You are Creative, Whatever TED Says

creativity1It’s been a good week for soul searching. Earlier, it was the implications of the new Verily magazine and its refusal to Photoshop its models. Most agree that this is a good step toward convincing women that they shouldn’t compare themselves to the airbrushed specimens they find in most of the world’s fashion and lifestyle publications.

Today we look at the creatives equivalent of that problem: the enormous “creativity pep talk” market.

Recently, Salon ran an article headlined “TED Talks are Lying to You” – a title calculated to get the blood up of any designer, illustrator, or other liberal arts major. The piece is as incendiary as its title. The thesis – in the sense that this somewhat rambling piece has one – is this:

If we are now in an age when creativity seems to have stagnated, it’s because we’ve consumed too many TED Talks, creativity books and other overly simplistic “creativity success stories,” all communicated in horribly uncreative ways.

As the author puts it:

“If there is a non-fiction genre from which you have a right to expect clever prose and uncanny insight, it should be this one. So why is it so utterly consumed by formula and repetition?”

The author makes a good point. We hear the same shop-worn success stories about the creation of Post-it Notes and iPhones and other products. Left out of all these examples are the rich uncles, corporate deep pockets, and flat-out dumb luck that frequently builds one spark of creativity into a subject worthy of a TED Talk.

Yet the author fails to point out the real danger of this banality. Like the Photoshopped models in fashion magazines and their effect on women, these “creativity success stories” suggest there’s something wrong with you because your own level of creativity hasn’t made you a household name.

Contrary to society’s assumptions, creativity is abundant, good ideas more so. (Don’t think so? Click here.) What is rare is the right combination of one good idea with the right connections and access to capital to allow it to grow. Now where’s that TED Talk?



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