What I have had the privilege of spending a large part of 2018 running creativity sessions with everyone from software designers in London to children visiting after hours exhibitions at Oxford’s museums. And the result is always the same. I see people get excited. If I have a wish for 2019, it’s simply for more of that. A lot more of that.
Many creativity sessions (most bad ones, and even some good ones) start by asking for a show of hands. “Who considers themselves to be creative?” Fewer than half the audience raise a hand, and the rest of the talk or workshop follows a predictable arc all the way to the second ask and the inevitable sea of hands that lacks only the surge of a Sigur Ros backing track. It’s the same narrative arc as faith healers and televangelists and demagogues have been using for ages. It sort of sucks for that reason.
But I also think it’s based on a misconception about what’s exciting about creativity. The narrative that’s being driven in this traditional sense is that people are learning something amazing about themselves. “I am creative” is the end product. And yes, that is an amazing revelation. There are very many social barriers that stop people believing in their own creativity, and I am determined to do what I can to pull them down.
But the thing is this. What is amazing about creativity is not that you are creative. That we believe it is comes from the appropriation of the imagination by neoliberalism and the attendant belief that you are the hero of your story. Look, the narrative goes, behold another superpower with which to triumph (in your quest for success as measured by neoliberal economics).
That makes a fundamental misstep. It assumes that “you” (and your success) are the centre of everything. Therefore “you are creative” is a great realisation because you have realised that you are great.
That doesn’t really make sense though. You (most people, in fact) ARE, indeed, creative. But you also have a heart that beats around 70 times a minute and shed around a pound of skin a year, and when you realise that you probably don’t go “yay, go me!” What makes “you are creative” such an exciting statement is that creativity itself is fundamentally kick-ass spectacular. It’s incredible, and YOU are part of that all-encompassing, future-bending, life-changing fabulousness. And it’s THAT which I see as I watch people explore their creativity. The realisation of not only how powerful stories can be, how transformative ideas can be, but of the never-ending rabbit hole into the heart of our Cosmos they offer us glimpses of.
Realising that you are creative is about realising just how endless the possibilities of our amazing world can be. It is about realising that you can question anything – “why do we do it like this?”, “what would happen if I changed that for something else?”, “what if everyone just stopped…?”, “what if everyone just started…?”, “If I tried this, could I get everyone to start…?”, “How can we do things better next time?”, “What if I tried something completely different?”
And after that, realising that you are creative is about understanding that you can do more than ask those questions. You can explore a myriad answers to every single one of them. It is about realising that every question is the opening of a billion different stories and that you have the power to tell every single one of them.
Beyond that still, realising that you are creative means realising that there is a universe out there desperate for you to explore it. Because every single new thing you discover enables you to tell millions of new stories.
Most of all, realising that you are creative means realising that the future – your future, all our futures – is the sum of the stories people use to answer questions. Too often the question is “Why shouldn’t I just…?” and the answer comes back “no reason” or “everyone else does, why not” and the result is a world headed to catastrophe. But just imagine the question was “what if we tried it like this instead?” and the answer was “OK, let’s explore all the things that might happen if we did…” That’s the glorious rabbit hole creativity sends us down. And if we once start down there, who knows what kind of a future we could be part of creating.
So, when I say in 2019 I want to help more people get excited about creativity, this is what I mean. From learning how to learn thousands and thousands of new things, to learning that it’s OK to ask questions about how every one of them might connect up, to learning how to tell the stories that will feed our future, I want to be part of leading you down this wonderful rabbit hole.