Inside the Creative Mind: Creativity at Work and Play

picture of the thinking man with a creative mind
picture of the thinking man with a creative mind

Last Updated on February 26, 2024

The Creative Mind may seem like a metaphysical force, guiding ethereal thoughts into the world of being. This ontological journey, which creates something out of seemingly nothing, begins in the imagination. Imagination concerns itself with the space between the real and unreal, the seen and unseen, the potential and the actual. In this article, we will explore the difference between imagination and creativity, how the creative mind works, at what the 10 traits of the creative mind are.

The Difference between Imagination and Creativity

Understanding how the creative mind works starts with recognizing the distinction between imagination and creativity. Scientifically, imagination is regarded as a right-brained function. The brain, divided into left and right hemispheres, has been mapped with certain characteristics and functions: the left brain being logical and language-based and the right brain being visual and intuitive.

The creative mind in a nutshell

Often, people tend to be dominant in one hemisphere more than others. Imagination and most general artistic practices belong to the right hemisphere governed by playfulness and curiosity. The act of imagining largely involves the ability of the mind to pull up stored visual information and ‘see’ internally, inside the mind’s eye.

But the creative mind tends also to be solution oriented. Visualized circumstances and playful potential outcomes eventually have to be implemented into real-world scenarios, and this is where the creative mind utilizes both imagination and logic, and thus respectively, both sides of the brain, to bring new ideas to fruition.

Imagination in this regard can be summoned as a creative tool of the creative mind in the creative process. Read more about strategies to stimulate your creative processes here.

How the Creative Mind Works

This Whole Brain Creativity model dissects the creative process into the sum of its brain parts. The six phases of the creative process include interest, preparation, incubation, illumination, verification, and application. In other words, creativity involves the entire process of making ideas come to life. Doing this begin with intent and focus, imagination, and the constant passing of the baton between structured thought and free thinking.

Another distinction of creativity is that the activation of the whole brain forms new cognitive associations, parallels, and correlations between known subjects. Creativity is the expansion and the result of the varying and multiplying of associations in the brain that widens our scope when investigating a subject.

Jordan Peterson describes the proclivity of creative people to courage and exploration of the unknown. He also breaks down the requirements of creative thought and creative achievement. In particular, he defines creativity as the production of ideas both novel and useful. But more importantly, he points creativity also requires ‘fluency’ or the ability to translate ideas into thought and expand parallel connections which stem from that idea. The more original associations are, the less likely they are to be thought of by others.

For instance, I can tell you: imagine a horse and your mind will create an impression of a horse which is likely linked to a visualization of a horse in your mind’s eye. This picture is the sum result of your mind’s databank of horse and consensus, or top hit, of what best represents those links. The more associations you have with horses in your daily life, the more concrete and real your imagined horse will be. 

creative mind, generating an image of a horse

If you wanted however to perceive a horse in a new way, you can add variables. Here, creativity comes into play. For instance, a yellow horse on mars with two tails. Your imagination will scramble to generate that image but it’s the creative urge which hijacks the concept of a horse and adds something new to it. Now you too dear reader can add your little yellow two-tailed friend on mars to your horse databank, and hopefully, add your own novel variations on it.

Other creative tools for generating new distinct variations on the concept of a horse could include the use of mind maps, puzzles, or randomized selection to generate new associations.

10 Traits of the Creative Mind

While creativity can express itself in countless ways, creative thinkers have many common characteristics. Below I have identified 10 traits most people with creative minds display. See if you can spot yourself or someone you know.

  • 1. They like to cook

While cooking from a recipe can seem pretty straightforward, veering off the path and adapting recipes to what ingredients you have available or to suit specific tastes is a sign of creating new mental associations in action. Creative individuals love being able to mix up different flavors and textures in a form that they and others can eat, share, and enjoy.

  • 2. Their workspace is messy

Creative people love to bring order out of chaos, and the working space of creative individuals is no exception. In fact, in many circumstances, seeing objects or papers out and about can serve as triggers or reminders of projects in action which can cross-pollinate into other projects down the line. For creative individuals, it’s about connections, not boxes.

  • 3. They doodle

Doodling may seem from the outside as the imagination and right brain working into overtime, however, preoccupation with a doodle can sometimes be an attempt of a creative mind to balance out brain activity. For instance, if a creative individual needs to focus and organize creative thought, the left brain task of creating structure may engage the right brain in an imaginative right-brain action to activate the entire mind.

