Imagine that you could build human beings from scratch and wanted to make sure that they’d turn out creative. What traits would you give them? What do you suppose?

According to the creativity literature and my own observations working with creative clients, I think that you’d want to provide them with at least 75 relatively distinct traits, among them intelligence, tolerance for ambiguity, skepticism, a risk-taking orientation, cognitive flexibility, a love of mystery, and scores more.

Of course you’d have a tricky time getting these qualities put together in just the right proportions. You’d want to make sure that your creative person’s skepticism didn’t slide into nihilism, that her love of goodness didn’t make her a patsy, that her high energy didn’t cross a line into unhealthy mania.

You’d want her to have a healthy self-centeredness and not a rampant narcissism; you’d hope that her love of complexity didn’t cause her to choose only insoluble problems to tackle; you’d pray that her love of freedom didn’t make her completely unemployable; and so on. You can see what a subtle job it would be to effectively combine all these traits, some of which appear to contradict one another, into one-and-the-same person!

Yet this is exactly what each of us must do. These are the traits that a creative person hopes to manifest, in just the right proportions and in just the right combination. You may currently possess some of these traits in abundant measure: you may be highly intelligent or stubbornly self-directing. In other areas you may prove weaker: maybe you aren’t optimistic enough or assertive enough or maybe you care too much about social approval. Your job is to make use of the traits you possess and increase the traits that you may be lacking.

Isolating one of these seventy-five traits and working on it can prove a rewarding experience. You can decide to become a better risk-taker, for example, focusing just on that trait and inventing exercises and tasks that help you take new risks. On Day One you could decide to tackle a project whose bigness frightens you. On Day Two you could make the risky-feeling decision to commit to complete the project come hell or high water. On Day Three you could risk ridicule, embarrassment, indifference, or that look that says, “You think you have that in you?” by telling your friends, say, “I’ve decided to move narrative painting in a completely new direction.”

By pursuing such regular, step-by-step, day-in-and-day-out practices you might in a week’s time change your relationship to risk and become a more model creator.

Imagine working in a systematic way on any one of the following traits: openness to experience, patience, curiosity, empathy, or discipline. Or what about playfulness, self-trust, or nonconformity? The idea of tackling all seventy-five traits boggles the mind but working this way on one poignant trait at a time is eminently doable. Give it some thought!



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