I actually went through my whole school life not considering myself as a creative. Basically because I couldn’t draw or paint. When I say I couldn’t paint, don’t assume modesty. I would say I remained frozen at about a 6 year old level of skill when it came to using a paintbrush. Being left handed did not help my plight. Adam, one of my oldest and closest friends, finds my cack handedness so painful to watch, there have been many occasions when he has forcefully and aggressively removed; scissors, screwdrivers, washing up brushes and basically any instrument that requires even rudimental dexterity from my hands, in pure frustration at observing my attempts to complete basic household tasks. So fine art, it’s fair to say never translated from my mind to canvas. In fact, even in writing I have found a real struggle. At infant school, my teachers were always perplexed by my illegible hieroglyph-scribings marked across my page. It wasn’t until Mrs Morris decided to place a mirror against my page and realised that I had been writing perfectly well, just completely backwards, that I could even start communicate myself in written form.
Having limited options to express myself creatively through school (besides how many long and convincing explanations I could create for my continued absence from class) I found myself pretty disenchanted with education altogether. The rigid structure, the authoritarian dictatorial nature of the textbook regime, and of course mathematics and numbers, crushed my will for education down to a quiet whimper, drowned out by the call of my self-originated hedonistic maxims. Essentially, “What is the most fun I can be having right now?”
It seemed to me the school system was a rigged game, structure for the structured, ordered for the orderly, and I was allergic to its tyranny. I wanted to imagine, to dream, to converse, to challenge. There was no room for such dialogue, no space for expression. I am quite sure that if I was at school now, I would be well dosed on ritalin, my natural curiosities and restless thirst for exploration dulled down to dormancy, whilst my newly subdued state imbibed the curriculum.
It is only having now worked for many years teaching and training entrepreneurs and business owners from all sides of the globe, that I have come to truly understand our differences, and the beauty there-in. And in my autodidactic inquest into the workings of the mind, neurobiology, and psychology, that I have come to understand some fundamental predispositions of our nature, and the nature of our personality that dictates our lives.
The gold standard of personality research has produced the only currently and widely accepted dimensions of personality, that came as a result of more than 40 years of personality research. Five aspects of personality that were not hypothesised and then tested for, but instead revealed themselves from the data. Commonly referred to as the “Big 5” they include Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism and Extraversion. With an evolutionary backbone and underpinned with neurobiological understanding, these dimensions are now used within clinical psychology and behavioural research.
On the subject of creativity, there are two dimensions that are notable. The “openness” dimension would be considered the predictor of creativity and the “conscientiousness” dimension is a strong predictor of orderliness. Those high in trait openness tend to have more of an affinity to the arts, abstract ideas, and more progressive or liberal political views. They are happy to engage in philosophical conversations, or in jumping from topic to topic. They exist in a higher amount of chaos. Creativity can perhaps be best defined as the ability to originate novel yet useful ideas, or think in abstraction. Those high in trait conscientiousness tend to be more ordered, structured, have more of an affinity to logical processes, clear defined systems and processes, borders and boundaries. Conscientiousness is a reasonably good predictor of more conservative political views and traditionalism.
If you consider that these traits are spread in a bell curve distribution across the population, with some outliers being extremely high in openness and some in conscientiousness, and the rest falling between then, as a species, this means we are well equipped to have the open people exploring and expanding our horizons, creating new ideas, pushing us out of our comfort zones and advancing our understanding, while the orderly conscientious are right behind them creating systems and processes around these new discoveries.
We can all pretty much place ourselves in these categories. For example, if you are quite easily disgusted by things like being dirty, or things mixing that “shouldn’t” mix. If you like things to be just where you left them, for things to be neat and tidy. You get your work done on time, enjoy routine and structure, have your DVD collection in alphabetical order (does anyone still have a dvd collection?), you are likely high in conscientiousness. If you spend most of your day daydreaming, jump from one idea to the next, love music and art, exploring new ideas, poetry, you have a dexterous use of language and conveying ideas, you are likely high in openness.
