You may have seen me using the hashtag #hardnotcomplicated in some recent tweets. That’s because my message for 2016 is that, like many important things in life, creativity is hard but it isn’t complicated.
Some people might find the distinction a bit confusing because frequently we use the words almost interchangeably. But a perfect example is this: lifting a heavy object is simple but it’s hard whereas understanding a written sentence like this is easy even though language is complicated.
There’re plenty of examples of hard things that’s aren’t complicated. Exercise and diet, for instance, are fairly simple things for most people, but they aren’t easy. Giving up smoking is simple but hard. But people are clever and being clever they often try to avoid hard work by coming up with complicated devices.
Often this works. The car is complicated but it makes travelling easier. The computer is complicated but it makes maths easier. But there are things which we can’t yet build a complicated tool for. Like creativity. That doesn’t stop us trying.
So you’ll find endless pages written about creativity and techniques to boost/unleash/harness is. But the truth of the matter is that creativity is a simple thing. It’s about awareness, presence, playfulness and courage. All these things are simple. And all these things are, to varying degrees hard for people to maintain.
My job is to help people do the simple things that let them move faster and with more purpose, see what others don’t see and make meaningful changes. After all, that’s what creativity really means.
Whilst I sat for my evening meditation today I realised something about myself and I wondered if this thing might be true of others. The things I find hardest to do aren’t those which take the longest to finish but those that take the longest to start.
Meditation is a strange discipline. You sit. You breathe. You sit and breathe. You follow the breath and sit and breathe and sit. Of course there’re other variations on the theme but this is the central part. Sit, breathe, be.
If I set out to sit for twenty minutes sometimes I find myself wishing it was over sooner. But this only happens at the start. As long as I can remain with it for five minutes this desire passes and I find myself settling, feeling the stillness, enjoying the presence. It’s the beginning, you see. The beginning can be a little slow. You see, the thing I was waiting for wasn’t really for the thing to end. I was waiting for it to start.
I think, perhaps, this is true more generally. Exercise can be a slow starting thing. The feeling that you’re really in it, making progress, can take hour or weeks. Same is true for diet, learning a foreign language and, as it happens, the creative flow.
When you start out on a creative journey it can feel like wondering in the wilderness for a time. Often this leads people to wish the thing were over and so they leap to obvious, unoriginal answers. They bypas the entire thing because it takes too long to start.
That’s why the beginning is so important when starting is slow. You need to prepare the mind for patience and clarity, acceptance and presence. And also for curiosity and playfulness. Finding the fun in a slow start is part of the skill. For this you need your playfulness radar tuned up and ready to spot the smallest opportunity for joy and adventure.