Yesterday I went to "Your Brain on the Internet
," a discussion that was part of the New Yorker Festival. I got at least one $30 idea out of the deal: The computer scientist Jaron Lanier noted, almost in passing, that the people he knows don't achieve creativity
by trying to do something novel. They achieve it by being more themselves.
The comment immediately sparked a flurry of thoughts, none of which may have had anything to do with what he meant by the comment, but here they are.
In computational terms, one can see each person's brain as a solution to a problem. (It could be called the problem of life.) Some aspects of the problem are common--object recognition, for example--and so everyone shares a similar solution. Your brain identifies a chair using processes similar to the ones mine has developed (and to some degree inherited). But some aspects of the problem are unique to each person's situation--navigating to one's school, relating to one's parents, etc. And so we each have solutions--skill sets--different from everyone else's. Get in touch with that skill set and you'll be tapping into a font of useful originality.
The requirements for creativity are that something be both A) novel and B) good. Consciously trying to meet those two goals can lead to overthinking and at times inauthenticity and maybe even creative blocks. But if you just shush what you perceive to be the outside standards of goodness and newness, and you stay true to what you think is right, most of it will be useful and some of it will be new. Because all cognition is part of a solution and a lot of it is part of your unique solution. Some of it may act as a solution in other people's lives, that that's what they'll call creative.
I immediately thought of two examples from my own life.
First is writing. I would love to be the kind of fresh voice Tom Wolfe was a generation ago. But aiming at freshness is the wrong challenge. Good writing isn't about identifying conventions and studiously breaking them. (Although that can be a good exercise with sometime surprising results.) So instead, I try to make my writing as true as possible--getting at what I consider most essential in things--and also as entertaining--to me--as possible. I write things that satisfy my own taste. Sometimes this puts me out on minor limbs, which I realize after I've written a sentence or described an analogy, but if I have conviction in it then I go with it. My brain has found and continues to find interesting solutions to all kinds of problems--interesting ways of making sense of life--and I'm just sharing them. In the editing process I cut out the ones that might be too obscure for people who aren't inside my head. In general, the idea is to find your natural voice. Otherwise what you say will ring false.
The other example that came to me was my dancing, specifically my poi spinning. A lot of my learning has consisted of flailing around on my roof, not trying in a focused way to learn specific new moves. Just experimenting and going with what feels good to my body, letting it solve problems naturally. I've been told after performing that my style is unique, and that it's good. I guess this means it's creative. It comes from fucking around when no one's watching and dancing how I feel like dancing.
I'm just trying to be me, as intensely as I can.