The creative workout plan, part 1

posted January 23, 2017


Mandy Cochran

Creativity is not a gift. Creativity is a muscle. To properly strengthen a muscle, it must be given the following things: tension, extension, flexibility, nutrition, and rest. And for creative strength, the regimen is no different. Not sure how to translate strength training to creative thinking? Here’s a handy guide!

Creative Tension

Creativity serves to solve problems. And problems inherently create tension. Not always make-or-break, life-or-death tension, but the kind of tension that eventually produces growth. This growth may be financial or quantitative in other ways, but for the creator himself, this growth is also personal, professional, and psychological. Therefore, the creative process should begin with the impetus to improve a situation or solve a problem that directly relates to the needs and wants of the creator. The tension created by said problem may create personal stress, but may also be a great source of creative inspiration. As such, the problem should be important to the creative thinker in some form and also worth the inherent discomfort of pursuing a creative solution. (In short, the creative process is hard and requires commitment. Make sure you’re committing to something you believe in.)

Creative Extension

Reciprocal motion is what makes basic muscular exercise effective — curl the biceps, extend the biceps. So too with creativity. While professional creative work can often be strained by timelines, workflow, bandwidth, and the like, creative professionals will not gain extraordinary creative strength by small-range-of-motion, repetitive exercises. There must be the time, allowance, workplace flexibility, and personal motivation to continually extend one’s creativity. Whether that is through finding new processes and practices, inviting more collaboration, or allowing for more time to think and concept outside the confines of an assumed boundary — brief timeline, budget constraints, assumed medium, or even the overarching constraint of “paid work” — personal creativity must be allowed free-range of motion to both flex and extend itself. This is essential for our creativity to build, understand, and display its true strength.

Creative Flexibility

While extension and tension build creative strength, flexibility helps maintain it. So many professional projects for creative thinkers require similar, if not identical processes from project to project. Timelines and budgets, as well as quality of work for a professional organization, must be maintained, and are often done through rigorous processes that include multiple departments and several employees. This well-oiled and deeply programmed machine is essential to workplace success, but should not become an evergreen process for creative thinkers.

As we grow (in creativity or other arenas), it is important to diversify and extend reach, focus, and strength in multiple directions, rather than continuously along a single path. This is not to be confused with focus and perseverance, as both are absolutely key to creative growth. But we must not be tempted to grow in a single direction or limit ourselves to a single process. Then, we run the risk of creating the inability to think outside the confines of a brief or create without the pressure of an external need. This kind of flexibility is gained through persistently deeper thinking and a willingness to continue looking past an immediate or easy solution. Whether that solution is a visual solve, a catchy headline, or even our own worn-in creative process, we must allow ourselves to think freely and openly, sometimes rejecting even our own perceived confines of both the problem and our own creativity, itself.

Stay tuned for the second and final part of this piece.