In the prologue of Henry V, Shakespeare poetically asks his audience a favor. He asks them to suspend their belief for a moment. He is about to tell an epic story set in fifteenth-century England of a young king who lays claim to certain parts of France based on his distant lineage. This leads to a war between two great kingdoms. How could the humble makings of a small wooden stage, a handful of actors, and stagehands produce such a massive story? Aside from some very creative artistry, you could imagine that “special effects” were very limited in the 1600s. Shakespeare struggled with this obstacle. How could he start his play with his audience primed for the story? How could he avoid the initial uphill battle of believability? He concluded that he would simply ask a favor. He asks, “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs I’ the receiving earth; For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, carry them here and there; jumping o’er times, turning the accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass…”
Shakespeare humbly requests that we delve deeper into our imagination. Don’t let yourself be stifled. Don’t limit yourself to accepted norms or let perceived reality stand in the way of your vision. Shakespeare challenges the skeptic inside all of us, encouraging us to see with our mind’s eye. To understand a scope of possibility beyond the thin visage of what is before us. He asks this because he knows people allow themselves to be stifled and distracted from seeing the opportunity.
Understanding creativity requires an acceptance of possibility. We all have perceptions regarding our creative capacity. We judge our potential based on our past efforts and their results. It is essential to have the courage to trust our secret confidence as if nobody was watching. As if nobody could see us fail. Our initial judgment of our capacity is what keeps us from reaching our possibility.
I would like to take a note from Shakespeare and call for a muse of fire that might inspire you to not judge creativity on the results of its process, but instead to take note of the capacity of the method undiscovered.
We progress through ideas in our mind as we go through a play on a stage. There is an almost unconscious need to learn and predict outcomes during every challenge. There are assumptions about the plot and become vested in the emotional highs and lows. We live for a moment in the setting. We experience surprise and adulation for heroic acts and frustration and anger for injustices. There is a world being revealed to us causing us to feel our hearts sink or swell during the process. We take a voyage to faraway places while sitting comfortably in the dark theater of our perception. We have this amazing ability to imagine things beyond our physical reach and experience them honestly as though they’re happening. We experience a lifetime of emotions and evaluate hundreds of potential outcomes. We balance consequences, and we weigh options. We do this constantly. Endless scenarios play out in our minds at almost every moment of our lives. We explore, discover, and act and react within this small stage between our ears. It thrives on the challenge of a goal worthy of it. It’s hungry for the struggle because it was made for the struggle.
Our mind needs to find solutions — whether it’s trying to figure out why there is more matter than antimatter in the observable universe, or deciding what to eat for breakfast. Creativity is our never-ending, continuous act of processing information that results in some action or reaction. It allows us to cope with the unexpected and encourages us to reach for new and better solutions. The key is to let it do its job. And at times allowing it to do its job requires courage.
In creativity, the verb is more important than the noun. We are all creative, so the notion that you are creative isn’t relevant. It is the act of creating that is important, and awareness of this action is critical. We all need to experience ourselves in the creative process. We design and solve problems because we must. We are wired to do so. Every choice we make is based on a process of discovery, evaluation, and risk. We need to open ourselves up to realizing that creativity is key to our development and understanding of the world around us. It is our process of learning.
Everyone has a moment of discovery, a moment when our perception widens, and we realize something that before was unclear. Creativity is a hunger for those moments. It a process fueled by our natural love of discovery.
So why would creativity require courage? There is a fear that comes with exploration at every level. The thing a man walking on the tightrope fears is visible — one miscalculation and he falls to his death. He’s reminded of this fear continuously during the walk across that rope. But during the creative process, we find that we often slip. The concern isn’t as clear and present, but the void below us exists just the same. There is no guarantee of success. On the contrary, it is much easier to realize what could go wrong than it is to trust one’s footing. But in much the same way a tightrope walker often uses a net as a safeguard, we, too, possess a net — one woven from every failure and mistake we’ve made. It’s a net that made of wit and wisdom, and it gets fuller and stronger with every walk.
If we think of our creative process as a problem solving, then we can see that we use it endlessly. Every choice or consideration is part of that process, so creativity is not so much an act as it is a habit. It’s important to think of creativity as an ever-present biological part of our mental process, and not just a tool we can turn on or off.
Someone at one of my workshops asked me a question. “How do you know when it’s okay to turn off your creativity so that you can get some work done?” We often make the mistake of having a limited perspective on creativity. We don’t roam the earth carrying our noses in our pockets, taking them out only when we consciously decide we need to use them. Consider all the smells you would have missed if this was true! You couldn’t consciously realize every moment when you would benefit from a beautiful scent. Creativity is much like this. Our perception is that it’s not a constant part of our awareness. There is a false belief that, for us to be creative, we need to be aware of the act, or prepare ourselves for the execution of an exciting journey. In reality, we will never reach the end of the trip. Creativity is not a tactic; it’s biological and ever-present, endlessly working. Our ability to improve on it requires an understanding of this idea.
I would like to invite you to swim in the deep end of my perceptions of creativity and share my relationship with the creative process. I hope that you will see something within my experience and understandings of it that will help you recall and build on your innovative capacity. So I humbly ask you to dial down your skepticism, ignore your perception of your original worth and bravely explore your creative potential. And like Shakespeare did in his prologue to Henry V, I would like to challenge your impressions of the little theater between our ears.