The architect Le Corbusier is a great example of how the creative mind does things.
He shunned the regular working day, choosing instead to split his day into his own regime, working alone on his own ideas, drawings and contemplations in the morning, and then collaborating with his team of skilled employees and draughtsmen in the afternoon.
Through years of work, he knew that this was the way he produced his best designs, and woe betide anyone who got in his way – if you were a minute late for the afternoon meeting, you were severely reprimanded. He was then home by early evening, ready for some relaxation and socializing with family and friends.
Le Corbusier know what worked for him, and exhibited a number of traits that are frequently seen in highly creative people. He chose to design his life around the creative process so he could get the most out of it, but also understood that he could not do it alone, and knew that thought, rest, and play were as important for creativity as work.
They know themselves
If you want to be creative then you have to have the ability to understand yourself, your working practices, and, importantly, your faults.
01. They create a custom work routine and stick with it
The business day, nine to five, was designed purely so everyone was doing everything at the same time – trains carried commuters in the mornings and evenings, people would answer the phones, and everyone could work together. Nowadays, with telecommuting, a global economy, and modern communication this isn’t as important. Therefore there is no real reason it should be when you work.
The most creative people in the world have almost never kept to simple 9-5 hours.
As we have seen previously, early hours are a common theme in creative people. Emmanuel Kant got up at 5am each morning to start work, and most writers find the breaking dawn and waking mind ideal for creation.
Lately, later hours are more common, particularly among creative in the design industry or developers. But basically, if the option is available to you, work whenever you feel the best. This might be early morning, or it might be throughout the night, but finding the right routine for you own creative mind is important to get the most out of your abilities.
However, I would recommend not burning the candle at both ends. Again, the most creative people throughout history have always known that is it as important for the mind to rest, and play, as it is for it to work.
Unfortunately, modern life seems to reward people who are work-machines.
We idolize those people who work all hours and focus entirely on that. Though they may be quickly successful, in the long term such people will burn out.
Your brain and body needs the time to recuperate and relax for you to come up with the best ideas and be the most creative. This may be as simple as setting a strict work routine and making sure your work stays within those boundaries, or you mind might need more reinvigoration each day. If so, meditation is highly prevalent within the creative community. Sting, David Lynch, and Hugh Jackman are all meditators, and just a few minutes per day of contemplative thought can improve the brain’s ability to think creatively.
When all of this comes together, then the best minds get in the zone. Easily one of the most important traits that the most creative people exhibit is the ability to get lost on their work and go with the flow. This ability to get in the zone, remove outside distractions and get on with their work is obviously important for success. But it is also one of the most difficult to master and requires a lot of things to go right. But if you can figure out, over time, what works for you and what doesn’t then you will start to find those moments when you look up from your work and realize the day has gone by without you noticing becoming more and more frequent.
02. They can recognize their worst work, not just their best
As important as it is to know how you work best, it is as important to recognize when you are not performing at your optimum. Highly creative people are often easily bored as their minds are always after something to occupy them. Again, they might therefore create specific routines to make sure they always stay on task and concerned with the matter at hand. Either that, or they will build their lives and work around multiple smaller activities to make sure they do not get too bogged down and bored with one at a time.
As they can get bored easily, creative people can often be the world’s most willful procrastinators.
Though they should be doing one thing, their minds are often off on something else and they can get easily distracted. This leads to the bad version of above – when you look up from YouTube and realize the day has gone by. Again, specific rituals and routines can abate this and make sure that they get the code, article, presentation, etc. done on time, even if it is at the last minute. After all, the greatest inspiration is the deadline.
03. They have a healthy appetite for new experiences
A theme among highly creative people is that will try and surround themselves with beauty, and can see the beauty everywhere, even in the most mundane of circumstances.
Synesthesia might give us a clue here. Synesthesia is a condition where senses get confused and overlap. Synesthetes can therefore ‘see’ sounds, or ‘feel’ tastes (One synesthete described chicken as ‘spiky’) and it is a condition prevalent in some of the most creative people in history.
The painter Kandinsky was a synesthete, as was the writer Nabokov. For these people, every day words or objects can have different colours or sounds associated with them that are out of reach for most people. It may be that a lower-level version of this is prevalent in most creative people, giving them the ability to see perceive objects, words, and numbers in ways that we cannot understand.
Another common theme in creative people is that their creativity is not restricted to one single outlet.
Einstein was a keen violinist and would take his beloved violin everywhere he travelled around the world. Perhaps because they have such an active mind, they need multiple ways to satiate their diet of creativity. You should look to express yourself in as many ways as possible, and to search out new avenues for creative and artistic expression.
04. They know what they don’t like
Once you know what you do like, and what gets your creative juices flowing, you should try and find out what dams your mind and stops you from expressing yourself.
A lot of creative people have issues around boundaries and rules.
In particular, they don’t like to follow pointless rules and will often try to circumvent rules they do not think they need to follow.
The French impressionists of the late nineteenth century are a good example of people who didn’t play by the rules and didn’t like the boundaries that their world was imposing on them. Their work was so abstract by the standards of the time, that it was was shunned and rejected by the top galleries. This didn’t stop them however, and now Monet, Renoir, and Degas are the most famous names from the time.
I’m not saying you should step out and break all the rules going, but be wary of the constraints upon you, and see where you can break, or at least bend, any rules that are hurting your creativity.
05. They take risks, and they fail
Being able to fail is a big part of any creativity. No one is good on their first go, so the ability to deal with failure, and learn from mistakes is imperative if you want to succeed. Essentially, successful people play the law of averages, choosing to try as much as possible knowing that eventually something will stick. In this way they are prolific.