  • 4. They take their dreams seriously

The Creative Mind takes ideas from their daily life, and some of the most novel ideas come in dreams. People engaged in creative tasks learn to appreciate accessing their subconscious mind for novelty and out-of-the-box inspirations.

Le reve 1932
Le Rêve (The Dream) 1932, painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
  • 5. They ask questions

As children, they never seemed to grow out of their ‘Why’ phase, as each answer tends to bring up more questions. Not asking questions implies contentment with the status quo. The creative mind, however, is never fully content as it always recognizes space for growth and expansion. This inherent potential in everything invites curiosity and questioning to feel out subject matters for weak spots or room for development.

Creativity in its essence is a process of problem-solving, and the characteristic of inquisitiveness expresses the inherent desire to get to the bottom of each question and each problem. In fact, rather than leave well enough alone, the creative mind uses the process of questioning from multiple vantage points around a topic to formulate their conclusions and understanding.

  • 6. They listen

Although in some artists, the proclivity toward narcissism can be pronounced, true creativity is collaborative. The creative mind recognizes the value in the input of other people. In fact, every conversation is source of stimulation, and while it can seem that the creative mind will wander during a talk, it is more likely that something which was said triggered a sleuth of other mental connections. Therefore, rather than not paying attention, the creative mind was actually engaged in Deep Listening.

Another reason why the creative mind listens is that creative individuals also tend to be empathetic. Not being tied to one identity, one ideology, or one mode of thinking, the creative mind is able to leave its own perspective and assumptions and see through the eyes of another. Like an actor taking on a role, creative people can imagine the point of view of others and find ways to relate and feel with others’ experiences. 

  • 7. They aren’t afraid to fail

The Creative mind learns to embrace failure as a fundamental part of the creative process. Failure keeps the door open to new ideas and possibilities. At the same time, failing brings us one step closer to getting to the heart of the problem, which in the end is the aim of the creative mind. In some circumstances, creative people will actively engage in experiments that they know won’t work, hoping instead to able able to gain insight or inspiration from the experience.

  • 8. They daydream

Active thought is used in the implementation process of creativity, but as we saw above in the whole brain creative model, incubation is also a necessary step that precedes activity. For me daydreaming is actively engaging in passive thought. In other words, it is time set aside for the gust of mental activity to settle, in order to see what is left. Daydreaming allows space and freedom for the mind to invite inspiration to direct the process into materialization.

  • 9. They have eclectic tastes

Because of the creative mind’s ability to create multiple associations and parallels, creative individuals love variety in art, culture, and information in general. Their interests tend to be wide, as they appreciate the expression of creative ideas in multiple fields and genres. In fact, since they are able to make parallels so easily, they can take an idea from, for example, the design of a font or lyrics of a song, and apply similar inspirations to their own project. This allows them to see the creative process at work in multiple fields and subjects. Also, the wider and less mainstream their tastes, the bigger their internal databank is for creating associations down the line.

Read more about the practice and benefits of interdisciplinary art here.

  • 10. They have faith

Creative minds have faith in the creative process. They believe that there are solutions to life’s problems and that there is a perfect reality that we strive towards. In regards to creativity, they see everything, good and bad, as playing a role to help them achieve their creative aims. Whether they express religious thought or not, the creative mind believes in a light at the end of the tunnel, otherwise, their efforts would be purely in vain.

For more information on the Creative Mind or Creative Process try our online course: Become the Hero of your Creative Journey.

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About the Author

Born in Chicago, I received my B.A. in Studio Arts with a concentration in Photography from Oberlin College. In 2001, I moved to Amman, Jordan where I worked both as a contemporary artist and as a photojournalist. I exhibited my photography in numerous exhibitions throughout the Middle East and internationally.

Eventually, I became the lead photographer for a Jordanian Lifestyle Magazine and Photo Editor for two regional publications: a Fashion Magazine and a Men’s Magazine. This allowed me to gain a second editorial eye for photography, as I regularly organized, commissioned, and published photoshoots from other talented photographers in the region.

While in Jordan, I also began teaching courses and workshops on Drawing, Seeing with Perspective, and Photography. I consider my teaching style to be somewhat radical but very effective and have received much positive feedback from my students through the years, who in turn became professional artists themselves.

In 2007, I moved to Berlin, Germany where I am currently based, and while I continue to expand my own fine art photography and contemporary art practices, I gain special joy and satisfaction from sharing my experiences and knowledge with my students.

To see more of my personal artwork click here.

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