The Creative Act & Synthesis

Creativity is one of the most important aspects of human experience. It sets us apart from the other animals. It’s responsible for mankind’s great civilizations and cultures. And, it give each of us a deeper sense of meaning and fulfillment.

Of course, this is all grand. However, in very practical terms increasing your creative capabilities can translate into material benefits, too. You can earn more money, land better jobs, and simply get a lot more out of life.

Over the next few issues, starting with this one, I want to break down the various aspects of the creative act and share with you the things I have learned, tested, and implemented along my journey to become more creative.

Today, I will start by redefining some misunderstood and overlooked aspects of the creative act.

What is creativity?

I’ve talked about this before, so won’t take up a lot of space addressing it, but we should at least start with an idea of what creativity is.

The answer lies in creativity’s root word: create. Create is a verb that means to bring something into existence. It’s pretty simple: When you create you are bringing something into existence.

The word creativity is a noun form of create. So, creativity is the ability to create, or we could say the ability to bring something into existence. That’s it. You are creative if you’re bringing something into existence.

This is why I am big on insisting that everyone can be creative. Everyone can bring something into existence, be it a novel idea, a beautiful piece of art, a world-changing solution, or a fresh loaf of bread. Bringing things into existence is part of being human.

But, this piece isn’t about baking bread.

What is the creative act and why does it matter?

I used to think of creativity as doing, meaning I was being creative if I was writing or drawing or making a video. And so my efforts to get better were all focused on the process of making something. What steps should I take? How to get better at each one? What apps could make it easier? Stuff like that.

Oddly, trying to perfect my process didn’t make me more creative. I was not creating more than before and honestly, the work I was producing wasn’t any better.

I think this “doing” model of creativity is why a lot of people think they’re not creative. They think, I can’t or I’m really not good at crafty stuff. They think they are not good at certain kinds of doing and so they assume creativity isn’t their thing.

I came to realize that creativity isn’t really in the doing. I know that might sound like a contradiction to the idea that creativity is the ability to bring something into existence. How can you bring something into existence if you’re not doing?

The secret of creativity is what happens before I start doing— before I start to make. The true creative act is that special moment when an idea or vision comes to me in a flash.

Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself—just got an idea out of nowhere. It’s the moment of epiphany, the ah-ha! when inspiration strikes. That is true creativity because in that moment you are seeing something truly new. You are bringing something into existence, even if at the moment it’s only in your mind.

What I started to recognize is that these flashes of inspiration were valuable. These were solutions to client problems, ideas for marketing campaigns, insights into strategies, concepts for content. Sure, I still needed to translate them somehow from my mind into the real world, but all that required were some Keynote skills or the ability to write a brief. But, without these unbidden moments of vision I had nothing.

It became clear that my quest to become more creative had to focus on this mysterious creative act. What was it, actually? And, could I do something to get more, and better, flashes of inspiration and insight?

What is the flash?

Synthesis lies at the heart of the creative act.

What I mean is that these amazing ideas, insights, and visions are comprised of a number of seemingly unconnected things that our minds have synthesized into something new. Your mind worked away while you were unaware and somehow found a connection between a couple things that was hidden. And, in so doing, created something new, a synthesis.

Synthesis is at the heart of all things creative. Steve Jobs synthesized mobile phones (remember the old flip phones?) with MP3 players, email, and computer screens to create the iPhone. The automobile is a synthesis of a horse-drawn carriage with the internal combustion engine. The world is filled with things that started out as a synthesis of seemingly unconnected components that burst forth as an ah-ha! in their creator’s mind.

Often, these combinations seem obvious, like the automobile. Of course you should slap a motor in that buggy. But it seems that way to us because automobiles have been ubiquitous for over 100 years. Henry Ford had his share of detractors and nay-sayers when he introduced the Model T.

By the way, Ford’s genius wasn’t to invent the automobile, because he didn’t do that. Rather, he had his own flash of inspiration. He realized that you could take this new thing, the automobile, which was a rich man’s toy, and you could mass produce it using the assembly line. By synthesizing the automobile with a novel manufacturing process, Ford was able to make the automobile accessible to everyone. And, in the process, he became outrageously rich and powerful—all because he had an insight into how to connect two seemingly unrelated things.

This is what is at the heart of the creative act: the ability to connected two or more seemingly unrelated things into something new. This is why I said that synthesis lies at the heart of the creative act.

So now what?

Hopefully by now I have convinced you of two things. First, that the most valuable aspect of creativity is the creative act, proper—that moment where you get an idea, insight, or vision out of nowhere, like a flash of lightning. Second, that this creative act is based on synthesis, meaning the ability to connect the seemingly unrelated in ways that lead to something new.

I said earlier that once I became convinced of the importance of the creative act I wondered if there was something I could do to experience it more and if I could improve the quality of my insights and ideas.

The short answer is, yes. There is much we can do.

To that end, I will continue to unpack the creative act over the next few issues. To do this, I am going to (loosely) use a framework developed by Iain McGilchrist in his opus, The Matter With Things. In it he maps out the three interactive cognitive requirements of creativity:

  1. Generative Requirements
  2. Permissive Requirements
  3. Translational Requirements

We’ll work through each one and by the end you will have an excellent pathway towards being much more creative. And, if you’re experience is anything like mine, that creativity will have both significant material benefits for your life and positive effects on your soul.