Creative Internet Self Improvement

How the Internet Can Make You More Creative than Ever

Rob Nightingale 05-04-2016

It’s time to stop accusing the Internet of being an obstacle to creativity. Used properly, it can massively enhance your creativity in all areas of work and life. Here we’ll show you how to make that happen.


In an essay series on Creator Culture, Guardian columnist Damien Walters wrote,

“It is our longing to create that is our deepest drive, and the one that makes us the most human. We ignore it at our own cost”.

But to steal terms from lawyer Lawrence Lessig, we have evolved from a read-write culture, to a read-only culture. The click of a like button has replaced a heartfelt note. We avoid boredom with mindless consumption instead of mindful creation.


It is true that we now broadcast more to the world than we ever have. From Tweets about a show we’re watching to a selfie of us on a night out. But these broadcasts are not creative, but mindless — the antithesis of creativity. And this is the kind of content we are surrounded by.

It shouldn’t be surprising then, that out of 18 industrial nations, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, American workers come “dead last” when it comes to problem-solving skills using technology.


Creativity is a Choice

But at the same time, even in America, creativity is growing exponentially, just like it has since the birth of the Internet.

Within just a few clicks, we can see the skilled creativity of dozens of people who chose to be creative. That’s because the barrier to entry is almost nil. The cost of creative failure is minimal. And the number of creative outlets we can express ourselves with is mind-boggling.

So do not be duped into believing that the Internet, or technology as a whole, destroys creativity. It certainly can be used to stifle our creative impulses. But it also has the potential to open up a world of creativity to anyone who chooses to go down the rabbit hole. So, if you wish for the Internet to help you be more creative, enter the rabbit hole with me.

You’re Spoiled for Choice

Long before we all had access to the Internet, we could write, play music, paint, sing, knit, carve. We were hardly starved of choice. But since the Internet has become omnipresent, those creative outlets have multiplied more than anyone could have dreamed.


Creativity Quote

If you enjoy writing, you can start a blog, publish to Medium, or submit your work to a huge number of websites. For those willing to take on more of a challenge, self-publishing a book is easier than ever The Martian, and the Rise of Serial Publishing A resurgence in serially publishing books in currently underway, with The Martian, now a major motion picture, being the prime example of this fascinating distribution method. Read More .

If you love Photography, you can access powerful, free photo-editing software 10 Easy-to-Use Photo Editing Programs for Newbie Photographers If Adobe Lightroom seems too complex for you, check out these easy-to-use photo editing programs for beginners. Read More . You can publish incredible photos to your own audience What Celebs Can Teach You About Rocking Instagram While most Instagram users have a couple hundred followers, millions follow celebrities. And with hundreds of celebs being able to rock Instagram so finely, what can we learn from them? Read More with Instagram, and even sell your photos The 14 Most Profitable Places to Sell Your Photos Online Here are the best places to sell photos online when you've taken photos you think people would be willing to pay for. Read More from within an Internet browser.

For videographers, YouTube and Vimeo have opened up creative worlds that can allow even the lowest budget of short films 6 Mistakes Every Short Film Should Avoid Making To create your own successful short film, there are a few cardinal rules you can't afford to break. Read More to reach an audience of millions. While Snapchat has made the production and publication of short, creative videos simpler than ever.


If you love to physically make things, huge online communities such as Instructables are springing up around the web. And with a little knowhow, Open Source projects like Arduino are empowering anyone to solve technical problems themselves.

The list is inexhaustible, with resources, software, and online communities for whatever creative endeavor you want to pursue, from recording an album on your iPhone Top 10 YouTube Songs Created Using iPads and iPhones Read More to making a video game How to Make Video Games Without Any Programming Want to make a video game but can't code? Then use a video game construction kit that lets you build games without any coding required! Read More without knowing a word of code.

If They Can, You Can

This creator culture isn’t some self-help pipedream. The barrier to entry is low. All it takes is a choice to carve out a small amount of time Squeeze an Extra Hour out of Each Day with These 10 Quick Tips A few simple habits can help us shed some inefficient ways and increase our reservoir of time doing the things that matter. These ideas can get you one extra productive hour every single day. Read More each week to pursue something creative. Ditch Netflix, or wake an hour earlier 5 Ways to Refresh Your Morning Routine and Be Happier The first hour of the day dictates how the remaining 23 will go. Take control of your day by taking control of your morning and become a happier you. Read More for a month, and fill that time by creating.

