can we kill “creative” as a noun?

For several months, I was all aboard the creative train. I was hungry, I was interested, I was attracted to the makers and the doers – I wanted to be the maker and the doer. To BUILD and to MAKE. I wanted to be a creative.

“Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream…people become shadow artists instead. Artists themselves but ignorant to their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists. Unable to recognize that they themselves may possess the creativity they so admire, they often date or marry people who actively pursue the art career they themselves secretly long for.” The Artist’s Way

I was a shadow artist. Just as entrepreneurship has become such a seductive, elusive path for many, the path of the creative was putting me under its spell…alluring but seemingly unattainable.

But when you classify an individual as a creative instead of describing someone as creative, you create an exclusive class. You assign the quality as innate and not able to be cultivated within all individuals.

Further, you’re doing creatives a disservice. To classify someone as a creative ignores the action. Ignores the work. Ignores the creations themselves.

I would love to break down the wall of the creative. I would rather encourage all individuals to create, and refer to them as what they truly are: creators. 


UPDATE: After posting this, I had a conversation with one of my most creative friends that, frankly, is better than what is above. I’ve copied most of it below.


Curious about your most recent “creatives” post


what up?


Want to know more thoughts about it


its really pretty simple, i just don’t like the word as a noun, i think its kind of bullshit. I really respect and envy people who create, but it seems like being a “creative” has become less substantive on average. How often must one create to be a creative? does having the quality of creativity alone make someone a creative? anyone can be creative. then why isn’t everyone a creative?

just don’t like that it’s used as a noun


I feel like I disagree, because we have very different viewpoints / stances where we’ve come from, so it’s curious that you say this

Want to swap thoughts

Do you have much background knowledge on the idea of design thinking?


yeah sorta


Design thinking was popularized, to many, by David Kelley, of standford d school & IDEO. It’s the idea that the design process that designers are taught to master & follow, no matter the practice, can be applied to anything. The way you run your Business, whatever

IDEO is a funny parallel here because do you think if you said IDEO your mom would have heard of it?


no absolutely not. but I’m tracking with you here


Ok, many parents would. When they have NO reason to, because IDEO is a high level design firm that interacts with major businesses: it’s not a consumer facing brand. But they also started this revolution that design was “cool”, design was for “everyone”, design is “anything”: see it with us!

So I think that’s part of the story today. Design school is something more popular than ever.

Another issue is – everyone has access to the tools. Everyone “can” be creative, but “is” everyone creative? What is “good” or “bad”?

& finally, I think design is one of the last robot-unfriendly frontiers. Most other things can & will be robot-ized, but what about creativity?


no no I completely disagree. I would say the VAST majority of people have no idea what IDEO is. Most people are blue collar, laborers, etc. don’t know business let alone design thinking firm that works with businesses. remember you grew up in P&G world

how many people in the whole state of Idaho would have any reason to know IDEO


Ok. I’m not here to argue that (Idaho is actually very different from how it’s presented in pop culture) because it is a household brand in some ways – mostly in the 90s. They have dropped off now


see i don’t think “creative” should be so synonymous with “design” or necessarily anything visual or tangible

creativity is a way of thinking

problem solving



Creativity isn’t problem solving


i don’t think we are going to come to a common ground here lol


I have one more thought

Because I think the word creative is applied too liberally

Because I think it’s hot right now, like design


i agree with that

and its always self-proclaimed

or sort of haphazardly applied by a “non-creative” to mean someone who does design, since it’s liberal use confuses the meaning

i think this taxonomy is a middle ground between us:

maybe this is easier to ingest…


Ok so here’s my thoughts: I think “creatives” are seeing people liberally apply the term, & getting mad, like designers got mad when they said “you can teach design thinking to anyone!” But I don’t believe everyone is inherently, or can be taught, to be either of those things: and it’s not bad! It’s a fact of life. I’m never going to be great at science. We need all the things

