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Did Covid Make Us More Creative?

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Now that we’ve experienced a little time gap between we citizens of Earth and Covid, it’s interesting to look back and see how the whole Pandemic vibe affected human creativity.

As author Tim Ferris has said, “People would rather be unhappy than uncertain,” and boy, were we uncertain during Covid. (And since we didn’t have a choice in the matter, a lot of us opted to, what the heck, be unhappy as well. According to the World Health Organization, depression zoomed up worldwide by twenty-five percent.) When we’re uncertain, doing anything to conjure more uncertainty (like thinking creatively about a new thing, path, skill, etc.) would probably not be our first choice.

But it was a fascinating time of readjustment and reassessing, and many of us actually did choose to try new things in the middle of life threatening disease. Here we were, depressed, uncertain, and unhappy, and yet, our creativity was astounding, given these circumstances.

I did a little poking around to find out our score in this area, and it turns out, we were surprisingly productive, innovative and consistently on task in our quest to save lives (granted, this is a natural human motivator), kept living our lives, explored new paths, and moved past a difficult time.

Kudos of note go to the medical industry, as those people stepped forward to create some short and long-lasting changes to combat this and future pandemics. Columbia University did a followup study of changes made, and they are significant in the areas of “care delivery, operations and supply chain, vaccine distribution, improved delivery and financing of care, and challenges related to capacity equipment, workforce and vaccine shortages”.

Medical personnel took things like baby monitors, snorkels and hair dryer hoods and made them into things that could help Covid patients. They dovetailed with laundromats and hardware stores for equipment supplies, they got sanitizers to become de rigueur in business venues, they turned empty places like Sears stores into vaccination centers. And these changes were done practically overnight.

Industries were contacted to provide grants to hospitals seeking innovation in cleaning, and 3-D printers were donated to churn out more protective gear. Clear surgical masks were invented so deaf patients could read lips (!), and Zoom doctor meetings became commonplace for the first time. Pop up events and mobile vans went around to underserved areas, and older adults had in-home visits.

In other words, human creativity was on steroids in some areas of our communities.

The celebrated Paris Sorbonne, which has a Brain Institute, was interested in this unexpected heightened creativity, and followed up with their own studies of over three hundred participants, most of whom said they were more creative during the Pandemic than before it. Here’s what they found were the top five activities:

  • Cooking

  • Sports

  • Dance (this one surprised me)

  • Self help

  • Gardening

All the respondents said that they encountered obstacles to doing their chosen activity, but that didn’t stop them from getting creative on figuring out how to accomplish it. The biggest obstacles to achieving the activity were emotional/affective changes (e.g. depression, loss), and whether or not they had enough free time to accomplish it. It was also important for the person to have an open attitude, something that is heavily weighed in accessing someone’s creative proclivities.

TikTok saw some amazing creativity amongst its users, one of them a young man named Hyram Yarbro, who reviews skin care products and has millions of followers. His reviews are entertaining, but also full of solid information and honesty, to the point that he even calls out his sponsors if they’re not doing their job for customers. In fact, honesty, authenticity and relatability seemed to be highly sought out qualities during Covid, as the sudden fame of someone like Tabitha Brown attests to. She simply cooks or talks to her daughter about things like makeup, and has devoted followers in the millions as well. Many younger Tik Tokkers say they wish they had a mother like her. Collectively, it seems, we just wanted people we believe who can show us that life will return to normal in their own creative ways.

As a freelance violinist, I saw my work literally dry up during the pandemic. Since I’m at the end of my career, I didn’t fight this occurrence, but I saw all kinds of innovation around me from pre-Covid colleagues. Musicians started doing concerts off their balconies, an acquaintance invented an outdoor entertainment string quartet that accepted tips over Venmo, orchestras started rehearsing outdoors (you can do these things in Los Angeles, which typically has great weather, anyway…) or on Zoom, orchestra members gave Zoom solo recitals. Come to think of it, how great was Zoom and their creative response during this whole episode?

Listen to this recording of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (full disclosure, my son, a tuba player, is in the BSO) recorded during Covid, and see how you react when considering that this orchestra had just been through a particularly contentious lockout which began in 2019, and then Covid struck. And yet, here they are, playing their collective hearts out in a setting where they aren’t near each other, don’t see each other, they have no conductor (they are playing along with what’s called a “click beat”, which comes through headphones and tells them where they are in the music), are not wearing concert attire, but are simply doing what they do best. They are creating a stunning performance even in the face of dire circumstances, and that (in the end) is what gets humanity to move forward.

I think it remains to be seen what the big impacts of something like Covid will be over time. But for now at least, I for one am encouraged by the response of good, smart, talented people who rose to the occasion and helped us through it.

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