In my last post, I promised (threatened?) a bit of a rant about the question “How Creative Are You?” and its close relative – the desire to “Get More Creative.” I believe I called this line of thinking “spectacularly awful” and oh-so-gently suggested that it is both “futile” and “damaging”…
Here’s what I mean.
I recently read that the latest trend in the hyper-innovation cauldron of Silicon Valley is microdosing LSD at work. You know, for just that little "creativity enhancement" that gives you the edge over the other guy. I'm not kidding. See this article if you want to see just what it looks like when the pressure to “get more creative” reaches disastrously extreme limits.
Why is this so horrifying?
Surely, there is a long and well-documented relationship between people trying to create and a whole panoply of mind-altering substances. Think Hemmingway with a bottle of booze just to the side of his typewriter, think Dalton Trumbo with his amphetamines in the bathtub, think Sigmund Freud and his affinity for cocaine, think Philip Seymour Hoffman and heroin…shall I go on? Nah, too depressing, right? Plus we'd be here all day.
Of course, there is the small matter that the drugs used by creative people can and do kill you. But at the end of the day, the reason I despair about this microdosing trend isn’t so much related to narrowly defined health concerns. I object because, like all attempts to artificially “get more creative,” this practice does a kind of violence to the creative spirit and to creativity itself. As I’ve thought about it, my visceral objections to the “getting more creative” narrative fall into three camps:
Objection #1: “Getting More Creative” presumes a personal deficiency.
Think about it – the thought that comes right before the declaration “I’ve gotta get more creative!” is what? It has to be “I’m not creative enough,” Right? Just like the declaration “I’ve gotta lose weight!” is always preceded by the thought “I am not thin enough” and the declaration “I’ve got to get more productive” is always preceded by the thought “I’m falling behind.”
The core belief “I am not enough” (or worse “I am ashamed of what I lack”) is what is known in the coaching business as a God Awful Starting Point for any effort at growth and change.
Fear and shame and deficiency are not the bases for generativity – they are, in fact, the huge underminers of generativity.
The minute you start to believe that you must “get more” anything, you are doomed to fail because all your efforts are built on the quicksand of belief that you, just as you are, are not good enough. By pursuing the “fix” to your presumed “deficiency” you are actually feeding the underlying belief in your unworthiness. Though on the surface you may appear to be “enhancing your creativity,” at a deeper level, you are actually feeding the beast of your underlying sense of lack, until it eventually rises up and overtakes you.
Sadly, the deficiency model is one of the keys to our consumer culture – if we can be made to believe that we lack beauty, we can be sold cosmetics; if we can be made to believe that we lack the ability to pick out our own damn throw pillows, we can be sold “lifestyle gurus;” if we can be made to believe that we lack the ability to adequately care for our children, we can be sold parenting books by the truckload.
Similarly, the rapidly growing “Get More Creative” industry preys upon the insecurities of people trying to find a foothold in the "creativity economy." If you can be made to believe that you are deficient in creativity, or at least the ability to access it, then an army of authors and speakers and consultants and coaches can sell you tips and tricks to help you “spark” “ignite” “unlock” etc etc this thing that you had all along. (Just this morning, I stumbled on an article touting a "Creativity Crisis" in the business world...apparently, it isn't just individual workers who should be dipping into the LSD-laced goodies ...it is whole organizations, nay whole industries! Better buy an expert, fast!)
Objection #2: There is a competitive edge to the “How Creative Are You?” question that is a pure invention of the productivity ethos, and has nothing whatever to do with the ethos of creativity.
Indeed, I can't help but observe that the “getting more creative” promise is like the Viagra of the creativity world, promising you a constant hard-on of inspiration and a virtual explosion of creative output. (I know, ewwww.) There is a creepy, dare I say masculinist, overtone to some of the creativity literature - mostly from the creepy, masculinist corners of the corporate world...connected to the same kind of optimization thinking that leads us to believe that if a few sit ups are good, "rock hard abs of steel" must be better; if a reasonably organized workspace is good, wouldn't you rather have access to "100 ways to rock your desk drawers for maximum productivity?" and if a few fresh ideas might help your business grow, wouldn't you rather have the "13 habits of the most highly creative fricking geniuses ever to walk the earth?"
This stuff makes me sad, because it takes us further and further away from engaging with ourselves as the vulnerable, passionate, messy human beings that we are.
Call me crazy, but I don't actually want to live in a world of cyborgian uber-perfected human/drug hybrids.
I don't want to live in a world of objects and artifacts constructed by super-speedy brains in jars. I want to live in a world of sensual, sentient, caring people who have abandoned the fantasy of perfection and are eagerly and with humility creating and co-creating a world that actually works to nurture and sustain healthy happy human beings and a healthy happy Earth.
Objection #3: The answers to “getting more creative” are always narrowly technical, when the real challenges to living a creativity-centered life are not technical at all, but rather cultural. Human beings are not, actually, machines. We are nature. When we glamorize the quest to become "optimized" we conveniently and selectively forget this little fact.
The truth is that one does not arrive at a life worth living through a series of “life hacks.” A creatively-satisfying life is not the natural result of a bunch of techniques guaranteed to generate more creative ideas per day, and it damn sure isn't the consequence of artificially inducing divergent thinking by ingesting mind-altering substances. Those are strategies that only make sense in the context of extraordinarily short-term, productivity-driven thinking.
Meeting the challenges of the creating process is not ultimately about tips and tricks. Meeting the real challenges of the creating process requires you to grapple with deep questions of meaning and purpose and identity. Meeting the real challenges of the creating process requires you to steer toward people, environments, and ideas that foster your confidence and reflect back to you your essential wholeness and your intrinsic worth.
Ultimately, a life worth living evolves from the fierce determination to be fully human – caring, creative, and conscious.
A creatively satisfying life starts from understanding what kind of creator you are and emerges from the core belief that who you are and what you are here to create are valuable and worth standing up for. Owning your own creativity means grappling with genuinely difficult challenges of anxiety-management, vulnerability, and just plain hard work. There are no short-cuts and no easy ways out.
Don't get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with adopting productivity goals that create a container to fuel your creative momentum. But if you are in an environment that demands that you "get more creative," and does not support you in nurturing the real sources of creativity (including love, trust, curiosity, and deep play - among others), you are in an environment that will eventually undermine your humanity and suck you dry.
Powerful creators who live long and healthy lives are not engaged in a competition with anyone else – in fact, they tend to ignore everyone else completely so that they can focus on listening to what is trying to emerge in their work. They create for the purpose of continuing to create – there is no end point and nothing to win. As James P. Carse says in his mind-blowing book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility:
“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
Wouldn't you rather be playing an infinite game rather than squandering your health and energies playing someone else's finite game? Then for the love of God, stop trying to "get more creative" and shift your focus to trusting the creator that you are and moving forward with confidence to create what you came here to create. It might literally save your life.
Thus concludeth this rant. Peace.