THE ELEMENTARY NATURE OF CREATIVITY

The entire Universe is the product of a process of constant creation and modification.

While our civilization has always tried, in one way or another, to exercise – or pretend to exercise- control over nature and the universe itself, experience confronts us with a somewhat different reality.

Our own existence as a human race has always depended on a series of events that are partly due to what our own actions generate, and in a significant proportion, to series of absolutely fortuitous events.

Within what we call fortuitous events, some will occur within the familiar, professional and commercial ecosystems that we generate, while others will have to do with facts related to the actions of others, and in most cases, to the expected operation of the universe itself.

Our global and individual survival is, then, largely based on our own adaptability and creativity at every moment of our lives, as well as on how we share that learning process across generations.

Although we may not perceive ourselves as creative beings and speculate that, alternatively, there are specifically creative people who have genetically inherited this gift, reality tells us otherwise.

While it is undeniable that we are all different, there is a co-existence of those who naturally show certain individual vocations, with the ones which are sporadically touched with a magic wand and which are born with exceptional individual characteristics, plus those who are the product of inherited traits, either genetically or through family or social mandates. And then, there is the rest, who traditionally have been presumed to lack that special spark that makes them different.

Fortunately, education, science and experience have shown us that this division is not necessarily correct. As much as some are “touched” with certain explicit talents, it is equally true that we all have, without exception, the ability to add assets to our arsenal of abilities thorough intuition, experience, and constructively through learning and understanding, and be equally creative members of society, and capable of exploiting that creativity beyond our personal and family environment.

Contrary to what we were taught, and most believed for centuries, there is even no major clear or defining differences between what traditionally has been defined as “creative” and “non-creative” people. In fact, we are all born with quite similar characteristics and our brains are all pretty similar.

There are differences though in how each person approaches different issues, and the natural ease with which we can approach certain problems. We could even say that while we are all creative, we are all different types of creatives. In fact, we can also increase those creative processes -and other creative characteristics that may not have been so obvious or naturally occurring- by opening our minds to the possibility of learning them.

As children, we all share common traits. One of them is that we are all very creative, very free thinking and hungry for knowledge individuals. Our imagination tends to fly free and we do not find limitations other than those imposed to us. It is not that we can do anything, but it is that we believe that we can[i].

As society and traditional education come into our lives, that imaginative flair and the creative confidence that comes with it, begins to fade. We are taught in terms of right and wrong, The right answer is what pushes us forward, while the wrong answer must be avoided at all costs.

We are also taught, for example, how to resolve puzzles as a way of training our logical mindset, our capacity to put together complex ideas, and to pay attention to detail. While these are worthwhile and positive exercises, particularly in childhood[ii], life does not necessarily follow the same rules. And as other restrictions, fears, pressures and experiences begin to mount, our creative abilities recede and sometimes, may almost disappear.

In life there are answers which are mostly correct and answers that are mostly incorrect. In fact this statement is just mostly correct. There is also a great deal of grey in between. In fact, while being precise is good, the fact remains that we tend to learn more from failure than from success[iii].

Success is important but can make us overconfident and, as we all know, life tends to blindside us at some point. In fact, and going further, what is correct today may not be correct tomorrow. We all know that 2+2=4, yet there are simple mathematical models that can show that even 2+2 could be something else[iv]. What is black or white suddenly gains a shade, and we must now learn how to deal with that change.

And while puzzles are very entertaining, believing that life could be like solving a series of puzzles – or even an enormous single one- may stump our capacity for growth and enjoyment, since life always hides some of the pieces.

An incomplete puzzle will stop us cold, while the capacity to create our own reality based on the pieces we have may give us, instead, the ability to create our own image (and we may even be lucky enough to have some pieces leftover to use on another project).

So, why is it so important to work out and develop our creative strengths today? Simply because, as we have seen, our society and our planet are going through a paradigmatic transformation. And understanding the dynamics involved in the creative process, learning to see the connections, being able to reinvent ourselves as may be required, might be major and substantial assets and strengths as we move forward.

However, we have a series of hurdles to surpass if we wish to get there.

One is about opening our minds to the possibility of exploring our aptitudes. We all know that we have received certain talents that may come from our genetic pool, our natural abilities, and even from our environment. We have been traditionally taught that concentrating on one would make our lives worthwhile. “Choose your talent and work on your skills” may sound familiar[v]

Dispersing our time and efforts would take us nowhere. Yet, we all know that we possess more than one talent, and having most of those gifts buried while we concentrate on only one, may end up making us very frustrated individuals.

