According to Merriam-Webster the definition of Creativity is:
1 : the ability to create her artistic creativity
2 : the quality of being creative
What does an ADHD site know about creativity?
Creativity and Productivity
The thing about creativity is that it’s all in your head. Which is good, it gets ultimately translated. For instance if you’re making pottery, into something out in the world. However creativity starts in your head, and the limits to creativity are also all in your head.
I’m going to suggest that creativity is not some magical gift that you have, that you’re born with, but rather it’s an ability that you hone, and you may be creative at dealing with people or coming up with funny ideas or whatever. Some people are musically creative. I’m not, other people are. But becoming a musician was a creative skill that they took the time to learn.
Limits On Creativity
So the limits are in your head, and what I would suggest is just like everything in life the limits that you impose on yourself in terms of relationships, in terms of your love life, in terms of how good you looking you think you are, or how much love you think you deserve, or what you think you can do, 99% of that is self-imposed and self-limiting.
I’m going to suggest that creativity is not a magical gift and kind of an airy-fairy artsy fartsy. It may look like that, but I’m going to suggest it’s also courage. It’s actually the courage to take a risk and do something.
I want you to keep that in mind. There’s actually a book by Rollo May called the courage to create and if you think about it in this day and age, in any day and age the courage to create a child, to create a life.
It takes something, takes some commitment. You have no idea how you’re going to put food on the table but you’re sure you’re going to do it for the next thirty years or twenty years or whatever. Until like thirty hopefully, twenty years.
Creativity Takes Courage
So there is courage in creating because you’re stepping out into the unknown. One of my favorite quotes is by Patrick Overton
You come to the edge and you step into the void, and that takes courage.
Now it takes courage to do anything. Not necessarily battlefield kind of courage, but it’s a jump. It’s a leap, and with ADHD we’re not necessarily really good at trusting and taking leaps and taking jumps.
Cuz stuff’s gone badly in the past and we thought we had it sorted out. Now we know what’s going on we have a better chance at figuring it out, especially in a conversation with someone else what went wrong.
Is Creativity Real?
All right so let’s jump through this. We know this is real, that’s our opening credit.
I’m not going to get into a lesson on ADHD but we also know now that multiple studies have been showing the same thing ADHD people are creative.
The question is does creativity translate into productivity? Are they living more creative lives? Are they coming up with more creative solutions in their lives?
Now the way I’m going to frame everything is that each experience or every program or that I’ve done, and all of the projects, can teach us something, but it can only teach us something if we if we look for it, if we’re there.
So I’m going to talk about the lessons that I did learn, and then the lessons that I failed to learn.
I’m going to use a really simple creativity analogy. I decide I want to be an NBA all-star. I keep going out and failing and failing and failing and failing and failing and I just keep thinking ‘I got to try harder‘.
At some point the fact that I’m five eight and a half, but that’s a guy thing to add that extra half right? The fact that five eight and a half is really gonna severely limit me.
So the universe is trying to tell me something. What the universe is actually maybe telling me is try soccer, which I actually ended up doing in about grade 11 and turned out I was great at soccer, terrible at baseball, terrible at a bunch of sports and soccer I was good at.
So the universe will keep pounding you until you go okay let me try something else.
Now there’s a difference between giving up and saying well I can’t do it, and resigning, to adjusting as you go along, or being willing to step back and look and go what’s the issue here?
Maybe actually get some coaching or talk to others and find out yeah what five eight is not tall enough? Oh well thanks I didn’t know that because I’m watching them on TV they’re all look the same height. I didn’t know.
So it’s finding out, and you know where you’re gonna soar, what you’re gonna do. So you want to be able to learn the lesson because the universe will just keep hitting you until you finally go, yeah I’m not going to pursue this I’m gonna go after this instead.
The thing with opportunity knocking, that phrase opportunity only knocks once? Opportunity is pounding at your door 24/7. Trust me it is. It’s constant.
The world is begging for ideas and we have lots of ideas. So opportunity is knocking all the time.
