I read an article recently. An article that amused me, dismayed me, and in general, made me think.

This article, to be precise. “TED Talks are lying to you.” In this article, the author lays into the modern creative industries, and bemoans the rise of the creative professional, the usage of stock creative heroes/aesops, and the idea that creators are being lead to falsely believe that they will be able to make a living through their creations.

Now, I will admit that the author writes proficiently. However, I have a major, MAJOR, problem with the conclusions that he draws. His contention is that creativity experts are, themselves, devoid of creativity and actively damaging to the notion of creativity in and of itself.

I don’t believe that he’s managed to draw the distinction between… Let’s call them ‘Artistic Creativity’ and ‘Professional Creativity’. See, the problem with creativity is that everyone perceives creativity to be one amorphous mass, one contiguous and unified front. But it’s not. It’s really, really, not. Which is what led me into an engineering career; many, many years ago, I expressed┬á concern. I was worried that engineering and science wasn’t a field in which I was going to be able to be creative in. “Don’t worry!” I was told. “Engineering is a FANTASTICALLY creative field! You need to be creative to invent, you need to be creative to think your way around problems, you need to be creative to minimise costs!” “Sold!” I thought. Little did I realise that the creativity required in the profession was less ‘tell a story’ than ‘apply your expertise and critical thought to this problem’. Don’t get me wrong, while I was an engineer (and not… whatever the hell it is I am now, business analyst maybe? System manager?) I was offered PLENTY of opportunity to think my way around problems, and I genuinely enjoy it. But it’s not what I find myself thinking about. What I think about is crafting tales, of bringing characters and fictional lands to life.

Work is where the creativity professionals come in. We all know the types. The team-builders, the innovators, the people who come in and disrupt us from our work patterns. But who never seem to actually come UP with any ideas. That’s the point, though! Creativity professionals should NOT be expected to come up with the ideas. That’s not their job! They don’t HAVE your expertise, they don’t HAVE your knowledge, or skills, or abilities. Their job is to connect you with the resources you need to grow your ideas, to provide you with the tools that you need to push the envelope of your work, to encourage you and offer you objective support. THAT is what professional creativity is about.

And that’s what a lot of creativity talks and books are about. They’re not MEANT for the artists, the musicians, the writers. They’re for the technologists, the entrepreneurs, corporate elements. It’s not right to write them off, although I will grant that a lot of the same material gets repeated, the same references get cited and the same inspirational stories are told. That’s what happens when theories form and unify, though. Do we complain when we hear about Watt and his steam engine? Galileo and the tower? Newton and the apple?

… Well, okay, Newton and the apple’s been done to death. But my point stands. Corporate Creativity has been adapted to convince management of the need to permit their staff to explore and push boundaries. Artists ALREADY push those boundaries, so obviously they don’t need to be talked at by Creativity professionals.

The ultimate moral of my story? Live and let live! Creativity professionals are doing an important (if rather obscenely paid – generalisation) job, and they should hold no sway nor are they intended to hold sway over the domain of artistic creativity.

M.