places where you are confident, the areas that you are confident in that these things are not such an issue for you. So if you are confident in creating… like you have no confidence in drawing, you have no confidence in writing but you have confidence in making, whether it’s baking or creating with paper or craft…

Pick the language or the medium that you’re most comfortable in. Then at least your technical skills don’t become a hindrance to what you do.

Of course there’s also the converse right, which is sometimes you’re so comfortable with it that it becomes a crutch. Like you are so comfortable with writing already, sometimes writing becomes your crutch and you don’t explore newer ways of creating. But I think that’s maybe second stage. Maybe first stage, if you are really just not comfortable to begin with, find the medium that you’re most comfortable in.

Then the second thing is if your biggest challenge is, “How do I stop myself from self-censoring”, then it’s to find, hey are there things or ways to get ideas out which allay those fears?

So if it’s about being anonymous, are there platforms that I can contribute ideas in an anonymous way, so that if it’s a crap idea I don’t feel bad because no one knows who I am?

It’s like asking questions in a seminar, for example, of hundred people, you don’t want to be the one that puts your hand up and asks the stupid question so then you don’t ask a question, where that stupid question could be the genesis of a really good question right. So being able to ask it on, let’s say, an online platform and say, okay these are questions and they’re anonymous and they can be voted up. That helps some people get over that initial fear of saying, hey this is a stupid question maybe I shouldn’t ask it.

And it’s the same for other acts of creation. Like if you’re working in a team and you feel like, “Oh this is a stupid idea so I won’t talk about it,” then you might have to find other means to say, okay what platforms or what strategies are available to me in this team or in this context that let me raise silly questions? And I think the easiest of which is just to preface your thing with, “Hey guys it sounds like a stupid question but what if we did this?”

So sometimes being self-effacing helps to a certain extent. If you are shy then you can raise up obvious problems or stupid questions by just prefacing it.

Or humour, like Kevin mentioned, humour is a good one right, because you can sneak your idea in under the guise of, “I didn’t mean this to be a good idea, I just wanted to make everyone laugh,” and that’s a good way to sneak it in. But then later after everyone stops laughing, they go like, “Hey actually there was something nice about that.”

MATTHEW
Thanks for enlightening on that. It sounded like being aware of how you perceive the challenge of creativity is kind of as important as that creation part itself because being aware of how you respond to those creative challenges would determine how you respond to it and it sounds like what you mentioned about first being confident in the area, the language that you’re comfortable in, it’s a good way to just get the ball rolling. And after that understanding that it’s important to be aware of how you… being aware of not to be comfortable with where you are because then you might not really…

TZE
Yeah because like even the way that you frame the question or you frame that initial statement which is, “I think I’m not creative,” it’s a mental construct.

If you look at kids, they make their own games, they make their own toys if you give them stuff, and it’s the same, just that adults have been conditioned.

It’s like language learning. Someone shared about language, that why it’s so critical to learn language at an early age is language is not about learning how to make new sounds, language is about learning what sounds not to make. So if you speak English, you don’t make certain sounds because it doesn’t sound like English, it sounds like gibberish. And when you train yourself not to make those sounds then it’s hard to pick up a new language which requires you to make guttural sounds, for example, because you don’t use that in your daily expression. So it’s the same thing with other acts of creation right, because speaking is also a creative exercise; you’re forming thoughts, you’re forming sentences as you speak.

So same thing with other things, like even something as simple as, hey make me a sandwich, and you can be very creative with how you make a sandwich.

If you give everyone all the options possible then they’ll just make what they’re comfortable with.

Like you said with your dad, I have like Planta and kaya and then done right. But if you take Planta and kaya away, like if you take away their comfort, like the crutches away, and say, hey I need a sandwich but this is all I have in my fridge, bananas and rambutan or whatever is there, then you’ll be creative about what can I put together that might taste decent and won’t make me puke, won’t make the bread soggy. Then you start having these considerations right, my sandwich must be neat-looking, must not be soggy, the taste should be harmonious or like I like salty and sweet so I find salty and sweet. And then that’s what makes that creative act right? And then also there are the constraints which you in your mind think of, okay when I make a sandwich this is what I like or this is what needs to fulfil.

MATTHEW
Oh that’s so interesting! Over a dinner conversation with my family the other day, my dad was just commenting, “Haiya, you this generation don’t know how to creatively do things!” Then he gave the example of my grandfather using honeydew making honeydew into soup because that was the ugliest fruit, the cheapest fruit available, and then that’s how my grandfather determined what should be the soup of the day; that was only what he could afford. So yeah it’s quite interesting, the idea of a constraint actually freeing up, exercising that creative part of your yourself.

TZE
The reality is convenience is the biggest crutch.

When you know you can get someone else to do it for you or you can go and purchase a solution, that becomes the crutch for, “I don’t have to be creative, I don’t have to do this myself, I don’t have to be involved in that act of creation.”

MATTHEW
What if we bring it into the context of businesses that are trying to think of design as that be-all-end-all of their challenges?

TZE
I don’t know if this answers your question but the challenge that most businesses have is exactly that. When you become bigger, when you have resources then you start to get comfortable, the crutch comes back. You have a level of complacency or you have level of comfort and convenience that the small startup with limited resources will find ways to… “We need to get this stuff done and we need to get it done in this budget because I don’t have a million dollar budget.” And if they can get the same outcome or even like 80% with one tenth of your budget then you know you’re screwed. Because then they’re on to some innovative approach or innovative product.

So that is always the challenge for companies, to set in enough constraints to keep the team on its toes but at the same time you know you have resources and resources give you the ability to accelerate certain things. How to balance it is a tricky thing.

I think it is reflected in life too. I just saw a report this morning or yesterday; they did a survey on what is the biggest sustainability challenge for people and affluence is the biggest challenge. Because with affluence, you have convenience, you have purchasing power, you get stuff… you don’t have the constraint that your grandpa had, like to consume less, to spend less, to have a smaller footprint. And that just makes you… not say lazy but you go for the crutch, you go for the easy outcome.

MATTHEW
I heard this quote somewhere, I think it was saying, “Is it a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?” or something along those lines. Yeah do you solve it or do you just manage that tension so that you still get the best, maybe most efficient outcome?

TZE
Yeah part of it is a point of view I think, like you said, do you see it as a problem or do you see it as an opportunity? If you see a constraint and you go like, “Ah my boss gives me only this budget and he doesn’t give me a team to do this thing and I have to do it in half the time,” so all these are perceived as problems but at the same time these are opportunities to try something different right, or to take a different approach to solve a problem with less resources and so on. I think that the challenge here is can the organisation accept failure?

Same with your own personal challenge with creativity; can you accept failure?

Because when you take off your filter and say “I’m going to come up with 10 stupid ideas,” yeah they will be stupid ideas right, like 9 out of 10 will be stupid ideas, so they’ll be deemed as failures and you have to accept that risk that, okay I’ll have 10 shitty ideas but that’s okay because one of them is going to be great. And same thing for an organisation right, if you say that, okay we’re going to put in these constraints and we want you to be able to drive a creative or really innovative outcome then there is going to be some level of failure or you need to have that room for failure.

THE STUCK IN DESIGN TEAM
Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong

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