I’m going to talk a little bit about the lessons I failed to learn at the time. There are lessons I’ve still failed to ever learn, but I don’t know what those are yet.
The Creativity of ADHD
So life goes on, and then I’m going to talk about the ADHD lesson that I learned. I really saw that once I had the diagnosis and was able to start looking back and in more recent years as I’ve done things. I’ll stop and go, ah this is why.
So I didn’t realize I’d learned that until after the diagnosis, and then once I started learning about what ADHD was.
Learning From Mistakes
I’m going to focus on what worked as well some of the things we’re successful partly just because you want to hear what did work.
I will talk about the lessons I learned, because every time you learn a lesson it’s because something doesn’t work. For example if you’ve ever worked at a company that has a big safety manual, that safety manual is an example of learning from previous mistakes.
If you get a job with a railroad say and they have this list of safety things, or a steel-mill, they have a list. Every one of
those was created by learning from a previous mistake. So they have these rules. We learn from our mistakes. Eventually.
Practice Makes Perfect
My first professional gig was doing magic. My friend Bob played my lovely assistant because I didn’t know any girls but I knew Bob.
The thing that I learned was practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. You’ve got to keep practicing, you can’t just do it once, because I learn a new trick. I’d succeed once at doing it, and then I’d run upstairs to show everyone and fail miserably.
So when you start learning magic, when you’re learning, doing the billiard ball trick, where are the golf balls, you take a golf ball and you wave your hand and suddenly there’s two and you go well how did that happen?
and then there’s two over there, and then there’s three, and you go whoa… so you get all excited. So hmm… how’s he doing that? Skill. Years of practice, guess who didn’t have a girlfriend? So practice.
Developing a Creative Skill
Stephen King said he’d read somewhere that to be a real writer you have to write about a million words, and he said a really gifted writer, someone who’s a natural writer, only has to write probably a half a million before they’re good enough to get published and worth reading.
He figured, I’m not that good a writer and it’s going to take me two million words and he started writing as fast as he could, and I think that’s true.
We expect with creativity, especially if we’re trying to apply it again and again or develop a creative skill, that we’re going to get it very quickly.
It’s funny because nobody expects to be able to sit down at the piano and play.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve drawn, tried doing sketching, and then never done it again because it didn’t turn out well. It took you, you know, three years to be able to play some good songs on the piano.
Creativity Through Failure
I think the difference is that when you’re learning to draw, or when you’re learning to write, there’s physical evidence.
When you’re practicing singing, when you’re practicing the piano, it’s gone, you don’t hear the baton.
When you draw something and it looks wrong it’s there. One of the best things that we did when I was in university, the fine art course, was fast drawing. Throw it out. Fast drawing. Throw it out. Fast drawing. Throw it out.
So you have to be willing to practice. Take someone who’s very creative in their own field and a master of their field. Say Tiger Woods, just the golfing, for every time he swings, I mean how many championships has he been in right? A few hundred?
Giant professional games, for every swing on the course he’s done hundreds and hundreds of practice swings. For every goal that Gretzky scored during a game he scored hundreds in practice. Practice.
Even the best athletes, the best baseball player, they’re still hitting what three out of ten? They’re missing seven out of ten and these are the people who are the best in the world.
I’d stand there for an hour. A thousand would go by and I’d be praying for a bean ball. So you’ve got to be willing to fail. It’s a huge thing for people.
Creativity Takes Courage
What I said earlier about courage that’s what I mean now. It’s obvious, take what I do, which is to get up in front of an audience and perform.
It’s the number one fear people have, being up there, a distant sound of crickets chirping right as the audience stares at you, and believe me I’ve had a few of those shows where it was completely the wrong audience, or I was off.
What I want to say about that is, that you’ve got to be willing to fail, and guess what? You’re going to fail; you’re going to fail.
Become a Master
After the magic, the next thing I did was these eight-millimeter movies. So we would make these eight millimeter movies as kids and they were bad, they were terrible, but we got better and better, and then finally we decided to make one that was going to be three rolls of film long.
