I have a question for you? when you look at yourself in the mirror – what do you see?
Would you call yourself a DESIGNER? Yes? No?
Well, let me tell you one thing: I am surrounded by people with their job title Designer, so I am shying away from calling myself also one.
But is that true…?
What does it mean being a designer?
I guess the discomfort for me comes from the word design, that is embedded in the word designer… and I feel probably more comfortable with the concept of creator… although again, that might be a bit arrogant and makes me think of God as being the sole creator in this world.
All of this is falling a bit in a semantic space. So let’s stay grounded with our feet on the ground and discuss this notion of being a designer.
Because in fact, even if I love to draw and am a musician at heart, I have never even dreamt of considering myself as a designer!… until now….
So what has changed?
“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. And the easiest way to confirm this is looking at kids, where inhibition and fear of shame has not taken over (yet) and every child expresses him/herself in their unique attempt to learn more about the world, and they have a lot of fun while doing it
When we get older, some of us decide that they will continue to nurture their creative muscle, that is they use their creativity more openly; while others will have developed thoughts and practice that prevents them to express that instinct openly and freely.
‘The creative adult is the child who survived‘
Ursula K. Le Guin
Being Artistic and being Creative – are they the same?
I believe we get trapped by the association of creativity with something artistic. Similarly to what I mentioned in the beginning that the word designer is too strongly linked to design.
But creativity means creating something, not just physically, like a drawing or a new music composition or playing an instrument, but it means also an intellectual exercise like solving a complex engineering problem. You have to apply your creativity to solve something that nobody has solved before, or leverage the solution found for a similar problem and adapt it creatively to you own problem.
So then, the word creativity really has nothing extraordinary about it and it is the act of thinking about something and being mindful of the process.
Your technique gets better as you go; you apply methods that others have tested and validated before you, and adapt it to your unique style. Discipline is a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
I am a musician myself – even if the only music I am performing today is with my 6 y.o. kids for their piano training and when I sing out loud Vasco Rossi’s songs in the living-room of my house! – and I can state without hesitation that just the instinctive artistic talent does not bring you very far, if you don’t apply an incredible amount of consistent training and repetition.
When I was a child you could often hear this assertion ‘you are so talented in xxx’ and I don’t know if people started saying this less or if it just me, but I grew out of this concept of talent, and instead really embraced the idea of will-power. I am not denying that some people will have an easier time than others in specific tasks, but if this easiness comes from determination to make it happen and being exposed to it more often than not, or if it really is something we are born of… I am not sure.
But bottom line, what I am saying here is that: being artistic and being creative are two different things. They can coexist but don’t have to; and I would stay away from mixing them up with each other!
Being creative is the activity that results into creating something.
If you think about it, we actually create something every day and many times per day even!
Our brain is continuously processing ways to minimise effort and calories burnt, to achieve what our desired end result is. Think about when you drive in traffic and, either you choose to take a different road and your creativity and adventurous spirit pushes you to take some weird side streets (that happens to me a lot BTW), or you decide that, instead of just sitting there staring at the cars in front of you, you can actually make best use of that time by calling an old friend, or making a business call, or just listen to an inspiring audiobook or podcast. Congratulation on leveraging your creative muscle there!
Do we recognize this types of brain activities as an act of creation and creativity? Probably not.
We are much more prone at labelling something as creative when it is out of the ordinary and unique. But then we are probably again using the wrong word. Isn’t it, that something that is out of the ordinary and unique can be classified more as an invention? And yes, to come up with an invention you have to use your creativity, but that should not take away the merit of more routinely activities to also be called creative.
Language is a fascinating thing.
Creativity lives within us, no matter if we decide to leverage it or not. It lives within us either awake or dormant and repressed:
- When we express our creativity we allow ourselves to contribute in our unique way to this world.
- When we neglect it or suffocate it, we might be acting out of fear of others’ or even our owns’ opinion, and struggle to make the contribution that we are capable of.
To create something we need to accept an element of risk and exposure – we are entering a world of uncertainty and have to let go of what others think; we need to choose to be authentic and vulnerable.
Yet, in many societies, conformism and mirroring other people’s behaviour is what is expected from us and encouraged . Standing out and being different is criticised and is seen with worry. Is this affecting how we deal with our own creativity?
Are we blocked by the fear of what other people think of us? Is just the thought of what could happen, triggering to stay in the back instead of standing up for what we believe and want to be seen?
