Debunking The Creativity Myths: 4 Reasons Why Creatives Will Thrive in the 21st Century

I love working with creatives to help you achieve success in today’s ever-changing landscape!  I firmly believe that we live in an age where creatives can not only make a living from their creativity but also thrive.  Yet, creativity myths pervade our culture. These myths cast doubt on the importance and sustainability of creativity in the 21st Century. Let’s examine the facts and debunk 4 top creative myths so that you can put your best work out there.

Creativity Myth Number 1: Creativity is a nice but not necessary trait for artists

For many people, creativity as siphoned off to the arts. It’s easy to see why: a great painting, an inspirational piece of music, an exquisite ballet are clear manifestations of new ideas.  But creativity is a lot more than inspiration for the arts.

Reality: Creativity is an essential, wide-ranging 21st Century skill

For starters, creativity is now recognized as a critical skill for the future of the 21st Century workforce.

A 2010 IBM survey of 1500 global CEO’s revealed that creativity was the number one skill required to navigate the uncertainties of the global economy. The World Economic Forum now cites creativity as the third most important skill  that companies are seeking in the next 5 years.

And while creativity resides our artists, musicians, designers and writers, it extends well beyond the arts to many sectors where actualizing new ideas is critical to success.

Richard Florida has coined the term the Creative Class, the people who create “new ideas, new technologies or creative content”. The creative class spans design, education, arts, music , and entertainment, but also extends to scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and architects. The Creative Class in the US is estimated at 40 million people and growing, comprising one-third of the workforce.

Creativity Myth Number 2: The Eureka Moment

Another pervasive creativity myth is the eureka or aha moment: that creativity is a burst of genius idea:

Isaac Newton discovering the theory of gravity while sitting under a tree and getting hit on the head with an apple.

Mozart producing his symphonies in one brilliant sweep of the pen.

Indeed, we tend to romanticize creative genius. This is understandable because the public only sees the end product of creativity, not the process.

Reality: Creativity involves hard-work and multiple cognitive processes

Creativity is much more than a burst of brilliant ideas that come from nowhere. In fact,  the iconic myths of the eureka moment are wrong!  Isaac Newton labored for nearly 20 years before writing up his theory of gravity and Mozart’s own process was nuanced and labored.

Indeed, the research on and the practice of creativity show that creativity is a complex, non-linear, messy process.  The entire creative process involves multiple regions of the brain   that interact both consciously and unconsciously.

Having a great idea is just the start of a creative process. Creativity involves defining the right problem to solve, experimenting, risk-taking, reframing, developing ideas, putting ideas together in new ways, incubating to leave time for ideas to evolve and mature and refining the product until it is just right.

Creativity Myth Number 3: The Mad, Miserable Artist

A corollary to the genius creative is the creative myth of the mad, miserable genius.

Think Van Gogh, cutting off his ear and languishing in an insane asylum in the South of France.

Or tortured souls like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Wolff who ultimately committed suicide.

But is this so? Are creative people mad and miserable?

Reality: Creativity promotes happiness and well-being

There is  some correlation between mental illness and the creation of art.  However, a large body of research shows that creativity contributes to a sense of well-being and happiness.

Creativity feels good! In fact, the research shows that people who engage in creative activities experience positive emotions.

Creative people experience Flow, another indicator of well-being.  Flow is the state of optimal experience described by psychologist Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi, of total immersion in a complex activity of creation where one’s skill level meets the challenge at hand that you are intrinsically motivated to pursue.

Resilience is a major indicator of well-being. And creative people tend to be resilient in the face of challenge.

Creatives also feel a deep sense of purpose.  Csikszentmihalyi finds that creativity is “full-blast living”.  He further observes that

Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. …Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity.

Creativity Myth Number 4: The Starving Artist

Many people still think of the starving artists in La Bohème and Rent as the model for making one’s living as a creative artist.  As in, you can’t. And many traditional career paths are in decline due to the myriad changes ushered in by the Information Age and the Digital Revolution with free access to information.

Reality: Today’s economy provides many opportunities for creatives

Not surprisingly, with creativity as an essential 21st Century skill, we now speak of the Creative Economy, now recognized as a significant force in the world economy. The Creative Economay encompasses diverse sectors of advertising, architecture, arts and crafts, design, fashion, film, video, photography, music, performing arts, publishing, research & development, software,computer games, electronic publishing, and TV/radio.

On a practical level, there are many good jobs for creative thinkers.  These opportunities exist from the arts and sciences to the tech world. And data show that 46% of arts graduates earn over $50,000/year.

Moreover, while the Digital Revolution has eliminated jobs, it has also created many opportunities for creative people.  In the music business, for example, you can still have a label release your recording but digital technologies make it possible to write, distribute, market, promote and access music without the need for intermediaries. The result has been new ways to generate revenue as a musician.

Finally, thanks to their flexible way to thinking and solving problems, creatives have a leg up in spotting opportunities and creating their own career paths.

Good News for Creatives

In debunking these 4 creativity myths, the facts show that creativity is a highly-valued skill set that drives a significant portion of the global economy. It does not depend on a random stroke of genius but rather on inspired hard work that creatives dive into, fueled by a sense of purpose and meaning with the potential for well-being and happiness—and a job that pays.

If you are part of today’s creative world, celebrate your potential and keep putting your best work out there!