I’ve been scared of the word “creative.” Studies show that young children exhibit creativity and readily proclaim it, while with maturity, we tend to stop self-assigning the word to what we do. I know why.

We don’t know what creativity truly is. And what we don’t understand? It scares us.

We don’t know what creativity truly is. And what we don’t understand? It scares us.

As a designer and a communicator, people have asked if I’m creative. I’d answer: “I try.” Then along the way, an agency gave me business cards with my title of Creative Director. I apprehensively considered myself creative.

Looking back over three decades of professional creative life, I wondered what was the most creative thing I’ve seen. I had to first define true creativity. Creativity—in my practical world—is overcoming (or working within) obvious constraints while developing something unexpected that’s acceptable to most.

Creativity that’s not accepted by a client (or audience) is useless, wasteful, or reckless. Seeing a truly creative TV commercial is amazing to me because a client actually allowed someone to produce the idea. The same with any creative product. There’s a huge risk associated with being unpredictably creative. Clients will ask for creativity and then become consumed with taking out what makes it special because of that risk.

The most creative thing I’ve seen? The first iPod, from 2001.

Its creativity can be measured in the obstacles it had to overcome. The world needed to trust a small handheld device with valuable files while having the ability to organize and discover the files simply with a small wheel and an incredibly tiny display.

We needed to access an entire library of music in our back pocket without sound degradation. The technology constraints alone were baffling at the time. How could music be installed quickly? How long could a battery last? Will this portable hard drive skip all the time and kill the benefits?

Apple had enough brand credibility to launch this crazy device and have us accept it. Its simplicity took portable music forward with flair. We could carry 1000 songs right in your pocket! Never again would we carry a case of CDs around. It was amazing. And useful.

Here are 4 ways to identify why it was creative.

  • It solved a prominent problem/restraint – accessing a music library was cumbersome and not ultra portable. Even a portable Discman required carrying several CDs or listening to 10 tracks over and over.
  • It appealed to most – music was in everyone’s life and culture; it wasn’t going away.
  • It was based on what we knew – I remember everyone saying that it’s as easy as carrying a deck of cards around. Instantly someone could envision the ease and benefit.
  • It was simple to use and understand – the concept of an iPod didn’t need a huge explanation; in fact the launch was about ten minutes long and we were sold.

In our churches today, we need to exhibit true creativity, but often what we call “creative” is just over-indulgence that’s easily forgettable. We have very little restraint (direction or constraints), so we try virtually anything, hoping it’ll be accepted. What sticks is called creative and what doesn’t is quickly thrown away. We waste more money trying to be creative rather than doing the hard work of being truly creative.

Often what we call “creative” is just over-indulgence that’s easily forgettable.

Want to be truly creative? Start with a genuine problem and all the constraints that come with it. Ensure that your solution will appeal to most. Introduce it, utilizing what feels familiar. Realize that if it needs a long explanation, it’s probably overly complicated.

Real creativity will be honored and rewarded.