The textbook definition of creativity involves making something new that has value. “Something” can be defined to include new ways of doing things or thinking, but it is the new that’s important. Depending on the situation, creativity can include things that are new to the person doing them (personal creativity) or to the world at large.
A New Way of Seeing
Human beings have to sort through a lot of information every second of the day. This leads to focusing on some things and ignoring other things altogether. You probably have already seen this video. If not, count the number of passes the team in white makes.
Did you see the gorilla? Selective attention is what helps us sort through the stimuli. It allows us to ignore both the very common place and the very out of place.
According to Kevin Ashton’s “How to Fly a Horse” (p. 97), one study showed that 75 percent of people walking and talking on their cell phones did not see a unicycling clown that had been put in their path. Their brains decided that the clown was someone else’s problem and not pertinent to the phone conversation. This is called inattentional blindness, and one reason you should never drive and use your cell phone. Your brain prioritizes the phone conversation over the information you are seeing, or not seeing as the case may be, on the road in front of you.
The problem for creativity is that it takes the combination of two or more pieces of information in a new way to be creative. If we’re ignoring information that doesn’t fit in with what we think should be there or our world view, or we’re adding information that isn’t there because we think it should be there, we can’t be creative.
There’s a Michigan Lottery radio commercial that plays during Detroit Piston games and sums up the problem with creativity in a business setting perfectly. The commercial talks about Fast Cash, how good it is and how much people like it. The set up isn’t really important to the point. What is important runs like this:
- Presumably the boss: “Is there anyway to make Fast Cash better?”
- Suggestion Lackey 1: “Glow in the dark tickets!”
- Suggestion Lackey 2: “Lemon-scented tickets!”
- Presumably the boss: “How about new games?”
- Lackeys are all-in for those.
The first point is one of time. Of course, a 30-second (or fewer) spot doesn’t allow for the development of new ideas. There just isn’t enough time to be more creative. Time is the most precious resource for all of us, and we need a lot of it to get truly creative.
The second point is the boss doesn’t want creative ideas. He asks the question and immediately jumps to an old idea not even paying any sort of attention to the suggestions from his team. New games in the context of the lottery are not new ideas. They are, at best, recycled ideas.
Businesses do not want new ideas. They do not want creative ideas. They want profitable ideas. That means, proven and/or cheap to produce ideas, in this case, new games.
However, let’s take a moment to imagine that the Michigan Lottery really was looking for new ideas, and it had glow in the dark and lemon scented to work with. Fast Cash tickets range in price from $1 to $20.
Let’s start with “lemon scented.” If the tickets were lemon scented and could be used as car air fresheners, would that be an incentive for people to buy them? The advantage for the buyer would be that he or she actually gets something useful out of the transaction while taking a risk at winning some money. The advantage for the environment is that the ticket would be used for something other than throwing away. The cost of tree air fresheners on Amazon is about 24 for $19 plus whatever shipping would run though they can run over $1 each. Big foot is around $5 as is squirrel in underpants. So, depending on the design of the ticket, people may want to buy them for the air freshening qualities. The disadvantage is maybe the winning tickets would smell up the shop where they were purchased.
“Glow in the dark” is a little more difficult to work with because it tends to be nothing more than a novelty. It’s not like the lottery ticket could be used as night light or emergency flashlight, at least not as the idea stands with just the “glow in the dark” moniker. However, glow in the dark tickets would work great for a Halloween lottery game and possibly for a Santa Claus based lottery game.
The disadvantage of both these ideas is that they are a step beyond what most lotteries are interested in doing. A cheap scratch-it or computer printed ticket will keep more money going toward the state, and people are going to pay for them anyway. Adding scent or glow in the dark is also adding an expense.
Another disadvantage is that people may not go for them. They may not be interested in getting something extra for their lottery dollars. It’s a risk, and it’s riskier than just opting for new games that may be unpopular because of the greater expense. Still, for my money, if I have to choose between a $5 air freshener and a $5 lottery ticket that can be used as an air freshener when I don’t win money, I’m choosing the lottery ticket. I’d be willing to bet so would a lot of other people.
When Kit (Brie Larson) is kicked out of art school and moves in with her parents, she decides, is coerced into, taking a job with a temp agency that palaces her in a PR firm. Kit puts away her childish things and becomes a business women with a suit she borrows from her mom. She meets the VP of the company, and naive about his intentions, she accepts his invitation to work on a Mystic Vacuum account.
She rejects her initial drawings, a Pokémon meets vacuum amalgamation, and tries to go with more traditional representations of women vacuuming, which she draws on graph paper for added grown-upness. These mundane vacuums and their housewives earn her creepy boss’ approval, but they don’t work for Kit.
