Neuromance: Is The Workplace Ready To Fall In Love With Creativity?

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At last, I have come across a neuroscientific explanation for my contrary, contradictory nature. It all makes sense now. The very thing that makes me, well, maybe a little more polarised as a personality than many others I know (or think I know), is also the very thing that makes me able to do what I’ve always done: create.

Anyone who knows me well knows I am, indeed, a bundle of contradictions. As someone once told me, I am predictably unpredictable. I’ve also been told I’m mercurial, and a rock; an optimist and a pessimist; a prophet and a heretic. And, always, a creature of extremes.

It may not be a prudent thing to advertise such traits to the world, but I’ve got news for you world: firstly, you’re going to have to get used to a lot more people like me running around (in fact, you’re going to have to start really thinking about how we can help create more people like me – yikes); and, secondly, I don’t really care.

This fits, of course. As Caroline Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman write in their fascinating piece on research into the nature of creativity, conducted in the 1960s by the dashingly monickered Frank. X. Barron,

“The common traits that people across all creative fields seemed to have in common were an openness to one’s inner life; a preference for complexity and ambiguity; an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray; the ability to extract order from chaos; independence; unconventionality; and a willingness to take risks.”

So now you see why I just don’t care. I’m a conventionally unconventional creative type that way.

But why should the world start caring about creativity? Well, according to a World Economic Forum report, by 2020, it will be the third most desirable skill needed by employers (moving from its current place of tenth most desirable).

That’s a big push. And a hell of an ask in terms of getting employers to think differently about those they recruit, what they do with them and how they let them go about it.

In many ways, these are desperate times to be a creative type. They’re also breathlessly exciting times too. Social media is allowing millions of people to explore and express their inner lives. It’s also creating unparalleled social complexities and ambiguities, disorder and disarray – and opportunities (not often grasped, it has to be said, but, nevertheless, they are there) to extract order from the chaos.

Getting your voice heard, however, can be a desperate enterprise. As can getting a job. At so many  ‘creative’ events I’ve been to over the last few years, the question I’ve heard most often from the (always disproportionately) youthful audience is “How can I get a full time job in [insert creative field]?”

To be honest, I’m yet to attend an event where I feel this question has been given an adequate enough platform. Experienced creatives tend to want to talk about where they’re going, not how they started out, which is understandable for such visionaries, but a bit of a shame for those looking for a leading light.

Light and dark. The creative destiny.

It’s a ray of light, then, surely, that in the next five years businesses around the world are going to have to attract a lot more creativity to them in order to survive?

Well, yes, I guess it is, but I think this is going to need to be some pretty seismic shifts in thinking to pull this off, on both sides.

First off, and the real biggie for employers, is going to be the need to take risks. Especially in hiring. Tick box exercises are not the way to identify the extent of someone’s imagination, so, to do this requires a lot more imagination than the majority of employers are currently displaying.

The second major hurdle is the willingness to evolve culturally. To become a place where people can bring the full spectrum of themselves to work, without this descending into a workplace beset by pathological behaviours (or just lots of hissy fits). Not easy.

But cage those creatives in and you’ll risk doing just that (which also means a much deeper, and broader, examination of the types of workplace contract employers can offer which give people a continuing sense of their own independence and self-determination).

We creative types have got to bend too, though. As I’ve said before, I’m not a believer that disruptive talent should be ‘housed’ elsewhere, or left to run riot in privileged isolation. We can’t expect to just express exactly how we feel, as we feel it, whenever and wherever we feel like it. That might be the preserve of the artist, but the ‘commercial’ artist has to be willing to follow some rules (at least, some of the time).

Happily, because most creatives are more than in touch with the “darker and more uncomfortable parts of themselves,”  you can usually tell us, in our sunnier moments, to dial back on the hissy fits.

Communication will usually work with us, because really, however introspectively it might have seeded, the creative drive is a desire to communicate with people.

Applying a bit more emotional intelligence on both sides (another big ask – it’s skill number six on the 2020 list and not even there for 2015) could smooth the way to galvanising this, currently, rather delicate romance.

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