Maria Popova loved reading, writing, and creatively combining ideas, which she shared with a small mailing list of friends. Her website — Brain Pickings — now receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each month, and is a labor of love Maria works on full time.


Evan Puschak (you may know him as NerdWriter) is a film-maker who started creating short videos that delved into the meanings behind popular culture (see one about Harry Potter above). He published these on YouTube as nothing more than a hobby. He now has 400,000 people following his YouTube channel, and earns an income from his creative outlet.

There are thousands of stories like these, where someone indulged their creativity, put it “out there”, and are now impacting huge audiences. But whether or not you want a huge audience, the “longing to create… is [still] our deepest drive, and the one that makes us the most human”.

Whether the results of your creative labor are seen only by you, or by an audience of millions doesn’t matter. But being creative does. So if you find yourself wanting to increase and nourish your creativity, so you can spend more time creating instead of consuming, here’s some advice.

Have an End Goal

The first step of the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) methodology is to “clarify and identify the problem”. This is an important step in being creative. To have a problem to solve, or question to answer, is the main step to successfully and creatively accomplishing your end-goal.


A useful way to do this is to use the 5 Whys method that Sakichi Toyoda introduced to Toyota in the early 1900s. When you ask yourself “Why do I want to do this?”, the first answer will be pretty broad, and won’t get to the heart of the problem. So keep asking yourself why another three or four times. This should be enough to help you dig to the root of the problem to pinpoint what you’re working on.

As an example from Wikipedia:

  • Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  • Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  • Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

Once you’ve figured out the root cause, you can reword this into a creative challenge. In this case that could be: How can we ensure more vehicles are maintained according to the recommended service schedule? Each challenge you articulate should focus solely on one problem, but should be broad enough not to limit your creativity.

These strategies can be delved into with a paper notepad, but there are other online tools that can help to visualize each of the whys and challenges more clearly. You can build three stunning mind maps for free using MindMeister. Lino (iOS, Android) can help you play around with your ideas with digital Post-It notes. And Microsoft OneNote (read our introduction How to Use OneNote Like a World Famous Scientist Charles Darwin would have loved OneNote. He was an avid note-taker who recorded everything he observed. Here's how he might have used OneNote to organize his work and move his research forward. Read More ) is an easy, visual way to organize your thought process.

Know Your Area

Unfortunately, solving a creative challenge without having an in depth knowledge of the relevant area(s) is unlikely to result in much creative success.

StudyingThis is where research and rapid skill acquisition abilities are invaluable. I’ve written before about how you can bypass Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, and acquire valuable skills much more quickly The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong: How to Really Master a Skill It's a myth that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Find out how you can learn something without following the 10,000 hour rule. Read More . In essence, you’ll need to:

As Margaret A. Boden says in Creativity in Education:

“Creative thinking cannot happen unless the thinker already possesses knowledge of a rich and/or well-structured kind”. Having in depth knowledge that’s relevant to your creative challenge enables you to not just fully understand the problem, but also to come up with creative ways to solve that problem within the confines of that area.”

So, if you’re struggling to find a solution to your problem, start learning as much as you can about the area. As your knowledge expands, you’ll be able to see different ways to defeat the problem. To help with this, finding online courses on sites such as Lynda or Coursera will be extremely helpful. As will finding YouTube channels and blogs on those topics, and then using these to keep up to date with that area of expertise.

Expand Your Horizons

To move up the levels in creativity, you must expand your horizons further than simply the area in which your creative challenge lies. As you expand your knowledge into other areas of interest, from learning photography Learning Photography: 5 YouTube Channels to Become a Pro There are hundreds of channels dedicated to photography lessons. The good ones are buried in the noise. We picked five of the best for you. Read More , to speaking another language Learn A Language By Talking With Real People Using WeSpeke Learning a language is hard when you're not immersed in the culture and surrounded by people who speak the language. WeSpeke connects you with fluent speakers of the language you're trying to learn Read More , the angles from which you can attack your creative challenge increase exponentially.

