Just lie back, relax, and tell me about your relationship with creativity
Question: Imagine you’re trapped in a lift that’s plummeting at a terrifying speed. The brakes are gone, the cable has snapped. How do you stop yourself from hitting the ground?
Answer: Stop imagining you’re in the lift!
You can use this one at parties when you want to be a smart-arse. But you can also reflect on what it means for you outside of being a rather annoying trick question. You see, a lot of the time, the threats we face, are imaginary.
You have a brain that evolved to deal with threats like tigers hiding in bushes or marauding bands of charity fundraisers (hiding in bushes). When you see a tiger or a charity fundraiser your right prefrontal cortex lights up. This is the part of the brain that deals with avoidance, keeping us safe by causing us to move rapidly away from whatever has attacked or said hello to us in a busy street while we’re trying to catch a train.
But since you also have the capacity to imagine threats it is possible to cause this part of the brain to go crazy just by thinking about things. For example, observe what happens to your right prefrontal cortex when you read these phrases:
- Credit card statement
- You’re being audited
- Mrs Brown’s Boys
If you’re a normal, well-adjusted person you should be feeling stress, fear, and a deep sense of disappointment with a culture that used to produce things like Only Fools and Horses and Bottom. Your avoidance mechanism is in full swing.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that the same thing happens in the minds of a lot of people when they hear the word “creativity”.
When I first started hosting No Wrong Answers I used to use the subtitle “the creativity pub quiz”. But then a friend of mine took me to one side and told me that some of her colleagues had declined to come along to play the game because they believed themselves to not be creative. The word creativity was triggering their avoidance mechanism in the same way that the word “okra” triggers mine. It had never occurred to me that this would be the case because, to me, the chance to be creative is always something I enjoy.
It was this realisation, in part, which helped me to develop the central concept that drives all of my work. The idea that, when it comes to expressing creativity, what matters is how you relate to it. And since creativity is an innate human ability, something we can all do, the quality of how we relate to it depends not on any real threat or danger but on one that we have conjured in our own minds.
In a lot of ways, we’re all like the person stuck inside an imaginary lift plunging towards an imaginary death. We’re afraid of some terrible event that is about to happen but all we have to do is stop imagining it. Of course, unlike the imaginary lift, some of our fears around creativity and the unhelpful, difficult responses we have to it, are harder to let go of.
If you want to check in on your relationship with creativity there are some simple scenarios you can try out, either on your own as a visualisation or with your team as role play.
For each of these the idea is to play through the scenario, either in your mind or acting it out, and observing how you feel. Close observation of embodied emotions is a vital part of what I do and a great skill for understanding your own behaviours.
You’ve been working on a project for a week or two and you have some ideas that you’re fairly excited about. Then your manager swings by your office to let you know that you’re going to get some extra help from someone who has done something like this before, a real hot shot who has just joined your department.
- Did you notice any tension?
- Was there a feeling that you were being judged or undermined?
- Did you resent the intrusion?
You produce a popular product but a change in regulations means you have to rethink a major part of your process and you need to do it quickly.
- Do you have a feeling of opportunity?
- How broadly did you seek input?
- Was there a feeling that this was a fire that needed to be put out?
You and your team have been prototyping several different versions of a new product, now the time has come to choose the one you’re going to go ahead with. All of the prototypes are good and everyone has different preferences.
- How dispassionate can you be?
- Did you feel a sense of loss?
- Do you imagine that the end result can be something everyone is happy with?
There are many more elements to your relationship with creativity, the sense of urgency or the fear of blame, the desire to belong and fit in as opposed to the desire to be authentic, the tension that can come from having to be honest and tell people that you think they are wrong against the desire to make people happy.
Learning to interpret these tensions, reframe them, and let them guide you takes focus and time. But when you achieve it the effect can be quite remarkable. You might find that the embodied emotions that once pushed you away from opportunities start causing you to approach them. You can learn to relate to creativity in a playful, curious, open-hearted way and, when that happens, expressing creativity becomes easy.You can learn to relate to creativity in a playful, curious, open-hearted wayClick To Tweet http://openforideas.org/blog/2017/02/07/just-lie-back-relax-and-tell-me-about-your-relationship-with-creativity/https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/therapy.jpg?fit=1024%2C576https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/therapy.jpg?resize=150%2C150Personal Creativitycreativity,evolutionary psychology,getting cosy with creativity,relationship