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The spark of creativity

  • Published at 10:43 pm January 7th, 2019
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How to nurture the creative process

Creativity is a spark which provides us with those “light bulb” moments. But sometimes, it can be the bane of people’s existence. It can be a source of fear or frustration, say, in the case of writer’s block. 

But creativity cannot be locked up and harvested. Creativity is free-spirited. You can feel it momentarily, but if you try to hold onto it too tight, it escapes.

It’s a mystery, an enigma. And I, for one, am ever-desperate for more doses of it (without, of course, resorting to any illegal or unnatural means).

But then again, it’s the creatives who scare the wits out of people. We have been brainwashed to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Few are ever encouraged to be the next reputed poet, rockstar, or painter. 

Those are all beneath us, scraps that the academically-challenged can pick up, brush off, and polish. Whenever someone mentions they are a singer (feel free to replace with artist, animator, photographer, videographer, graphic designer, actor, comedian), you can see the unmissable process of the cogs turning in their heads. 

There is a smile, and a nod of acknowledgement, but the unanswered questions remain: “Is she unemployed?” “Does he even make money?” This is followed by their pitiful eyes praying that these lost souls “figure out their lives soon.”

To some, these careers connote a textbook stop-gap answer, as if there is or can never be any permanence in being a creative. To make matters worse, being an overly creative man has implications for his manhood as well. 

Quite simply, creatives are degenerates. They are good-for-nothing, untrustworthy hippies, druggies, and unemployed liberal troublemakers. They are like X-Men’s mutants in many ways, and we, the “normal” analytical ones, continue waging a war against them.

I am not a mutant, I do not have any superpowers. I am not a singer, graphic designer, dancer, musician, painter, illusionist, or a magician. I do not take enough selfies to even qualify as a photographer. Yet, I am all of them, at different times of the day or week, just as we all are. 

I still try to find the perfect angle to take a shot of my baby daughter. And I still make the occasional edits on Microsoft Paint. I am terrible at plenty of these “creative” arts, but I am passable at so many others. 

We all need that spark of creativity to feel alive, to know that we are making a difference by innovating and disrupting whichever discipline we find ourselves in. Perhaps, then, the creative mutants are just misunderstood. 

We would all like to have the same superpowers, but not having these creative powers make us fear them. As with most things we cannot quite grasp, we see these skills as unworthy of our time, and by extension, we portray the experts in these fields as being unreliable, incapable, and unworthy. 

After all, how can you trust a grown person married to his camera or one wasting time doodling cute characters on her computer?   

I spend a sizeable portion of my day working with creatives and yet, I still do not understand how they do what they do, and sometimes it scares me -- what if the well runs dry all of a sudden? I fear for my business and the competitive advantage that we derive from our marketing prowess. 

But somehow, it never does. In the midst of the dark, cold night, this magical guiding light replenishes that verve, that inspiration, and that ability to delight in each member of my team. And for that, I am ever-grateful. Creatives deserve more respect and much less judgment.

Our schools are notoriously poor at promoting the creative side of our brains nearly as much as encouraging the “analytical” side of our cranium. It’s a fact that we cannot teach students to be creative as effectively as we can teach them logic because we do not quite understand the process and are unable to isolate creativity as effectively. 

Creativity is a combination of many skills and traits -- memory, problem-solving, attention to detail, application, risk-taking, simplicity, imagination, reading between the lines, and survival. The more we zoom into creativity, the more evident it becomes that the controlled and limited environment in our schools is not suitable to teach many (or any) of those skills. 

Though we must try harder to promote a more balanced curriculum in schools, perhaps it all starts with appreciation, and it starts with us. If we show the same respect to the creatives as we give to our numbers people, the next generation will consider a career in a creative discipline a more viable option. 

But putting your finance manager on a pedestal while being dismissive of the marketing head as having a few loose bolts is unwarranted. It’s not just us though this is prevalent everywhere. According to the salary statistics on indeed.com, a marketing manager makes an average annual salary of $64,498 whereas a finance manager makes $99,745 annually -- a staggering 54.6% greater. 

A marketing manager does not have the same ring to it as a finance manager does, and evidently nor does it have the same perks. Unfortunately, the difference is even more pronounced in Bangladesh. 

So much so that traditional companies just hire a seasoned sales manager and give them the title of “sales and marketing manager.” Marketing, and creativity at large, you see, does not even deserve to have its own department -- it’s just an afterthought for many companies.

The quirkiness of creatives might knock their reputations down a notch or two. Creatives are not always engaged in “creating” something, whereas the finance teams look busy with their fancy excel graphs, multi-line “if” statements, and Monte Carlo simulations solving the age-old issue at work. 

However, the creative, too, solve issues daily. They may take the occasional nap or watch one too many YouTube videos, but there is a method to their madness. Their minds are always attuned. Even when they are twiddling their thumbs, they are thinking, they are processing, and they are gathering inspiration. 

If you push it, if you ask them to catch onto that creative process too fast, it disappears forever. They are then left with an empty shell, an idea with no substance. But if you just let it breathe, let it take shape, let it slowly fill the pages, and let it fly and spread hope, then yes, it can make you smile, it can surprise you, and it can certainly take your breath away.

The lack of wage parity between the logicals or analyticals and the creatives may continue to be disparaging, and our schools may well run unbalanced curriculums. That is not today’s battle. 

For now, let us accept that the ends do justify the means in this case, and so the next time we see an irreprehensible work of creativity -- be it a book, painting, song, or photo -- the only “logical” thing to do would be to stand up, applause, and appreciate the individual who captured a tiny fraction of this enigma we call creativity. For us mere mortals, mutants or not, that should be enough.

Kazi Aaquib Shams is Director, Six Seasons Hotel