What we talk about when we talk about creativity

Creativity, like art, love, football, and pizza, is a term that means slightly different things to different people. Chicago-style pizza is awful, but I still recognise that it’s pizza. It’s just not pizza as I choose to define it. You follow me? Good.

Creativity, to my mind, is the process of explaining the world to itself by making new things. And for me, this happens by being attuned to the thin threads of meaning between seemingly unrelated objects and ideas. The job of the creative person is to demonstrate to the world that these threads exist and that they may have more power than is immediately apparent.

I believe that to be able to do this, you have to invest time and attention in being aware. You have to notice things and you have to want to notice things. You have to rank curiosity highest among the intellectual virtues. Possibly even higher than rigour, as terrible as that sounds.

When I was in journalism school, this was impressed upon me by the Head of Department, who told the story of how a magnificent piece of investigative journalism about inter-ethnic violence was written by a journalist who over the course of many months of walking to work noticed a pattern to the broken windows in houses and shops in Melbourne.

Being aware, being open to the possibility of connections between seemingly unconnected things. That is the root of what I think of as creativity. This version of creativity doesn’t rely on a muse, nor does it pine and hope for inspiration. It is the creativity of work.

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