#151 from Innovative
Leader Volume 4, Number 4
Are We Creative? Because It’s Fun
Jacoby has been working and playing in many creative fields as
a:writer, poet, painter, musician, TV writer/producer/director,
theater actor/director/designer, and creative
advertising/marketing consultant in San Diego, California.
His book, Unlocking Your Creative Power was published by Ramsey Press (San
Diego, 1993). He’s
on the board of directors of the American Creativity Association. He can be reached at (619) 541-7881.
Sometimes, as we
go about our daily routines of “creating,” managing others who
create, or just plain keeping the doors open and the lights on,
it’s easy to forget why we do what we’re doing.
With all the pressure to be responsible, practical, and
task-oriented--in other words, to act grown-up--we can lose track
of what fiddling with a piece of string (or a molecular string) is
all about--and why we were attracted to it in the first place:
Because, at its simplest and purest, creativity is fun.
discovered this when, as children, we first decided to make a page
in a coloring book look, not like the tree it was supposed to be,
but like abstract art. Wasn't
it fun to ignore the printed lines?
Wasn't it a delight to find out what would happen if we
held not one, but four crayons, in one hand?
Who could resist the allure of actually creating something
new, instead of copying something old?
voluminous scientific study of creativity, two questions
constantly arise: “Where
does creativity come from?” and “Why are many people less
creative than a few stars?”
are distressing, dogmatic, and dangerous. Distressing because they usually assume there's a
physiological source for “creativity.”
Dogmatic since they assume that most people are uncreative
(certainly not as creative as the authorities who write these
dangerous, because they perpetuate the myth that we, the
uncreative mass of humanity, are not responsible for our plight.
As they try to
understand creativity, the near-universal approach of commentators
and scientists is to study, analyze, quantify, dissect, and
otherwise humiliate it. It
reminds me of an unfortunate patient in a hospital bed being
examined by an unruly gaggle of half-trained medical students.
We, as a culture
(and particularly the scientific and academic subcultures) have
become fixated on specifying the origin of creativity. If we were to accomplish that, supposedly, we could
"harness" creativity, and put it at our beck and call.
We would be able to apply it constructively whenever and
wherever we choose. We
could also manage it better in others, particularly those who work
with us and for us in “creative endeavors.”
But creativity is
a pesky little devil which won't be pinned down, won't sit still
under a microscope while we examine it.
All the better, I
say. To quote an
obscure but insightful poet who finally understood why a romance
went sour: “We
asked Love to stand still for a moment/And answer one or two
questions.” Under a
microscope or in a Petri dish, love dies.
So does creativity. So
As our desperate
urge to measure creativity is frustrated by its rascally
unwillingness to oblige, we turn to creativity's footprints—its
results. This reminds
me of particle physics: since
particles are hard to study, we study their effects.
Similarly, we call on the “effects” of creativity to
give us a sign—the Big Discovery.
In his paper, Whole
Brain Creativity: Seven
Key Conclusions, Ned Herrmann, a noted theoretician and
educator on creativity (and author of The
Creative Brain) states, “Having an idea for a painting is
not enough. It must
be successfully rendered, framed, priced, marketed, and sold.”
(That takes some of the fun out of painting, doesn’t it?)
I must ask,
“Not enough for whom?” And,
“Why must it be?” Vincent
Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime (his brother
bought it as a face-saving way to give Vincent some food money).
Yet Van Gogh is now recognized as one of the most creative
artists of the nineteenth century.
Mr. Herrmann, who
has concluded that creativity comes from the brain (no argument
there), and is neurophysiological in nature, and has fixed genetic
traits, adds that “the experimental results indicate that
accountants and artists have very different cognitive styles that
are manifested physiologically.”
Thus, people in these divergent fields “process
information very differently and have chosen career fields that
reflect their [brain] hemisphere dominance.”
the “Creativity Victim”
If I may
generalize for a moment, Herrmann’s generalization is dangerous,
since it perpetuates the myth that some people are plodders from a
simple, innate inability to create.
