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Life: instructions not included

Creativity & Innovation

Last time out I talked about the importance of having great expectations of people when it comes to creativity. I’ve found that we often underestimate the creative potential of those around us, assuming that creativity is some kind of rare gift.

In reality, not only can people surprise you with their creative skills but they just love being creative too. There’s something wonderful about seeing someone who has, for years, been trained to follow the prescribed methods and not try to think outside of their normal boundaries take on a creative task. It’s like they’ve been set free. In a very real sense they have.

But it isn’t just with regards to within whom we may find creative potential that we tend to be too narrow in our thinking. We can also be a little lacking in imagination about that to which creativity can be applied. Both these things are illustrated in the fact that we have words for people and activities which are expected to exhibit creativity! We call them “creatives” and “the creative industries” respectively. Obviously there’s an implied assumption here that some industries are creative and some aren’t. This, of course, is nonsense.

There’s a word for industries that aren’t creative: dead. That’s what happens to industries that lack creativity, they die out. The reason there’s not an industry in the world where you don’t apply creativity (either in a way which is unique to that industry or in a way which is generally applicable to all industries that involve people management, logistics, etc.) is because those industries stagnate and the Darwinian forces of market capitalism kill them off.

But even this doesn’t come close to the full horror of our narrow mindedness when it comes to the application of creativity.

Creativity is, in basic terms, the act of solving problems in an environment of uncertainty. When you think of this you might imagine entrepreneurial startups or cutting edge science, but there’s an example closer to home, one which is far more mysterious: you.

Your life is uniquely yours. If creative skills are fundamental to dealing with the “fuzzy front end” of problem solving in business, science and the arts, then they’re absolutely vital when it comes to living a good life – after all, what’s fuzzier than life?!

Creative tools, skills, processes and principles are almost always framed in the context of either business or the arts. Which makes some sense, of course, since it’s easier to measure the results of the application of these things when you have market share and revenue numbers to back you up. But we shouldn’t let this accident of circumstance, this artefact of our materialistic culture, obscure from us the fact that there’s more to gain from applying creativity to mastering your own existence than from any other external activity you care to think of.

For example, creativity tools teach us not to jump to premature judgment when, for example, solving a problem in design or diagnosing a root cause. But how often do we prematurely narrow down our own potential futures? From the moment we become self aware we seek out labels and boxes to apply to ourselves and to define our own existence.

Creativity teaches us that problems have complex causes, yet in life we frequently fall back on assigning blame (often to ourselves) rather than seeking to dispassionately understand what’s really going on. The creative process is one of endless renewal, of boundless reinvention, but many of us treat our lives like a one way road with neat, evenly spaced checkpoints and we stress and worry when we find ourselves not meeting this supposed social norm. In short, we treat life like a well defined problem with finite solutions – the exact opposite of what it really is.

So even if you don’t see yourself being creative at work or if you don’t think you face creative challenges out in the world of careers, hobbies and vocations, maybe learning a little about how to be creative might be useful. After all, life doesn’t come with instructions.

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