In our last group discussion Professor Arvan mentioned an interesting point that under what circumstances people would be creative and whether it’s possible to make everything, including those seemly non-creative, routine work, becomes creative work. At that point it reminds me of what I’ve learned about creativity in one of my Psychology class. And also I looked up the reading list and was interested in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. I simply searched the author and found his talk on TED really inspiring.
According to the concept given in my psych class, creativity is something relevant and original. And when we say people are creative, we often talk about divergent thinking, which means the thoughts expand outward to different directions. Then I realized that creative people have the right characteristics to make them get into the flow and create. First is intrinsic interest. So people who are engaged in creative work are not motivated by other rewards. (And in fact, extrinsic rewards would distract people from achieving their best, according to experiments.) They do things out of interest and enthusiasm. The second important thing is that they have extensive knowledge and skills, which acquired by long-time patient hard working. As Czikszentmihalyi mentioned in the video, it takes whole 10-year practice to make someone to be an expert in one field. Thus expertise enables people to have more opportunities to be in flow and be more creative because they have more extensive knowledge on hand to use.
Czikszentmihalyi actually defines flow in the video. He described it as a state when “challenges are higher than average and skills are higher than average. … you are doing what you really like to do ”. So I try to find the time when I was in flow and doing creative work. One thing came up with me was that I picked up playing piano recently. I actually started learning piano when I was five or six. After few years practice I did well and got some certificates, which I believe the purpose was to make me more competitive in future education rather than interest. Then when I was nine I just dropped it. After all these years I did try a couple of times when I was in high school but I gave up due to the time occupation. This winter break when I tried to pick up piano, it was so difficult for me. And I didn’t remember a lot of music theories and skills. The frustration held me some time but I still tried to keep playing every day. The reason is that there is some piano music pieces I really love and I missed the feeling to playing piano for a long time. Because it was out of interest, when I practice I do feel one hour like five minutes. Then I’m sure that I was in flow. The process might be frustrating and challenging, but it is pleasure. This kind of pleasure and satisfaction is different from the feeling when you are relaxed lying on the coach, watching TV and eating ice cream. It is flow because it makes me reach a higher level, and makes me creative and work hard at the same time. But I could say that when I was young, practicing piano didn’t bring me into flow. At that time all I care is how much time was left and when can I finish and hang out with my friends. The same thing could be quite different to the same person.
So there’re some questions we might discuss and think about. When do you find yourself in flow? And do you have totally different experience with one thing? Do you think it is possible to make non-creative work into creative? Maybe interest is a key point to make people be creative and flow. In terms of searching for what you really want to do, what do you think about two approaches? Find your interest first and then search for what interest you, so that you have better chance to be in flow. Or you accept first and then try to develop interest later to be in flow? And if you have any other ideas you want to talk about please comment as well.