Often when one thinks of “creativity” it can seem like an illusory trait afforded only to the upper echelon of society. Painters, poets, musicians, and artists of all kinds are these rare breeds of human who’ve somehow been able to tap into the well of creative thought, and this mindset of creativity as a limited resource has made many people submit to the fact that they’re, “not creative.”
However, as Clusterian Shourov Bhattacharya passionately proclaims in his recent TEDx talk, “this is a Myth! This is a fallacy! This is what you might call, the myth of the creative as special. This idea that Steve Jobs is creative, and you are not.”
To elaborate on his point, he looks no further than his own children. Children in general really, as they seem to live in a world of boundless imagination and play. This freedom affords them a happiness and confidence that seems to have been forgotten by many adults, yet it’s something we all had at one point. So what changes? For Shourov it comes down to the ratio of Creation vs Consumption, “When I create, I’m happy, and when I’m consuming, I’m not happy.”
There you have it, just create more! Perhaps easier said than done, children have limitless time to flex their creative muscles, but adults have bills to pay, deadlines to meet and after a long day of work, the next episode of Married at First Sight is a lot easier to sink into than that novel you’ve been tossing around in your brain. The crux of it is consumption is easy, insanely easy and plentiful, it’s also become the base of how we communicate, “what have you been watching” is a much more common question than “what have you been creating?”
Can this cycle of consumption be broken? Of course, that’s why you’re reading this article (great choice by you, by the way)! It starts with being mindful of your consumption, try and notice when you’re automatically turning on Netflix to settle in for a binge marathon, and allow yourself to break that mental barrier of creative doubt. A tip for this was given by the author, Kurt Vonnegut, in a response to several letters from students of Xavier Highschool asking for him to speak at their graduation. He never did come in person, but instead wrote them:
“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
Lofty, yes, but certainly true. He is essentially imploring them to maintain the sense of play that Shourov points out in his own children. As mentioned before, creativity is a muscle that Vonnegut is telling the students to flex, although, “any art” is a tremendously broad and daunting range to pick from. Shourov says to me a great place to start whittling that down is, “talking about childhood,what did you love then?” For him, it was music, and when music wasn’t a factor in his life, he forlornly referred to it as “lost”. Yet, what is lost can always be found, and when he started making the time to play again with musician friends, Shourov said that passion came back stronger than ever. It also led to him auditioning for the band, The Bombay Royale, initially for fun but four albums and several tours later, it certainly cannot be called a hobby! Neither is it slowing down, be sure to look out for Shourov’s solo EP set for release later this year!
In his TED talk, Shourov mentions another ratio that he finds pivotal for breaking the creative malaise, Play vs Purpose. “If the conditions are right, you are creative” he says to me while chatting for this blog, “if you create an environment that allows play” it can help creativity and that can often “lead to purpose”. Much like how playing music for fun led to him doing it professionally.
How can that environment be cultivated though? How can I as a talent scout, investment manager, accountant, CRO specialist or what have you, be able to include play in a place of business? Creativity needs structure, to be kept in check, and an example Shourov offers of how it can be done is implemented by everyone’s favorite search engine, Bing… just kidding. Google employees are given 20% of their work week (one full day) to focus on passion projects that are Google-related. It’s something that the company has done since 2004 and has led to the creation of google staples like, Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, AdSense, Slack and Groupon. This method has been used by other CEOs and from their reports, results have been phenomenal!
Shourov’s own ruminations on creativity, and play with purpose, sparked the idea for his game Polynize. Done either digitally or physically, the game brings players from a wide range of backgrounds together to solve a problem set by a “sponsor”. Following the pattern of “Set, Spark, Solve and Select”, all the players come up with solutions (sparks) of their own and then come together as a group to analyze each other’s ideas (solve), before an idea is finally chosen by the sponsor (select). Designed to support innovation and creative problem solving, Shourov and his business partner, Marrs Corio, have started testing the game at Melbourne High, to teach students the ratios mentioned previously. “The kids love it,” Shourov reports and plans to start expanding to other schools are already in place!
It all seems part of a personal vendetta Shourov has to demystify, “the myth of the creative” and embolden people to, “give their creativity to the world!” He’s quite good at it too, as after chatting with him I certainly started to check my ratios, as it were, and give myself more time to creatively play rather than passively consume. Instead of re-watching Schitt’s Creek for the umpteenth time, I’m spending more time playing guitar, painting or writing six lines poems that I then tear to shreds and distribute into different trash receptacles (that last one being the assignment Vonnegut ended up giving to the students of Xavier High)!
However play manifests for you, cherish it, grow upon it, and that virtuous cycle will draw other creative and like minded people to you!