What Is Creativity?

“I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

If I could keep track of how many times in a week I hear that when others learn that I am a coach working with creatives and issues in creativity, I’d likely have a list to rival most.

The traditional definition of creativity slants toward the most obvious: painters, sculptors, artists, singers…  You get the idea.  These descriptions stem from times when “creativity” was thought of as the dominion of persons like Rembrandt, Picasso, or Michelangelo.  In recent decades, the idea of creativity has expanded to encompass the growth of the technological industry.  It’s quite common now to hear web designers, graphic artists, and coding experts called creatives.

But what if you don’t fall into any of those categories?  What if you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad who manages a household, balances a budget, raises a family, and in your “spare time” try to get the living room repainting done?  Are you creative as well?


Time management, organization, and juggling multiple schedules takes no small amount of creativity to manage.  As the introduction to my coaching website indicates, we are, every one of us, born creative.  That component of ourselves manifests in different ways for different people.  For instance, in the past I have not been very adept at financial management for my household.  I tended toward impulsivity, and sometimes found myself short-funded at the end of the month.  One of my clients – mother of 5 and a stay-at-home mom – contacted me about helping her with a desire she had to start painting watercolors again, once her children had gotten to ages where they didn’t require constant supervision.  In the course of our conversation, she uttered the words, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

I smiled at her.

“So, tell me how you manage to feed your family, pay the bills, and maintain upkeep on your house every month?”

“Easy,” she said.  “I have a way with numbers and can make a dollar go a long, long way.”

“That’s very creative of you,” I said.

I watched the idea spark a light in her eyes.  I asked her to show me how she worked her monthly budget so that there was enough to get things done with a little left over to go into a savings account for emergencies.  Over the following hour and a half, she dazzled me with her innate knowledge of how to make her money work for her and her family.  In the process, I learned several things that I borrowed from her – with permission – to implement in my own attempts at budget-keeping.  Afterward, she admitted that I had opened her eyes to what “creativity” could mean, other than her desire to begin painting again.  When we ran into each other several months later, it was like seeing a brand new person.  She had expanded her newly discovered “creativity” into other areas of her life, including creating a schedule in which she devoted two hours of watercolor painting a week.  Once she had removed the limitations to her thinking, she freed herself to see creativity – and her world – much differently.

Creativity is defined as ‘the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.’ (Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken, page 396)

Here are three reasons why people are motivated to be creative:

  • need for novel, varied, and complex stimulation
  • need to communicate ideas and values
  • need to solve problems (page 396)

In order to be creative, we need to be able to view things in new ways or from a different perspective. Among other things, we need to be able to generate new possibilities or new alternatives. Tests of creativity measure not only the number of alternatives that people can generate but the uniqueness of those alternatives. the ability to generate alternatives or to see things uniquely does not occur by change; it is linked to other, more fundamental qualities of thinking, such as flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity or unpredictability, and the enjoyment of things heretofore unknown. (page 394)

In short, once we expand our definition of what we perceive to be “creative,” we find ourselves with new ways to express our innate creativity.  Once we begin recognizing our creativity in not only daily endeavors but in focused tasks, the more able we are to cultivate it in surprising new ways.

Sometimes we merely have to give ourselves permission to see differently.

How can you recognize your creativity today?