What makes ‘creativity’ so elusive? How we can overcome it

Lessons learned, as a startup founder: Don’t let a lack of creativity mire you in mediocrity. Everyone has it in them, we just need to figure out how to tap into it.

In fact, creativity isn’t elusive at all.  We’ve been conditioned, from a very young age, to believe that some people are born creative and others are not.  That creativity is innate.  Even the dictionary definition of creativity allows us to inadvertently perpetuate the myth.  The first listed definition for creativity is “the quality of being creative”, which lends itself right into our conditioned belief that creativity is exclusive.  The second listing is the more appropriate definition- “the ability to create”.  No matter how you look at it, that defines us all, in one way or another.

Creativity: the ability to create  – Merriam-Webster’s

We all have the ability to create.  What we create is completely up to us, and need not be a painting, sculpture, or sheet music.  We create things everyday.  Maybe you developed a new filing system at work, a unique approach to calling on sales prospects, or a trick to get your kids to finish dinner.  Or maybe you solved the most elusive of all quandaries: getting out of bed without hitting ‘Snooze’.  It’s time you gave yourself credit for your creativity.

How I discovered that I’m creative

Just over a year ago, I left a sales/business development position to co-found a web startup.  In doing so, I was forced into all kinds of new roles- web development manager, product manager, marketing director, graphic designer, and many more (None of which had actual titles).  All of which I would’ve turned down in the past, because they were “outside of my core competency” or they would be better left to “the creative types”.  Scary as it sounds, it was great because I had no choice.  I had to be creative.  My co-founders, our staff, our investors, and my future all depended on it.

We have to “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.”*

 –Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Co-Founder

Fortunately, it was months before it even dawned on me that I was being creative, so I didn’t have the chance to fall into my old, comfortable habit of deferring to “creatives”.  The confidence that I’ve gained in my creativity has opened tons of new doors, in business and in my personal life.  Mostly, those doors opened because I’m now open to at least giving it a shot.  Designing web applications, writing marketing plans, launching a social media campaign, making a birthday card instead of buying one, or writing this blog are all things that wouldn’t have happened without my eyes being opened to the fact I do have the ability to create.

3 Steps to Tapping Into Your Creativity

1. Take inventory of the things that you’ve created lately

We stick with activities where we excel. Read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, if you need proof and case studies.  Quickly take inventory of all of the things that you’ve created.  Even just a mental inventory will do.  This will provide a bit of confidence, motivation and momentum.

2. Start creating

Have a purpose and a parameter or two before you get started, but Get Started! A blank page should mean that there’s no boundaries and you’re free to release ideas into the world at will.  In reality, it’s paralyzing. The truth is that limitations actually channel our creativity.  Think about when you’re trying to choose a restaurant to go for dinner- it’s all but impossible.  But if you know you want Italian, you can quickly narrow down and pick the best place.  The same is true with idea creation.

Equally important is that one idea leads to another and another, so start getting something on paper.  See the evolution of the Facebook user interface for a really great example of ideas building on one another and gaining momentum.

3. Start shipping

Almost as soon as you start creating, start getting your ideas and creations out into the world.  Fight the urge to obsess over making them perfect.  I recently wrote a marketing plan that really amounted to a glorified outline.  It was taking longer than I anticipated and I’d hit a wall.  I stared at it, made a few cosmetic adjustments, thought about the changes that needed to be made… And then, in a brief moment of clarity, I saved it, attached it, and hit Send.  Rather than making all of the changes myself, which would have probably taken another 3 days before I deemed it up to par, I sent it to the team to start a dialogue and build on what I had started.  I did the same with the first post I published on this blog and it received 3,200 reads in less than 48 hours (I’ve since made some adjustments, but it was critical to get it out in the world).

An added piece of this puzzle is that our projects need to have clear end points, in order to make continued progress.  Without an end point, you open yourself up to procrastination, distractions, guilt, stress, and few problems solved.  Get it done.  Get it out the door.  And the innovation and iteration will flow naturally.

According to a recent study sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation and presented at the annual 99% Conference, 62% of traditional ‘creative’ types consider themselves to be entrepreneurial.  They’re proving that the same skills they were told were exclusive to us ‘right brain’ types, can be learned and embraced.  If they can do it, so can we.  And the middle ground that we achieve in the process of trying will lead to awesome project collaborations.

Find Ryan Clifford on Twitter, or learn more here.



  1. Great post. I was the dubbed “the creative one” when my sister and I were little because I liked to draw, paint, etc. – and now I realize that my sister exercises her creativity far more often than I do.

    In the corporate position I’m currently in, “being creative” is pretty limited to the badass filing-system type of creativity, but I’ve been trying to push myself to get out there with my illustrations, design, etc. Totally hung up on the third point – you can spend FOREVER tweaking something, I guess! Need to hit send one of these days. Thanks for sharing 🙂 -Laura

    1. Unlike you, I was never dubbed “the creative one”. And despite believing everything I wrote in the post, I’m still a terrible artist, as far as painting, drawing, crafts are concerned. Keep on being badass! And thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. I cannot stress enough the importance of just writing, writing, writing (or whatever your preferred creative niche may be). Whether you feel like it or not, whether you feel inspired or not.You might end up producing 90% crap, but the 10% you do get out is better than nothing at all. Keep the juices flowing.

  3. Reblogged this on L3GACI.

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