I Can. I Can't. I Won't. Well, Maybe.

Sara, over at her blog Bryce Don't Play, had another thoughtful post the other day in which she explored how she creates and how she solves problems the way she does. In her typical matter-of-fact way, she describes her reality and how that has led to an adaptability and level of experimentation that directly influences her creativity. Best money quote: "everything is possible if its definition is malleable."

Over a long career working with people at libraries, in associations, at workshops and on committees, I've met a boatload of creative - and un-creative - people. What is that ineffable thing that helps creators, create; innovators, innovate or librarians, succeed? I've been a manager for all but a few years at the beginning of my career so I've had plenty of time to chew on this particular nut.  Although I sure don't have all the answers, here are a couple of thoughts.

There are some people who are innately pretty darn creative. Whether it's how their brain is wired or just a fascination with problem solving or tinkering, they are playing and adapting consistently. Collaboration and partnering seems to play a big part in  their creativity.

There are also people who, while feeling less naturally creative, try and fail and try again until they find the right combination; they seem to find the path to creativity through learning/observing/applying how it all fits together. One of the things that happens as people tap into their creativity is they learn to take one and one and make something much greater than two. I think the degree of problem solving that happens is because these people are thinking, "I can". These two kinds of people are the ones we go, "Wow, I like that thing/program/service you thought up. I want to try that too!"

There are also people that, for whatever reason, think more in terms of "I can't" or if they are foot-draggers or pretty negative are more in the "I won't" category. Trying anything is a big step and one failure or idea that doesn't pan out stops them dead. These are often the people who say, "We tried that before..." or "We've always done it this way..." or "See, I tried it and it was a miserable failure."  These seem to be people (as I commented in Sara's post) who want lanes and doorways; paths and clues. When something happens that gets them out of the lane or off the path, they try their hardest to get back in or on. It feels safer there - but not very creative.

Sometimes when people hatch an idea and  hit a wall, they just back up and hit it repeatedly - "Well", they say, "I can't go forward" or "You stop me from going forward." or "There is no forward. In any case, guess I'll stop". I think creative people and problem solvers keep tapping along the wall until they find a door or window or weak point in that wall to break through. They just keep trying until the right combination happens. It's not their  first thought or attempt but maybe their second or fifth or tenth and they hit the right combination. It might be a few minutes, a few weeks or longer but that "Well maybe" keeps driving on the problem solving.

It's being open to creative solutions and collaborating along the way to achieve them that makes a difference. It's getting out of the box; into the weeds and off into the forest to explore the possibilities that leads to that experimentation. And that pursuit of possibilities; that willingness to collaborate and being open to change leads inevitably to a more creative approach.

Where are you on that continuum?

Image: 'untitled'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/14064991@N04/3885841075 Found on flickrcc.net


  1. I don't consider myself creative; rather, I am relentless in seeking out ideas from a myriad of sources. That's why I'm so gung ho about attending conferences and webinars and keeping up with blogs--I love to see the terrific ideas my colleagues have, and then figure out how to adapt them for my library. I don't know that I'd be able to do my job very effectively without the interlibrary collaboration that happens in our internet-connected world.

  2. Yep, you keep tapping on the wall until you find the way through. I think that sharing and collaboration is how those connections result in ideas to use. You write one of my go-to blogs to refresh my perspective and find new ideas!

  3. I guess I am in the "have a go and give up if it doesn't suit" camp. I will give most things a try if I'm interested in them, but I won't keep hitting the wall too often. There's so much else out there, beckoning me!

    I totally agree over what you said re being open - that mindset, to be open to other ideas and other people, is such a great one. I know if I were an employer, that would be high on my list of desirable qualities in an employee.