Creativity. It’s a funny old word, isn’t it?
I remember being fifteen and getting ready to take my GCSEs. A select few of us were called off the playground and into a meeting at lunch time. How annoying when I have a goal to keep for my team! But me and my fellow odd-bods turned up at the meeting to be met by the head of Maths and Physics. Odd it seemed. The message was clear:
You won’t achieve anything with Art or Drama, so you are wasting one of your GCSE choices. Instead, we are encouraging you to do more ‘traditional’ subjects. You won’t get anywhere with art…. let me repeat that… you won’t get ANYWHERE with art.
This meeting stands out in my memory. The rest of my puppy fat memories have slowly ebbed away to be replaced by serious, important work and fatherly knowledge, but that meeting echoes about my brain. Why?
For the record I ignored what those teachers said and I’m really glad I did.
It wasn’t just my teachers, I heard it from my friends too. “What are you going to be when you’re older? An artist?” they scoffed. It did, annoyingly, lead me to question exactly what I would do with fine art in the future.
So why was life like that for a young creative? And how many other young creatives have led a frustrated work life because they didn’t follow their dreams?
I’m often labeled as a ‘creative person’, but this sits uneasy with me as I feel that everyone is creative, or that a creative label adds pressure. It’s like being introduced as the funny friend, “go on… tell us a joke”… PRESSURE!
The problem is we like to pigeon hole people, but everyone needs their little box. This essentially means you grow up thinking you are either analytical, organisational or creative and artistic. This can be dangerous. By denying your basic instinct to create, we limit ourselves to a world of possible careers and choices.
How many other people class themselves as ‘not creative’ because they don’t practically demonstrate it through the use of an artistic skill (which, for the record, take as much practice as any other skill. No-one comes out the womb being able to draw).
I spent years learning the artistic process that I demonstrate today, because intrinsically I want to explore different ways to do things, and this is often easier to achieve from a blank slate. Not everyone applies their creativity this way. Some of the most creative people I know would be classed as ‘analytical’ instead of ‘creative’. Take our head of data, Chris, as an example. He knows his stuff. If you have a question about data or website tracking then he is your man. But what makes Chris stand out amongst his peers, is that he applies his technical knowledge and creatively uses that to solve problems. And that is all creativity is. The ability to see something from a different perspective. To deconstruct it and to come up with new solutions. To think about a problem the other way round and, therefore, find creative solutions quicker than the so called ‘non-creatives’.
It’s clear to me that creativity isn’t as simple as being able to draw. If you have never practiced drawing then I would be surprised if you could draw naturally. Tell me any other skills that require no practice and I’ll introduce you to my friend, the flying pig.
Right now I am sitting in the ball pit at work, listening to 90’s guitar music on my noise canceling headphones, drowning out the noises around me so I can focus on what it is I want to say. Creativity needs the right environment to flourish, as well as intent to push boundaries, whether that’s through the power of paint on a canvas, or words in a blog. Even the tasks that I think of as boring and mundane, are achieved by applying an upside down way of thinking, and that’s the key. Everyone is capable of thinking about things differently. To some it comes more naturally, and by naturally I mean through years of practice.
Problem solving is a skill that isn’t going anywhere. You can’t automate it or outsource it like you can traditional subjects. If you want an accountant then use ebooks. Looking for someone to draw up a last will and testament? There’s an app for that.
My maths and physics teachers were wrong. Infact, as the world spins faster and faster into the digital age, the ability to think as humans do (creatively) will become the skill of choice amongst employers. Technical skills can be taught easily enough, but for innovation, to progress the world and to make change, creativity is the only thing that sets us apart. And that cannot be automated or replaced with AI.
So, my message is clear, whether you think you can draw or not, we all have the potential to use the grey matter in our heads to approach a subject, life difficulty or problem from a different perspective. To look at the objective and to challenge the norms. Don’t discount the levels of creativity inside you, instead, find your own practices that help bring the right side of your brain to the attention of others.
By hook or by crook my fine art degree has led me to an organisation that utilises everything I have to offer. I head up a team of creatives who are responsible for not only producing creative content, but for finding solutions and approaches to things that other people haven’t even considered. It’s nice to know teachers are wrong sometimes.
For tips on how to improve your own creativity or the creativity of your teams, check out the SGM blog on implementing creativity.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
(My wireless headphones just died…. Instant creative block.)