Deconstructing Creativity: The 4 Roles You Need to Play to be Fully Creative

The 4 Roles You Need to Play to be Fully Creative

Do you want to be fully creative? To not only have wild ideas, but to actually create and bring remarkable things to life?

There are four distinct roles to be performed for the creative process to be as effective as possible. Each one requires that you play different characters, with different mindsets and skills.

The roles are: Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior.

Learn how they help unleash your creativity and how to master the skills each one requires.

1. The Explorer

Ideas do not come out of the blue. In order to build them you first need to gather the raw materials: facts, concepts, experiences, knowledge, feelings — that’s what ideas are made of. To get all of that, you need an attitude of ongoing curiosity and exploration.

The Explorer is always in search of new things. He is relentlessly curious and never limits himself to a particular area of experience and knowledge. To have ideas is to connect dots. First and foremost you need lots of dots to connect — you need fuel for the formation of new ideas.

How to Develop Your Explorer

  • Be curious and alert. Poke around in unknown areas. Be like a child, by paying attention to the world and being receptive to it. Rediscover the fun in finding things out.

  • Seek out as many inputs as possible. Do not limit yourself to the tried and true. Read different books and see different movies from the ones you like. Also, don’t mind going after information “you’ll never use”. Seek many different areas of knowledge.

  • Talk to a lot of different people. Get to know many different perspectives. Talk to strangers. Don’t limit yourself to expert advice.

2. The Artist

The artist has ideas. He takes the raw materials from the Explorer and combines them in novel ways.

When people say someone’s “creative”, they’re usually referring to the Artist. The Artist has ideas mostly by trying new things. He applies his imagination by rearranging, turning things upside down, stirring things up. He pursues different approaches and finds unexpected connections. He’s playful; he doesn’t care about what people expect from him.

How to Develop Your Artist

  • Flex your idea muscles. Write down new ideas as they come to you; it stimulates your brain to generate more and more ideas. Also, use idea-generation tools deliberately: Lists of 100, Idea Quota and SCAMPER just to name a few.

  • Play! We all know it: the most efficient way to have new ideas is by having fun. Don’t always take problems too seriously. Entertain yourself and keep your brain fresh and ready.

  • Use your imagination. Leave practicality aside; don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild and visualize new possibilities. Dare to ask ‘what if’ and watch new realities unfold.

3. The Judge

The Judge is all about “getting real”. His job is to analyze the Artist’s wild ideas and assess if they’re practical — in the real world.

The judge questions assumptions; he compares and analyzes. He checks how feasible ideas are. No matter how much the Artist loves an idea, the Judge looks for counterarguments, checks evidence, and makes hard decisions. Combining gut feeling and analytical tools, the judge must only let through feasible ideas.

The Judge gets a bad reputation — but only because people usually invoke him too early. Killing an idea before the Artist can play with it is a pity; killing it later is oftentimes a necessity.

How to Develop Your Judge

  • Develop critical thinking. Check your assumptions, experimenting with hypotheses, analyzing results and drawing conclusions. Master decision making.

  • Be aware of thinking traps. Our minds deceive us. Be always aware and vigilant of your own biases. There are more ways than you can imagine that your thinking can go wrong. Really.

  • Be real. Will the idea give you the return you want? Do you have the resources to make it happen? Are you willing to put the effort to make it happen? Be practical and down-to-earth.

4. The Warrior

As soon as you have an idea ready to be executed you’ll realize the world isn’t set up to accommodate every new idea that comes along. The enemies can be external: competition may be fierce, or people may just don’t “get” your beautiful ideas. Even harder than those, there are more than enough enemies already within you: think resistance, excuses and fear of failure.

The Warrior’s job is to make ideas happen. For that, you’ll need not only a strategy and plan of action but to put in the hours — fight the daily fight.

That means remaining productive, developing the resilience and courage to overcome obstacles and, of course, being able to sell your ideas — whatever’s necessary to materialize them.

How to Develop Your Warrior

  • Overcome resistance. When you create something new, resistance inevitably creeps in. You need to find ways of overcoming procrastination and staying productive day in, day out.

  • Be courageous. In order to make things happen, you’ll need to let go of self-doubt and conquer fear of failure.

  • Market and sell your idea. Are you the only one who thinks your idea is great? Can you convince others of the merits of your idea? If you can’t sell your idea, it won’t get far.

Awareness and Timing are Critical Too

In reality, we all know the path to creativity is not that sequential — explorer-to-artist-to-judge-to-warrior. Usually, there’s a lot of switching back and forth between roles: The Judge may return an idea to the Artist for further development; the Artist may want more data from the Explorer to develop a certain idea, and so on.

This is fine. The main thing is to be aware of which role you’re performing at different points in time. We often get stuck in the Explorer role for too long. Or we may jump the gun and summon our Judge while our Artist is still working his magic. There are so many ways to spend too much or too little time in each role, or to overlap ineffectively.

The lesson is: make sure not only to develop the skill set for each role, but also to play each one at the appropriate time. Be aware of which phase of the creative process you’re in and what you’re trying to accomplish. All roles are equally important: make sure they’re playing well with each other.

Want to Know More? Here’s a Recommendation

A Whack on the Side of the HeadThese concepts above are not new. The idea of the four creativity roles comes from Roger Von Oech‘s classic work on creativity A Whack on the Side of the Head, as well as the Creative Whack Pack (which is a deck of cards where each of the four roles is a suit — very fun, do check it out too).

I have had this book for ages but only lately have been applying its principles and becoming more conscious of the steps of the creative process. There’s a myth that creativity needs to be wild and unplanned, that one cannot be trained to be creative. I’m increasingly convinced that that is not true and I will expand on this topic as I explore more. In the meantime, A Whack on the Side of the Head and Creative Whack Pack are two truly excellent resources I recommend for those interested in becoming more creative.

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