The Creativity Blindness Epidemic
Throughout my life learning process I have stumbled upon many organizations that say they foster creativity and the interest only seems to be growing. Most of the conversations I had this year went something like this: “I have this creative methodology”, “I am a creative consultant”, “creativity is one of our core values”, or “our creative manager works with creative teams to develop creative things”. Creativity this, creativity that… It seems like creativity is in high demand. The following is a story of my own relationship with creativity and a curious experiment…
I was told they did the best creative work, and I could hardly hide my excitement the first time we met for coffee. Felipe was wearing some sort of pilot overall with a very distinctive mustache and sunglasses. Catalina´s look screamed style, modern meets antique, couture meets street… I don’t even know how to describe it, but it definitely expressed a statement.
This was almost two years ago, when I was first introduced to them and the work they did at WhateverWorks, an experience that would redefine the rest of my life.
We sat down and started talking about sensations, feelings, designing experiences, design thinking, while they walked me through their work. From photo-shooting for designers in very strange settings, to party planning, to clothing design, to beer branding, to art direction, to image consulting, to whatever works between them and their client.
It was clear they created a unique proposal for each client and had developed their own artistic language. They found inspiration in everyday life and were clearing away conventional standards. They were truly Creating!
Sitting alone, long after they had already left, I remember thinking about the way they talked, their thought process, and what they accomplished doing something creative without ever needing to tell people they were doing something creative.
It was part of their essence. It seemed so ingrained into who they are as people that they did not even use the word. From that conversation I learned that when people are engaging in creative work, they leave you with a sense of curiosity, with a desire to explore new ideas, and with a sense of awe that forces you to talk about them. You end up being the one spreading the word of how creative they are. You are the one who tells their stories
Or like Andy Ellwood, my friend and mentor, likes to say:
“When you are good, you tell other people. When you are great, other people talk about it for you.”
I started seeking out ways to strengthen my own creativity. I needed to shut up and just engage in creative work.
I am not sure if “re-creating” a pirate ship for an entrepreneurial event is creative or not, but it was refreshing to see people experiment with our creation. They might have found it odd at first but every time I go back to Colombia I still hear about that crazy event we attended in a pirate ship.
Most of the things people said made me proud of what we did, but others were hard to hear. This experience taught me that creativity comes with a price: exposure. I found myself drawing a lot of attention and being exposed all of a sudden. Not an easy thing to handle for me at the time.
Recently, Exosphere was invited to the inauguration of one of the most important Startup Hubs in the region and I thought this would be a great opportunity to gain some exposure (look at me mommy, looking for the exposure now!). It was a chance to sell creativity by being creative.
The organizer of the event told me and my colleague Ezequiel Djeredjian that we would have a space available, large enough for a booth to put our promotional material and a banner as well as some people to talk to about our product.
We were incredibly happy for this chance to expose ourselves and the work we did, until the organizers mentioned how formal this event was going to be, and that there would even be national ministers amongst the crowd. As if this wasn’t a bummer enough we paid a visit to the space we had been given and found this:
Empty white room, formal restrictions, ministers and public figures. We felt constrained and started to think that there was no room for creativity. But then inspiration stroked.
While engaging in an exercise of “diverse thinking” either me or Ezequiel (can’t remember right now because this is how creative exercises should develop) whispered: “Hospitals. Hospitals are completely white.” Inspiration out of nothing. Analogous inspiration at work.
We decided to create what we now call the Exosphere Hospital, and never mentioned it to the organizers until it was too late for them to say no. The disease we treat at this hospital is one of the most dangerous epidemics of our time, Creative Blindness.
The symptoms include:
- Cubicle Stockholm syndrome: Psychological disorder where the individual develops a strong emotional relationship with his cubicle. It is expressed through high empathy and sympathy turning the cubicle into a sacred comfort zone preventing the victim from engaging or looking for new opportunities.
- Illusory Stability complex: Set of acquired unconscious feelings developed from the individual’s past experiences which create a false sense of equilibrium, thus preventing the perception of risk and volatility in everyday routines to take place.
- Technology Phobia: Psychological reaction characterized by a permanent fear of using emerging technologies due to ignorance or obstinance.
- Unidimensional Professional complex: Psychological state where the individual loses the drive to update their skills or knowledge risking to be fired and decreasing chances of getting hired.
I have to admit I was a bit scared. Telling the Minister of Economy and all the great “innovators” and the “creative guys” of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the people who develop creative workshops and foster creativity, that they were not being creative was a bold move. But who cares?! Sometimes you have to say ‘to hell with protocol’ and just say what you recognize as true.
“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
When people came by the hall they saw this big sign that said:
Once they walked in they would be greeted at the reception by a nurse (Ezequiel), who then immediately grabs a chart and gets them involved with the experience. Welcome Señor. You came for your diagnosis, let’s start!
It had been a long time since I had seen so many strange and puzzled faces. They started asking questions like “Wait, huh? Excuse me what is this..? What are you doing?” And then the nurse will say: “this is a hospital we are checking you up.” Once we got them to just go with the flow, the testing started.
The test had several small parts while maintaining simplicity. People had to hear a word and then say the first thing that came to their mind. The word went from people (Gary Vaynerchuk, Jaron Lanier) to technologies (blockchain, biohacking) and concepts (Open source). Then they were asked to ride a bicycle. But not just any typical bicycle, no! It was a bicycle with a reverse steering wheel (have you ever tried to ride one of those?!). Finally people had to play a game where they were told to associate concepts with images and match them.
After completing the test the nurse would show the patients their results and the symptoms would appear on a big screen. The results were done by a random diagnostic result generator and I was surprised to watch people take something random and make it part of their story.
Most of them were saying “this is totally me” or reflected on the fact they needed to get updated with technology. With the result on the big screen, the nurse would come close and say with a particular tone of voice: “Interesting results… I advise you to seek treatment”.
Once the patients were checked out, they were shown a video that explained the treatment: The Exosphere Academy. An 8 week program to prepare yourself for the creative economy. (Of course, we were selling ourselves.)
We then explained further how this program will help you defend yourself against and even recuperate from this terrible epidemic plaguing our society by learning and developing 3 main skills:
- Understanding and pursuing learning as a lifelong process,
- How to relate to and work with people, and
- Taking care of your life accounting (this is much more than numbers I assure you).
After the video the nurse would come again and take them to our recovery area, where they could meet with other patients in recovery. Our treatment has been tried in 43 different countries and has produced a high rate of success. Our participants are enjoying greatly health and stamina.
To ease the pain of having received such horrible news, they got a lollipop and were slowly escorted out of the Hospital… Yes, we were giving a child’s lollipop to the Minister of Economy, after telling him he was creatively blind.
There is not a measure for creativity, and I don’t think this event raised the levels of how creative I am. I just wanted to stop talking about creativity and take a shot at doing creative work.