I’ve been thinking about this idea of creativity for awhile now (the sketch above was over a year ago). As kids, all our crazy creations and inventions are seen as clever or creative. Then somehow, over time, it morphs into being a negative thing, until we are able to embrace our weirdness and we eventually become creative again.
I heard Simon Sinek say once, something like, sometimes, when you become a success, you might be the same person but instead of calling you weird people will call you unique. I remember him saying this a few days after I was thinking about this idea of this cycle of creativity. It’s an interesting concept to consider and embrace the fact that weird usually is unique, and people who are unique are creative.
I’ve talked before about how for a good chunk of my life I was called weird. The thing is, I’m pretty sure most of us (as designers and creatives) have been told we were weird at some point, and also all of the other things in the graphic above. But when does this become a respectable thing?
We start out as children being creative, we build things, we play with mud or fingerpaints, we wear mismatched socks on purpose or rain boots with shorts and a tank top, we draw unfamiliar animals and name them crazy things. All these things, at their early stages are encouraged by most parents, family members, and teachers. Everyone tell you to use your imagination, be more creative, explore and try new things, and they applaud you wildly when you do. It is a crucial developmental milestone for children to be able to create things on their own, whether with blocks or drawing with crayons. We are praised for making crazy stuff because it shows we are learning to use our brains differently.
When we get a little bit older, and we are still encouraged to be creative, but if something doesn’t fit into what is expected to be “normal” for the particular age we are, we are called silly. Now being told we are silly, especially by parents or relatives, is usually meant playful and not negative. However, the problem with this is it can start to place small seeds of doubt of our creativity if it is not approached with the right words or tone. Those small seeds to certain children, will grown into the idea that it’s time to maybe start growing up. We might start to feel that if it’s silly, then maybe it’s not okay. Or if it is okay, that it probably won’t be okay for long, because we are getting older, you know (at the ripe old age of 8).
Then, somehow, when we hit our pre-teen years, many of us are no longer silly. We are much to old to be silly right? So what we’re doing must be wrong in some way, and people, mainly our peers, begin to say that things we do or stuff we like is strange. Usually this isn’t our parents, but sometimes it can be. I was never discouraged to do things just the way I liked to. But I have known many many people who at this stage in their lives do what they like and they have certain friends and others say they’re strange.
Eventually for many of us, in our teens, strange becomes something off-putting, and we ended up being grouped with others who are also labeled as strange and they become weird. When we combine unusual outfits or write surprising stories or anything out of the ordinary, very few people see the creativity in those things. They only see the weird
one. The interesting thing to me about this is that history has shown that these “weirdos” or even outcasts, have traditionally been the ones who invent, create, and innovate successfully.
The older we get, towards the end of our teens and early in our college years, we become more comfortable in our weirdness (if we weren’t already) and we just own it. We assert our independence and pursue things that fulfill us and interest us. The more we do this, the more people start to see what we do and who we are. They see us as having unique perspective and are different but no longer weird, or strange, we are unique. This makes us more respectable in a professional light.
And Back to Creative
Then the catalyst. All our lives we have been creative, we have felt creative, we have thought creatively, and done creative things. As “creatives” we have done our best to just be ourselves in the face of criticism and much to the confusion of our friends, family, or coworkers. In time, there finally comes a realization that this is who we are and we don’t have to be worried about it anymore. We embrace all the things that make us, us, and that’s when the magic happens. I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of mixture between our age, the age of our peers, and our general confidence as a person that makes the difference. Once these things are all together, people begin to see us in a new light. We will probably still get confused looks at times, we are likely called weird or strange, or unique, but now as adults, more often than not, we are finally…called creative.
I don’t know why or exactly how this cycle happens to those of us who feel like we belong in this category of creative. I do know though, that the majority of people seem to give up after the silly stage; it’s not worth it to them. Maybe they stop pretending to be astronauts or princesses or jungle explorers. Perhaps it’s too much work to fight with the culture that doesn’t value creativity the way they value other more “useful” skills. The problem with this is that everyone is creative. We all start out creative in some way or another, every child has a vivid imagination. The difference is whether that is nurtured and encouraged consistently or if at the silly stage those around you ensure you that you’re “too old” to be doing whatever it is that you enjoyed.
The difference between those of us who grow up to be designers, innovators, artists, and inventors, is that somewhere along the way in this cycle we embraced the weird, silly, and strange.
Those of us who are considered “professional creatives” especially (illustrators, designers, etc.) made a choice to be okay with our weirdness because we have realized that these things are what help us show others a different way to see the world.
Somewhere along the way we are able to own and define ourselves as all of these things.
We, as creatives, with confidence can own all of the stages of this cycle of others’ perceptions.
We are silly, strange, weird, and unique; these things are what make us the best kind of creative we can be.
It’s definitely an interesting conversation and one that I really want to explore further, the idea that the longer you are confident in your weirdness that eventually others will see you as you were made to be — creative.
Designers are an awesome thing and design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.