A roll of film back then was 20 bucks for these little cartridges, super 8 cartridges. I think it was 20 bucks, so it was 60 bucks. Which would be the equivalent today of like $300 well $200 probably.
It was a lot of money to go out and get these cartridges, a lot of allowance saved up. Well we made this film agent rock-hard, we went out and filmed it and what happened is the guy running the camera was an idiot and everything was out of focus but he couldn’t see because you know the camera doesn’t show on a cheap old 8 millimeter hand crank thing.
Breaking The Rules of Creativity
The lesson there was that you’ve got to master the technical; even in a creative field you have to master the technical.
Now this gets into a really interesting discussion because people will say, well I want to break the rules. Creativity is about breaking the rules!
What’s the rule you want to break?
I want to break the rules, I’m a painter, I want to break the rules. Great! Well all the other painters are mixing yellow and blue to make green you should do purple and red to make green.
Oh not that rule? What rule?
Until you’ve mastered the rules you can’t break them. Until you’ve mastered the scales and all of the rest of it and mastered the structure you can’t break the rules.
Structure and Creativity
Structure is actually a very good thing, and the most creative people, start with Mozart, worked in an incredibly specific type of form.
The Beatles started out mastering the three-minute pop song, and if you get their early albums they got Carl Perkins songs on there and they’ve got songs by a lot of Country and Western, all kinds of other people’s songs on there.
They played in those bars in Hamburg and everywhere they played every kind of music, but then they developed their own voice.
The next gig I had was high school. I got up and did a comedy routine.
I did two of them in one evening, and what was interesting; I wanted one routine in the first half of the show, one in the second half.
April annex was the high school talent show. I was in grade 11. I think I got up and did these two skits alone.
I actually stole one of them off a comedian I saw on The Ed Sullivan Show and I killed, I killed. It was the highlight of the show the first half.
The first thing was a guy in a roller coaster, and it was just a great routine and I did it well and I killed.
The second routine was about a guy eloping and it got a great reaction as well. Girls actually talked to me, Sheila May talked to me and said ‘you’re funny’ and smiled at me.
There were a whole bunch of girls who suddenly thought I was the most exciting. It was great, so what I learned there was there’s a link between creativity and sex, which I’m not going to get into right now but I also learned that when you find a strength, when you find something that you do well it is addictive and that’s why I was I’ve been doing it ever since that first night.
Now what’s interesting is closing night, which was the next night because it was only two performances, it wasn’t that big a school. I died, it was that bad, like silence, especially on the second skit.
First one did fine but the second skit.
Then in the second half where I’m the eloper or calling up to her and ‘oh hello Mr. Johnson is Dorothy there?’ and all this stuff was quite funny.
A few giggle here and there.
I came off devastated. I’ll never do this again. I went back, I saw my family, I was sorry and they said yeah we couldn’t hear you.
Now I don’t have a very good voice for projecting anyway my voice just doesn’t travel about, hopefully to the microphone.
Master the Technical
The lesson there was the technical matters. You’ve got to have the technical handled, and sometimes it’s just that’s the issue and it sabotages you and it still does today.
We still have technical problems, the technical issue, so that mastering the technical, mastering, that’s a key to being creative.
You can’t write great music if you can’t do the cording you want.
Once you get to a certain point it becomes fluid. You’re not gonna write a great novel if you’re five and you have a 28 word vocabulary.
You’ve got to master it now.
The problem is that people will go after chasing after something they want to master, because they think it’s going to make them famous, this, that, the other thing.
So when you’re choosing what to be creative in, if you’re following a field, and whether it’s entrepreneur sales or writing, whatever it is you want to make sure it’s something that you are passionate about.
the best way to tell that is if you weren’t getting paid would you be doing it anyway?
Now some people will say yeah, but I’m not, hmm because I’m not getting paid and so they’ll resign themselves but there are other blocks that we’re gonna talk about here.
Fear of Creativity
The main one is fear of failure and that’s what stops people. I want you to come away at the end of this with a sense of; it’s okay to fail.
I’m going to go out there and play and mess around. I got to university and ended up doing okay. My courses, and science and so on, I did really well in the film course 90 something, 90 something in my fine arts painting course.
