This post is of the talk I gave at TEDxUoN (University of Nottingham) on Sunday 6th April 2014.
There's something I know to be true of each one of you.
It's true of me. It's true of us. It's also true of our closest friends, our parents, our colleagues. It's true of the person who lives across the road from us.
That truth is that we all have an incredible, awesome capacity to be creative.
What's also true is that incredible, astonishing, delicious creative capacity can sit dormant. Untapped. Unused. And like anything we leave unused it can become stale. It can become pushed to the back of the fridge. Ultimately we can let it go to waste.
Thomas Edison said - "if we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves".
Why then, do we still hear people saying "I'm not creative". I think this is code. I think it's a code we use to keep us in a place of perceived 'safeness'. It might be code for:
"Me? Creative? I'm quite happy just the way I am. Doing things the way I've always done them. On the whole that's generally worked for me so why would I change"?
It might also be code for
"Creative? I could never write a book like J.K.Rowling or juggle as many creative projects as Will.I.Am or create an organisation in the way Steve Jobs did. No. I'm not creative".
Or my personal favourite ...
"I definitely cannot draw. Or paint. And if I can't do either of those things then clearly I'm not creative".
This wonderful, playful, empowering life-changing thing we all have capacity for becomes something we don't know how to access. It's something we put up on a pedestal. We start to believe that creativity is only something the gifted few can do.
But it doesn't need to be this way.
Let's start with a definition. There are many definitions out there - for both Creativity and Innovation. But let's not get stuck here. Because if we get stuck here - figuring out what it means - then our creativity has no hope. For today let's use this:
'creativity is an ability to think on novel and useful ways and to convert that thinking into doing'
Surely then, we're all being creative every day. When we're about to give a presentation and our laptop dies. Or we're trying to get from A to B and the bus breaks down or we get a flat. Or when we really meant to hit that deadline but missed it and we're coming up with an excuse to explain why. We're all being creative all of the time. We just don't notice.
But imagine for a moment if we did take notice. How might we turbo-charge our creativity? How might we scale the positive impact our creativity can have? How might we use our creativity to solve complex problems? How might we create organisations, communities, schools and a government that creates a dynamic, forward thinking society?
In preparing for this talk, Iain (from the TEDxUoN team) asked me a question - "what do you think the greatest enabler of creativity is"? There are many answers to that question - all of which will be true depending on your context on any given day at any given time. It might be the brilliant articulation of a problem. Or that you're insatiably curious. Or that you're comfortable connecting random insights. Or that you've surrounded yourself with people who enthuse and energise you. Or that you're feeling particularly tenacious and won't be beaten by the problem that's in front of you.
For me, there's one thing though that has the potential to turbo-charge each of these. One thing that has the potential to blow your creative capacity out of the water. One thing that if it's missing can cause your creativity to loose some of its energy.
That one thing is 'Purpose'.
So often when we're asked to think creatively we're put in a situation and presented with a problem which we may or may not be particularly interested in. We'll be in a room of people - some of whom we'll know; some we won't and there will be an over-bearing expectation that we'll 'make something happen'. But what we're really missing is the answer to a simple question - 'Why should I care'?
When we're trying to get from A to B and something goes wrong and we come up with a solution we do that because our friends are waiting for us in the pub or because we're trying to get to an interview for a job we really want. Without thinking about a creative process we instinctively tap into our creative capacity - 'our ability to think in novel and useful ways'. Why? Because the outcome has meaning. It's important to us.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet the Founders of Good for Nothing - Tom Farrand, Tom Rowley and Dan Burgess - or as I like to think of them, the Good for Nothing Godfathers. They had all had successful careers but had grown disillusioned with the way they were spending their working time. Their work had lost purpose. Together they spent time pondering and discussing ....
'what might happen if you could collide the collective, creative talent of a group of diverse, smart, talented people with Social Entrepreneurs, Charities, Community Groups ... people who share a purpose to work on stuff that matters. To make the world a bit of a better place'?
There'd be no hierarchies. No sponsor who would rock up at the start, share some inspiring words only to disappear until the end when they would reappear to pass judgement on the outcomes. There'd be no meeting after meeting to discuss roles and responsibilities. There'd be no project plan that would probably take longer in the designing than it would do in the delivering. Instead, these creative efforts would be inspired by, energised by, held together by a shared sense of wanting to do something positive. Something with meaning. Something with purpose.
And so, Good for Nothing started out in London with a small community of people who - during 12, 24 or 48 hour hacks gave their time and expertise for free. Their efforts would be guided by three principles:
1. Doing not Talking - people would have a go; get involved; participate and try stuff
2. Collaborate and Experiment - there'd be no power, no control. Just an energy that would fuel ideas, experiments and the creation of prototypes. Fast
3. Support the True Innovators - creative support would be provided to pioneers who were driving social, environmental and human innovation
Sounds pretty amazing right? Well that small, local community in London got noticed. And it grew. And now it's growing through new communities in the UK and around the World. Communities in Sydney and Perth, Wellington, Vancouver, Rotterdam,Stockholm, Brighton, Bristol, Camden, Colchester, Cardiff, Chester, Birmingham, Leeds, there's GFN Girls in Manchester and GFN Year Here in London. There's Cambridge,Edinburgh, Glasgow And there's one right here in Nottingham.
And here's the thing. Why does Good for Nothing work? It works because people are personally inspired by the purpose of it all. And that purpose transforms a disparate, unknown to each other group of people into a collective, creative power house, who really help to change the world.
To me, Good for Nothing is the perfect example of how purpose inspires our creativity. It demonstrates that when purpose is present creative people - that's you and me - can come together to do, to make, to create on a scale that no-one might of imagined.
Now I'm not saying that finding our purpose is easy. It will take time. It will take reflection and discussion and experimentation. But when we find it - and as we seek to find it - our creativity will be unleashed.
If we can find something we are so dissatisfied by, that we know could be so much better, that excites us, that causes our heart rate to increase, that pulls us up out of our seats, that challenges us, that causes us to do things that we look back on and say "was that me"? Well that is the Creativity Jackpot!
That doesn't mean there won't be days when it's really hard. When we have self-doubt, when we can't find a solution to the problem we're working on. But that's when our purpose kicks in. That's when the creative magic starts to happen. Because at that point, we won't care about a definition of creativity. We won't care if we're doing it right. We won't care if we're breaking the rules. We'll probably find that we're walking around with five coloured pens in our back pocket waiting to draw a picture of our idea for anyone who'll watch and listen.
You might even find that because you believe so much in people's awesome, astonishing, creative potential to do and give more that you're stood on a TEDx stage in front of 450 people imploring them to make a choice. A choice to not allow their creative potential to go stale. But instead to find the things you feel so inspired by that you have no choice but to tap into the incredible creative capacity of yourself and those people around you.
I guarantee that if you can do this, you will be astounded by what you will achieve.