Friday, June 23, 2017

Defying conformity: nurturing creativity for a future of innovators

"Get a hair cut and get a real job" - the famous words coined by recording artist George Thorogood - reflect a time when creativity was not considered as a serious way to make a living.  In fact, I argue that the creative industries are still considered social outliers in terms of what is deemed acceptable for our sons and daughters to be pursuing once they leave the mechanistic education factories we call "school".  
Kids are still given advice by school careers advisers to pursue the more "academic" subjects of the sciences and maths, whilst subjects rooted in creativity are often suggested as a gap-filler. I argue that in today's rapidly changing world, classical science and maths are redunandant without innovative thought and the ability to develop an idea or process through to an end point. In a way that is precisely what subjects such as maths and science do, but in a more rigid, prescribed manner.
The game-changers of this world will be those people who can conceptualise the creative process from its birth to its realisation and apply that to any given context. Creativity is the future.
Sadly many facets of society seek to suppress creative ideas - we see this across business, education (of all places) politics and even the arts itself, at times, is guilty of this. Society wants conformity and how do we conform? We all think inside the same rigid unbending box. It's safe inside there.
All innovation begins with creative ideas. Have a look around you - every single object, application on the internet, the internet itself, cars, everyday items we take for granted - have been thought of, designed and produced. 
The world cannot possibly move forward without innovation and creativity. Yet we actively suppress the seed of all creativity by suggesting it as a type of "hobby", limiting it within the workplace and schools and applying a sort of "there, there" approach to someone who has chosen to apply their out of the box thinking in a way that earns them an income (but not a "real" job).
Sadly, society does not equate creativity with intelligence. Society tends to measure intelligence through success in academic subjects.  There is research which suggests that the overlap between creativity and intelligence is greater than we realise.
Intelligence can be loosely defined as an ability to acquire and use knowledge (so is rote learning "intelligence?); whilst creativity could be understood as the ability to innovate and conceive new ideas through the mental process of anchoring existing concepts. There-in lies the catch - we need some idea of existing concepts in order to have the freedom to innovate. 
Here's a quote I love by one of the most well-known innovators and creators of all time, Steve Jobs:
"Creativity is just connecting things up. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesise new things. And the reason they were able to do it was that they have thought more about their experiences than other people".
What Jobs is alluding to here is seemingly random connections of concepts may go unnoticed by people who are not creative; whilst those who are can grasp and see those connections. They can then do something with those connections.
Creative people also have the ability to work with their ideas rather than give up once potential problems arise; so problem-solving becomes a pivotal aspect of innovation and ultimately creation.
If, however, the environment one is in, stifles or does not actively promote innovative thinking, creativity is lost. When creativity is lost, we find ourselves back inside the safe four walls of our self (and societally) prescribed box.
Creative people are curious; they're not content to see things as they are, but rather seek to see things for what they can be; they are the boundary-pushers. 
Edward de Bono said "creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way". I argue that educators have an obligation to break out of established ways of doing and being in order to truly allow kids the freedom to be innovative, not just in the arts but in all facets of their school life - from the "academic" subjects right through to physical education. It is essential.

"There is a notion that creative people are absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social customs and obligations. It is, hopefully, true for they are in another world altogether"  
Mary Oliver


Friday, June 9, 2017

Stress and Living The High Life

There's' something almost unacceptable about wanting to live a happy, fulfilled, rich life - it's almost as if there is an innate streak amongst humans, to wish some small amount of suffering on one another. I find it interesting that in this era of "mindfulness" there is always someone willing to remind you that doing anything other than working like a slave,  marinating in solid stress and stumbling home exhausted each evening, is "living the high life". 

There is enough research out there now that demonstrates people who work in or are surrounded by positive psychology, are the people with the highest levels of well-being. Yet we are very good at condemning those who aim for this but at times falter.

To live a life with authentic happiness (not one necessarily created through social status - which is transient, or wealth - which is often a result of social status), but deep, profound authentic well-being, is not something one must ask society permission for. In fact it's crucial to our survival. But - we so often scorn those who strive to  attain this. 
Yesterday I got sick. I hosted a bunch of well-intended comments on my social media page which ranged from "get well soon" to "you need to slow down" to "too much living the high life". I find it amusing how some in my world feel the need to tell me what I should be doing (clearly I am living the high life, going too fast and it serves me right for being sick), whilst others do not feel the need to apportion a sense of blame. 
I find myself feeling defensive when I read these comments, as I know what my life is like and how I have ended up sick. One word: stress.
We are told "work-life balance"; but yet if we try to gain a little of that, we are slammed down by the societal moderators out there, who bring us back to the notion that each of us is really meant to suffer - even just a little bit. Where is the kindness toward one another? Where is the support? Where is the unity toward a common sense of flourishing and well-being?
It's not there; because to pursue the things that make us each happy (in my case photography and mixing that with hiking, mountain biking), is deemed to be selfish, unnecessary and "living the high life".
These very aspects which talk to our soul, which engage us with life on this planet, which connect us more deeply and authentically to the world around us; which "blow our ears back" should never be held accountable. Hold firmly onto those things. They are the antithesis to stress and the much needed antidote to the chaos and negativity that seeps through the cracks.
Make space - let the light in - shine - apologise to no one - be sick - get well - live your life - FLOURISH.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others".

Marianne Williamson