Years ago I found myself in the excruciating position of being asked to do a free-form dance expression of myself at a workshop, before even greeting anyone. The workshop was ostensibly about creativity.
Now for some people this might be a wonderful opportunity for self expression. For me it was hell. I did it, all of us at the workshop did. And I felt myself about as far away from feeling creative as I ever have – it was more like being straight-jacketed in a role I was supposed to play.
I was reminded of this the other day on reading about the booming business of creativity. The article described creativity gurus having a field day with people striving to ‘exercise their imagination muscles’. I cringed as I read about people walking around with little dots on their foreheads trying to find their “group”, or having to do something silly to get their meal at lunch time. Its stuff like that gives training workshops a bad name.
Far from getting closer to creativity, this sort of thing sets up a new group norm to confirm to. The norm is a powerful unspoken group agreement that will cause people to behave in a way that is similar to others.
In the case of these workshops, some people might be having the time of their lives, feeling playful, others just going along with it. But how many, when they got back to their work, were able to apply that experience in any practical way? Or were more creative in their approach to things? Or could better solve problems or find solutions they were looking for? How many of the participants, I wonder, experienced creativity boot-camp hangover?
For creativity is not the same as play, not the same as being silly and outrageous. It may or may not include these ingredients. Often true creativity requires discipline and mastery of a practice area.
Creativity exists in many guises; art forms, approaches to life, in business, in science. The creativity of a scientist may be a flash of insight that arrives after years of study and experimentation. A famous example is the dream August Kekule had in 1865 that lead to his correct model of the molecular formation of Benzene.
The essence of creativity is mind-shift. Creativity is about unique ideas, experimentation and expression. It is about conceiving the unusual and original. It is expressed in many ways, from mathematical equations, to poetry, to dance.
Creativity involves a change of perception to uncollar the mind from the routine. The route to changing perceptions (thinking “out of the box”) is manifold and play is just one of many routes to that end.