By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation
I was recently subjected to a “funny” video that was made by a group of creative directors from a Chicago advertising agency. The quotation marks are clearly a give away that the video wasn’t funny at all. In fact, it was thoroughly unfunny – it was pretentious, self-congratulatory and slick.
There is a pervasive misunderstanding about the nature of creativity that is perpetuated by those who believe that their personal wealth and glory requires them to be set above the common masses. The misunderstanding is that “creativity” is somehow a special gift imparted to them and not others.
But creativity is not magic. Creativity is a state of original thinking.
All of us have bouts of creativity just as we all experience lulls of inertia. Creativity is not a thing bestowed upon individuals, it is within every individual. Unfortunately, for many of us, we inhabit environments unconducive to acts of creativity or we’re surrounded by the greedy and insecure who crush our ability to innovate in an effort to maintain their superior status.
Tham Khai Meng wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian recently that bemoaned how our educational institutions educate creativity out of us. Meng writes:
“Not everyone can be Mozart, but everyone can sing. I believe everyone is born creative, but it is educated out of us at school, where we are taught literacy and numeracy. Sure, there are classes called writing and art, but what’s really being taught is conformity. Young children fizz with ideas. But the moment they go to school, they begin to lose the freedom to explore, take risks and experiment.”
All companies desire states of creativity – but they are looking to one or two key “creatives” as a solution rather than building environments and fostering behaviors that unlock the creative potential of their full workforce.
Ask anyone who has worked at The Second City for the last 35 years who the funniest person in the building is. It’s not Stephen Colbert or Tina Fey. It’s Craig Taylor.
Don’t know who Craig Taylor is? He’s the stage manager of the mainstage – he pulls the lights on improv scenes and supports the ensemble performing the show. He’s not an actor, not a comedian – but he’s devastatingly funny.
When we elevate and separate “creatives” we are fundamentally mishandling our human resources. One of the things I absolutely love about improvisation is the leveling effect it has on groups of people. Big ego behavior just doesn’t work in the improv environment. Rather, improvisation provides a process for unlocking our personal state of creativity so that it can connect with others to make things bigger and better through collaborative rather than sole efforts.