Why I’m Starting to Really Dislike the Label “Creative”

A  s I write my book on creativity, and I am LOVING what I am learning on creativity, something funny is happening. I am starting to hate the word “Creative” as a label.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? Here’s why.

I work closely with an intelligent Georgia Tech grad who is our organization’s head of operations. He has the mind of an engineer. He is good at naming the costs and steps required to complete a project. When someone on staff sees a glorious vision, he sees scaffolding.

It took me about a year of working with him to realize that, because I claim the title of “Creative Director,” he assumes that I don’t consider plans or costs. I could be wrong, but based on our interaction I’ve become fairly convinced that he assumes I don’t do strategy. If true, there’s a good chance this is a preconceived notion.

Aside from the fact that I apparently need to educate him about the close relationship of creativity and strategic thinking, this realization has led me to question how the label “Creative” might be limiting and unhelpful.

One of the premises of my book on creativity, Two Percent, is that everyone is creative. Not necessarily in a beret-wearing, latte-drinking, tattoo-sporting way, but within whatever gift mix we’ve been given. In the work of planning, engineers can be either mundane or creative. In the work of human relationships, pastors and counselors can be either mundane or creative. Here’s the hook: Although we’re made creative, most of us have lost it, and within the daily use of our gifts and skills have become more mundane than creative. We’re the 96 percent – those who were once creative, but are no longer. (Wondering about the other 2%? That’s a future post.)

At the same time we’ve lost touch with our God-given creativity, we’ve put a label on the Two Percent: the “creative people.” We put them in a separate cage with a trainer, special care and feeding. Such segregation makes daily work a little easier for both the 96% and the 2% – it keeps life safely milquetoast for most of us and validates the highly creative types.

But it creates a problem.

 

Labeling a person as “creative” is good for nobody.

When we eschew the label “creative,” or use it as a pejorative to describe the quirkiness of someone else, the only thing we’re defeating is our own ability.

Although my title says Creative Director, some days all I do is project engineering. The inspirations and subsequent big decisions on which projects are based come few and far between. I make maybe a dozen big creative decisions a year, and many small ones. Most days, creativity is the grind of seeing a previous inspiration through to a ship date. Creativity needs engineering.

In the same way, my colleague the engineer wouldn’t help himself by limiting his thinking to the execution of a prescribed set of plans. Some problems are tough, and need fresh thinking for good solutions. Engineering needs creativity.

Creative people need engineering and engineers need creativity. Engineers need to learn to think more creatively, and artistic people need to plan their projects better. Creativity and project management are not separate realms. Successful creative projects of any kind require a very clear and detailed map of operations. Creativity and planning are inseparable skill sets, the Inigo and Fezzik of a great project.

So next time you’re about to use the phrase “creative people,” or label someone “creative,” stop and consider the consequences. How might such a label be unhelpful?

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

One Comment on “Why I’m Starting to Really Dislike the Label “Creative””

  1. The only sustained creative people I know are also some of the most practical and business savvy. Your engineer friend probably works in a firm that has people whose job it is to be solely dreaming and visionary, then they pass those plans on to the practical people like himself. True, the church probably demands so much more fiduciary time from pastors that they rarely have time for more creative or generative thinking. I find that worship sadly is the most routine of all places, since many parishoners don’t usually support the idea of creativity to the worship order and pastors are striving to do the best they can in their sermons. It is a rare church that can afford a “creative director.”

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