Photo: Paintings by my friend Edmund Besh on my porch with Mia (big black dog) and Marley (Golden).
Humans like me, you, and everyone we know, are fascinated by getting something of value for nothing. We know free lunches aren't likely, yet we continue to look for and obsess over finding an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I found $100 on the ground riding my bicycle in the country once years ago, so this single exception to no free lunch rule proves instead of endangers the point - there are no free lunches. Everything that has value requires an exchange of value, and creativity is not an exception to that rule.
Despite our human pining, AI doesn't work that way either; AI is not a free lunch because it is all about the prompts. While prompt engineering will become a job, that too speaks to how poorly we understand ChatGPT, at least, and AI, at most. When I ask ChatGPT to help create marketing tag lines, personas, or content, years of marketing experience, and training, write the prompt. ChatGPT doesn't wake up and share million-dollar ideas because that would mean there is such a thing as a free lunch.
ChatGPT is an artist's brush capable of assisting in the creation of great art when held by Picasso, Warhol, or Basquiat, but artificial intelligence and generative AI doesn't paint for us. OpenAI's ChatGPT is helpful if any great artist wants to hug the Internet in a more intimate and faster way than Google, but AI doesn't make us more or less creative. AI is dead net neutral, a blank canvas to mix metaphors confusingly, and that brings us to five things I've learned about creativity. I discovered these creativity lessons the hard way because there is no free lunch.
Why should you trust creativity tips from a bad painter? That's me in my Chicago art studio a lifetime ago in the picture below. Creativity is strange voodoo without a formula or consistent application as explored in our Call-to-Action Flipboard magazine this week, but we know it when we see, feel, and discover it. Here are five things I've learned about creativity:
Work Beats Inspiration
I'll think about ideas for weeks, months, and sometimes years, but writing, painting, brainstorming, or using AI produces an order of magnitude more creativity than thinking. Thinking isn't unimportant because thinking and Inspiration are my next tip, but when I add up HOW and WHERE creativity comes from, it comes mostly from the trial and error associated with any work. If that sounds like there is no such thing as "creatives" and "not creative" people, that's the way I meant it. Watch children playing to know we are all creative and capable of more than we know, appreciate, or understand.
Inspiration and Thinking Matter
I thought about riding a bicycle across America for thirty years. I heard "cancer" and my name in the same sentence and realized it was time to start working on making that dream become a challenging, beautiful, fantastic reality. I pushed away from the Duke Cancer Institute on that sixty day 3,300 mile adventure on the last day of June in 2010 (so Martin's Ride to Cure Cancer is on my mind lately). I've been thinking about writing this post on creativity for a week, and while there will be less than ten percent of my initial thoughts here on this page, thinking made a significant contribution. Starting is the hardest thing any marketing geek or artist does because starting moves our risk meters from zero to something.
Vulnerability & Courage
Starting anything means we are vulnerable. I loved reading Daring Greatly by Bren'e Brown because being vulnerable is where all human creativity lives, whether painting, writing, or using AI. Daring dramatically is easier to write than live because failure, criticism, and rejection are almost as sure as death and taxes. Courage is knowing something is going to hurt and doing it anyway. Confronting our life's fears, pains, dangers, and uncertainties isn't easy to write about, much less do, but those confrontations make life worth living. I read about how you are with yourself and how the world comes to you in Colin Tipping's book Radical Forgiveness, which stuck with me. We are our harshest critics, so Colin taught me to go easy, to forgive, and not be so hard on myself because how we treat ourselves is how the world comes to us. The need for courage and vulnerability also speaks to Simon Sinek's, start with why idea. People connect with your values, struggles, and authentic self, not some manufactured brand with all the imperfections glossed over.
Rocketing down Mt. Monarch in Colorado at more than sixty miles an hour on a bicycle is nuts. Once I started to ride a bike across America, vulnerability increased, but so did the rewards. If I'd crashed and died on Mt. Monarch, it would have been doing something I loved. The math was that simple (but I met Gladwell's 10K rule after riding thousands of miles before leaving Duke).
Some confidence and ego are required to do anything. Freud saw our ego as the mind's mediator, reality tester, and where our sense of identity lives. That mediating voice you hear in your head is really there, and you aren't the only one. The problem is our inner voice can rage and roar, obstructing courage, creativity, and life. A quiet mind doesn't suppress or ignore thoughts but observes them without judgment, letting them pass naturally. Creativity doesn't mean we suspend judgment, but we let things happen and live a little before acceptance or rejection. Great doctors, and I've met and been treated by a few; listen and live with what they hear before putting what you've told them into a locked box. When you find one of those, hang on since they can save your life, and greatness in anything from business to medicine requires creativity, courage, and learning to quiet your ego, your inner voice.
Gladwell's 10K Rule
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell shares psychologist K. Anders Ericsson's study explaining achieving mastery in any skill takes around 10,000 hours of practice. Funny how Gladwell's 10K rule is another way of saying there is no free lunch. Refrain from obsessing over the 10,000 hour number, but understand creativity, like riding a bicycle, needs practice, review, introspection, trial, and error. If you are experiencing face-planting failures frequently, good, that means you're getting more creative. And that's what I think when someone says, "I'm just not a creative person." While we can all be creative, few are willing to do the work, practice, fail, and improve their natural creative instincts. And that's okay because it means I'll still have a job post-ChatGPT or whatever comes next.
I've shared mine now I hope you'll have the courage to share your creativty tips.
martin (at) wte.net
Martin Wescott Smith (on LinkedIn)