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Does creativity mean the opposite of being systematic?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Does creativity mean the opposite of being systematic?

Scott Miker

I often hear of people resist systematic improvement due to their worry they will ultimately lose their creativity.  They view these things as opposites and assume striving towards one will loosen the other.

But this isn’t true.  If we look at some of the most creative people in history, we usually find that they are extremely dedicated to their craft and follow set patterns throughout their career.

A breakthrough scientific discovery might get labeled as being highly creative.  What happened to get to that point, though, were usually years and years of hard work in a very detail-oriented manner, not some stroke of random genius.

Most famous musicians would spend hours honing their craft.  They would practice for years before they even had the opportunity to create on a major scale.  They would practice the mundane scales and patterns, and then master those before their creative works ever came to light. 

Years ago I had a friend who decided to start playing the guitar.  One day I mentioned that I would be happy to teach him some basic chords and scales to help him improve his playing.  He turned the offer down because he wanted to be more creative than anyone who knows how to play the guitar properly.  His idea of creativity was to be completely different from what already exists.  But most people who heard him play would say that he wasn’t creative and just needed to learn how to actually play the guitar. 

So is creativity a complete move away from any sort of familiarity?  I don’t feel it is.  I feel randomness and creativity are completely different concepts and being void of any practical meaning or familiarity gets too far into the “random” arena than the creative.  Too often people confuse randomness with creativity. 

So if you want to be creative, if you want to bring something unique to the world, don’t assume you have to find some random genius.  The reality is that true creativity usually comes after years and years of hard work.  It comes from systematic improvement and a growing understanding of something, not from an avoidance of any structure. 

Famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, said in his book Flow, that “a genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a light bulb flashing in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.”

Taking this approach, we don’t ignore what structure is already there; we master what is there to further the reach into the undiscovered.  And in order to master something, we have to be willing to learn and improve systematically, whether in mastering a musical instrument, furthering science, writing a book or anything else that requires creativity. 

Taking steps to systematically improve can help with creativity.  Despite the false assumption that creativity is just a stroke of random genius, real creativity comes from hard work and a focus on improvement.  Then the randomness that naturally happens might just be the little extra spark that helps see what you mastered in a new, creative way.  Without mastering first, the randomness doesn’t have the proper meaning and would likely go unnoticed.