The major excuse to do so tends to be a matter of time. But if there is one thing technology has given us, it is the gift of time. And taking advantage of it is a learning process. And that is so because at the same time that automation replaces some of our more tedious tasks, liberating us of time consuming and brain numbing activities, we may get caught in a sea of dopamine[vi] and get hooked on screens that take that unfettered time away from freedom, to do tasks that sometimes are very unnecessary, and even very unproductive.

Learning the process of rediscovering our creative capabilities, while reviving our freedom to think beyond the norm, exploring our talents and endeavoring to be all that we can be, will only make our future endeavors even more successful.

Learning the process of rediscovering our creative capabilities, while reviving our freedom to think beyond the norm, exploring our talents and endeavoring to be all that we can be, will only make our future endeavors even more successful. And as a result, It will make us more fulfilled and, hopefully, happier individuals as well as better societies.

It is as much a matter of unlearning -in traditional terms- as one of learning – in new ways-. And in a world that is requiring us to shift and change constantly, the capacity to think and imagine a different future, will never make us obsolete.

The other characteristic that becomes obvious in a creative environment, is the realization that we do not create anything alone. Contrary to the common held idea of the creative individual as someone who is unable to “play” with others, a person difficult to train, and not easily suited for the corporate structure, the fact is that creatives love teamwork, are conscious that nobody owns the truth, and acknowledge that innovation is a construction of the many and not -normally- the brilliance of the one.

It used to be the case that creatives where somewhere else. A room with a table tennis set, a couch and some video games to play made up what was seen as the basics. It was perceived as the kind of environment in which people with a “creative vent” would be able to come up with ideas that the system could then translate into real commercial, or industrial, products or services.

Today, we all are slowly moving towards much more relaxed working environments[vii]. These make us feel less like cogs in a system, and more like active participants. And the result is that while companies are gaining more creative ideas to deal with a changing environment, they have not loss corporate cohesiveness or effectiveness. If anything, the opposite has been the case.

In fact, the creative mindset is a perfect conduit for the process that should take us away from so much “Me”, and into a more collaborative system. As mentioned before, the whole creative process – as life itself- is also heavily influenced by what is better for “Us” – family, the team, the company, the group, even the whole of society and the planet that sustains us- rather than what is based on solitary effort.

Now, evolving and changing does not necessarily imply speed. Each of us can generate change at one´s own speed.

What is important is that once we decide to move, we keep doing so. This is also a general rule of life. Like someone once said, it is impossible to drive a car while parked. If we move we can decide the route. Standing still, it will never happen. And once we move, we will evolve and develop the ability to digest all that is thrown at us, as well learning how to make it new.

And as we talk of evolving, one of the biggest misconceptions on the general theory of evolution, just to bring this point forward, is that the mechanism of natural selection – central to the theory –, and which may result in improved abilities to survive and reproduce, should necessarily mean that the outcome is progressive[viii].

As it happens, this is clearly not so. What is called natural selection under the theory, does not produce organisms perfectly suited to their environments by magic, as it is commonly misinterpreted. What it means, really, is that these organisms through different traits and skills are “good enough” to survive while others do not. The best suited gene pools survive, the others perish. And the whole system strengthens and improves.

So evolving and surviving in our economic, social and financial ecosystem within the wider universe, may simply mean learning to adopt survival characteristics which may be new to us, or even reacquiring qualities and attributes that were useful before, which may have been lost for one or more generations due to environmental or social changes, and now have become of importance once again.

So how does this translate to the XXI Century?

Well, it means for a start that the role of a creative professional is not to keep up with the speed of change, but with change itself. In sporting terms, the creative thinker may be more like a long distance runner than a sprinter.

Secondly, being creative means being open to novelty and interested in everything. The creative mind is always acquiring data. To those looking from the outside, it may seem a useless exercise of information gathering which they might find inconsequential.

It is common to hear creatives talk about themselves as encyclopedias of useless information, or something to that effect. And always said with a certain mischievous glint in their eyes. They know very well that the information they gather, and which most will discard for apparent good reason, it will not be useless to them.

But we must learn to choose what we assimilate. So another evolutive quality for a 21st Century creative mind, may be then knowing when to go back, rather than forward. That may mean looking at past experience as an exercise in reformulating events into a new market o society. In other cases it may also mean, sometimes, to even “go back” to 19th Century London and pay a visit to 21b Baker Street.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle[ix] created great detective stories based on a Professor named Joseph Bell, whom he had met while studying medicine. Doyle admired him, particularly for his quick logical understanding of situations as a physician, and for his unique personal method of deductive reasoning, which caused great the great admiration of both students and his fellow colleagues (“Observe carefully, deduce shrewdly, and confirm with evidence”).

Bell´s experience and characteristics got “remixed” by Conan Doyle, and in late 1886, the figure of the master of all detectives, the great Sherlock Holmes, finally came to life.

