Graph: Creativity vs Discomfort

We all need to constantly be reminded of this one simple fact, even if creativity is our daily job. Even walking in every day with the mission to create can become comfortable – and that’s something professional creatives need to watch out for. We may fall into the trap that is believing that if we come in, learn the ropes, rinse and repeat we’ll be creative forever. Comfortably.

That’s far from the truth. Because creativity requires discomfort.

I like to define creativity as the act of using your imagination to bring into the world something that wasn’t there before. I stress the last bit that refers to originality – because if you make something that already exists, you’re not being creative, are you?

creativity vs discomfort chart
Chart: Well, there is such thing as “too much discomfort”. Try to find the sweet spot, not the point of no return.

Originality is an absolute pre-requisite for creativity, because creativity lies only in what didn’t exist before you created it.

And that’s the crux of my point with discomfort and creativity. Comfort happens when everything around us if familiar. For example: your bedroom is comfortable, because you know everything in it, and you got the mattress you like, your favorite things around you. There’s nothing new for you to absorb, no new knowledge to acquire. No surprises, no stress. Comfortable.

Now imagine you get dropped off into the middle of an Arabian souk (street market). If that’s something you never experienced, you won’t be able to relax. You’ll be uncomfortable. You’ll be aware, noticing every little detail. Smells, colors, faces, behaviors. That’s all new information that you’ll absorb and later be able to collide with existing knowledge. You’ll have created a situation in your mind that’s ripe for original ideas.

In creativity we talk a lot about comfort zone and how we’re supposed to escape it. That’s because inside of it, everything is known, everything is familiar. That’s why it’s comfortable. There’s nothing NEW or ORIGINAL in your comfort zone. And that’s why there’s no creativity inside of it.

There’s no creativity inside your comfort zone. To be creative, you NEED to venture outside of it.

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People who are naturally creative don’t just leave their comfort zone when they are trying to be creative – they make it a lifestyle. They try new things (a new form of art, a new form of food, a new sport) all the time. They explore the world with wide-eyed interest. And if you ask them how come they are so creative, they don’t know how to answer.

This ability to dance across the limits of your comfort zone doesn’t come easy to everyone, including myself. That’s why I make it a bit of a rule, so I force myself to be uncomfortable. Professional creatives need to constantly “chase the uncomfortable”. But not just when trying to come up with ideas. All the time! I do it when I’m choosing places to go on vacation, when I’m choosing places to go for lunch, when I’m picking out clothes, when I’m sitting around looking for things to do.

Creativity gets better with practice, so let’s practice crossing the boundaries of our comfort zone into the amazing unknown. That’s where you best ideas are.