Unnecessary creativity unlocks the dormant portions of our brain that then become available when we need them for necessary creativity.
This week I am inspired by the Accidental Creative by Todd Henry (Penguin Group, 2011). To begin, the definition of a ‘creative’ is not limited to sculptors and writers. A creative is anyone who, with their hands or their minds creates something new. One of the many ideas gleaned from this book was the concept of Unnecessary Creativity, which turns out to be very necessary in order to maximize our effectiveness at ‘necessary creativity’.
Creating for yourself (the definition of unnecessary creativity) rather than creating for others is the means by which we can get in touch with the passions that fuel our best work. Your personal creativity (think broadly) is the most important aspect that you bring to your work. This personal creativity is what makes us special; this individual contribution is what makes us indispensable and irreplaceable in the workplace. If we lose touch with our personal creativity, we lose the benefits, and our performance even starts to decline because we start to get bored, lose our passion and our purpose.
Doing creative work outside of work may be the ticket to creative freedom at work. When we create unnecessarily, we set our own agenda; we can try new things, develop new skills. Failure is totally an option—who is going to know? Take your time, stretch, explore the things that intimidate you.
One benefit of unnecessary creating is the opportunity to experience flow*—the sensation of getting lost in your work. Flow comes from doing work that challenges your skills and using your full creative capacity. This only comes when you are taking risks and stretching yourself without limits. Spending time in flow allows you to access parts of your creativity that are lying dormant, that are rarely used. When these spaces are opened, they are available for your at-work creativity—what is referred to as ‘on-demand creativity’.
You might recognize similar inspiration that comes from reading a good book, watching a movie, going to an art museum or a play. You may recognize the pleasure that comes from building something like a set of shelves or doing landscaping, or making home-movies. These out-of-work creative activities lend themselves to your at-work creativity, either by releasing the unspent creativity or even through cross-talk in which one creative endeavor informs another. A mixing of your necessary and unnecessary creative activities increases your capacity at both.
“Yeah, right”, you are thinking, “I have time to take on a hobby, to build new shelves, landscape, or join a book club”. The experience of those who have taken on this strategy (and our own intellectual reflection on the times when we have had an alternative creative outlet) will tell us that unnecessary creativity actually clarifies our thoughts, makes us more efficient, re-introduces a passion for our on-demand creativity, and often provides insight to feed our necessary creativity.
Taking on a creative activity outside of work need not be a time burden (and it may even increase your efficiency). Even an hour a week is enough to see the benefits. However, to really make unnecessary creativity a part of our busy lives, we’ve got to schedule it. The added benefits of intentionally scheduled time are that it won’t feel like procrastination; we have the ability to look forward to an activity, and we are more likely to reflect on the value of that activity.
What’s on your list of creative and stimulating activities? Write them down. Add to this list whenever you feel inspired. Look at your schedule and choose a time when you can get started. When you choose a creative activity, don’t look for those connections to your on-demand creativity or try to do creative activity that you think will enhance your work performance. Don’t do what others are asking you to do. Do what you want. Just do what you love. The benefits will show themselves in unexpected ways.
*Coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi