Creativity-Where Does it Come From?

Posted on January 21, 2012

I read two posts from fellow Bloggers this week that have stuck in my head since, one was written by Nick Mabey on his Create Waves website and was titled “Playing Devils Advocate” whilst the other was written by Craig Killick and carried the rather controversial title “Why Mission Statements are Wank.” Whilst the titles of these two blogs don’t immediately link together, both statements are related to what actually makes people creative and how alternate ways of thinking are often frowned upon in both working and social environments, but can also challenge people to try to think differently. I know both these chaps quite well, both speak as they feel and go against the normal tide of expectancy, but whilst, like me, they have been known to make themselves unpopular, it appears to be no coincidence that they are relatively successful in their chosen professions. It would appear being different to the masses can to be a route to a good living, though I guess it is all about timing.

Coincidentally enough, over the last few months, I have started behaving in business as I do socially, playing Devils Advocate, saying what I think, and changing my marketing emails from ones that are begging for work, to ones that feature sarcastic enthusiasm, black humor with regards to the economy and genuine assessment of the quality of staff I am supplying. Business was bad, it was a last ditch attempt to improve it. I have always tried to be as genuine as possible, but as a salesman I believed to stay up with rest, you had to fluff things up a bit and use some economics with the truth to get work. However, during this period of sarcasm and a blunt straight to the point attitude I have picked up three new customers and got to the stage where my weekly emails are appreciated and even looked forward to by many. Admittedly, I lost one customer too, he asked me to remove him from his email list. But here is the clever bit, he was a total prick anyway, he never paid his bills on time and had a mission statement that said “Hard Work is a Virtue”. You don’t get wankier than that. My new outlook to work has been a revelation as suddenly I stand out from the crowd I am now ahead of those who grovel, pester and smarm all over clients for business.

I don’t think a different attitude towards creativity can be taught easily though, I think it is in the make up of the individual and is something that has been developed from birth. In my humble opinion, personality and creativity generally stems from a build up of experiences from childhood, often in people who have lived in unique circumstances where there is no dominant parental influence unwittingly forcing an individual to conform to the perceived society norm. I don’t believe it is in the DNA to be what is deemed as controversial, creative, sarcastic, funny or a devils advocate, it takes a build up of life experiences both good and harsh. If you look at the world around us, a dominant feature coming from middle England is one that is to tow the line and go with the norm, politeness is the order of the day at social functions and rightly so in many cases, but how often do you witness yourself and others around you feigning interest and agreeing with people when it would be far more interesting and creative to make a challenge to the drivel spurting from their mouth. By being polite we are, without knowing it, stunting creative and alternative thinking to a huge degree and the longer we go along with it, the more we tolerate it and become like it ourselves. On countless occasions I have tolerated pathological liars and Formula 1 fans for an easy life.

I now believe creative thinking is a feature that every person has the potential to develop when they are born, but circumstance often nullifies or crushes it because we are bracketed at an early age. I remember speaking to a father of a friend of mine years ago, he was an MOD Copper and these were his words “I am a lucky bastard really, I have a good job and an excellent pension, not bad for someone like me who was born thick”  What the f….!?!? At some point in his early life he must have been repeatedly told he was thick and this was obviously passed through generations. I didn’t find him thick, a bit limited maybe, but probably because he thought he was thick he spent his adult life reading the Daily Star learning how to be good at being thick. In another example an electrical foreman who worked for a company I know was moaning that his sixteen year old son couldn’t get a job. I asked him why he couldn’t do him a favour and put him forward for an electrical apprenticeship at his company. The answer? “He’s too thick Bob, my mate is trying to get him a job at the sorting office, so watch out if your letters go missing, he’s fucking useless that boy.” It is quite incredible, but that goes on all the time, the bracketing of people from an early age leads them to fulfill their status with aplomb. I am a classic example of this and I’ll tell you why.

Any of you who know me well also know that I am hopelessly impracticable, and I should be as well, after all, I have undergone intensive training to be useless for the past forty years. I have taken on the role of of a DIY imbecile with relish, an art that has been honed by a catalogue of disasters since being bracketed as impractical after an incident with a Lego set at the age of four. As far back as I can remember, my late Mother, who was branded impracticable  herself, bracketed me as being like her, arty, good at English and history but hopeless at maths and anything practical. However, when you study the art of impracticability to my levels you take on the role with ghusto and determination to secure your status, and you do this by acquiring a shit or non existent tool box. If you are not interested in DIY you don’t buy tools, so consequently you end up banging in nails with the heel of a shoe rather than a hammer or changing a plug with with a carving knife or nail scissors rather than a screwdriver, impracticability is a self fulfilling prophecy and is a myth of bracketing (excuse the pun).

Take this as an example. When I was having my bathroom fitted recently, I faced the potentially humiliating experience of building a bathroom cabinet in front of a tiler and a plumber, the pressure, as you can imagine, was really intense. After fabricating a hopeless lie that my non existent tool kit was at my girlfriends house, I was invited to use the elaborate and impressive equipment owned by the tiler. It was a revelation, because I was under pressure to perform, I read the instructions and used the tools required, and fuck my old boots I finished it in no time. To this guy who didn’t know me, I was a proper man, all because I read the instructions and used the correct tools. If I had carried out the same task on my own, I would have done it without reading the instructions whilst using a set of kitchen utensils as my tools. I would have fucked it up because I have taught myself to believe I am useless at DIY after being bracketed at an early age.

