For Dr. Hallowell, the flip side of creativity is impulsivity. “What is creativity but impulsivity gone right?” he says. “You don’t plan to have a creative idea. You don’t say ‘It’s 10 in the morning. Time to have a great idea.’”
Creative ideas happen spontaneously, impulsively. “The price you pay is you’re somewhat of a loose cannon,” Dr. Hallowell says. By setting boundaries, you can rein yourself in.
So to review: The key to creative success is to break boundaries and impose them. Weird? Maybe. But for creative types, seeming contradictions are kind of the norm.
In fact, creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has argued that what sets creative people apart is their complexity—they are multidimensional, exhibiting tendencies that typically don’t coexist. They’re both playful and disciplined, introverted and extroverted, rebellious and conservative.
“Creativity does not have one single portrait,” Vincent says. “People get this idea of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk—those are the creative people, and they’re a little different, a little awkward. But creativity comes in all sorts, not just those creative giants.”
In U.S. culture, we tend to see creativity as special and unique—almost mythical.
And indeed, because creativity requires the courage to be different, you do need a fair amount of independence, not to mention grit. In fact, Vincent, who studies the moral and social implications of creativity, has found that social rejection can actually fuel creative thought.
“People tend to be social creatures,” Vincent says. “However, when you have this independent mindset—this idea that you are different—being rejected affirms that. ‘I’m different, so of course they’re not going to get me. But I can do things they can’t do.’ That leads to creativity.”
“Creativity is not an easy road,” Vincent adds. “That road is littered with potholes of rejection and failure. And it takes a lot of resilience and independence to pick yourself back up and keep working.”
But while that can yield some incredible advances, Vincent has found that it can also lead some people to believe they’re above the rules.
When Vincent tested this in the lab, she found that people who were told creativity is rare were more likely to steal money in a subsequent task than those who believed that creativity is common.
“When people view creativity as rare and special, it creates a sense of entitlement,” Vincent says. “They believe they are more deserving than other people because they’re creative. And they're going to bend the rules.”
Company managers can avoid this by emphasizing teams over individuals and by welcoming pushback from the staff.
To check yourself, it can help to recall everything that contributed to your idea, Vincent suggests.
“You were not creative in isolation,” she says. “There was a confluence of situations that led you to be creative, and it’s important to remember that. Yes, you had this idea, and that shows your ability and skills. But in some ways, you were lucky.”