Whereas most people will get disheartened after failing once or twice, successful people know that they have to be friends with failure to get through to success on the other side.
Just as you have to be friends with failure, you have to be ready to take risks if you are to be successful creatively. They don’t limit themselves and go out on a limb, seeing that the reward is often worth taking this risk. A common theme with successful people in any sphere of human endeavor is the ability to step up to a challenge. Whereas most people will shy away from obstacles in their life, successful people will see these as challenges to overcome and will push themselves. These highly creative people often is life as something to be grabbed and challenged rather than something to shrink away from.
They are good at not giving in and stubbornly pressing ahead, even after failure. You might call this pigheadedness, or you might call it optimism, but it is vital if you want to succeed. After any failure you have to move on quickly and not dwell on issues or problems.
Though you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure, you should embrace it when it comes. The learning experience from mistakes is important for your next idea and to fuel your creativity.
06. They aren’t afraid to daydream
Daydreaming has negative connotations in society. Daydreamers are seen as unproductive and unintelligent. But daydreaming is one of the most important habits that we have, especially for creative people. Daydreaming is just allowing your imagination free rein within your brain. When you allow your brain some downtime, it can significantly improve your creative abilities. It might even improve your memory. Never be worried or ashamed that you daydream, as what you are really doing is allowing your brain to do what it does best – think.
Sometimes even thinking is frowned upon. But highly creative people usually enjoy just thinking. We often see it as weird if someone is content to sit there, quietly, just inside their own head, but creativity requires this focus and thought to germinate. These kind of people are also the type who think for fun. You might find that they enjoy a puzzle or a crossword, and you are likely to find them at the local pub on quiz night.
So let your mind wander and see what it comes up with.
07. They take in the world around them
When they are not daydreaming and letting their minds work, they should be watching the world go round and fueling the fire of creativity. Curiosity is paramount for a highly creative person. Painters will understand how people move, and writers will understand how people speak. They take in their surroundings and draw inspiration from anything and everything around them.
Personal experience is important as well.
The more you do in in your life, the more your mind will be able to create.
New experiences are really opportunities for creative people, more inspiration to draw on. Though you might prefer to sit at home in front of a computer, notepad, or canvas, it if better to first go out and experience something new so that you have adventures to describe.
08. They have confidence
Though the concept of creativity is often closely linked to the arts, and only a handful of people are considered creative within society, I actually think that almost everyone has significant creative capacity, and it is only a lack of confidence that holds them back. Usually this confidence is eroded early in life when they were told their ideas just weren’t up to snuff, but however it happened, most people have zero confidence in their own creative abilities.
The people that do are the people that succeed. Having confidence in your abilities is also closely linked to the capacity to fail.
If you are confident that you are on the right track, then you are more likely to be able to take criticism and negative feedback well and to learn from your mistakes.
Of course, you also need the confidence to push ahead with your ideas even in the face of criticism, and this is a fine line to tread. But, again, it doesn’t matter if you fail, just as long as you learn from the failure for your next idea.
For a highly creative person, this ability to trust themselves, and to trust that they know what they are doing and to be able to perform each time, means that they can keep going, even when others are telling them to stop.
They also know that sometimes they are their own worst enemies. Sabotaging yourself with procrastination or anxiety is very common and an issue that more creative people get past. This might be through changes to your routine, or the simple ability to learn from mistakes and to see how you are getting better with each new idea.
09. They aren’t afraid to ask questions
You have to be curious if you are to be creative. Creative people are always asking questions and asking the right questions. Whereas they might spend a lot of time in their own heads, they also need to understand what is in other peoples. This is can often be the difference between success and failure. The best understand that they need guidance and are humble – they do not know it all and understand their own limitations.
Part of this might be realizing when other people can do something better than you. Building the best team to attack the task at hand is a much better strategy than trying to attempt everything yourself. Top companies built by luminaries such as Steve Jobs at Apple, Bill Gates at Microsoft, or Elon Musk at Tesla or SpaceX are testament to this. They may all be highly creative individuals, but they know that to really succeed, they need the brightest minds around them.
Having teams or collaborations is not just a matter of filling skills gaps either. Teams allow you to see more connections and to bounce ideas off other thinkers, meaning more problems can be discovered, and ultimately solved.
Creativity grows with knowledge and you need constant fuel for the creativity fire. The more questions you ask, the smarter you are going to get, and the better ideas you are going to have. Though it is seen as a sign of weakness to ask questions and admit “I don’t know”, actually it requires a lot of confidence to submit to another. But the more you do it, the more questions you ask, the more creative you will become.
10. They follow their dreams
You are far more likely to be creative in an area that you truly enjoy and love, rather than in a job that you have no real desire for. Though you can definitely find love for any work you do, most creative people choose to follow the path of their passions, no matter how difficult that might be.
You might be told to get a real job, but if you choose to follow your true passions, then that is more of a real job to you than anything else could ever be.
Over to you
Though highly creative people do many things differently, it is not that they are doing anything special. The ability to think and act creatively comes down to having good knowledge of yourself and the best working practices for you, and to have the confidence to challenge yourself. It is also about deciding to take those risks, follow those dreams, and to learn to deal with failure. No one like to fail, but it is a vital process in learning and as long as you can learn from mistakes, then you are always progressing.
If you want to push yourself into the highly creative category, then know your weaknesses and know your strengths – from there, as long as you have genuine creative wanderlust and want to ask questions and explore the world, you will have the right recipe for creativity.