15-17 Story 2: Creativity in Art, Business and Life

 

We hear a lot about creativity these days, but can you be creative and artistic if you work in any kind of occupation? We talk to two creative people – one an artist and the other a business consultant – about the essence of creativity, how they foster creativity in their work and how anyone can be creative – even under very constrained conditions — if they just take the time to look at their life and work in a different way.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Miranda July, filmmaker, actor, screenwriter, author of the novel, The First Bad Man; Mark Barden, partner in the consulting firm, eatbigfish, and co-author with Adam Morgan of the book, A Beautiful Constraint: How to transform your limitations into advantages, and why it’s everyone’s business.

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Creativity in Art, Business and Technology

Marty Peterson: When people talk about creativity, most of us think about artists, writers, actors – those individuals who make their marks in the “arts.” However, there is creativity everywhere – from the classroom teacher who finds a new way to spur on her pupils, to the laboratory chemist who comes up with a new product that nobody has thought of before. We talked to two creative people – one in the arts and the other in business – about their ideas on what makes a person imaginative and inspired to make or do something totally original. Miranda July is a multi-talented artist. She’s a filmmaker, screenwriter, actor and an author. Her latest novel is titled The First Bad Man, and it’s about a rather eccentric woman who is shocked into living her life much differently after taking in the selfish daughter of her bosses. She says that she thinks creativity is something we all have, and it’s with us when we don’t even realize it…

Miranda July: If you dream at night you have creativity. If you have moments that you don’t know what you’re supposed to do next, I think sometimes creativity comes in the form of a sort of blankness. Like sometimes it feels like it’s opposite, so we rush into fill that space. But in truth, that emptiness means that there’s stuff working underneath. It’s like your conscious mind is not running the show in every single moment. And if you just give it a moment, if you don’t look at your phone, if you allow yourself to feel something even if it’s just the fear of feeling nothing, usually something comes, some new thought, just a little thing. And to me that’s creativity, that’s the real thing. You know, it’s not about like creating some “masterwork.” It’s more a day-to-day thing.

Peterson: Since everyone has the capacity to be creative, why are some people set apart as being “creative” and “artists” and the rest of us aren’t? July says it depends on a person’s need for recognition…

July: I think it’s more that some people really want to be looked at. And, I think we all have a story to tell but some people, for whatever, because of their upbringing or just that their particular soul, they really need to tell their story and be looked at. And other people are happy just having their story and telling to people just through relationships and as they go about their life. One’s not better, but I’d say those people who feel so compelled to be seen, don’t have much of a “Plan B.”

Peterson: So they are artists to their cores, and wouldn’t be happy doing anything else like working in a factory or selling insurance. July says, though, that we can all be working at a “Plan B” job and still live the creative life in our own ways…

July: It’s the whole life. It’s like what does your house look like? How do you dress? What kinds of gifts do you make for your friends? You know, like there’s so many places that creativity comes in into our life, and it feels good to keep giving it away with all different stakes, including the high ones, but also the lower ones.

Peterson: July says that she is one of those creatives who needs to be known and have her art seen. At a very young age she was bitten by the artistic bug and hasn’t stopped since…

July: I put on my first play that I wrote when I was 16. I put it on like outside of school. I wanted it to be very professional, and I put an ad in the paper and I hired actors. I remember sitting in the audience watching the play, it was based on a correspondence I had with a man in prison, and I thought “Okay, this is it. This in some form or other is what I’ll do for the rest of my life.” And it was just ‘cuz it was so intense and somewhat unendurable sitting there with the audience watching the thing I’d made. But I knew nothing would compare.

Peterson: We all feel the “void” she talked about at the beginning from time to time, but how do you know what to fill that with? What your creative outpouring should be? July says that you just need to find that “inner child” and go with it…

July: What really matters is what do you feel curious about? Like what gets you going? It’s less about this idea of what you should do or what would look nice, as the way a kid will be like, “No I don’t want to draw,” and then they’ll see some certain kind of pens or materials and they’ll be like, “Yeah, I want to do it!” It often does come from outside inspiration. I mean I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing someone do something beautiful and thinking “I want to do that.” I mean I’ve made whole works that took years and years and the point of origin was simply seeing something really amazing, and it’s so lighting me up that it sent me on my own path.

Peterson: July adds that it won’t take long to find out if that initial creative spark is a full-blown passion that you can continue to work on and enjoy, or just a passing interest that you can set aside for another creative endeavor. Mark Barden agrees that it’s helpful to look outside yourself for creativity. He’s a partner in the consulting firm “Eat Big Fish,” and co-author of the book, A Beautiful Constraint: How to transform your limitations into advantages, and why it’s everyone’s business. He says that creativity is taking two insights or ideas that didn’t co-exist together before and creating something entirely new with them. And for that, you need to broaden your horizons…

Mark Barden: When we go off and talk to our clients and do consulting engagements that’s one of the key exercises that we do with them. Which is to say stop looking inside your own world because there’s very clear definitions of the way this category needs to work, look outside. I think that’s one of the critical aspects of creativity, isn’t it? It’s lifting your head up, looking out at the outside world for interesting stimulus, inspiration and then figuring out how it applies to your own world and how it can change what you’re currently doing. And that’s where creativity comes from for me.

