5 Enduring Truths about Creativity from Jay Z

You could take the slow road, as I did. Matriculate through the Creative Problem Solving Institute. Complete a Master of Science degree in Creativity and Innovation. Gain certifications in Change Leadership and deliberate creativity methods such as LEGO Serious Play, CPS, FourSight, Design Thinking and others.  Or, you could listen closely to key lyrics by Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz from their 2009 hit  “On to the Next One.” Both routes will lead you to five enduring truths when it comes to creativity.

LYRIC: “I got a million ways to get it…”

Using my admittedly flexible interpretation of it, I hear a seminal creativity truth in this.

ENDURING TRUTH #1: With a creative challenge, there is always more than one right answer

Creative challenges are typically ill defined and ambiguous. Sometimes there is too little information and sometimes too much. But there is always more than one way to solve a creative challenge. And research shows that, when it comes to generating ideas, quantity yields quality.

LYRIC: “…choose one”

ENDURING TRUTH #2: The dynamic tension between generating “ways” and selecting among them to “choose one” is the heartbeat of Creativity.

The distinct separation of Divergent thinking from Convergent thinking is the cornerstone of most innovation methods. Divergent thinking is all about generating ideas or options. Convergent thinking is about evaluating, improving and choosing certain ones. There are scientifically valid guidelines for divergent and convergent thinking that we mere mortals should learn. And there are talents like Jay-Z, who don’t have to.

LYRIC: “Always knew it be like this when I was in the kitchen”

ENDURING TRUTH #3: Creativity takes vision, and the gumption to pursue it.

The ability to imagine a desired outcome is an important creative thinking skill. Being able to picture a wished for future state, in vivid and concrete detail, is the first step toward attaining it. Summoning the courage to take the next steps, likely to be unfamiliar and uncertain, requires tolerating risk.

LYRIC: “Can’t be scared to fail”

ENDURING TRUTH #4: You learn from failure.

One widely held definition of creativity is that creativity equals novelty that is useful or appropriate. If fresh options are the goal, then fresh failures need to be an accepted part of the process. Success has its rewards. But failure can yield benefits too, such as refined perspectives, new possibilities, resilience, grit, insight, improvement, change…

LYRIC: “No I’m not a virgin, I use my cahonas”

ENDURING TRUTH #5: Creativity and its end benefit, innovation, are not for the faint of heart

To attain the novelty that defines creativity, one must be willing to explore what is uncertain, ambiguous, unfamiliar and potentially unsuccessful. Key skills associated with creativity include a tolerance for ambiguity, an inclination not to rush to premature closure and a comfort with complexity. Along with tools, methods and discipline, creativity takes “cahonas” -er…, guts. Yes, guts—and the gumption to use them.

There are many more enduring truths connected to creativity and, thankfully, as many applications as Jay-Z has “ways to get it.”


Judy Bernstein