I Used to Be Creative

Posted on October 30, 2014


Reading Evan Troxel’s recent post on creativity got me thinking about creativity in my own life. It helped me realize why I remember my college days as full of free-flowing creativity and possibility. It’s because I was living in an ideal environment for the cultivation of new ideas. After I graduated, the shift to the working world was a jarring change in the opposite direction.



n. the ability to make new things or think of new ideas.

(from Merriam-Webster)

In college, I worked constantly yet erratically. Everyone had set classroom time, but you were also in studio early in the morning, late at night and all other times of the day. Almost every night, I would work at my kitchen table with my roommate from about 7 pm – 1 am. The studio and kitchen table were both safe places ideal for individual and group thinking. One gave me a place to discuss and work through problems with others in the same discipline and mindset. The other challenged me to find new ways of discussing and thinking about the problems by working with someone in a totally different field and mindset. Most importantly I worked by feel. I could drop things at the moments notice and go to the fitness center to work out, play guitar, ride my skateboard, or take a video game break. In the opposite vein, I had very little responsibility so I could work for hours straight with few interruptions enabling long unbroken chains of thought.

What changed is, whether consciously or unconsciously, the profession of architecture trains us to discard this way of living. We have to be at our desk from 8 am – 5 pm Monday through Friday. You get your work done in that time and then you go home. Sometimes you work longer hours, but we force this schedule on ourselves. Another constraint is our home lives. We get married, have kids and take on other responsibilities. This helps reinforce the clock in, clock out mentality. We want to go home and spend time with our kids, have family dinners, and play time. We also have busy schedules with soccer games, board meetings, gymnastics, and the list goes on. Creativity is forced to run with an on/off switch, and it simply doesn’t work that way.

Where I work, I have a laptop computer. It’s great. It gives me the flexibility to pick up and get my work done whenever and wherever I am. If I know I have some free time I can take my computer home and get caught up on work on the weekend. In the past, I’ve had to be in the office at my desk to work. That kills creativity. The ability to change environments gives you the flexibility to make those breakthroughs you might not otherwise make. If we can train ourselves to recognize our most creative times and run with them (likewise realize when we’re drained and not thinking straight, quit and go do something else), we will we be more efficient and creative.

I have challenged myself to be open to creativity all the time. I try to take my sketchbook with me when I go places, I read daily about new concepts and write down my thoughts. If the “flow” hits, I try to stay in it for as long as possible. You can bring creativity with you, you just have to be open to it tapping you on the shoulder at all times.