What Salvador Dali Didn't Understand About Day-to-Day Creativity

Struggling to find a suitable topic for this article, a tried-and-true creativity technique came in handy: using random inputs to trigger an idea. I grabbed a folder of notes from presentations I’ve attended the past few years. The first reference was to a story about an art patron who asked surrealist artist Salvador Dali if it were hard to paint a picture. Dali’s answer?

“No, it’s either easy or impossible.”

What a great quote. Pithy, to the point, encapsulating a much bigger truth…yet completely useless for someone trying to be creative on-demand in a work or organizational setting.

If your work-related creative effort is easy, there’s a high likelihood your output isn’t all that remarkable. If, on the other hand, your creative project is an impossible challenge, there are no points awarded for incredible ideas that can’t be brought to life.

So in the world beyond art, both “easy” and “impossible” are dangerous answers to the question, “How hard is it for you to be creative?” In either case, it’s critical to employ strategies that can quickly turn creative extremes into “hard,” workable challenges leading to creative wins.

4 Strategies for When Creativity Feels Easy

  • Do a “Crit” of Your Best Creative Work – Rather than coasting on past creative successes, challenge yourself to be dramatically better. Take what seemed creatively “good” from the past, look for the minor flaws other might miss, and turn them into masterpieces! Make them more integrated with your strategy, more elegantly simple, more wonderfully spectacular or compelling, more…you get the picture! Pushing yourself to be dramatically better than you’ve been before creatively will be harder, but should payoff in results.
  • Make a Big, Public Creativity Promise – You may (and by “you ” I mean “I”) may be a creativity sandbagger, consciously lowering expectations to a comfortable level you know you can handily meet without over-exerting yourself creatively. Stop taking the “easy” way out and voice an incredibly lofty creative goal (think JFK and “Put a man on the moon.”)  Share your outlandish, daring goal with others to put yourself on the hook. You’ll have to push your creativity harder to succeed wildly.
  • Add Risk – Maybe you know what is required to deliver on your creative goal and have all the necessary resources. Go ahead and throw yourself a huge curve by slashing them. Cut the time for the project by starting later or committing to deliver it sooner. If you have a team working on your creative effort, release someone to work on another project, stretching the remaining team members creatively. Pushing your creative effort to the edge will force you to step up and strengthen other creative muscles to fully deliver.
  • Materially Change Your Creative Process – There’s no better example of this principle than Bruce Springsteen. At the height of professional success with the E Street Band earlier in his career, he began markedly changing his musical creative approach multiple times – an acoustic, home-recorded solo record, other “solo” records with different supporting musicians, and a completely new band to chronicle songs by Pete Seeger, a legendary folk musician. With each change, Springsteen continually avoided “easy” creativity in favor of using unfamiliarity to spur new creative directions.

4 Strategies for When Creativity Seems Impossible

  • Lower Expectations – If your project as a whole feels impossible, set your sites lower. Sort through the pieces and parts of the project, identifying what seems possible from among the impossible. Think through the worst that could happen if the impossible parts didn’t come to fruition. After figuring out workarounds for the impossible, go all out tackling what is achievable creatively.
  • Pause the Project – Feeling pressured to be creative right away can certainly stifle your abilities. Instead of being pressured to move right to implementation, take a time out and actually THINK. Strategize. Brainstorm. Get someone to build on the thinking you’ve done. Maybe spend some time contemplating something entirely different. Use this pause for your mind to wander where it will and make the unconscious connections which can trigger fresh creative strategy.
  • Get Implementation Help  – It could be your sense of creative impossibility stems from weaknesses in your own capabilities. If that’s true, get started on the creative effort by seeking out talents you need to turn the impossible into the possible. Assemble the best team to start, generate, and bring what would have been previously daunting creativity to life.
  • Change the Creative Game – If the creative task presented to you is impossible, why not simply redefine it? Instead of thinking about what the creative activity is, look at what type of goal you’re trying to accomplish instead. Next, look at the whole variety of ways you can accomplish your objective in some other creative way. Redefining the creative game is often just what’s needed to get into another game you’re much more likely to win creatively.

Use these eight strategies as necessary to be able to better depend on producing outstanding creativity on a daily basis!

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