First of all, is the “accountant cognitive style” true
of all accountants? Likewise,
is the “artist cognitive style” stereotype applicable to all
artists? In truth,
there are many successful and non-successful accountants and
artists who don’t match their “assigned” style at all.
Some accountants can be pretty creative around tax time,
and some artists are as fastidious and unimaginative as the
caricature of an accountant.
Pity the hapless
accountant who reads Mr. Herrmann and realizes that he or she has
chosen a drab, uncreative career because of a brain hemisphere
dominance. That's the
end of the line. Wouldn't
it be easy to give up and say, “It’s not my fault!
I’m a victim of brain hemisphere dominance!”
point of abandoning responsibility and converting ourselves into
Come, Too Easy to Go
looking for a physiological
cause for a career choice, let’s consider another starting
point: Everyone is
born creative. Everyone.
If this is true (as studies of children indicate), why
worry about where creativity originates?
If it’s originally part of everybody's makeup, then the
problem is different, and much more solvable:
Why do some people “lose” more inborn creativity as
they grow up?
In other words,
we should be worrying about where creativity goes, not whence it comes.
I think it
disappears under mountains of repression the child experiences,
both at school and in the home, as the message is repeated:
Self-expression is unsafe, and non-normal expression cannot
be tolerated. (But
isn’t that essential for creativity?)
So lack of
creativity is a learned
response to life in general, and to parents, peers, bosses,
and social groups in particular.
It’s the result of our quest for emotional safety.
Any intense search for a physiological cause for creativity
only furthers the myth and emotional sanctuary of being a
“Creativity Victim” (“It’s not my
Takes Courage and Playfulness
using, and managing creativity doesn’t take a neuroreceptor map.
It takes courage--the courage to quit being a victim and
take responsibility for one’s life. The courage to let go
of (instead of control) the complexity we face in our careers
and lives. It
requires recognizing, reclaiming, and embracing the playful,
fun-loving, risk-taking child within each of us.
Each of us is
really two people: Our
adult and our child. It’s
our child, not our adult, who’s playful and creative.
And our child is still very much part of each of us, just
waiting, eagerly, to be invited by our adult to play.
understand this about ourselves, we can apply it to others.
We can only foster creativity and successfully manage
creative co-workers when we understand that creativity and control
are enemies, that letting go is the gateway to creativity, and
that a judgmental viewpoint is one of the scariest things a
child--the creative part of a person--will ever face.
If we know that
the child within us is the creative being, we'll start asking
questions: What sorts
of playtime can I create for me and my staff?
What sorts of fun can I foster?
How can I forestall judgmental thinking?
Remember when you
had the purest fun in your life?
What was the common element in these times? I bet it wasn't specifics of time, or space, or money, or
even age. Based on my
experience, and the experiences of participants in my creativity
workshops, those times of greatest fun involved these simple
“letting go” (abandoning control) to one degree or
another, the degree of fun rising in direct proportion to the
degree of letting go;
emotional risk: allowing
ourselves to feel, “Who cares if no one else thinks it looks
like a tree, it’s fun to color like this!”; and
sharing the letting go (and the risk) with one or more people.
If you manage
creativity in others, this is my challenge: How can you, as an adult and a professional, create those
same feelings now that
you’ve identified from your past?
I absolutely believe this is possible, as long as you keep
things simple and playful. Creativity
and complexity are also antithetical.
“Creativity Victims.” No
one is. Because
we--each of us--did our own locking up.
Sure, we felt (consciously or unconsciously) we had a good
reason. But we
locked it up, not some outside force.
And there's no particular neurological or genetic
proclivity inhibiting our active creativity today.
It’s us and our fear of emotional risk.
How to be
creative? How to
manage creative people? All
it requires, really, is letting go--then we’ll clearly see how
to help others reclaim the use of as much of their own creativity
as they wish.
I suggest we
start with a break from the office or lab, and have a little fun.
Invite the children you work with—including
yourself—out to play.