Creativity grows out of an unfolding process of creative development. Every successful creator I’ve studied – from artists to entrepreneurs – has gone through a process of development, stretching oftentimes for years, till they hit upon their best ideas and ran with them. Understanding how creative development works can help you think about yours and nurture it, so you will find your way to the very best ideas.

Here are 4 basic principles to keep in mind:

1. Creative development takes time; follow your interests where they lead; believe in yourself.

Creative development is a winding path. It starts from creative interests we form: What are you most passionate about as a new product or service area? Where would you love to explore and find a way to contribute? Don’t try to find your idea right away. Just enjoy exploring, learning, talking to people. As you build your knowledge ideas will come.

Jack Dorsey, Co-Founder of Twitter, grew up in St. Louis fascinated by vibrant patterns of life and motion in the city, from bicycle messengers to emergency vehicles. Some years later as mobile devices came of age he thought about people transmitting in real time what was going on around them using IM. The technology wasn’t quite there and this attempt didn’t work, but the idea stayed with him. A few years in San Francisco, working at failing Odeo, he broached the idea to his team, they went for it, and shortly after Twitter was born.

The lesson is to follow your true interests where they take you. That is how novel, creative ideas and businesses emerge.

2. Be open and attune to your creative responses.

One of the key ways we have ideas is when we encounter something new and respond to it in a creative way. Our creative interests and preoccupations trigger these creative responses.

Coco Chanel, skilled at sewing but selling hats initially in the fashion business, reportedly told author Paul Morand that her fortune was based on an “old jersey” she “put on because it was cold.” That most likely somewhat chance event – but response rooted in her skill and ingenuity – was one key moment in the growth of her pioneering fashion.

3. There will be ups and downs along the way. Find ways to keep going.

Every creative person I’ve studied has ups and downs as they follow their own path through life. Handling ups and downs, and all the emotions that accompany them, is key for pursuing your creative dreams.

Georgia O’Keeffe wrote at age 28, in a letter to her friend Anita Pollitzer, how she had nearly decided to stop pursuing her creative art. But Anita’s very positive responses to highly original abstract art Georgia had sent Anita gave her a lift and she kept on – indeed this period was a critical watershed in her creative development and yet she may have been close to quitting.

Don’t deny the feelings you have – acknowledge them, then find the support you need, the resilience, and develop habits and routines – so that you can keep going. Both positive and negative feelings have their place in creative development. Generating ideas is exciting, often uplifting. Critiquing ideas, especially our own, can be painful. But as you go through the cycle you’ll start to recognize the patterns and it will get easier.

4. Let your ideas evolve – don’t hold on to a fixed first impression.

The most common mistake novices make when it comes to creative development is rigidly holding onto their first idea. A first idea is a treasure but it can almost always be improved upon. It is through the constant tinkering and revising that you can find the sweet spot for success – even a “small” improvement can be huge for success in the market. Welcome criticism and then go back to the drawing board – again and again.



Jonathan Feinstein

About the Author

Jonathan Feinstein

Jonathan Feinstein is interested in creativity and innovation, specifically the paths of development of creative individuals, including entrepreneurs, inventors, artists and scientists. He is the author of The Nature of Creative Development (Stanford University Press, 2006). His class The Practice and Management of Creativity & Innovation was featured in the BusinessWeek Online article, "Creativity Comes to B-Schools" in the spring of 2006, and also [in an article] in FastCompany in 2014. He has been extensively cited and quoted in the media for his approach to creativity. He is also interested in creativity in education and the management of creativity.