Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Jan 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – There is something that separates the really good from the magnificent. Why did Tchaikovsky become an international classic while the vast majority of other composers remain undiscovered (yes, I recently survived my 8th Nutcracker ballet!)? Did the unknowns lack technical skill? How did Albert Einstein’s theories replace Isaac Newton’s as standard thinking? What was Al doing challenging the master of the planets? What about the West coast offense in football? Pablo Picasso? Thomas Edison? Perhaps closer to home court, why do some tennis players with all the talent and training in the world never break the top 50? The answer may be “creativity!” It’s definitely worth your time for a closer look, perhaps in a slightly different way!

What is Creativity?

Very little sport psychology research has addressed this topic, so excuse me for going out on a limb this month. But – that’s actually the essence of creativity – not being afraid to go where few venture! My dictionary defines creative as “resulting from originality of thought or expression.” Psychologists liken creativity to “divergent thinking” or “thinking that extends in many directions from a single point.” Creativity involves coming up with many possible solutions to a single problem. The opposite of creativity is rigidity or closed-minded thinking. Perhaps you know folks who remain hopelessly fixed in their way of thinking – always viewing things from only one perspective. In my opinion, these people limit their potential for performance.

Expressions of Creativity

Creative performers can be spotted by their actions and thoughts, but attempting to fully describe creative behavior is a contradiction that would show incredible rigidity! What is creative tomorrow is often unknown today. Nevertheless, certain behaviors and thoughts seem to characterize those who are truly creative:

Fluency of Ideas – The ability to generate a large number of ideas. For example, athletes with fluency of ideas imagine many competitive scenarios and how to deal with them most effectively.

Flexibility – The ability to adjust to the situation effectively. Flexible competitors do not remain focused on solutions that do not work. Changing strategies during competition is an example of flexibility.

Originality – Behaving in ways that few others do. It’s an expression of creativity to come up with a novel solution to a common problem. How many tennis players used a western forehand grip before Bjorn Borg? How about the forward pass in the 1930s? Originality does sometimes pay dividends.

Developing Creativity

So you’ve decided that creativity may have some advantages. Here are some ways in which you can develop creativity:

Loosen Up Your Stereotypes – People often simplify reality by holding on to stereotypes and judgements that are not based in reality. Learn to identify and let go of your false assumptions more often and you’ll find that greater creativity will emerge. You’ll be more aware of subtleties that were previously blocked by a rigid and often unfounded perspective.

Brainstorm – Spend a regular portion of your time generating ideas without stopping to evaluate them. This creative process is best achieved in a completely non-judgmental setting where everyone is allowed to share without the benefit of criticism. Ideas that seem silly are encouraged because they often lead to other ideas that are the key to future success.

Incubate – Think of one serious problem that you want to solve before you retire for the evening. Convince your mind to work on the solution during your sleeping hours. You may be surprised when the solution presents itself in the morning! The unconscious work toward a solution is often accomplished by just leaving problems, but returning to them later.

A Creativity Contest

I’ve ranted long enough. It’s now your turn to tell me who you think the most creative tennis player ever was and why. I will post the winner in the next Mental Equipment article! Send your response to me using this form.