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The Best Way to Kill Creativity

The Best Way to Kill Creativity

    I wonder if the best way to kill creativity is to encourage it. This notion will take some explaining.

    Creative people literally can’t stop themselves from creating. It’s a form of OCD. If you plug one hole, the creativity finds a way out of another. There’s no way to stop creativity unless you kill the people who have it. Creators will change jobs, defy the government, move to other countries, and do whatever they need to let the creativity out. That’s my first point: Creativity is like a hurricane. You can’t stop it from forming and you probably can’t change its path.

    My second point is that there’s no such thing as “stimulating creativity.” The people who have the creative gene (figuratively speaking) can’t stop themselves from creating, and those who don’t have it can’t get it.

    What about R&D labs? They don’t generate creativity per se, but they do allow ideas to be researched, tested, and developed. They allow happy accidents to happen, and they provide a way to fund all of that activity. But there’s a reason they aren’t called Creativity Labs: Scientists don’t know how to make more creativity – at least not the good kind that makes the world a better place.

    I’ve noticed that creativity so often springs from hardship or pain that I wonder if it’s a precondition. That would make sense from an evolution perspective. Humans don’t need to come up with new ideas when everything is running smoothly. We need creativity when we’re threatened and all of the usual defenses are deemed inadequate. In other words, the best way to generate creativity is to induce hardship on humans, which would be unethical. Conversely, the best way to reduce creativity is to – wait for it – make things nice and comfortable for creative people. In other words, any ethical attempt to encourage creativity will have the unintended effect of killing it. Happy creators are not productive.

    The media has often noted the correlation between genius and insanity. My hypothesis is that insanity, or insecurity of any sort, puts an individual in a continuous state of feeling threatened. For those folks, the creativity gene – if they are lucky enough to have it – is locked in the ON position as they reflexively search for an escape from discomfort.

    I was thinking about this because of the latest MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” that have no strings attached. The foundation gives so-called geniuses in various fields $500,000 to do whatever they want, with the notion that some of them will go on to do great things they couldn’t otherwise do. And perhaps it works. I haven’t seen any statistics about the success rate of the grants, if such a thing can even be measured. But I wonder if the money has the unexpected effect of reducing creativity in this same bunch of geniuses because it makes their lives easier. That’s not a criticism of the grants because they aren’t designed to generate creativity.

    Devil’s Advocates will point out that I’ve previously said my best ideas come during a relaxing shower. Surely that disproves my idea that hardship is necessary to produce creativity. But I’ll bet the relaxing shower only helps creative people who feel threatened or uncomfortable in their lives outside the shower stall. And I’m just neurotic enough to feel threatened most of the time. I started worrying about retirement when I was about six years old. I can’t leave the house without worrying if there will be an adequate restroom wherever I’m heading. And I’m fairly certain the world will plunge into darkness any minute now. On the plus side, all of that makes it easier to create comics.  

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