She finally gets an idea and recruits her work friend and the delivery guy to help her with the presentation. They come in at the end of the sexy woman, baby, selfie vacuum presentation, and pitch Kit’s idea with glitter, magic, creativity, love and enthusiasm. She has an original idea that would sell vacuums through the sheer differentiation factor.
The woman executive who is in charge of the Mystic Vacuum company thinks it’s too much. She likes the sexy woman with the selfie, baby and vacuum – an idea that says women can have it all, and one that is outdated and done to death. All of the other male ad execs express the same sentiment. So, it comes down to the boss, and Kit has hope.
The boss said earlier that the lack of creativity in the work place was killing him. He still chooses the woman, vacuum, baby, selfie by asking to be told more about the lingerie. Kit loses her job.
While the movie itself is whimsical and freeing, this particular commentary on creativity in the workplace is all too real. On average, creative people get fewer promotions and fewer raises than their less creative co-workers. They face ridicule for their ideas and blame when the idea fails while not receiving commensurate rewards when an idea succeeds. No matter what people say about creativity, most times bosses, teachers and coworkers want the comfort of the known and the safe.
For Kit, it’s all for the best. She seeks her own personal unicorn and finds her creative self and the support she needs to continue being creative. For creative people, it’s important to learn that many ideas will be rejected not because they’re bad or they won’t work but because people fear the unknown and failure, and every new idea carries a risk with it. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but it can be better if you find people who love and support your work, even if they are relative strangers.
Kevin Ashton’s “How to Fly A Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery” delves into and debunks the myths of creativity. By using existing scientific research and deftly chosen examples comb from history, Ashton creates an exciting and surprising read for anyone who has ever doubted their own creative abilities. The creative beliefs challenged by Ashton include:
The Creative Leap
Creative thinking is just thinking. There’s no leap, it’s just that creative people take more steps to get to a solution. Less creative people stop when they have something they think works, even if it’s not the best, or even a very good solution.
People and Organizations Want Creativity
People and organizations say they want creativity, but creativity is seldom rewarded. Ignaz Semmelweis lost his job and his life when he challenged the medical field to wash its hands, even though he could show that washing hands saved the lives of women and children during childbirth. The others who came before him to suggest the same thing were ignored or ridiculed.
Robert Galambos lost his job at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research for suggesting the Glia cells in the brain were important, and idea commonly accepted now. Galambos was a famous neuroscientist, who with Donald Griffin, proved bats use echolocation to navigate in the dark and had worked at the institute with his boss, David Rioch for 10 years. None of that mattered; he and his new idea were kicked to the curb.
The Eureka! Moment
The actual “Eureka!” moment that the story comes from is based on a falsehood. The displacement of water would be too small for Archimedes to determine whether gold had been combined with another metal to make the king’s crown. (Its buoyancy is what matters.) Sitting in the tub would probably not have mattered. Even if it did, the story says that Archimedes got into the tub while thinking about the problem. He hadn’t relaxed; he was actively pursuing a solution. The “Eureka!” didn’t come like a bolt of lightning; it came from a series of thoughts.
The Incubation Period
Tied to the “Eureka!” moment, incubation is also something that scientists haven’t been able to see in research the phenomenon. It’s a commonly accepted step in the process of creativity, but it may not be real. While incubation hasn’t been disproved, it has fallen out of favor. Some scientists are changing the name to “implicit cognition.”
Ashton address other issues like brainstorming, the role of rejection, what credit for an idea has to do with anything and why people get credit, and how people fear new ideas. Not only is Ashton’s books one of the best I’ve read on the subject, but it also uses clear stories told in an entertaining way and offers up lessons, hope and encouragement for people who want to be more creative. If you want to be more creative, get “How to Fly a Horse.”
In a story about Ignaz Semmelweis, the survival rate of children and their mothers, and handwashing included in his book “How to Fly a Horse,” Kevin Ashton points out that even in a “field as empirical and scientific as medicine… Creation is seldom welcome” (74 – 76). People need creativity and change, and they resist it at the same time. It’s part of the dichotomy of being human.
When Walt Disney wanted his imagineers to envision and create a haunted house for his theme park, they all came up with the same idea: a decrepit, run-down building that had ghosts. Walt didn’t like it. He didn’t want a run-down building ruining his pristine park.
According to Sam Gennawey’s “The Disneyland Story,” Ken Anderson, the original lead on the Haunted Mansion as we now know it, wanted to hide the run-down mansion behind trees native to Louisiana. Walt didn’t go for it.
Harriet Burns built three models for Walt to choose from. The imagineers put the pristine building behind the other two decrepit versions. Walt chose the beautiful building every time. He wanted guests to feel welcome in his park; that meant everything had to be clean and in good repair, even the haunted mansion.
