THE BLOG
06/12/2010 10:18 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Is Creativity Anyway?

Have you ever had the thought, "I'm not creative. I can't even draw a straight line"? If so, you're not alone. Many people think that there is some essential relationship between creativity and the ability to make art. If they can't paint like Picasso, sing like Josh Groban, or sculpt like Henry Moore, they don't dare claim to be creative. It feels like an arrogant thing to say about yourself, if you're not an expert, not making a living from your creations, not well-known and publicly acclaimed for your imaginative gifts.

Why, when creativity is our very birthright, do so few of us feel creative? Why, when we're asked to think of someone creative, do we rarely think about ourselves, but of the public figures that have defined creativity over the years? We think of Monet, Mozart, Jackson Pollack, Martha Graham, Ansel Adams, always the figureheads, when the real truth is that every one of us is a born creator. That's the hallmark of being human: the ability to create, to turn something invisible into something visible, to forge a poem out of a feeling or a song out of a sorrow.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, says that creativity doesn't happen in our heads but in the interaction between our imagination and our social context. It's a matter of experience and response, a matter of relationship to others and a commentary on the significance of our encounters. Creativity is the vivid expression of who we are in the world--our imagination begets our thoughts, our thoughts beget our words, our words beget our actions, our actions beget our experience, our collective experience and expression begets our culture. Each of us is contributing to the creation of the cultures we participate in.

The world is not divided into two groups of the creative and the uncreative. If there's a distinction, it's between those who are creatively productive and those with unexpressed potential. We're creative by default. We're genetically predisposed to create. Each of us, to varying degrees, is intrinsically motivated to create, to be original and to solve challenging problems. The question to ask is not, "Am I creative?" but rather, "What inspires me to create?"

Personal creativity is not about intelligence or information. It's about inspiration, from the Latin spiritus, meaning "breath, courage, the soul." Creativity is about being fully alive, living courageously, or as the painter Joan Miro´ says, "Expressing with precision all the gold sparks the soul gives off." When is the last time you felt fully alive? What is it that calls forth your courage and trumps your fear of sharing your soul? Knowing this is the key to discovering the creativity that is waiting to be expressed through you.