For anyone who wants to be a more creative person, one of the most important tasks is to define what creativity means for you.
Over the last decades there have been a number of characteristics associated with the term, and some of them have moved away from a concept which was widely accepted from the days of the storm and thunder of the Romantic poets and composers and which held up past the “Sputnik moment” of the late 1950’s. It’s reassuring that in recent years, at last, someone has come to redefine creativity in line with that early and valid meaning. Skip to the end if you can’t wait to know who I am thinking of.
For many generations, creativity was a term associated with someone whose work was novel and groundbreaking in its originality, and which was appreciated as being of unquestionable quality, and which was widely understood as being of value in its field. A composer such as Beethoven, a painter like Goya and a poet like Blake would be paradigms of this concept of creative persons.
I suppose it was in the 1970’s that terms became confused and the concept of novelty took precedence over everything else. The idea of being original, which had previously implied a recognizable standard of quality, was diluted and what was left was the idea of something simply different, novel. Artists of all kinds and fashion designers were applauded simply because they produced something that had not been done, seen or heard before: never mind that nobody would ever want to see, hear or do it again. Newness was everything, quality was passé.
In the 1980’s the word creative became associated especially with the advertising industry, and the creatives were the talented persons who used their imagination to persuade the rest of us to buy, buy and buy. It mattered little whether the images they used and the story they told were verosimil: their skill was in convincing a relatively gullible public to part with their cash. Their worth to their employers and their salary had nothing to do with the quality of their output by any artistic measure, it only mattered whether the campaigns they invented caused an increase in sales. In fact, some advertising campaigns were so entertaining and striking that the product was lost, buried by some much humour, glamour or glitzy location filming, and after all the money was spent all that remained in the public perception was the famous face, joke or beach, not the product itself.
In the 90’s a more sinister connotation attached itself to creativity. Soon after we in Britain had got over a senior government figure admitting he had been “economical with the truth”, we learnt that company leaders in the USA has encouraged their accountants to be creative in their accounting. This was all very well until the moment of truth arrived. As huge companies like Enron collapsed in a heap of worthless paper that was a mild presage of the financial crisis of 2008, thousands of customers, suppliers and investors were less than appreciative of company workers who had let their creativity run wild.
After the dotcom bubble burst, when I was working in a large organization, the staff handbook included descriptions of competencies which were to be developed and encouraged in the organization. One of these was creativity, which did not surprise me. What did cause me to look twice was the definition of creativity, which was the capacity to build relationships and partnerships with external partners. I was more than happy to play my part in building relationships and was delighted that one of my personal interests, which is establishing partnerships, was valued by the organization. It was just that creativity as a label that never quite seemed to fit.
At last it has been a great relief to hear Professor Ken Robinsonthe education guru who has become best known through TED talks, who has reestablished the earlier characteristics associated with creativity. Ken Robinson is a passionate and convincing advocate of identifying, promoting and developing creativity in schools and beyond. His conviction is that our current methods of schooling are contrary to the flowering of creativity in our students, and he has argued tirelessly that nurturing creativity is important firstly for the well being of our personal selves and secondly because only creatively thinking persons will be able to find the solutions which are increasingly necessary for the well being of our civilization and the plant we inhabit.
Ken Robinson has no hang ups when it comes to defining creativity. If you have time, go direct to the source and follow his lucid and entertaining explanations first hand. If you only have time for a sentence, here is his definition of creativity taken from one of his presentations:
"Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value."
Does that sound familiar?If you want to be a more creative person, that’s what you should be aspiring to.