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Crises - Do They Help or Hinder Creativity?

First of all, let’s agree that, even though it doesn’t seem that way on any given day, most of the world is getting along remarkably well, and is not embroiled in a crisis. Not only that, but there’s a lot of actual good news happening every day. We are making tremendous strides in major areas like medicine, technology, science, and education. But the way all the medias, social and otherwise, are surviving nowadays, is to try and make us believe we’re smack in the middle of an all out crisis, and that we’d better pay attention (aka money) so we don’t miss out on this crisis and ALL THE OTHER CRISES!!! 

Granted, there are plenty of problems we’re facing as a species right now, but that means it’s time for us to get down to serious creativity, not run around feeling powerless and scared. We just made it through a big crisis, Covid, and took some devastating hits. But we made it, and it’s because we got creative, fast, and dove in with life altering solutions. This is not something you will find in the media, unless you really dig for it.

The tricky thing about a crisis is that it falls between emergency and disaster in human understanding, an emergency (understood as something we’ve seen before and therefore know how to deal with) requiring immediate attention, and a disaster (understood as something historically off the charts in terms of negative consequences) requiring an ‘all hands on deck, we don’t know how this will turn out’ kind of response. A crisis is pulling from both ends of that spectrum, fostering doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Emergency implies that we could come out of this okay, and maybe will have learned something from it, disaster signals that we’re going to lose some valuable assets, and in fact may already have done so, and those losses could go on for the foreseeable future.

The whole problem with being creative in times of crisis, is that even in relatively calm times, creativity can be mighty scary. Just thinking about writing the book you’ve always talked about, starting the business that you know will be the answer to a niggling problem, even standing up at a meeting and describing your resolution to, say, homelessness - these can all be terrifying, because we don’t know how they’ll be received by our tribe. Will we be kicked out, laughed at, forever scorned? Now, if we add a crisis into the mix, and we mess up, we KNOW we’ll not be welcomed back home.

So how do we maintain our creativity when a crisis is upon us?

The first step is to get all involved parties on the same page to commit to a creative solution. If you’re acting alone, then all you have to do is to get YOU on the same page of committing to a creative solution. The next step is to recognize that your creative attempts at a solution may fail, but you agree to go forward anyway, because to not do so would stall you out, and could worsen an already critical situation.

During Covid, for instance, we were all thrown off our usual pattern of doing things. Just remembering to wear a mask was new, and dealing with people who didn’t want to wear a mask also forced us to reinvent how we related to others. But when we’re disrupted and have to think about something in a new way, that’s when our creativity kicks in. Many people started working from home, for instance, which turned out to be one thing that caused them to reevaluate their jobs, even their entire careers. Covid gave us a new way to look at our lives, and many of us made radical changes.

But before we can react to a crisis, we have to deal with the brain and body disruptions brought on by fear. Fear has a deleterious effect on our ability to think straight, not great when we’re dealing with a challenging situation. Our bodies also go into a kind of shock that can cause things like tunnel vision, hearing loss, nausea, among other symptoms. Nowadays, we are no longer being routinely chased by wild animals or having our lives threatened by tribal disagreements, so we’re not used to these kinds of reactions, making our decision making even more difficult.

Yet still, over and over again in human history, the result of mass disruption (as uncomfortable as it is) has led to great strides in creativity. Some cultures recognize that a crisis is also a chance for growth, as the Chinese character for “crisis” indicates: “danger” plus “a turning point” (incorrectly described by some as “opportunity”, although it could be said that there is opportunity hidden in a turning point).

The truth is that prioritizing innovation after a crisis is the only way to ensure growth beyond where we were before the crisis, giving us a golden opportunity to implement that growth. Creativity is enhanced because we’ve been knocked off balance, we see our lives on Earth in a totally different light, and we need to not only get back to where we were before the crisis, but to also climb higher. We can now see clearly where we are compared to where we were, which serves as a wake up call to our hibernating creative selves, along the lines of “my future isn’t going to invent itself”.

In every great action story, the hero goes up against seemingly impossible odds, courageously or not, and we root for them all the way. They are experiencing a crisis to end all crises, and we desperately want them to succeed. The hero/heroine is innovative, quick thinking, and (usually) has a good heart. We all want to be like that person, and the thing is…..we can be. We have those opportunities every day to access our own creativity in the interest of our growth and that of those around us.

The bottom line is, crises are a part of life, and while they knock us off course and make us feel lousy, they are essential to keeping us moving forward creatively. They force us to look deeply inside ourselves and come up with answers to powerful questions, defining us and showing the way to our best selves.

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