There have been other instances of a practical side as well. I heroically guided a woman off a busy dual carriage once and changed her flat tyre on a side road, and just a couple of weeks ago I used a battery drill to put some plasterboard up, under pressure I can perform practical tasks, anyone can. What I am saying is that there is increasing evidence that bracketing at birth and in the education system is wrong, and having any form of natural born talent from birth is a complete an utter myth that is created by society. The other week I heard a darts commentator say “This lad was born to play darts.” Oh do fuck off mate, how can someone to be born to play darts or in fact any other game or sport.  From now on I am giving up on bracketing myself and others, when I see someone who is thick, I am going to judge them as someone who has been taught to be thick by their parents and then themselves. When you see people at the top of society, solicitors, lawyers, BBC correspondents and politicians, look at the private/state education ratio. These people start out in life no brighter or creative than me you or the next bloke/lady, they are just fortunate enough to have been told that they are great from birth, right through to the day they left Cambridge or Oxford.

I have been guilty of bracketing my kids in the past…”George is the sporty one Harry is the creative one” I have stopped doing that now, better late than ever I suppose. What I am certain of is that creativity is everywhere, it is just that society crushes and represses it, as do governments and many sections of the press, in their eyes the masses must remain stupid otherwise the balance of capitalism can’t work the way it has to.

As Craig said:

“I went to see a company today and on the wall was a mission statement, part of which said… We aim to be innovative and creative in all that we do…………….I can’t think of a less innovative or creative way to say that.”


7 Replies to "Creativity-Where Does it Come From?"

  • jimbob
    January 21, 2012 (12:19 pm)

    not a bad anallagy for a thick bloke .

  • Craig Killick
    January 21, 2012 (2:34 pm)

    It’s interesting as humans that we like to make things permanent… eg. “George is the sporty one Harry is the creative one”. We are all just as guilty.

    One thing I have learned is that we are in a constant transition – we can be what we think we can be. One of my all time favourite quotes is attributed to a guy I deem to be quite wise… The Dalai Lama… Change Is The Only Constant.

    That said… Actions, speak louder than words.

  • Ali Ward
    January 22, 2012 (3:40 am)

    Interesting read Bob. I agree that creativity is supressed by social norms and systems such as schools. However, I don’t believe all creativity/creative thinking/practicality is all nurture. Some people do have natural creativity no matter how they’re nurtured/parented/schooled.
    We do tend to pigeon hole our children and others, but there also has to be some honesty about individuals capabilities and skills otherwise we’d end up with another 250,000 X Factor contestants.
    Ensuring our children are encouraged to try things out of their comfort zone and perceived skill is great but we have to be careful not to nurture unrealistic, egotistical young people who are constantly admiring their own reflection in shop windows.
    The trend is to always praise, never criticise, never talk about failure. Children brought up like this with no reality are less equipped to cope with the inevitable failures and disappointments of life. It’s about balance.
    There was a student in Rubys school choir who stopped coming following a public performance. Apparently her mother attended the concert, heard what a terrible voice her daughter had and pulled her from the choir.
    Was that cruel? Has she destroyed for life, her childs self-confidence for singing? Or has she saved the child from the humiliation when at 15 her peers or Simon Cowell tells her how crap she is?

  • Nick Mabey
    January 22, 2012 (11:33 am)

    Thanks for the plug for my blog. Another way of looking at creativity is neurologically. Simplistically the right brain does the creativity and the left brain does all the editing, censoring, bracketing, analysing, judging, describing etc. It is one of the reasons that left-handed people are regarded as being more creative. So the aim to is to develop right brain activity and limit left brain dominance. The fashionable term for this is ‘left brain shift’.

    • Bob Lethaby
      January 23, 2012 (6:26 pm)

      All good points there, I am a big fan of the 10,000 hour rule of practice being the order of the day rather than natural talent.

  • Bob Lethaby
    January 23, 2012 (6:36 pm)

    Ali, look in to the girl from the choir, who it seems was rightly pulled out, could it be that she was in a non musical family so there was no music or singing in the house from when she was born? Most “talented” musicians come from families with a musical love, Mozart for example, was branded a genius but his father was a music teacher and had him propped up on the piano playing several hours a day from the age of two or three. I always thought creative talent was in genes, now I think it is environment and practice, how else could have the non tennis playing parents of the Williams sisters planned their careers before they were even born….same goes for Martina Hingis (named at birth after Navaratilova) and Andre Agassi. Basically I see it as child abuse, but if you desperately want to create an able bodied child in to something like a sports star or a musician from birth I reckon you can.

  • Lorna Harrison
    January 24, 2012 (12:09 pm)

    Wise words Bob! I recall the humiliation I felt age 11 when trying to grasp the basics of algebra. With hopeful enthusiasm I eventually got my father to spend five quality minutes with me to explain the rudiments of the equation, him being the master of such mysteries. However, within a few short moments, as I hadn’t grasped the idea quickly enough he lost patience telling me a one year old could do what I apparently couldn’t. Naturally I knew maths wasn’t for me!?? Having lived alone for some time now, I too, have an improving tool box, beginning with a hammer, screwdriver and pliers. I am even contemplating my own drill. There really was no mystery at all about the wall plug and screw to hang lovely things upon my wall. And yes, having the right tools in life, literally and metaphorically, makes life a lot easier and successful.

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