Written by Gwydhar Gebien
As much as I hate to admit it, I am not convinced that Creativity is The Answer. This is heresy, I know, but when you get right down to it just how useful is creativity anyway? Creativity is like gunpowder; incredibly powerful- and dangerous- stuff, but largelyÂ useless without a structure to contain it, a system to measure it, and a culture that respects it.
I didn’t learn me no grammar in grammar school. There was a movement during my grammar school years in which creativity was emphasized over structure.Â In essence, we were taught that it was more important for us to write creatively than it was for us to write well. I didn’t know what a participle was until high school when I elected to take college grammar. It wasn’t the most boring, tedious, mind-numbing class on the electives list and the books we used were so old they were out of print. (When the class was over we had the option to buy them. I did.) Of all the classes I took in high school, College Grammar was, without a exception, the most valuable.Â I have always enjoyed creative writing but it wasn’t until I took a grammar class that I learned how much my writing sucked. No one cares what you have to say if you can’t structure a proper sentence. Creativity is all about content, but content needs to be contained. The rarest and most exquisitely complex wine in the world is useless without a glass.
In the real world what we really care about is how much we produce, not how creatively we produce it. When it gets right down to it we care more about quantity than quality. Given $100 for food we’d rather eat three square meals a day of boring cafeteria food than eat one five star meal once a month. As a natural extension of this we measure our success by our productivity. We ask “what have I done with my life” much more than we ask “did I do it well”. What does Creativity produce? In itself, not much. Can we quantify it? Not really. How do we prove that Creativity is useful if we can’t quantify its usefulness? Creativity is useful when we apply it to how we work; a creative workspace can make a job easier, faster, or more pleasantÂ even though the product remains unchanged. A prime example is the assembly line: the model T that was produced on an assembly line was no different from the model T producedÂ by hand except that now it could be produced faster, more easily, and became so affordable that even the workers on the line could eventually buy one.
In the end, though, it isn’t about money, it’s about culture. Returning to the gunpowder analogy, where one culture sees it as a weapon another culture sees it as a tool and another sees it as festive entertainment. Largely, Americans tend to see creativity as festive entertainment; a luxury rather than a necessity. As an artist I have lamented that no one buys artwork unless it “matches the couch”. When I use my creativity to produce fine art (because production = key to success) I create a pretty commodity. Fine art, like entertainment, is not considered a necessity. So is all creativity doomed to uselessness? Not necessarily: even our western culture recognizes that creativity can be an effective tool when trying to communicate (ex: a commercial illustrator creates drawings to illustrate an art director’s concepts to a client) and is useful problem solving (ahem, Henry Ford).
In the end, the question remains: is Creativity “The Answer” to becoming successful? No. Not by itself. Creativity has the potential to make life easier, richer, and more successful but it is only a tool. Like all tools, the key is how you use it.