What is the relationship between talent, creativity, skill and performance?
Often, when someone says they are not creative, what they are really saying is that they do not believe they have the same level of skills or talents as people they look up to as creative.
Even if the people they look up to have spent an entire lifetime developing those talents.
What they do not realise is that creativity and skill are related, but not the same thing.
Everyone is creative. But not everyone is creative in every domain. And some people who have incredibly high levels of skill in performance in a creative field are actually not that creative themselves.
So what is the difference?
Creativity: Someone is creative if they can come up with and potentially execute ideas which are original and have value. There are different types of creativity, sometimes referred to as the 4Cs, so you do not need to be a professional in a field to be creative. However, the more time someone has spent in a field, building up their experience and skills, the more likely they are to also come up with more creative and valuable ideas.
Skill: Skill is the ability with which you can execute what you set out to do. It is built up over time and repetition with deliberate practice. Therefore, on your creative journey, you might start out with creative yet vague ideas but not yet have the required skill to execute them properly. When you are performing at the fine line between the limit of your current skill level, but continuing to challenge yourself, you may be able to be in a state of Flow.
However, not all skill requires creativity. Many skills are learned by either brute-force repetition, such as by studying under a master who teaches you what they know, but you are not asked to provide any new originality into the output. So you might be able to perform other people’s ideas or creative output, without injecting much creativity yourself. An example of this would be a painter who is able to accurately recreate a famous work of art, such as the skilled oil painters of Dafen Village in China, where for many years the vast majority of fake oil masterpieces were produced. Another example might be an instrumentalist in a symphony orchestra, who has practiced their instrument for decades but only ever performs the notes exactly as they are printed on the sheet music and directed by the conductor (the antithesis of this would be a jazz jam session, where nobody is reading any pre-produced music and everything is created in that moment). So just because someone can perform in a traditional “creative industry” like music, theatre, film or fine art, does not immediately mean that they themselves are being creative.
Talent is related to a “rage to master”
Talent: Talent is perhaps the hardest of all to define. According to Scott Barry Kaufman, researcher into creativity, talent is related to a “rage to master“. Some people may be born with certain abilities where if they invest focused time and effort into deliberate practice, their level of skill will improve faster than someone with less of these advantages. For example, some people are born with perfect pitch, meaning not only can they identify sounds and notes more accurately than other people, they can reproduce them more consistently as well. This would be a talent which helps them when practicing and developing their skills in music and singing. Other people may have a talent for empathy, leading them to be better able to craft or perform characters in writing or theatre.
Importantly, these people will notice themselves excelling in these domains if they are given the chance, and may enjoy the challenge of improving and mastering their skills. Therefore, they enjoy practice, leading to a virtuous cycle of improvement.
However, just like ideas, talent means nothing if it is not executed on. We probably all know people who were identified as talented, especially when they were younger, but who did not work as hard as was needed to make something of their talent. In some cases, this may be due to laziness. In other cases, it may be that they were just more interested in something where they were not as talented. And in other cases, they were not able to spend the required time, or have access to the resources or coaching, to make the most of their talent, either because of a lack of access, or they may have had other responsibilities or limits in their way.
In many cases, this talent is left unfulfilled.
But in other, rare circumstances, people later in life may feel re-energised to pursue something which uses their talents. Perhaps in unexpected ways. Perhaps by once again beginning a journey to develop their skills.
Whatever it is, wherever your talent, creativity and skills may lie, remember this.
Skills and creativity can always be improved.
You just need to put in the time and effort to make them happen.