One of my favorite quotes comes from Mozart: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
Too often, we try to cram creativity into a box the same way we would a deliverable.
In our project plans and our timelines and spreadsheets, we have given it its own box — “Here is when you’ll be creative.”
But we all know that’s not really how creativity works. After all, the truly creative would never do any of the following:
1. Say something is “done”
A deadline implies the project is done. Complete. Finished.
Stored away and never touched again.
If you have a creative bone in your body, you know deep down a project is never “done.”
A project or a piece of work is an extension of you, and is constantly a work in progress — just like you, as an individual, are constantly a work in progress.
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t checkpoints or milestones along the way where you may declare a project as “complete for now,” but being creative means always looking for ways to improve your craft.
Whether that means starting something new or going back and revising something old, it’s all about leaving the door open for adjustment.
That’s where the magic happens.
2. Think you’re “original”
Nas said it best — “No Idea’s Original.”
Being creative is all about pulling from people who came before you, learning from their strides (and stumbles), and then evolving.
Too often, people “try” to be creative and make something in a vacuum — a dark room with zero inspiration and no outside influences.
While that can be an effective exercise from time to time, what’s much more effective is to study and pull from others’ work. Chances are, someone has already tried what you’re creating, and you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary time by studying their process as you continue to explore your own.
As the cliché goes:
“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
3. Stay comfortable
Doing meaningful, creative work, is not easy.
In fact, most people would rather say, “Oh, I’m not very creative,” because they know creativity is hard.
The majority of the time, creativity is the result of leaping and exploring what hides outside your comfort zone.
Whether you are a starving artist or a (true) Creative Director in the corner office, the mindset is the same: push the boundaries, go where others aren’t willing, and embrace the unknown.
Quoting a mentor of mine and Creative Director himself, Ron Gibori always said, “Great ideas don’t happen behind a desk. They happen out in the world.”
Get out of your comfort zone.
4. Accept the word “no”
Do you know why most people don’t try to be creative?
Because that would mean waking up every single morning and standing in the face of “No.”
When you do go outside your comfort zone and begin to embrace the unknown, the rest of the world, those nuzzled safely in their comfort zones will hold their hands up in the air and tell you not to go that way.
“You’re wrong! You don’t know what’s out there!”
It’s as if they are shouting at a friend on the outskirts of a black forest, just before he or she decides to turn and enter.
To be creative, you have to be willing to give yourself permission before anyone else does.
You have to move forward despite the rest of the world telling you “No.”
You have to not be afraid.
5. Compromise yourself
Ah, the hardest one of them all.
At some point along the journey, someone will try to tell you how it’s done. He or she might offer you nice rewards for your cooperation, may even plump up your ego and tell you how amazing you could be — if only you changed your vision to be more in line with theirs.
And it will tempt you.
But in the end, you have to decide what is most important to you.
The truly creative are willing to risk it all.
Reputation. Money. Ego.
These come second to the vision, and that’s the difference.
Brilliance doesn’t come from a calculated business plan.
Brilliance doesn’t appear in the form of a perfectly formulated excel spreadsheet, or wake in the morning to a stadium of applause from stakeholders.
Brilliance has to break down wall after wall after wall before anyone takes notice, and what feeds that brilliance in a creative mind is heart.
Compromise yourself and you compromise your heart.
And if you compromise your heart, you have nothing that will truly make a difference.
This article originally appeared on Inc Magazine.