Some seemingly unconnected data points to consider on this fine winter’s day:
- As the New York Times recently reported, Spanish chef Ferran Adria, creator of the legendary restaurant El Bulli, once charged clients $97,000 to hear him speak about creativity for an hour.
- Last year, President Obama instituted a “National Day of Making” that acknowledged “our nation’s heritage of entrepreneurial spirit and technological innovation”
- Research published in the Journal of Creative Behavior has found that some forms of creativity are sexier than others. If you’re a musician, poet, dancer, or you devote yourself to some other artistic pursuit, you’re considered way hotter than if you write code or perform a domestic craft like gardening. Out of 43 creative behaviors, “playing sports” was considered the sexiest, and “event planning” the least sexiest. Again, this is science.
I’ll leave it to you to decide where writing a blog for the PR Council ranks on the sexiness scale, and we can also agree to table for now how to assess the sexiness quotient of various PR functions. The point here is that we’ve become obsessed with thinking, opining, researching, writing, and advising about creativity (as well as related topics such as “innovation”).
But you didn’t need me to tell you that. You’ve seen the flood of books, magazines, and blog posts. Everybody today has an opinion about how to become more creative; how we can apply creativity in useful ways; how to recognize creativity; and how to manage for it in our organizations . There is also a cottage industry of experts looking to warn us of impending crises in creativity — in our schools, in science, and so forth. I’m not even the first to observe how crazy we’ve become about creativity; Joshua Rothman wrote about “creativity creep” last fall in the New Yorker .
Rothman argued that our notions of creativity have shifted over time. As creativity became the focus on scientific inquiry during the 1950s, it came to be associated more with production, with the creation of actual stuff. Previously, generations of Romantic thinkers had conceived of creativity more as a state of mind, a special, prophetic vision that gave meaning to the world.
Rather than note what has changed about our perceptions of creativity, I’ve wondered why we’re so obsessed with it at this particular moment in our history. Economic and technological change, I believe, explains a lot. As markets become more competitive and more and more productive work becomes commoditized, creative acumen becomes even more precious to those who credibly possess it, precisely because it’s so mysterious and difficult to replicate. Socially and culturally, creativity seems to hold out the possibility for national renewal in an age where so many—perhaps even all—of our major institutions seem corrupt. If there’s one institution we still believe in, an institution that seems to represent the best of America in a globalized world, it’s entrepreneurialism, with its dynamic, innovative energy.
Creativity may also be a way of clinging to individuality and vitality in the face of work that, for many people, feels increasingly soul-destroying. In a popular culture filled with zombies and mindless robots, creative people seem to be anything but that, which is why we all want to join that tribe. Finally, given how fragmented modern societies have become, creativity might reflect our impulse to connect with others. In trends such as “co-creation,” creativity is about sharing, being part of a meaningful, productive community.
To analyze our discourse of creativity isn’t to say that any of these meanings we attach to it is somehow wrong or unhelpful. I do wonder whether in our frenzied rush to be creative we are tying ourselves up in knots, paradoxically losing what we’re grasping after. Creativity already thrives in the PR industry and other professional services fields. It happens every day as firms develop new solutions for their clients. Just look at this embedded Pinterest display, which contains recent creative work from our members. PR practitioners have always searched for the Big Ideas, and will continue to do so.
Maybe we should start to think less about how to be creative, putting aside our fears that we’re not creative enough and focusing instead on simply doing what we do. Let’s connect with the joy we take in our chosen professions and stay playful as we do our work. A good deal of creativity will happen on its own. It isn’t, ultimately, all that complicated. It’s something natural, innate in us.
And if it helps, remember that actually being creative is a lot sexier than thinking about it. We don’t need science to tell us that.← Back