However most of my time was spent preparing skits for the campus radio station.
The lesson there was that when we started, when I start doing comedy on the air, the phone’s lit up. There’s only one phone and it was only X number of students at this university, it wasn’t that big a university back then and the phones rang.
We started actually getting regular listeners before that nothing.
So people learn to laugh. I heard people love to laugh and I learned that at some point you don’t necessarily have to sell yourself that hard if you’ve got something good and entertaining.
The lesson that I didn’t learn was that there’s a level of time at which it’s good enough and you have to let it go.
So I would rewrite and rewrite. My school work actually suffered because I was busy preparing these comedy skits you know. 18 people were listening and I just would fidget and fidget and I still do it today.
My First Paid Gig
It’s a lesson that I forget and have to look again and again. At the same time I got my first paying gig, although technically I got paid for a couple of magic shows I was doing when I was a teenager, because I kept the magic up, but I ended up actually writing out a whole bunch of jokes.
I was listening to the disk jockey as I do my homework at night, or be writing skits for the campus radio station, instead of doing my homework, and they had a funny guy on the radio out there, a small station, so I wrote a whole bunch of jokes but I didn’t have a typewriter, so I typed them up onto these punch cards.
The idea on punch cards, and then took the box of them down to the computer room, and this is back when computers were the size of vans, and loaded them into this machine, the stack would disappear and out would come this green paper and it was my jokes.
I was praying nobody saw what I was actually doing because they thought it was homework. Then I cut and slipped the things up so it didn’t look quite so much like computer paper, and sent it off, and about I don’t know two three weeks went by nothing.
The Power of Success
Then I’m sitting there one night working and he did one of my jokes, I don’t remember what it was, probably about Sonny and Cher by Three Dog Night, whatever it was.
It was like a banging bolt of lightning, I leapt out of my chair, I was running up and down the hall of the of the dormitory. They’re doing my jokes, they are doing my jokes!
All these people who were students, who were actually trying to learn, all the guys in the dorm were yeah whatever, but I was making everyone listen, and then when he tells another joke, that’s mine! It was thrilling.
So at some point you want to have successes, and if you’re creative you’re going to fail, but you also need to give yourself successes.
One of the ways around that is way to just try lots and lots.
You’re not a very good dart player? Throw a bunch of darts. Keep your goal for a while and you’ll get better, but you’re bound at some point, the law of averages, to hit that thing.
So what I did was I stepped outside of my comfort zone and just tried to set this stuff off.
I did a dozen other things. I sent joke’s off to cartoonists and one of them actually took a bunch of my ideas turned them into cartoons sold them to whoever, not Reader’s Digest, but some small magazines or whatever it would be.
I would get a check for 10 bucks for every joke, back then 10 bucks was enough to buy a Chevy.
What’s interesting to me is at the time I wasn’t really thinking about a career.
I wanted to do this and I did this, but you got to get that out of the five thousand kids at this university, nobody else was thinking to do this.
So that was a hint that this is what I should be doing, not studying science and getting 68.
10,000 Hours To Become a Master
I then got a job at the Science Center after I graduated, it was perfect right 4,000 shows our 3,000 shows in about four years. It was amazing, a huge amount of experience, it was great.
If you know the book Outliers he talks about the idea that you need thousands of hours, and he says about 10,000 hours to become a master.
Now what was interesting, as I was doing these shows every day, four or five live shows with different groups, school groups and visiting science students from Japan and Union and tourists from Detroit you name it.
It was a whole mix of people coming through, so I learned how to play to a lot of different audiences.
The other thing I learned in this was to get to, if I could say something in half the time, a joke in half the number of words, people thought I was twice as funny.
The mistake I made was, it became an endurance test to see among all the demonstrators as to who could hold the audience the longest. It was a dumb thing to do because people had three hours to do the Science Center and they did not want to spend 45 minutes watching a laser show, as funny as it was.
Eventually I learned to deliver and trim and edit and that was a really powerful lesson.