The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born out of our creativity. So if we don’t get to peace with our own vulnerability we risk that the world will never benefit of that unique contribution we are here to give.
And like anything else in life, our vulnerability and consequent creativity muscle needs to be exercised continuously and consistently to get good at it, to function automatically. So if we want to make meaning, we better start create right now! Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, take pictures, make collages, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.
Let your energy flow.
Letting Go of What Others Think of You
I want to stay for a minute on the biggest pain point that prevents us to be our true selves; I want us to reflect on the affirmation ‘choose to let go of what others think‘; which I realise can provoke a cognitive dissonance, as it is at odds with how we as humans are wired.
Why do we care about what other people think of us?
The notion of caring about others’ opinion has primal evolutionary roots: when our ancestors shared the planet with woolly mammoths and dangerous tigers, no one wanted to get left behind: a group of humans would have a better chance to survive the attack of a wild animal than a lonely human. When humans were still hunters and gatherers, they found strength in numbers. Humans who were able to develop strong group relationships had an increased chance of survival. Group inclusion was necessary. And to be accepted by a group, mirroring behaviour and acting as the group was expecting you to, gave you higher chances of belonging and be one of them.
But survival is not the only driver of belonging. We are motivated to develop strong social relationships because these improve the quality and add meaning to our lives. Relationships nourish us both physically and emotionally. They provide us with a sense of identity and security. We have a strong need to belong and we fulfil this need through connections with friends, family, colleagues and the community we live in.
So given the above, our attention to others’ opinion and how they react to our actions is a fundamental skill we have to thrive in our lives. We are quick at sensing moods and state of mind of others just through observations of body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal communication signals. These skills are to be protected and nurtured.
The issue arises when others’ opinions become an obstacle to our own self-acceptance.
I love Brene Brown’s distinction between fitting in and belonging: Brene says that when we ‘fit in’, as opposed to ‘belong’, we acclimate to the situation, instead of standing for our authentic self.
“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be, to be accepted.
Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”
Trying to fit in, in the pursue of being accepted, is about choosing to behave and act the way others would expect, want, or even need us to act – not the way we would naturally choose. We are not being authentic to ourselves in the attempt to get somebody else’s approval and acceptance of us.
This is not only unhealthy, because you are denying and burying you very own identity, but it is also dangerous since we are focusing our efforts in an area that is outside our sphere of influence: what other people will think of us.
When worrying about what other people think of us is not serving us and is instead preventing us to express our true self, we have to take a step back and be mindful about where our thoughts are leading us.
Become aware and conscious of your thoughts. Without judgement. Try to understand what the origin of that thought is. Is it serving you and empowering you? or is it holding you back? It all starts with you being aware. Are you downplaying your creativity because somebody told you that adulthood does not allow room for creativity? Or any other ‘lie’ that convinced you that you would be better of repressing that creative nerve and focus on being a good soldier/citizen/…
Our thoughts drive our feelings, which drive our actions. So pay attention to you thoughts.
What I am trying to say here, is that if our thoughts tell you that you are not creative, you will feel uncomfortable expressing your creativity and will avoid situations and opportunities where you have to show up and be seen with your creative hat on.
If, on the other hand, you stop for a second and become mindful of your thought process and ask yourself the question: is it true? Is it true that I am not creative? that I have not created anything ever? You will wake up to that beautiful realisation that you are a creative. You do create, every day. And that the fear of others’ judgement and how you will feel about it after they have ‘judged’ you, is what is holding you back. And we got to let go of it.
Move, dance, laugh, hug and express with your own unique style.
Awaken that inner child that lives within you and make it surprise you.
Embrace the Designer that Lives within You
So, To Sum It Up.
Everyone is a designer. We can be and are the master creator of our own lives and creations, and being kind to ourselves and appreciating small and big acts of creativity nurtures our self-esteem and self-love. So do that.
The one concept that bridged the gap for me between being ‘someone who enables design solutions to become real products’ (as I used to define myself in my role as Head of Innovation) and being a “designer” is to be mindful of the process.
What does it mean? It means paying attention not only to the WHAT work you do, but also of the HOW you do it.
Every time, be observant of what works and what you can improve in you method, so that next time you can do it even better.
And you? are you practicing your creative nerve? I have created a resource to help you train and keep practicing your creativity. Click the link below to access it!
Get Chiara's Free Resource To Practice Your Creative Muscle
Grab a free copy of My Creativity Resource ‘4 Steps to Practice Your Creativity’.
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