On how to be creative

Creativity, qu├ęsaco*?

Creativity might seem like it's for an elite.

The ones who were born with it.

Creativity has a romantic flavour to it; this sudden inspiration falling from the sky like Newton's apple or Archimedes's Eureka. However, what these stories are omitting, is the amount of work and discipline that had to be put to come up with such discoveries.

Let's go back to the definition of creativity: it's the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative (Cf. Cambridge dictionary). Such ideas can be the result of associating old ones, tweaking them and coming up with something new.

Creativity can be obtained and nurtured by methodical discipline; writing a technical article is a creative task, coming up with system design for a side project is a creative task, even debugging is a creative task!

Creative methodology

My methodology for creativity boils down to these steps (inspired by Descartes scientific method):

  1. Research & brainstorming: Gather as much raw information about the topic as possible. No analysis needed at this stage.
  1. Analyzing: Review the collected notes from the first step and analyze them, break down problems and deep dive into interesting concepts.
  1. Recomposition: Re-assemble the data from step 1 and 2, make connections, come up with associations.
  1. Testing and verification: Run tests on the final product, this could send you back to the first step by realising that you missed something in the process, or simply let go of the idea because it doesn't work, it's not innovative enough, or it's not useful.

Writing a technical article as a creativity example

Let's take the example of writing a technical article. This is a process that I go through often:

  1. Research & brainstorming: I start by reading parts of indispensable books on the topic, listen to podcasts, read related articles. This phase is designed to get as much info as possible, without necessarily analyzing them.
  1. Analyzing: Once I have done enough research, I analyze the notes I have taken in the first step, I break down the bits I am interested in pursuing and expanding. I might need to fill in some knowledge gap by doing more research.
  1. Recomposition: Once step 2 is done, I start thinking of ways to structure everything I learned and wording it simply.
  1. Testing and verification: After taking a break from the task in hand, I proof-read it, ask friends to proof-read it. Finally, share it online to get feedback.

Hope this helps with channeling your creative energy. I would love to hear from you, what is your creative process? You can reach out to me via Twitter.

*French for WTH is it.