It is no surprise that the role of the creative individual is very similar to the role of the detective. It involves keen observation, careful deduction, asking the right questions, having the correct basic knowledge, and above all, connecting all the dots (coming up with a hypothesis that is not necessarily constricted by a traditional structure). Or simply put, “Elementary, Dr. Watson”[x].

At a time where information surpasses us, while technology seems to be speeding up way ahead, becoming like the road runner may be the wrong approach.

In my personal experience, and it may be that I enjoy facing the waves, but if everything speeds up, I usually slow down (and vice versa). Creative reasoning and creative thinking in a slow moving environment -one which allows time to investigate-, ultimately allows for swift action. While if everybody rushes, our role is to slow down, which will permit us to see what everybody else is missing.

Like Neo in the Matrix, our advantage is that of being capable of decelerating everything down to the point where we are actually so cognitively enhanced that, in reality -and for everyone else for that matter-, we are indeed ahead of the curve.

Being creative, then, has to do with recognizing ourselves as such, and being flexible and adaptable to new work and technological needs. Basically it is to be, in individual terms and consciously, the same thing that we have already been as a civilization in an evolutionary and intuitive way. And of course, embracing these concepts also happens to show an understanding that it is not a given fact that, because luck has been our companion so far, it will remain so forever.

That is why the advanced vision of creativity is that of collaboration. Joining together in the creation of configurable and pliable systems that resemble concepts already present in life and nature. It means providing each individual with a series of tools, and to show each one the ways those tools can be put into good use.

We can no longer trust that we will find the needed solutions exclusively in a book, in a theory, or in a pre-formatted systemic solution. Much of the solution may be there, but we must accept that we are moving towards a brand new world with new rules, as well as never seen before ethical and professional uncertainties. And those new conundrums will need to be answered with a strong dose of new thinking as well.

Humanity has an invaluable accumulated research experience, and it is necessary that it be known, interpreted, and respected. At the same time, we must accompany the process of discernment, particularly in relation to all the information that flows in the sea of data that surrounds us, so we may learn to separate what is really important for our needs and what is not.

Promoting the acquisition of competences that enable us to thread and relate all this information in a productive way, and to collaborate in the improvement of individual satisfaction in this area, must be also one of our main objectives.

Ignacio Alperin

© 2019 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera

[i] Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? | TED Talk – TED.com (2014) https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity/transcript?.
[ii] The Benefits of Puzzles in Early Childhood Development, by Michelle Manno, Teach.com (2013) https://teach.com/blog/the-benefits-of-puzzles-in-early-childhood-development/
[iii] Leadership, Strategies for Learning from Failure by Amy C. Edmondson, Harvard Business Review, April 2011 Issue
[iv] Money & Markets, Here’s How Your Watch Can Prove That 2 + 2 Doesn’t Equal 4 by Elena Holodny, Business Insider Australia (2014) https://www.businessinsider.com.au/2-2-doesnt-always-equal-4-2014-6
[v] Skills and Interests, Student Life, Tufts University (2018) https://students.tufts.edu/career-center/i-need/explore-skills-interests
[vi] Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? by Simon Parkin, The Guardian (2018) https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/04/has-dopamine-got-us-hooked-on-tech-facebook-apps-addiction
[vii] 10 Workplace Trends You’ll See In 2018 by Dan Schawbel, Forbes (2017) https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2017/11/01/10-workplace-trends-youll-see-in-2018/#10d683794bf2
[viii]Understanding Evolution, Misconceptions about Evolution, University of Berkeley (2018) https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_faq.php
[ix] Biography of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, Encyclopedia Britannica / Britannica.com https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-Conan-Doyle
[x] A Mind like Sherlock Holmes by Katherine Ramsland Ph.D., Psychology Today (2013) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201301/mind-sherlock-holmes
______________________________________________________________________
(S) Ignacio Alperin nació en Argentina, creció en Australia y vivió temporariamente en varios países alrededor del mundo. Posee una experiencia internacional extensa, y diversa, obtenida en una carrera profesional alejada de lo lineal. Hoy en día es Profesor de Entrepreneurship en los MBAs de la Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA), Profesor de Creatividad e Innovación (Grado) en UCA Internacional, es un Emprendedor serial, consultor, orador en eventos nacionales e internacionales, evangelista secular, y artista plástico.
(E) Ignacio Alperin was born in Argentina, grew up in Australia and lived temporarily in several countries around the world. He has extensive and diverse international experience, obtained in a professional career far from the linear. Nowadays he is Professor of Entrepreneurship in the MBAs of the Argentine Catholic University (UCA), Professor of Creativity and Innovation (Degree) in UCA International, a serial Entrepreneur, consultant, speaker in national and international events, secular evangelist, and an artist.

 

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