Is creativity an innate quality … like a sense of humor or 20/20 vision? Or is it a skill that can be sharpened? For Austin Kleon and Jonah Lehrer, the authors of two recent books on the subject, anyone can enhance their innovative thinking … simply by mixing it up.
Everyone will find inspiration in a different way, such as trying a new hobby or taking a break from the cubicle walls. And then there’s the trick of imitating the work of artists you admire.
In “Steal like an Artist,” Austin Kleon argues that all creative types attempt to copy the work of their heroes. And in doing so, they find their own style. He isn’t advocating plagiarism, rather the “collection” of creative elements that can be combined into something new.
The book is full of funny and inspirational quotes, included to help readers think outside the box about … well, thinking outside the box. I like this one by illustrator Jessica Hische: “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
(However, I’d like to point out that there isn’t much money in trolling Piperlime for the perfect pair of black flip flops.)
Neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer also explored the subject in a recent Wall Street Journal column and his new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” To Lehrer, creativity is not the mystical, inherent power we often imagine it to be. It’s often the product of relaxing … whether with a hot shower, daydreaming or even a cold beer.
Lehrer points to studies that link relaxation and the brain’s ability to connect abstractedly related information. Anecdotes include the story of Steve Jobs orchestrating creative interaction among Pixar employees by insisting on a single, central location for the studios’ restrooms, as well as the breakthrough of Nike’s famed “Just Do It” slogan.
But Lehrer also concedes that creative problem solving is sometimes the result of grueling, caffeine-fueled work.
Or as Pablo Picasso put it, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”
Costa DeVault staff writer Erin Heston is so devoted to creativity that she’s willing to borrow from the greats, shop online or even drink a cold beer … whatever it takes.