Now you may find that you are high in both, or sort of moderate in either, in fact chances are you are somewhere in between. Actually, the fact you have read this far, the fact that the title of this article interested you probably means you may be more likely high in openness.
Here’s the thing, being a creative is not a good predictor of economic success. In fact, it’s conversely correlated. The old stereotype of the starving artists is well substantiated.
Being creative is high risk, high reward. This is because it’s incredibly difficult to create something new and not only new, but enjoyed, needed, and valued by the society in which you are functioning. This is why we celebrate and reward so highly those that manage to pull it off. There are paintings that sell for 100s of millions, top music artists and actors remain among the wealthiest deified persons of our time, and writers such as J.K Rowling and Stephen King, that capture our imagination with their stories, have amassed remarkable success.
I am an avid football fan, and football is a perfect microcosm to understand the creative vs. structured success rate. If you think of attack vs. defense, the defense is about being well organised, well structured and dilligient. Attack is about being creative and expressive. In the average premiership football match, there are 2.9 goals in 90 minutes. It takes 1 second for the ball to cross the line and a goal to be scored. That means for 89 minutes and 57 seconds of each game, creativity is unsuccessful. But who are the most celebrated players in history? Ronaldo, Messi, Pele, Maradona. Players that raise us out of our seat with their ability to create. Because we intrinsically know…the odds are stacked against them.
This low success rate of creativity has lead to most jobs that are both obtainable, well paid and available in our society being favourable to those lower in the creative dimension. Everything about our offices, our companies is the antithesis of creativity. Bordered and boundered cubicles, rigid working hours or 9-5 with scheduled breaks. Process driven tasks and objectives. The employee designed to perform a measured output within a larger organism. Creativity is stifled under these conditions. Creativity has to be the result of a chaotic foray into the unknown, the unexplored, it can not be predicted or even really scheduled. This leaves many creatives with only one choice: forgo their creative predilections and chain themselves to jobs that pay the bills.
The problem with this is, if you are creative you can’t turn this off. But left with no creative outlet, two things are likely to occur. First, your creative mind will turn itself to worry and anxiety inducing thought, especially if you are higher in trait neuroticism. And second, the structured regiment of which you find yourself feels like a prison for your soul of which you are constantly yearning to be released.
So in answer to the question posed in this article: Is the deck stacked against creatives? The answer is… yes. However, the game is changing.
Traditional business structures are coming under real strain in the emerging economy. A new style of economy that is predicated on personalities, and not so much entities like we have seen since the last industrial revolution. The generation that has grown up with social media, are much more engaged with peer-to-peer markets. The Instagram age now looks to people as their new brands to follow. Content creators have started to capitalise on new technologies, creating a new economy that has never before been available. One of the upsides of us living our lives so openly online is that’s it’s now relatively easy to seek out and find people that share in your interests, that can extract value from your area of passion or expertise. Not only that, but it’s also never been easier to monetise.
Whatever your preferred creative outlet, writing, photography, music, film making, graphic design, storytelling or even softly whispering! You can create your own marketplace and you can do this in and around your current work. You can build your own personal brand, create an audience of people that enjoy interacting with that brand and then you can leverage ambassador relationships, affiliate marketing, advertisements, or more traditional service offerings to generate a range of income streams to support your creative pursuit. Even if you don’t amass huge success, just flexing your creative muscle and seeing it enjoyed by even a small audience will provide you with fulfillment that an orderly job may not provide you with.
Startups and even traditional businesses would benefit from better understanding the personality dispositions of their employees so that they can create better environments for their staff to realise more of their potential. Offering well defined, methodological and structured, rule based tasks and working hours to their more conscientious employees, while providing more exploratory, fewer boundaries and perhaps outcome targeted objectives rather than hours worked definitions of their roles. Giving them the freedom to find their creative flow.
There has never been a better time to be a creative, but, however the odds are not on your side. But everyone loves an underdog. Go forth and create, and from nothing, perhaps something. And from something, perhaps a living.