Are We Killing Creativity?

By Bernard Callus on 17 July 2019

Great question. Two recent experiences have profoundly affected the way I now answer this question. First, I read “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelly. This thought provoking book contains many excellent examples of using creativity to solve problems. It really had me stop and think about how we can utilise creativity more effectively at home and especially at work. Second, I watched Sir Ken Robinson’s talk “Do schools kill creativity?” This is among the top 25 most popular TED Talks with over 17 million views on YouTube. It’s highly entertaining and addresses a serious issue. Armed with both experiences I now say confidently “yes, I believe we do kill creativity, and there’s no need to and we will perform better when we embrace our creative side.”

We kill our own creativity

We live in a fast-paced, tech-driven world with our smartphones never too far from reach. Who takes time to sit back, relax and explore our creative thoughts and expression? Probably not too many of us. The sad truth is that we kill off our own creativity. As children we all start out being creative but then for many of us we encounter destructive criticism of our creative expression. For example, we might be told “that drawing doesn’t look much like a horse” and we decide right there, we are not creative. We shut down our creative expression and with it, an important aspect to being innovative and solving problems. The problem is exacerbated because, as Sir Robinson eloquently asserts, “our education system does not encourage creativity to flourish.” Esteemed researcher and speaker on vulnerability, Brené Brown, found one-third of adults carry a “creativity scar” from childhood. From personal experience I know that singing in front of people requires confidence. I’ve met many people who claim they cannot sing in public because someone told them when they were younger “you can’t sing.” That one criticism shattered their confidence and their singing days are over.

Creativity starts with being yourself

I often hear people say that they’re “analytical, not creative.” Unfortunately, analytical people generally resist taking action; rather they tend to reflect and analyse. However, many successful scientists are analytical and also very musical and creative. Leonardo da Vinci is the quintessential creative scientist. I’m analytical and I know our challenge is we tend to judge ourselves harshly and diminish our own creativeness. The good news is that the lack of creativity is not permanent and with specific actions we can re-engage our creative side. Interestingly, there is no Tibetan word for “creativity” or “being creative.” The closest translation is “natural” or “be more natural.” Therefore, if you want to be more creative, start by being yourself. Allow your creativity to emerge and avoid the temptation to judge yourself.

Surround yourself with creative people

Over my career I’ve seen many changes and increased regulations that further diminish our creativity. Open-plan offices, sterile work areas devoid of artwork and banning music all serve to stifle our creativity. Therefore, it’s imperative that we engage in activities to maintain our creativity. I’ve found it’s easier when I surround myself with other creative people. For instance, I play the guitar, I sing in a choir, and I go ballroom or swing dancing whenever possible. For others though it might be to join an art or creative writing class. What you do isn’t as important as long as it’s allowing you to access your creativity.

Are you creative? What activities will you take on to unleash your creativity? Are you courageous enough to allow your creativity to flourish or will your fear stop you? Being creative gives us another “string to our bow” to solve problems, unlock innovation and cause amazing results in the world. I dare you to take this on. You don’t know how it will unfold.

I assert, for the main, we do not utilise our creativity anywhere near enough. Our education system and the criticisms we encounter work together to kill off creativity. The impact of losing our creativity is that we also lose an important aspect to solve problems, unlock innovation and cause amazing results in the world. In this short article I share how we kill off creativity. Thankfully, however, we can learn to re-engage with our creativity and it starts with being yourself, and resisting the temptation to judge ourselves harshly.