The Bad News Bearer

Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
-Charles Mingus

Far be it from me to crush anyone’s dreams, but someone needs to say this, not everyone needs to write a book, paint a picture or make a movie. Now before you get yourself all knotted up, I simply mean that not everyone is creative.

It seems lately that an emphasis is being placed on this notion of “creativity”. There has been a culture grab for those people who have both right and left-brain sensibilities. In the white-collar world, the proclamation of “out of the box thinkers” (really just an ivy league way of saying creative) is nothing new. However, in the large companies that exercise this trite phrase, the very last thing they want are “out of the box thinkers”, they want malleable mindsets; people who won’t question or stray from the corporate message or objective. And to the truly creative individual, staying “on point” with the corporate message is anathema to their essence.

So if your company makes jet engines, installs home services or is in general beholden to shareholders, don’t be fooled into believing they want to hear your “out of the box” ideas. They don’t. If their job is contingent upon staying the course in order to receive their 12-15% annual bonus and their 4-5% annual increase, don’t kid yourself. I’ll be blunt, they don’t give a fuck.

Which seems the anti-thesis of what Barnes and Noble and snake oil salesman have been pitching us over the past ten years. As the web community has grown and the ability to create and distribute all forms of content has become more user friendly and readily available, an entire industry has exploded teaching people to embrace their creativity. But the sad truth is putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, paint to canvas or eyeball to lens does not make you creative. A creator, for sure. You see creativity is not something that can be learned through practice or rote behavior. Creativity is first and foremost, a mindset, a belief.

Creativity is strength; it is CHOOSING to go against the norm. It is a particular point of view and ultimately, a life choice. The degrees of each of these will differ depending on the individual. The easiest way to find someone who is not creative is to find the person who proclaims that they are. My personal rule of comedy applies here, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not funny. If you have to say you are creative, you are not creative.

Now look, I am not saying you are not creative. I firmly believe buried deep in the recesses of our brains is a seed of creativity. Some people learn early on to grow and water the seedling while others find and feed it later in life. Sadly, some people never know its there.  And make no mistake, you don’t need to be a writer, actor, director, artist, musician, whatever, to be creative. Look at scientist Alexander Flemming; this is a guy who changed the entire face of medicine through one little creative moment. So, Flemming is conducting his experiments and wakes up one morning to find ONE of his petri dishes didn’t react the same as the others. Now, for whatever reason, he made a decision to examine what went wrong with that one petri dish. He made a very simple decision and thus changed medicine forever. How easy would it have been for him to just say, “Shit, I fucked up.” And thrown it out? VERY easy. If he were working for someone else, odds are he would have been berated and then told to throw it out. (Yes, that is a gross over simplification of things…I’m trying to illustrate a point, not shooting for historical accuracy) So what did he do that was so creative? Science is not known to be the most creative of fields. So what did Flemming DO? He thought differently. He questioned things. In the matter of a few seconds, he made the decision to not throw out the flawed petri dish and then thought to himself “OK, now what’s this all about?” THAT is the creative mind. And that you cannot teach. You can teach people mechanics of being creative, to paint, to write, to act, whatever. What you cannot teach is for them to look at their world differently. That is something some people simply have. “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” Is Andrew Flemming any less creative than Pablo Picasso?

So what did Flemming discover? Penicillin. Might someone else have discovered it? Yes. But they didn’t, HE did.  ‘Nuff said.

You see creativity is bereft of the banal. It is the person who looks at the thing everyone is asking “why” about and asks “why not?” It is the person who looks at the ordinary and finds the unordinary.

Steve Jobs was a flawed human being, we all know this, BUT he did more for the creative (and non-creative) mind than almost anyone since Johannes Gutenberg (he invented the printing press). Jobs made the chief modern creative tool, the Mac, user friendly but much more importantly, he (probably more realistically, Apple’s ad agency creatives) provided the two words that provide the true definition of the creative individual. THINK DIFFERENT. Does that really need further explanation?

And the one thing no one will ever tell you about creativity? Oh sure, they’ll tell you it’s hard but the one thing they seem to always leave out? They always leave out the pain. A creative mind is riddled with doubt, insecurity, fear. A creative individual is self absorbed, judged, pushed down, brushed aside, encouraged to color inside the lines. If they are lucky enough, they can break through all that and suddenly be championed as a hero, visionary and forward thinker. But all too often, they’re left toiling away at their canvas, their computer, their camera, etc. and leaving a flood of hurt people, broken hearts and hatred, most of it turned on themselves, in their wake. But they continue to create because they have to. It’s what drives them, it’s not what defines them.

All of this must sound horribly pretentious. To try and put some sort of definition to creativity is akin to trying to define what makes The Beatles one of the most important group of musicians ever (note: I am not a huge Beatles fan, but one can’t deny what they did and their influence). There are indicators, sure, but how can you identify, qualify or quantify the essence of the creative individual? The fact is creativity is a mindset; it need not be a life choice. You see, most people think creativity can only be found in the arts, but you can see it in the middle manager who encourages his subordinates to start a company newsletter, the manager who recognizes talent and defies their own career to push someone else’s forward. It is the carpenter who simply turns a piece of wood a different way and changes the outcome of the design, or the hotel janitor who suggests building escalators on the outside of the building so he won’t be unemployed for two months. Creativity can be found everywhere and it is a seed in everyone, but only a few can actually see the seedling grow.

So, I’ll condense all those books about finding your creativity into one simple sentence; Open your eyes and think differently (I just saved you 20 bucks). It’s as simple as that. Maybe you are destined to write the great American novel or screenplay. Go for it. You should. Maybe you are the one of the lucky ones who are truly gifted. Just do me a favor, don’t ask me to read it, unless you think it sucks. Then maybe I will. Oh and I don’t mean to perpetuate the image of the tortured creative soul. I’ve met plenty of really confident and creatively gifted people, they just don’t preach of their awesomeness.

So, what does that make me? Am I the master of creativity? Nope. Far from it. I don’t know what that makes me and I don’t much care. Other people take much more pleasure from labeling things than I do. I’ll keep doing what it is I do as long as I can. And the things I think are worth showing, I’ll show. It doesn’t mean they will be found. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that they’re any good. They are simply an expression of my world view that I want to share.