A response to Larry Kim’s:
Unlike many, I believe the most creative people know how to create creativity. Or at least take the steps to unleash the creative flow, even when it’s blocked (or when most people would think their creativity is blocked). In those moments, when they unleash their creative flow, they find happiness.
Joy emerges from creativity.
I find my greatest moments of joy emerge with two accomplishments:
- Connecting with another person at a meaningful level (a skill I have not developed that well), and
- Creating something, no matter how small. A poem, a new joke, a story, a novel. (Like my twitter novel Doublemint Gumshoe — #AmWriting #TweetNovel, which I am tweeting now. And, yes, that’s a plug.)
Creativity can be blocked by depression. However, creativity can dispel depression (although I recommend meds as well if you’re experiencing truly clinical depression). Before my depression was diagnosed, I noticed that writing could move me from my periods of withdrawal.
My first college writing teacher, the late John Vandezande (whose collection of short stories Night Driving, sadly, is out of print and resells for less than a dollar online) taught me that the best way to cure writer’s block was to write. Anything. “Start with whatever scrap you have,” he would say. He was right.
When I taught visual design classes at Austin Community College I discovered the students who fared best were the ones who followed my advice and struggled through drawing thumbnails before any project. The more the better. No ideas? Just start sketching, even if you can’t draw for shit. Sure enough, after half a dozen crappy thumbnails, ideas start to emerge. Once they’re on paper, they can be refined and distilled into a truly creative project.
That being said, as I was reading through Kim’s list of creativity building blocks it dawned on me that there is a creativity killer among us, and it’s not happiness.
The Workplace Kills Creativity Daily
When I hear CEOs and managers talk about the need for creativity in American business (not to mention science and policy making), I laugh. My experience with the workplace in business, non-profits and education (even college teaching) led me to realize that creativity and the workplace can’t truly co-exist. American management styles weed creativity at the root.
Consider the following (incomplete) sample of the building blocks:
- Dealing with uncertainty
- Generating results
- Independence and freedom
- Spontaneity and subconscious process
- Thinking and evaluation
- Variety, divergence, and experimentation
Most management styles, especially those that emphasize team building, undermine creativity because, more than anything else, the workplace values compliance and industry. Get along and get things done, quickly, even if your activity undermines good results.
For instance, deal with uncertainty. Try telling a manager that you can’t guarantee the outcome of his or her latest mandate may not produce the results they anticipate. Or that a definitive schedule and deadline would be unrealistic because you can’t account for all of the resources and pitfalls at this time. You will be told, “I don’t want to hear that. I want results.” Better to lie and blame after the fact.
Generating results? The only result a manager wants is one she can spin to make her department (or business) look good. I watched dozens of projects — many with merit but quite a few totally half-assed and a couple bordering on lunacy — driven through to the bitter end, and even if the results were disastrous, they were reported as wins. Sure my team may have been fired and the department lost money hand over fist, but those higher up, the ones who survived the purge, always claimed the results were positive.
In the few cases where results were disastrous, they were swept under the rug. Let’s not talk about that. Let’s focus on the wins.
Independence and freedom? Never happens. Somewhere in the management chain is that one supervisor determined to stick their hand in and waiting for the opportunity to get hands on. The shinier the project, the more the need to manage. All it takes is one setback, one complaint from a team member, one wrong question from her supervisors and any freedom you believed you had disappears. Reports, emails, meetings (countless meetings with long agendas and no end in sight) and evaluations. 
As to innovation and originality, well, you can innovate a product, but try suggesting an innovation in the workplace. Or a new approach to project management. Or something management didn’t already have in the pipeline. I remember sitting through seminars on “thinking outside the box,” and then, in the next meeting, suggesting a new approach to how we worked and being told not to rock the boat. It wasn’t just me. I saw any number of good ideas shot down because they weren’t already in the management pipeline.
Nor do managers really appreciate spontaneity. Sure, you can set up birthday parties and office raffles. But they suspect anyone who can think more quickly than they. Management ranks tend to be filled with SJ’s  Which also rules out variety, divergence, and experimentation.
We laud business as a role model for American progress, but most businesses fail. They fail because they can’t compete with changing tastes and trends, in a large part because they discourage creativity. They lose sight of the very impulse that caused them to open their doors.
Too many of us describe our work lives with sweatshop metaphors.
In the process, modern businesses become one of the largest happiness killers in the world. While it’s true that we don’t have third world sweatshops in America , ask most employees to describe their work and workplace and they will describe it using metaphors of the sweatshop. The grind, the gristmill, slavery. We may like our new jobs for a few months, but very few of us bring home happiness from them. And what little joy we find, we lose over time.
Which makes it ironic that we need creativity in America more than every before. Especially with an administration coming into power that embraces the workplace metaphor. We need creativity to renew that spark of joy our work lives kill, that hours on the couch consuming programming planned by our entertainment industry — much of which lacks any creative spark at all (for every True Blood or Stranger Things they give us dozens more of informercials and real housewives reality series).
This is my infomercial for creativity. Find your inner joy by making something. Anything. No matter how crappy and laughable. The more you practice, the better you get, and soon you’ll be adding pride as well as joy to your emotional repertoire.
 I once received a six thousand dollar raise the day before Christmas vacation and was fired the first day of the new year because a different manager wanted control of the project and my new supervisor didn’t like my style.
 A personality type on the Meyers-Briggs scale. Sensing/Judging personalities don’t like introversion, or introspection (hallmarks of creativity). They want employees who conform to their style, and their style aligns with the status quo.
 Actually, it’s not true. It’s just that we only hear about them when they make the news.