Earlier this week, Seth Schulman posted a thoughtful post on PR Council’s blog asking the question “Why are we so obsessed with creativity?” He talked about the over abundance of creativity books, magazines and blog posts (by week’s end, he can add his and mine to the list).
In his post, Schulman draws some conclusions as to why we are obsessed with creativity: the desire to renew the ideal of American entrepreneurialism in a globalized and commoditized world, the desire to both claim individuality and foster connections while engaged in what he calls, “increasingly soul-destroying” work. He wonders if all this grasping for creativity causes us to lose what we are after. According to Schulman, “Creativity already thrives in the PR industry and other professional services fields.” He advocates simply “doing what we do,” and “staying playful” in your work, and writes: “A good deal of creativity will happen on its own. It isn’t, ultimately, all that complicated. It’s something natural, innate in us.”
However, what isn’t “natural” is the fast-paced, technology-laden and deadline-driven environment in which we conduct our lives and work. This gap between the reality of our environment and the ideal environment to breed creativity is what intentional creative practices can bridge.
Nearly all researchers that have studied creativity– Wallas (1926), Osborn (1948), Gilford (1950), Prince (1970), Torrance (1974) von Oech (1975), Amabile (1998), Carson (2012) and Seelig (2012)–call for three important components that have become increasingly hard to find in our technologically driven environments – space, time, and delayed judgment.
Just last week New Tech City started their series Bored and Brilliant that talked with researchers about how the brain requires space (“boredom,” if you will) to think creatively. With all of us clinging to our cell phones, those spaces are being filled with texts, tweets and other ways of “connecting” ourselves…but we are disconnecting from our own internal meanderings that foster creativity. This call for daydreaming is not new. In George Prince’s The Practice of Creativity (1970), he talked about the need for our attention to be "lulled into inattention."
Time is often referred to as the “incubation” in creativity models. The need for time is connected to our need for space. When we are involved in other activities (not associated with solving our problem or challenge), our minds still process the problem “in the background.” The famous story of Archimedes solving the problem of how to measure the amount of gold in the King’s crown while he bathed (and watched the water displace from the weight of his body) is a famous example. Our brain needs time to make connections.
There’s a big difference between non-judgment and delayed judgment. Most creativity models have judgment built into the process. For example, Von Oech’s work refers to the role of the explorer, artist, judge and warrior. However, judgment is delayed… allowing freedom to take risks, make mistakes and come up with new ideas without hesitation or fear. For most of us today, intense competition fostered by rapid technology, the public nature of our communications and our 24/7 work cycle does not allow for delayed judgment.
Creative Practices: Obsession, Creep or Necessity?
I agree with Schulman that creativity is something natural and innate in us, and current brain research confirms that. Our changing environment, however, requires us to consider, reflect and design ways to exist that nurture our natural abilities to be creative. We must advocate awareness of creative practices for our own good, and for the good of our organizations. We must adopt intentional practices to nurture creativity instead of allowing our tethered lifestyles to negate it. Possibly the recognition of the schism between our current practices of modern life and work and creative practices has motivated people to take action. And if that means we endure what Joshua Rothman calls “creativity creep,” or what Seth Schulman calls “obsession,” I can live with that.