The Five Elements of the Creative Life

Posted on Apr 21, 2021

World Creativity and Innovation Day

Today is World Creativity and Innovation Day. 

On April 21st, 2018  the United Nations inaugurated one day a year around the world “to raise awareness around the importance of creativity and innovation in problem solving....” More than 80 nations participated, acknowledging that creativity will be essential to achieving the UN’s global goals for sustainable development, and that the creative economy is “the true wealth of nations in the 21st century.”

Six months later  I stood on a stage in Los Angeles and opened my speech to 2,500 entrepreneurs with these words:

"Creativity is the greatest natural resource in the world today. It is sustainable, renewable, inexhaustible and free. And yet most of us are just leaving it in the ground."

Today, more than 90 countries will celebrate this day with culturally unique collaborative creative gatherings. We may be slow, but we are learning.

What is Creativity anyway? What is Innovation?

Creativity is not just an airy-fairy woo-woo luxury reserved to the select few, the artists, the entrepreneurs and the crazies.

Creativity is a force. You cannot own it, but you can tap into it to…

  • Express your thoughts, feelings and experiences of life
  • Solve problems for yourself or others
  • Transform human suffering into beauty
  • Make cool new stuff

Innovation is a process. Through it creativity is applied to…

  • Solve specific problems for people and communities
  • Expand human knowledge and capabilities
  • Advance human interactions with the world around us 
  • Do things we’ve never done before

“Life creates.”

Creativity is the force of life. It makes you you (and me me). It sows the aspen and the oak. It inspires the artist and the scientist. It expresses its limitless longing in majestic diversity, always seeking a new frontier beyond our wildest imagination.

Creativity is the cycle of life. It continues turning – from before our birth beyond the other side of death – no matter what. It keeps your heart beating, keeps the grass growing, and keeps the seasons transitioning one into the next.

“Every problem is an innovation in disguise.”

Creativity is the solution to every one of the world's problems. And you have direct access to it. In fact, the world’s most successful people have learned to navigate the process from the problem to the solution, with all its discoveries, disappointments, successes and failures along the way. And... the emotional twists and turns that cause everyone else to quit.

Why are we not all tapping our true wealth?

We learn. At school we learn to conform. At work we learn not to take risks. And  from the media we learn every day that we are not enough. We learn to play it safe in three key ways.

  1. We make assumptions: “Creativity is Art. I’m not an artist. So I’m not creative.”
  2. We compare ourselves: “Andy can draw better than me. So I’m not creative.”
  3. We censor ourselves: “If I do that they’ll think I’m stupid. So I won’t do anything.”

We create meaning for things that don’t matter. We lose touch with the things that matter most to us. And then we block our connection with what gives meaning to our lives.

And we impoverish the world.

So then how do we live?

How do we vulnerable human beings cultivate creativity and practice innovation in our lives? It’s a matter of learning to recognize that the creative cycle is always turning… and to recognize your unique place in it.

For thousands of years, Eastern wisdom traditions have understood life in five elements: If Creativity is Life, then you can apply these elements to your own creative process as well. Here is my take with a few simple guidelines to cultivate each element in your life.

The Five Elements of a Creative Life.

  1. Air. Make space in your life for new ideas. The creative process always starts with the absence of something. Create a time and space for stillness, for silence, where you can hear you own inner voice again. Turn off your phone. Take a news break. Abstain from other people’s agendas. Free your mindset, so you can want what you want.
  2. Fire. Reignite your own creative fire. Leaving the status quo in your life is exhilarating but it’s also scary. There is always a point where you feel lost. You are not. Stay vigilant. Do what stabilizes you. Honor your intuition. Ignite your imagination, so you can know what you know.
  3. Water. The creative process always requires patience. You do all this work. And then you wait. When it seems nothing’s happening, it’s easy to assume it’s not working… and so you’ve failed. By learning to wait, time after time, doubt becomes faith. Get support. Create a community. Channel your emotions, so you can feel what you feel.
  4. Earth. And then, when all has come before is done, you work. Give it structure. Set goals. Measure milestones. Do your homework. Learn to manage your energy so you can go the distance. Ground your actions in reality, so you can continue to do what you do.
  5. Space. And once you’ve come full circle, begin again. The creative cycle is continuously turning on an axis. That axis is you. The still point at the center. Don’t get caught up in the spin. Don’t expect it to ever stop. Find the still point. Return to your center. There you are connected with the Creative Force that’s making it all go anyway. Nourish your connection. Get to know the cycle. Trust the process, so you can be who you are.

And through it all, one day at a time...


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