Walt was working with some of the most creative people in the planet. Imagineers knew Walt, had experienced his success and demeanor first hand. Even when he told them, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside” (Surrell, Jason, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” p. 13), they insisted on trying to convince him that a haunted house needed to look a certain way.
“Everyone expects a residence for ghosts to be run-down. But Walt was always looking for the unexpected,” (Genneway, p. 180) said Claude Coats.
When those who consider themselves creative and create for a living have trouble accepting new ideas and ways of doing things, everyone else has even greater problems to accept the changes that come with innovations. It’s okay. We just need to realize that creativity is just as necessary for the advancement of humanity as being wary of the change that it brings is. As soon as we can embrace our seemingly opposed sides, we can see they are working together to make us more successful, as long as we don’t let one win over the other all the time.
For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company” officially releasing on April 14, 2019.
In “Happy Feet,” every penguin has a heart song that he or she uses to find a mate. If the songs work together, the penguins marry and have eggs. The heart song is so important that a penguin isn’t a penguin without it. When Mumble is hatched with feet that compel him to dance, his father is worried and upset. He admonishes his son to keep his feet still; he knows other penguins wouldn’t understand.
Time proves his father right. His dancing is seen as an afront to the Great ‘Guin, and Mumble gets blamed for the lack of fish. Mumble doesn’t think that the accusation makes any sense. Mumble is ultimately banished from the penguin community. He goes to find the real culprit responsible for the missing fish – people. In the end, it’s Mumble’s happy feet that save the penguin community from starving as humans take an interest in the him, and after he teaches his penguin community to dance, the penguin colony on the ice.
Singing and dancing are creative acts, but if a person or penguin keep singing the same song, the act loses its creativity. Creativity must be something new. In the case of “Happy Feet,” it’s the dancing that is creative, and because it’s new, it threatens the status quo. Mumble, its initiator, gets punished for his creativity. When he returns to the community, his new creative act saves the penguins.
People rely on creativity to continue to adapt and grow, as a species and as individuals; people are also threatened by anything that’s new. It’s the paradox of creativity: human beings need it to survive and embrace it in words, but fear the change that comes with it and reject it out of hand. Creativity can be great and terrible. It’s up to us to embrace the innovations that will solve current problems and to encourage those creative acts that bring more beauty and true enjoyment, like dancing and singing, to life.
For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve Your Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”
According to Kevin Ashton’s “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Ignaz Semmelweis was a doctor at Vienna General in 1846, and the medical community was mired in 2,000-year-old the belief that the body’s health was based on a balance of four fluids: Black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Vienna General had two maternity clinics. In one, women gave birth with the help of midwives, and both mother and child survived at normal rates for the time. In the other, women gave birth with the help of doctors, and women and children died in droves from puerperal fever. The maternity mortality rate was so high, women were better off giving birth in the street.
The doctors would often go from dissecting cadavers to delivering babies. Semmelweis thought the fever might be transferred from the corpses to the women. He convinced the other doctors to wash their hands, and the deaths in the clinic dropped from 18 percent to two percent, the same percentage as in the clinic with the midwives. In some months, the death rate was zero percent during the two years that Semmelweis was practicing at Vienna General.
In spite of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence and the approximately 500 women, and who knows how many children, whose lives Semmelweis saved through handwashing, his views were rejected. His detractors questioned his scientific method; Semmelweis didn’t run any experiments. They said he didn’t put forth a clear theory; he didn’t know what was responsible for the transfer of disease, he suggested it was some sort of organic material. One American doctor claimed that “A gentleman’s hands are clean” (p. 73) and couldn’t carry disease.
Semmelweis expected common sense to prevail, but at the cost of thousands of women’s and children’s lives, the medical establishment refused to implement handwashing as a standard procedure. The change that Semmelweis proposed challenged the underlying beliefs of the establishment, and those beliefs were too sacred to challenge by a demonstrably better way to do things.
Semmelweis ended up losing job, “being lured to an asylum” and beaten. He died two weeks later, and Vienna General’s doctors stopped washing their hands. Mother and child mortality rates rose by 600 percent.
Semmelweis’ handwashing challenged ingrained and incorrect ideas about the body and health. It challenged ingrained ideas of identity. It challenged the status quo. Semmelweis wasn’t the only one who challenged the establishment, but his story is illustrative of what can happen when people put forth an idea that disturbs the everyday workings of an industry, government or other established organization.
If you still don’t think it’s difficult to change people and culture, many men today don’t wash their hands after using the toilet or urinal in public places where peer pressure should be in effect. They spread disease because they don’t believe germs affect them (and some don’t believe germs are real).
New ideas aren’t readily accepted by anyone, including creators themselves. People always say they want change, but they choose what’s familiar. If you put forth a new idea, be prepared to fight for it and for yourself. Creativity needs fortitude, strength and a healthy dose of wisdom.
For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improving Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”