A Lesson From The Red Green Show
One thing Steve Smith was great at was, someone on set would say ‘you know there was a cable from the lamp in the background’?
Don’t do another take, Steve said if people are noticing that we’re in deep trouble.
If they’re not busy watching the comedy here, but hey look you can see a cable from one of the lights or whatever.
So there’s a point at which it’s good enough, and that’s especially true I think today.
That is a big thing, that you can get too focused on trying to make something perfect, rather than write it, throw it out, write another throw it out, it’s really hard to throw away something that’s creative and I’d have trouble doing it myself.
So one of the things I have is a basement full of filling cabinets of all of The Frantics, not all but probably half the skits I’ve ever written I’ve saved, and a lot of them need work and I have no market for them anymore, nobody’s doing radio skit comedy.
It’s hard to throw away the stuff that doesn’t work, but you have to do that, and if you don’t physically throw it away you’ve gotta let it go and move on to the next thing.
You can do a whole new drawing in the time it takes you to try and fix that one, and you’ll learn more starting a new drawing.
Creativity and Media
The next thing we did was a TV show. So I’m doing these shows at the Science Center, I’m also at the local community channel cable access community channel on the weekends doing a show.
We called it change channels big joke haha doing comedy.
We finally got kicked off the air because people wrote in and said, I don’t like having these homosexuals on the air, note some of us are actually women but anyway.
What I learned there was that for certain things you really do need other people.
So for writing the jokes, for the disc jockey, I needed the disc jockey, and the disc jockey needed his engineer, and sound guy, and the boss to hire them, and whoever owned the radio station, and then we all needed the listeners.
So when you’re working on creative projects, especially these days on anything, whether even it’s your own book at some point you’re going to be working with someone who’s done the cover art, you’re going to be working with an editor and so on.
So you’re going to need other people. The thing that I realized, we got kicked off over complaints was you can’t please everyone. You just can’t, and that’s fine. In fact for comedy I don’t think you should.
The ADHD lesson I learned here was that I’m not like everyone else.
There were nine of us who worked on the show and I’d come up with all the ideas, and wrote everything, and one or two people came up mostly they came out to act, and run the cameras, and have fun, and one friend ended up doing all the props, really talented artist named Michi, and I felt badly but I can get at the time he loved making the props, so I felt badly and I’d make some of them too.
Creating With Other People
So a lesson there was you want to allow people to contribute, and I really learned this in doing History Bites.
Later on we had a TV show where we had all of these people who were doing stuff I couldn’t do. I mean I can’t do lighting; I don’t know camera, but the costume.
I mean the costume woman made amazing, stuff out of draperies and she’d take a lace doily from an armchair and starch it and tie die it and all the rest and make Queen Elizabeth’s big headpiece.
It was amazing to watch all these people. So you want to work with other people, and the neat thing about when you get creative and you’re working with other creative people, that term is synergy, one plus one equals nine.
Suddenly the energy, the frantic individually the four of us, I’m not sure that even two of the guys would have necessarily gotten into skit comedy in their life, but this energy between the four of us BAM!
Produce, produce, produce material it just, it sparks; it sparks, and sparks, so you want to hang around creative people first.
Develop Your Own Voice
Then I left the Science Center and I was now part of Green and Chato.
We were doing this first in our spare time, and then we were doing shows with others. The lesson I learned is you have to master and develop your own voice here.
There’s a couple of things, one is you start to develop your own voice as you, as we began to do this, we take jokes and act them out now, but we also did some very odd and unique things as an example, we did every James Bond movie in less than three minutes as another thing we evolved.
We started very quickly to learn that people when you’re trying to market yourself as creative, people are expecting a certain thing.
So if you go into Wolfgang Puck and they’re now selling clothing it’s confusing, even if Wolfgang Puck has some great clothing ideas it’s confusing.
Now it’s frustrating for artists and creative people because they want to try everything. I mean the Beatles and most musicians I was surprised to learn this but most musicians whether they’re heavy metal or whether they’re gospel they listen to all different kinds of music. They take it all in, so it’s all fodder.
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