So for those of you who read my last blog post on creativity, it might have seemed somewhat superficial.
Some of you might be asking so what if there are assumptions about creativity and the lone genius, how is that going to help me to get more creative?
Well the good news is that now I have progressed to another level in the book and this blog post is all about sharing more actual steps that Allen Gannett outlines in detail in the book The Creative Curve.
I must say I have been surprisingly inspired by this book, not only because it tells the story of his research so well but also because it is just that: many different kinds of stories that are refreshing, personal, and also insightful.
For someone who reads a lot of academic papers, reading these kinds of books gives also a break from constant referencing and a more carefree style of writing.
Anyway, to the point…
The 4 people that are your creative community
What Allen found across all the successful artists and entrepreneurs that he interviewed was the common thread of four different people or kinds of people that each successful person had as part of their creative community.
These four are the Master Teacher, a Conflicting Collaborator, A Modern Muse and a Prominent Promoter.
All 4 types are utterly necessary for increased creativity but also increased success.
The Master Teacher is someone who knows the field and knows how ideas have developed, which ideas are about to emerge, and can teach you how to situate your own ideas.
These Master Teachers often have themselves stumbled upon methods of success and often train the next generation in a particular field who then continue particular methods or mindsets and develop successful careers.
These people share their knowledge on “the patterns and formulas of your craft or industry, to ensure that you create things with the right level of familiarity, while also giving you the feedback you need to hone your craft through deliberate practice” (p. 182).
Allen cites for example the case of Max Martin in the music industry who has produced winning number one hits to Taylor Shift, Kate Perry, and who has mentored and taught his method of song writing to countless up-and-coming songwriters.
A Conflicting Collaborator is someone who balances your ideas, someone who does not have the same skill sets necessarily but who can complement and critique your skills and thinking.
We often see successful collaborations emerge between people where the other is a big idea person and the other extremely pragmatic and focused on how an idea can work in practice.
The balancing of ideas and debating viewpoints increase often creativity:
“You don’t want to collaborate with someone who is so easy to get along with that they don’t push you. The goal is to find a person who will help you discover and overcome your flaws”(p. 171).
This does not mean that every idea is watered down to an acceptable compromise, but it does mean that ideas are looked at from different viewpoints that can enhance their viability.
A Modern Muse are “people who provide material for a creator to use as well as practical motivation” (p. 173).
These can be friends and colleagues who often have similar career aspirations or are in the same field, who have the same passion for a profession or a specialisation and help in maintaining energy and passion even when things are not working out.
Having these muses around is crucial to keep things going:
“surrounding yourself with other creative people, no matter what their field, gives many creators the motivational boost they need to move through the lowest points of their work” (p. 174).
You might already have these kinds of people in your life.
But if you don’t, Allen notes that there are plenty of opportunities to find them: artists often for example hire lofts where they connect with other like-minded people, and there are other professional groups as well that one can join.
Prominent Promotor are people who are already well-established, successful, and happy to promote you on their platforms.
These are people who are already recognised and have high standing and credibility.
For you to claim your place in the spotlight, you need to establish credibility and collaborating with people who already have established themselves makes this much easier.
These are often mentee-mentor relationships, but they work in both ways: even if the other is more established and has already had a longer career, they still crave for new ideas that often come from those who are up-and-coming.
Thomas Kuhn for example noted that newcomers to science often have fresh eyes and it is upon them to innovate because they are not chained in their thinking by past developments or thinking in that particular field.
So how do I get these people?
What Allen says is that surrounding yourself with these four kinds of people can greatly enhanced your opportunities to become more creative and more successful.
But instead of stressing out that you have these 4 different people, what I would add is that often you can actually find people who fulfil many of these roles at the same time.
I have friends and colleagues who have promoted me while also acting as conflicting collaborators, and also as master teachers.
The trick is to find people who want to work with you and it might well be that you are lucky enough to find even if it’s a handful of people who fulfil these roles in your life.
I’d also add that watch out for opportunities to be one of these people yourself.
All of us have specific skills and ideas that we can contribute to others and it might be that you are already fulfilling one of these roles already for someone else.
If not, pay special attention to opportunities where you might be able to help someone else to develop their career or ideas.
Often such collaborations will also help you to think through your own ideas and gather new perspectives in where to focus next.
Lessons for the scientific community
But this is not just restricted to those who want to be successful artists or entrepreneurs.
The more I have read this book, the more I recognise similar traits in how the scientific community works.
As a scientist, I can recognise which people play and have played these roles in the development of my scientific career and in my idea development.
Much of science is actually about “standing on the shoulders of giants”; we take the existing ideas and test them, try to understand whether there are better ways of understanding something.
For those earlier in their careers, it is essential to find “modern muses” who can keep you inspired and share your career journey, like other PhD students or Post-docs.
But finding Master Teachers and Prominent Promotors is equally important; those professors who have already established themselves in the field and who have important knowledge to part with, who know the trends and have seen long-term how particular ideas have developed over time.
One of the real joys is to find a Conflicting Collaborator who can play an intellectual boxing partner with you on ideas and make them stronger and better.
I do firmly believe that science progresses through collaborations but just purely collaborating is not enough.
You need trust and often even friendship for ideas to flourish, for you to feel secure to share your breakthrough ideas in the knowledge that you will be supported by those around you.
Without trust, people will remain guarded and the free flow of ideas and possibilities, and eventually innovation and creativity, will not reach its peak.
In the end, as Allen notes, creativity is really about social acceptance and recognition that your ideas and hard work are worth recognising.
You need to build your platform and they will come.
And this exact same applies for leadership: great leaders are surrounded by different kinds of people who recognise and are willing to support him/her as a leader in an environment of trust and respect.