Why is it that design/creativity is the one thing people get mad at when they say “everyone isn’t this” I’m not mad if someone says “you can’t/shouldn’t be a doctor”

Problem solving is problem solving. It’s not creativity. That’s unique ideas, generated constantly.

making creativity quantifiable (problem solving) makes it inherently more scientific than it is. I can tell you from experience it’s not something I can chase down when I want.


it’s not about chasing it down. It’s about getting out of your own way – anyone can learn to get out of their own way and cultivate (their own level) of unbridled creativity. I think it’s a muscle, and as much as that muscle is flexed puts people further down the spectrum at any given point in time.

in theory, I could see a certain “threshold” where a group of people further along the spectrum and creating at higher levels could deserve the now ambiguous and meaningless “noun” of “creative.” But bad apples spoiled it.

My last point, because again I don’t think we are going to come to an agreement, there are two theories of intelligence in developmental psychology: “entity” and “incremental.” The idea of “I’m never going to be great at science” signifies an “entity” mindset of intelligence. I am innately this and it cannot evolve. A ton of the most intellectually gifted people prescribe this way because things naturally came to them, and so they “I am good at this” and if something doesn’t come easily it was “I am bad at this.” Incrementalists say “I got this because I worked at it it”…”entity” leads to a learned helplessness orientation.

And, if I were to make my own theory, I think “entity” thinkers tend to gravitate towards titles/classifications because that is THEIR thing. They are innately that and they are innately that more than other people.


Ok. I’m not saying “creatives” should be called this, as a blanket, self applied term.

I think everyone needs a tribe. I just wanted to have a discussion because the writing of your post kind of sounded like you got snubbed by someone in the vaguely “creative tribe” & aren’t thrilled?

Also – “I’m not good at science” because I chose not to flex that muscle, yes. It was something I recognized would take a LOT more work to improve upon than say … Design


nah, i mean i was snubbing myself

it was this sexy classification that i wanted and didn’t know how to get and that meant i was making myself feel like i wasn’t making things

and then i came to the conclusion that i needed to be doing visual arts and call myself a creative to be a “creative” and that didn’t seem right either

i like people who create. i like the action more than the quality. and i just don’t think “creative” should be a noun haha idk just ~opinions~


But see… You just admitted that you expanded the classification of creative to include what you were doing so that you could apply it?


but i *didnt* apply it


i am friends with a lot of self proclaimed creatives and this post isn’t doing well haha


Well. Some of them are feeling the burn

The sting of “taking their thing”

I think it’s interesting you wanted to join the creatives

It’s not something people try to do with like… Firefighters

I’m not articulating myself well but I have a lot of thoughts on this & tribes & how people want to belong & what we’re told we can be or not. I texted you not because i was mad but because I think you think about things differently than me & having a discussion is refreshing

So I hope you weren’t annoyed by it


yeah i went into defense mode real quick and then talked myself into openness but we still had fundamentally different viewpoints because I’m reading “the artists way” and “the art of learning” concurrently and you’re already living it and have for some time

but my “stuff” that i create is such a different form. writing, stretch-goal podcast, parties with curated groups of friends, events with defined experiences, SPREADSHEETS


I love excel. It’s like a bad word in design. But it doesn’t make me any less a designer


frankly a transcript of this conversation is better than that piece i wrote


Lol. You can share if you want. Can I leave you with 2 thoughts?

I think that’s why I texted you! I was sure you had more behind it but it felt like a drop the mic piece.


yeah hit me


I think it’s good to teach people with different backgrounds/strengths/jobs design thinking, because I am of the subset that isn’t afraid they’re all suddenly going to become designers, or researchers, or whatever if you teach them a different or new thing/way of thinking. It’s about learning. We should all continue to learn, forever, and won’t we all do better jobs (every kind of job) if we learn from each other?




Those people who want to be creatives, or apply the term to themselves… They’re just trying to find their way, too

Hey, can I have your email address? I will only send you more articles like this one.