Blogger Emilie Wapnick calls these people with an expanding array of interests a Multipotentialite, which she discusses in this TEDx talk:

Naturally, the more areas you delve into, the more solutions you will be able to conjure up from your myriad interests. This isn’t to say you need to master each of these interests. Simply having a basic grasp of a diverse range of fields is a huge boost to your creativity.

Imagine the incredible results that could come from a programmer who also has an interest in illustration, photography, and literature Read the World's Best Books for Free With the Harvard Classics The Harvard Classics is a multi-volume collection of the world's best books. Collated by Dr. Charles W. Eliot in the early 20th century, these can now be downloaded absolutely free of charge. Read More , versus a programmer whose only hobby is reading the tech news.

It’s at this intersection between myriad fields of interest where some of the most exciting creative breakthroughs can happen. And so to reach this level of creativity, create some free time for yourself How to Create More Free Time By Gamifying Your Schedule There is nothing more rewarding than accomplishing a task that's on your schedule ahead of time. So, why do you insist on punishing yourself for completing tasks, rather than giving yourself your just reward? Read More , allow for serendipity, listen to the most random audio courses 14 Amazing Audible Courses (& How to Get One for Free) The Great Courses are reason enough to go to Audible. We pick the best series of lectures in science, the arts and humanities by some of the most respected scholars in their fields. Read More , and follow your curiosity.


No matter how many fields of interest you delve into, you’re unlikely to ever satiate your appetite for learning. This is why it’s important to create a network of friends 6 Tools to Find Awesome People with Similar Interests Connecting with new people can help you get more out of life. Take the plunge and start making new friends who share your interests Read More that covers not just your own areas of interest, but many others beside.


By doing this, you are effectively creating a mastermind group How A Mastermind Group Can Help You Achieve More Goals The term 'mastermind group' is being thrown around a lot in the personal development sphere these days, but what exactly are they, do they work, and how could you set up your own group? Read More that houses a huge range of knowledge, and thereby masses of creative possibilities.

You can then generate ever-more creative solutions to your challenges. And, you guessed it, there are tons of apps and online services to help with creative collaboration 10 Online Collaboration Tools Perfect for Visual Jobs Visual collaboration is for everyone. Online collaboration tools are no longer reserved for programmers and designers. We present ten online tools and show you how to use them for everyday activities. Read More . From using Flockmod for collaborative drawing, to using Google Drive for collaborative writing How Collaborative Writing Tools Make Your Life Easier Thanks to the Internet, collaborating on a writing project should be a breeze. If you have ever co-produced one, you know this can be difficult. It shouldn't be with the right tool. Read More . You can even get a group of musicians together online to record an album from remote locations Collaborate Artistically With Creatives From All Over The World With HitRecord Actor Joseph Gordon Levitt is better known for his screen roles. The popular actor has another accolade to his name -- and it's one that you can get involved in at HitRecord. Read More .

From Consumer to Creator

Albert Einstein Quote

Yes, the Internet can stifle creativity with temptations of Netflix binges and social media scrolling. But it also houses the potential to massively enhance your creativity.

The world’s knowledge in virtually any area you can imagine is literally a few clicks away. As are some of the worlds most talented individuals. In other words, there is no excuse for you not to build your knowledge, expand your interests, connect with interesting people, and move yourself from being a read-only Internet user, to being a new member of the creator culture.

With these ideas, and the huge array of tools available to you, any creative challenge can be tackled head-on during your free time. You just need to know what you’re aiming for, and to develop the knowledge to find unique ways to solve those problems, whether that’s on your own, or with the help of others.

What do you think? For you, is the Internet a creativity aide, or a creativity hindrance? If it’s an aide, which sites and services help you to solve problems in more creative ways? And if it’s a hindrance, which sites are to blame?

Image Credits: Where the ideas live by Eddie Van W (Flickr), Bullseye by Emilio Kuffer (Flickr), Study by Moyan Brenn (Flickr), Collaborating by Gerald G (Flickr)

Related topics: Creativity, Motivation.

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