What does it take to be creative?
As I write, I fight with all of the expectations that may or may not come to be. True creativity comes out when we have no expectations.
- Don’t expect money
- Don’t expect praise
- Don’t expect haters (even though this one’s almost guaranteed)
My mind jumped back to this question after listening to the Freakonomics Radio episode “Where Does Creativity Come From (and Why Do Schools Kill It Off)?” It was, like all Freakonomics episodes, interesting and thought provoking.
Two things stood out to me:
- Research findings showing that creativity cannot be incentivized by reward
These thoughts are new even for me. I’ve read books of all kinds describing research of what’s good for people and encouraging positive behaviors in others. Over the last few years, I’ve been drawn closer and closer to this idea of setting up systems/organizations/groups with the right incentives. Ironically, I’ve been influenced with this economist style thinking of “incentives over everything” by this same podcast.
Although well-thought out incentives drive behavior change, I was not aware that by trying to spur someone to be more creative we’re pushing them away from— not closer to — creativity.
2. A quote by Wynton Marsalis — “And I always tell them, if you want to learn something I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to learn it, I cannot teach you.”
I want to get this quote tattooed! During the show, he described his method of teaching. Marsalis is the Managing and Artistic Director at the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“And I always tell them, if you want to learn something I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to learn it, I cannot teach you.” — Wynton Marsalis
The reason this quote lights me up is because it makes me think of my grievances with the existing school systems, as well as how I want to raise my children. Artfully, Marsalis describes the best way to teach — I can’t stop you and I can’t force you, but I’m here to help only if you want it.
It’s kind of interesting my dad used this same methodology when coaching football at the community park. Now, another reason to love this quote and recognize why I identify with it.
What this episode of Freakonomics reminded of was that there’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Not only do we need to provide that social support, but also giving breathing room for people to be their true and greatest selves.
As I piece all my thoughts together, I feel the picture coming together more clearly.
I’ve always been upset and disgruntled when working with a micromanager. The constant checking in with the overbearing “do it my way” guidance has always driven me mad. I felt it and knew that style of management was bad, but I didn’t have the right words to describe why it kills creativity.
From my experience of working under micromanagers, I know I’ve never wanted to be one. Nor did I want that mindset to plague my parenting. But now thinking of it as an opportunity to foster creativity by letting others go wild is even more fuel to my “down with micromanaging” fire.
This is a bit of advice I aim to keep in mind and use as I build businesses and raise my kids. Hell, even myself! While writing this article, I had to mentally practice shedding my expectations and just write.
Oh, the joys of letting our creativity breathe life into us!