John Cleese gives us an excellent lecture on his notions of what creativity is.
I completely agree with Cleese on all counts, which is to say my experience lines up exactly with what he's saying. Creativity is a frame of mind that can be cultivated and practiced. It's ruined by some kinds of people, so be sure to kick them out. It's a shedding of that "closed mode," as he says, for a while. You need the closed mode to get things done, but you need the "open mode" to get the wacky ideas that eventually turn into the actually good ideas.
I think the thing that strikes me as most true of all is the part about sticking with something, and putting in more time. That goes against the stereotype, as we might imagine really creative people instantly have amazing ideas. In my experience though, it takes a huge amount of persistence to solve creative problems. When others give up or take a kind of mediocre way out, you should instead keep at it and at it. He suggest 1.5 hours at a time though I think you can actually do much longer stretches than that once you've developed the mental stamina for it.
The other kind of time is just as important, the time you "aren't working on the problem," yet your unconscious is. In project management, this is sometimes expressed in "number of showers." For example, if we can choose to pay for 20 people to work for a 2 months on a project or for 10 people to work 4 months on it, an advantage of choosing 10 people for 4 months is that every person involved will take twice as many showers. Good ideas happen in the shower.
And while we're talking about showers, Paul Graham has spoken about that subject too. He's interacted with more startup companies than just about anyone and he once mentioned that when a startup goes into fundraising mode, they tend to get way worse at making whatever it is they're making. He said at first glance that's because if they spend X time on fundraising work and planning, they are spending X less time on making the product. But that's NOT it, he says. It's that they think about fundraising in the shower. What you think about in the shower is often what your unconscious mind has been grinding and grinding away at. So if that very valuable resource (your unconscious mind) is thinking about how to get more money, then it's not supplying you with the creativity necessary to make good products.
Thanks to John Cleese for articulating what creativity is, or isn't. I think this message is especially valuable for those people who "aren't creative," because it explains that you can solve that by setting up the right situation for yourself and getting into the right frame of mind. You can be creative.