The Three Elements of Creativity

The topic for today is creativity.  This is one of those words that kind of gets tossed around without being terribly specific.  Since I am having my creations performed on major stages in Europe this week, I’m feeling fairly bold.  So here is my deconstruction of creativity.  There are three elements:

The first element of creativity is imagination.

It is my contention that everyone has this.  Everyone can fantasize about something other than their current reality, and most of us do.  Imagination may exist in greater or lesser degrees, but I think it would be very hard to measure it, as it seem to exist in infinite quantities.

The second element of creativity is form.

Our imaginations work best within a limited space.  Imagination was originally designed to be a problem-solving tool, and so, when faced with a restriction or obstruction, imagination starts tossing out suggested solutions, some better than others.  Of course, form can be the construction of a chair or the construction of a symphony.

Sadly, this aspect of creativity does not get the attention it used to.  There is a good reason for this; anyone can see a chair in their imagination, but how many people see it clearly enough that they can execute that vision and make an actual chair that will actually work?  Removing the requirement of form, e.g., to actually build the chair and sit in it– allows us to live in bubbles of untested fantasy that can be quite pleasant when compared to reality.   Without form, imagination is not creativity, as nothing is being created.

The third element, and probably the most difficult, is . . .  permission.

This element has been the big breakthrough for me over the past six years.


I’m not sure where I picked up the lack of permission, but it took a major stockpiling of courage to print my first book on my own.  In fact, it wasn’t courage at all.  It was just getting to the point where I said to myself, “you are allowed to do this.”  This has extended out now to all sorts of literary expressions on my part.  Ten years ago I never would have dared to step up into a public forum like an online magazine with thousands of readers and proceed to pontificate about my theories of management.  I would have been too afraid that someone would come along and tell me I was not allowed to do this.  I have faced the demon of the man behind the curtain.

Permission is a big part of one’s sense of class I think.  We derive permissions from all sorts of places.  There are also many people whose purpose in life, it seems, is to “de-permission” us.

I think one of my biggest advantages in life has been that I had an older brother who was extremely creative, and I derived permission from watching him.  (“If he can do it, I don’t see why I can’t do it.”) And of course, having the extraordinary opportunity to work with people like Henry Mancini and John Williams was helpful as well.

Creativity is not a talent so much as it is a cultivated skill like any other.  Most people are at least potentially just as creative as me.  Imagination is commonplace, there are thousands of forms to apply it to . . .  but the permission is very hard, as social hierarchies tend to make us feel that we always have to ask for it from higher authority.

So I try very hard to lead by example.  I’m just a kid from a farm in Ohio.  If I can do it, you can do it.  Just don’t let your imagination– a font of infinite bits of ideas both useful and destructive– tell you that you can’t.

Below, a fun story from Real Men Don’t Rehearse, my Boston Pops memoir  🙂


© Justin Locke

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