How the business world hijacked the word ‘creative’

Sheila Chandra - Monday, August 14, 2017

The business world uses the word ‘creative’ a lot

 Just perusing all those titles in the soft business section of the bookshop with the word ‘creativity’ in the title you’d think businesses were incredibly creative places. In artistic terms, this just isn’t true. When businesses ask for ‘creativity’ from their employees, they typically mean that they want focused and pioneering methods of improving their profits. They simply want their employees to bring their brains to work.


 The business world doesn’t really understand what creativity is….

This is not creativity. It takes a little creative thinking – but it doesn’t remotely resemble the creative process that fine artists pursue all day. Artists who are confident in their creative processes understand that while creativity can sometimes be directed, an artist’s most important and most creative ‘leaps’ are made when the artist lets the creativity itself lead. It’s a highly intuitive and emotional process – and although people may be delighted with the results, they’re not usually predictable.Nor are they necessarily profit orientated.


Creativity given free-reign is essential

Of course most artists can create to order if necessary – and we frequently do. But commissions – whatever form they take – are not usually our best work, nor are they the thing that move our work forward. Innovation may be a process you can steer in science, but not in art. That’s because what people want, is art that defies expectation. And so to aim for an expectation defeats the point.


Nurturing ‘free range’ creativity is hard

When you can’t guarantee a profitable result, sticking with a free range, unfettered creative process is hard. The work itself is hard because it’s full of uncertainty, and supporting yourself to do it, instead of churning out a pot boiler, is hard too. Some artists are simply not in a position where they can. Others lack the huge confidence to be vulnerable that it takes, or choose not to. And yet, it’s the only thing that’s going to take your work from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Although business people may be delighted eventually – in say, 20 years’ time when you’ve sold shedloads of product – chances are, right now, they’re unlikely to champion you to do it. Real creativity is always a risk.


 Business and social media have devalued the word ‘creative’

These days, any activity that takes even the slightest bit of independent thought – like creating a slightly different sandwich filling – is hailed by business as being ‘creative’. And social media means that people who aren’t remotely serious about being creators can claim that virtually any activity they engage in is ‘creative’, because it’s such a buzzword and they’re in charge of the hashtags they attach to it. Ironically, both of these categories of people are rendering the word meaningless.

This is not creativity. Not in the best sense. Nor is re-jigging the way resources are channeled through your company so that you pay less tax. That’s just being good at your job. And the two should not be synonyms. No, being creative is dedicating yourself to creating new work, new forms of work and new genres. Surprising, delighting and transporting your audience. It’s a rare sandwich filling that will do that. But it’s what great artists do all the time. And that’s what creativity really is.


We need a creativity revolution

In the meantime, I wish the public realised the difference. It’s time to take the word ‘creative’ back! We need a creativity revolution in this country, just like the food revolution we had about a decade ago, when people started caring about quality and provenance. It would result in a proper appreciation of the risks creative people take. And maybe then, the public will be willing to pay a decent price for our work and stop resenting us for being ‘privileged’ enough risk everything to be able to make it.


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