You Keep Using That Word…I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

I like words. I mean, I really like words. And yesterday, something happened that rarely occurs…the meaning of a word changed for me. It wasn’t that I learned a new word, or that I learned an obscure definition that consisted of a word I already knew. Instead, a common word, a word that I’ve uttered and heard probably thousands of times, has been changed in meaning, likely forever.

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photo: elisfanclub

That word is “creative.”

Now, as someone who has been on the sales and marketing side of the business for a long time, I used to map the word “creative” to something pretty close to the definition of the word. I used to map it to:

creative: characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative: creative writing.

Or perhaps this one:

creative: one who displays productive originality: the “creatives” in the advertising department.

The word used to mean something akin to the above definitions. It also had a number of other overtones: the “creatives” were the people in vintage, mismatched clothing who were “fun to be around” but…ultimately…well, they were the flighty, flaky folks. (You know, the ones who couldn’t hold a steady job.)

This changed yesterday at MeshForum.

Over the course of a conversation, I came to realize that there’s another, truer, sense of the word. One of the other participants stated that he had made a decision to “live a creative life.”

When I first heard that phrase, I naturally mapped the word “creative” to the definitions above. And, since it was uttered by an artist, everything seemed to fit. My worldview was secure in its assumptions.

And then the conversation progressed, and I realized that I had completely missed the point. The word “creative”…perhaps it’s better to explicitly enunciate it “create-ive”…was not meant to indicate “expressive” or “imaginative.” Instead, it was tied to the root meaning of the word create…to fabricate out of undifferentiated raw materials, to bring something new to the world and to bring to life and fruition and success novel, tangible things that have never been seen before.

This idea of “creation” is in stark contrast to the common business tactic of fixing problems. As was stated yesterday, “when you ‘fix’ a broken motorcycle, the best that you can hope for is to end up with a motorcycle that is as good as it was before it was broken.” When you are being create-ive, you bring to life something that is additive, something that propels you, and your company, and society forward.

So…were you create-ive today? Or did you just fix things?


5 Replies to “You Keep Using That Word…I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

  1. The way I understand the word “create” is that it means to take existing materials and organize them in a new way. So to create is to organize. There’s no such thing as forming something from nothing – that little law about the conservation of mass, right? But taking what’s in front of you and molding it into something new and meaningful, that’s being creative, I think.

  2. Your laws of “conservation of mass” and “conservation of energy” and “gravity” are of no interest to me. 🙂

    Yes, I totally hear you, Easton.

  3. Inconceivable!

    I think my take would be that there’s no point in even doing something if you don’t in some way improve on the existing concept/structure/practice… I mean, who wants a motorcycle that’s only as good as new or maybe not even quite that good? *I* want a motorcycle that does something the others don’t do, whether that’s flying, making espresso or shooting jets of flame from it’s headlight. My basic criteria for accepting a new design brief is that it should at least in part be “impossible” or inconceivable. Where’s the fun in doing something you know will work? The learning curve is all about doing something that should never work, and doing it in an elegant way.

    Conservation of mass? Pshaw. I make something from nothing all the time… In fact, the world is so full of nothing, I find that using it as my primary source material gives me a constant supply. Not nothing in the sense of a lack of atoms, but nothing in the sense of matter undesired by the masses. There’s plenty of that stuff, and I can make it very desirable with a little application of creative reorganizing.

    The first rule of creative living is that breaking the rules is the first step to fixing the problem. When you can break the higher order rules of physics, or at least bend them a bit or make them dance unexpectedly on pins, you’re almost certainly on to something.

  4. I been throwing caution to the wind for so long the wind is almost full of caution.

    After discussing the various meanings he had previously attributed to the word, he described the satori-inducing conversation as follows:Over the course of a conversation, I came to realize that there’s another, truer, sense of the word. One of the ot…

  5. This rings true for me. I’ve been doing the same job for a few years, and early on, it was creative — designing new things. Once they were designed, the role shifted to fixing other things, and I’ve had a hard time mustering energy for fixing…it doesn’t nurture the creative spirit.

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