How to be more creative: Explain things back to yourself

How To Be More Creative

I sometimes think it’s a giant farce that people consider the concept of “creativity” to be something that fits into one of these boxes: (a) you’re born with it, (b) it’s some type of skill that certain people possess and certain people don’t, or (c) some other ridiculous assertion/assumption surrounding it.

First things first: creativity is a word like culture, right? No one knows exactly what it means, and while people probably have a general idea of the concept and the adjectives you’d use to describe the concept, the definition still varies by person, right? It’s not like you can look at two actions, line up 100 people, and all 100 people will say “That one was creative; the other one wasn’t.” It doesn’t work like that. It’s an amorphous word.

But bosses — and especially managers during performance review season — love to assign people into buckets like “You’re creative!” or “You’re not creative!” That’s dumb, because it’s also a continuum. But if you want to please your boss, you often need to be seen as creative. 

Question then beckons: how do you do that?

Here’s one idea, via here:

In order to maximize the quality of your knowledge, you have to develop the habit to explain things back to yourself. Think about what happens when you sit down to watch a TED talk. A great speaker gives an inspirational 15-minute presentation. While you are listening, you feel that you have understanding of what the speaker is saying. Afterward, if you try to repeat what you learned to someone else you may realize that your feeling of understanding was a reflection that the speaker understood the topic very well. Unless you explain talks like that back to yourself afterwards, though, you have no idea whether you understand it, too.

I have a mixed, love-hate relationship with TED Talks, but I see the point above. I also try this in my personal life.

I talk to myself all the time — when walking to a garage, when walking on the street, whatever — and it’s so bad that at one point in NYC about five years ago, some dude next to me at a cross-walk was like “Man, who the fuck are you talking to?” But a lot of times when I talk to myself, I take concepts I recently heard or read and kind of almost imagine explaining them back to someone else. Why do I do this? Because I am extremely weird. But oftentimes I read articles with interesting/cool stats and I want to make sure I can explain them back in context and properly. (That’s partially why I call this blog what I do; context is important to me.)

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m a creative person, per se … but I think I have pockets of creativity, yes, and I do think a lot of it comes from being able to explain things and put them in a general context after I initially come to understand them.

So yea, if you want to be creative, don’t be afraid to talk to yourself on the streets of NYC about some article you just read or video you just watched.


Ted Bauer