A friend asked me yesterday for some resources on creativity. He was looking to strengthen his own skills at creative problem solving at work.

Surprisingly I didn’t really have the best resources for him. I’ve recently read a few books that skirted the topic, but none that took creativity head on.

The truth is, creativity is not something all that mysterious. We are all creative. Human beings are, almost by definition, creative beings.

Yet why do some of us call ourselves “creative” while others deny it?

Here’s what I told my friend:

Creativity is a practice just like anything else. It takes several very important things to make it work. First the idea of non-judgment. To be able to create in this world you must let go of judgements you associate with who you are and what you’re creating. Is it good enough? Doesn’t matter. Will people like it? Don’t care. What will people think of me if I create something wrong. Can’t worry about it.

To practice creativity you first and foremost must create. Judgments, at least in the beginning stages just hold you back.

Next you must accept failure as an option. Most ideas fail. Period. They just do. To create great things in the world you must first create a bunch of very bad things. Let go of the idea, at least initially, that everything you do must succeed. This frees you up to test, try and go back to the drawing board when necessary.

Lastly, you must iterate. You must take consistent action unhindered by judgement or the possibility of failure and build on each action until the idea begins to take shape and actually solve the problem in question. That means just make stuff over and over until it works!

In time you’ll be able to go through the process of creating, failing, and creating better very quickly. Ultimately you’ll do it so fast and partly in your head so that when you do come up with something great it will feel like magic to the people around you. Solutions to creative problems in your field will come to you almost instantaneously.

What people will never see are all the failures and bad ideas that led you to this skill. Just like any other practice creativity is something you can hone and get better at.

Here’s a book I’ve gone back to over the years “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be” by Paul Arden. It’s written with professional creatives in mind but it’s short and has all the basic concepts you need to jump start creativity.

Also, read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. A nice little book about creative blocks.

And lastly, I really enjoyed Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. While it’s geared for people just out of college looking for jobs, it has some great ideas on using design thinking to open up new choices on how to live life and forge your own path in the world.