Far too many people (with myself occasionally included) put forth an article or white paper touting the “rules of creativity” — as if there were some secret “Robert’s Rules of Order for the Right-Brained” to which only the experts have access, and mere mortals rejoice at the tiny morsels that are thrown to them like table scraps.
The only rule of creativity ought to be the single rule that there are no rules.
Ever try to prepare a meal from a recipe card? There are lists of ingredients, advice on how much to add, when to add them, how long to cook, and suggestions on how to serve. Sometimes you’ll even see a line that says “season to taste.”
My grandmother used to make the best meatloaf in the world, but she couldn’t really tell you what the recipe was. Not because she was a contrarian troublemaker who liked to tease people (although she was indeed all those things) it was because there wasn’t a written version of the recipe recorded for sharing. Even when she did try to write the recipe down for my mother, it was always a “pinch of this, a little of that, and add some more of the other thing.” After years of my mother trying to duplicate Gram’s recipe, she comes “close” — but it’s not Gram’s meatloaf anymore. It’s Mom’s Her own execution of the recipe’s ingredients, but with its own distinct end-result.
There were no rules to making meatloaf — just guiding advice.
That’s what creativity should be.
Recipes. Not Rules.
We all take the same sort of ingredients: challenges, questions, co-workers, personal experience, risk, change, advice, ideas, time, energy, assumptions, opinions, roadblocks, hurdles, nay-sayers, positives, negatives, market research, gut-instincts, bravery, self-doubt, and others — and combine in different amounts, simmer or bake for different amounts of time and different temperatures, and we “season to taste.”
Life would be pretty boring if everyone’s ideas all tasted the same.