Creativity changes the world. And by “creativity,” I don’t just mean the arts, though they are certainly valuable and world-changing. Creativity is innovation — a decision to think outside the box and deviate from what has always been done. It’s thinking differently.
I have had the privilege of knowing so many creative people in my life, and one of my recent guests on the Real Hope podcast is no exception. Jeremy Cowart is a renown photographer and entrepreneur, and he’s used his creativity to make an impact in more than one way.
Certainly his art as a photographer shows off his creative skills. He’s done photo shoots for everyone from Carrie Underwood to Tyler Perry, and he’s also put those talents to use as a storyteller, photographing scenes from natural disasters and even the pandemic. Aside from his actual art, though, Jeremy uses his creative brain to shape new ideas and help others.
I talked to Jeremy about his most recent endeavor, The Purpose Hotel, which all started as a seemingly crazy dream back in 2012.
“It was such a big idea, I was afraid of it for three years,” he says. Jeremy says the vision for The Purpose Hotel began to form when he visited a hotel and noticed a sign by the room door that said “Hello, my name is room 1002.” That gave him an idea.
Jeremy took a risk. Instead of considering what’s currently available or what seems realistic right now, he thought bigger. He kicked his creativity into high gear and dreamed a little about what could be. Now, the first Purpose Hotel location is on its way to construction — right across from the Nashville Rescue Mission, in fact!
Everyone Can Create
I believe everybody has the capability of being creative. After all, we are created by the Creator, made in His image. He created everything from nothing.
You don’t have to be able to paint or write poetry. Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. It looks different for everyone, but I’m willing to bet you have it. Sometimes it just takes some intentionality to bring it out. The main thing you can do to cultivate it is practice.
“Creativity is like a muscle,” says Andrew Aylsworth, professor of marketing at Bentley University. “Everyone is born with the muscle. Some are born with a ‘creativity muscle’ that few others can match, and they use that potential to go to great creative heights. Think DaVinci, Dickinson and Jobs. Some have developed their muscle through years of practice. But everyone has the muscle. And like any muscle, it atrophies with disuse. But if we exercise it, we can develop it.”
It can be especially difficult these days because our lives are so centered on “input.” We’re constantly bombarded with messages, and we’re constantly trying to sort through these outside messages and process them accordingly that we have little time to create anything of our own.
“With 24-hour news, endless social-media posts, podcasts, and so on, many of us spend too much time absorbing information rather than consciously dedicating time to process and create output,” writes Peter Gasca for Inc.com. “In other words, we need to deliberately practice creativity.”
Some ways to practice creativity are to build in time to dream, brainstorm and chase rabbits. Ask those “what if” questions, like Jeremy did at the hotel. Allow yourself to engage in “divergent thinking,” which means exploring several different paths and potential solutions to a problem. (This is the opposite of “convergent thinking,” which is the kind of process we use to take in facts and come up with a concrete answer, like answering a multiple-choice question.)
A second ingredient for cultivating creativity Gasca references is personal experience. Because it differs so greatly from person to person, it’s a crucial component of thinking outside the box, especially if you can involve more than one perspective. Your experience is unique to you, so if you can use anything from your life as a lens with which to consider the problem at hand or something you’re creating, you’re automatically more likely to do something innovative.
While many people may not have seen professional family photos as such a source of self-worth and joy, Jeremy knew from experience that portraits are more than just a snapshot. His unique perspective helped him create something new with his Help Portrait initiative, bringing free portraits to people in need. Some people who came to these events had never had a professional portrait taken. Some had lost their family photos over the years. Some had never had them to begin with. The life-change that happens through that organization is real and powerful. Ideas like The Purpose Hotel and Help Portrait were just two ways that Jeremy was able to creatively serve a need using his personal experience and skills.
You may not be a celebrity photographer, but you were made in the image of the Creator of the universe, who designed orchids and the nervous system and the duck-billed platypus. If you take the time to cultivate it, your creativity might just change someone’s life.
Practical Ways to Cultivate Creativity
Andrew Ng, an artificial intelligence expert formerly of Google, says creativity is actually something you can systematically increase, like through collaboration.
“In my own life, I found that whenever I wasn’t sure what to do next, I would go and learn a lot, read a lot, talk to experts,” he says. “I don’t know how the human brain works but it’s almost magical: when you read enough or talk to enough experts, when you have enough inputs, new ideas start appearing.”
In addition to collaboration, Inc.com suggests a few other practical ways to be intentional about strengthening your creative muscles:
- Take a walk
- Look at other industries
- Ask for advice
- De-stress/do something you love
- Look at the problem from different perspectives (i.e. “just the facts” or “where things could go wrong”)
How will you cultivate creativity today?
Check out my conversation with Jeremy on the latest episode of Real Hope to hear more about The Purpose Hotel and how he uses his talents in so many ways to bring hope to others.