Peterson: Barden’s company helps “challenger brands” – brands that are not the leaders in their field — to do more with fewer resources than the major brands. As he said, thinking outside the brand at what completely different companies are doing is one of the ways to kick-start new ideas and get a brand noticed in a crowded marketplace. He uses the example of “Lush” bath and personal care products…

Barden: It was some Body Shop executives who chose to break away from what they considered to be kind of stifling constraints of working at the Body Shop. And they basically took the idea of the Body Shop and everything that worked really well for them, but they said “What is the fastest growing retail operation in America at the moment?” And back then it was Whole Foods. And they said, “Why is Whole Foods winning?” And when you go into Whole Foods you have this kind of sensory experience, right? It looks beautiful: everything is rich, dense colors, it smells gorgeous. So they basically took a lot of those cues from the world of Whole Foods and they overlaid them on to the world of soap and personal care products to create Lush. So when you walk into a Lush, you can find huge blocks of soap carved off as if they were cheese. And there’s a chalk board above it that tells you when it was made and what the ingredients are. And it’s merchandizing much the same way as a kind of traditional greengrocer as we call them back in England. That was a creative idea and it defines creativity for me because it takes something that works in one place, something that works in another, combining them something to make completely new.

Peterson: Creativity can also come out of not having a lot of resources to work with. Their new book, “A Beautiful Constraint,” talks about how people and companies have done a lot with very little. Take the example of Surf detergent. Unilver, the company that makes Surf, wanted it to stand out among other brands. The problem was that since Surf was less expensive, it didn’t have access to the same cleaning technology as the big brands…

Barden: The constraint there is, we don’t have cleaning technologies. It forced us, working with that group, to look for inspiration and ideas in other areas. And, long story short, that group in the end we landed on this notion of sensory experience, similar to Lush in a way. Unilever had in other areas of its business, a great expertise in fragrance. And at that point, no one had really committed to fragrance and the sensory experience that it might give in terms of product attributes in the world of cleaning products. And so we used that as the basis of the inspiration to completely reengineer what that product looked and felt like. But it was the limitation itself, the constraint of “We don’t have the right technical product that we need to compete,” that forced us into a reevaluation of how that category might work and look for opportunities elsewhere. So there’s that, and there’s stories from business, from music from art from science of people who’ve been able to use limitations, constraints, as the impetus to invent new things.

Peterson: And of course now fragrance is one of the key components of almost all detergents and cleaning products on store shelves. Barden says creativity in the face of constraints isn’t something for the technological or art geniuses. He says that their research shows that a wide range of people with different educational backgrounds and experiences can think creatively when faced with roadblocks and scant resources…

Barden: School teachers, naval officers, supply chain executives, world-famous designers who’ve been able to do remarkable and very creative things in the face of those constraints. So the right mindset, the right method and the right motivations – you’ve got to want to solve it, you’ve got to be really passionate about solving the problem – with those conditions in place most people could be a lot more creative than they actually believe they are today.

Peterson: Once a problem is solved, though, resting on your laurels can take you down. Barden says that “path dependence” — that is, finding an imaginative solution and doing it over and over — is dangerous if a brand, a company or a person wants to keep those creative fires burning…

Barden: For a while that becomes a groove. We are on rails, this thing is going well, we are winning. Eventually, if you stay on that path too long, that groove becomes a rut. You stop seeing the opportunity that exists in the world and that exists in constraints. And you essentially get stuck. So habits, biases, assumptions build up over time in individuals, this is true of individuals in relationship with other people, in marriages you see this happening – the habitual behaviors that we all exhibit in our marriage. It’s true I businesses too. Businesses get stuck with a certain set of habits and assumptions with the way the category works. You need to be really conscious about breaking those path dependencies in order to be able to free your minds, to find the opportunity in constraints again.

Peterson: In addition to pursuing new interests and ways of doing things, Miranda July says that if you think of a creative pursuit or solution to a problem, don’t be timid about trying it out…

July: I always think that we tend to feel that we’re not quite ready yet. And usually there’s something like you’re waiting to get out of a relationship or school or a health problem or a job, there’s something. And you think that, “Well once I get to the other side of this I’ll be ready.” And my theory is that it’s actually those very things, those very boring stumbling blocks in life that are the reason we need art and that we make art. So it’s best to just begin right now in the middle of the mess that is your life today.

Peterson: You can see first-hand the creativity of Miranda July in her novel, The First Bad Man, available in stores and on her website at thefirstbadman.com. For insight on how business and individuals can use constraints to their advantage in finding creative solutions, pick up Mark Barden’s and Adam Gordon’s book, A Beautiful Constraint, also at stores and on their site at eatbigfish.com For information about all of our guests log onto Viewpointsonline.net. You can also find archived stories there and on Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.

 

 

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