By Stefan Sojka
In the age of ideas, creativity might be a little overrated.
I’ve been suffering a bit of performance anxiety lately, when it comes to creativity. It seems everywhere I look I am being told to unleash my creativity, ‘Think Different’, stand out in a crowd and think outside the square. It’s like I am not a complete person unless I can revolutionise an entire industry, transform society or claim responsibility for one of those emails with all the Photoshopped animals morphing into vegetables.
What makes it worse is that I am bombarded daily with thousands of examples of other people doing just that; effortlessly manifesting their creative genius and splashing it all over my screen. My own inadequacies are being hammered home with every news story about the latest viral sensation, dot-com billionaire and amazingly simple but absolutely brilliant business ideas I wish I had thought of. Then comes the slick new gadget advert, telling me that it has unlimited potential in my hands, if only I will buy it and swipe my fingers all over it.
If I zoom in, however, I find a slightly different story. Sure, there seems to be an explosion of creativity on the planet, but it is being done by millions of different people – each individual only coming up with a tiny sliver of inventiveness, if not simply recreating what already was and giving it a slight twist.
Most apparently brilliant ideas are just rehashed and adapted versions of what already was. Before FaceBook, there was MySpace and before Twitter, there was SMS. People were uploading videos of themselves doing all kinds of things, way before YouTube came along. Look at all the latest design trends in the so-called ‘creative industries’. The same design themes and styles are popping up everywhere. Musically, there hasn’t been a song like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the charts for over 30 years... despite the ridiculously powerful creative tools everyone has had at their disposal recently.
Perhaps that old adage about 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration is true. Thinking outside the square is not something to be done that frequently. In fact the more time I’ve spent in creative La-La Land, the less actual work I got done and the harder life became. I have to fight that urge (and all those marketing messages) to be more creative than everyone else in the entire world and focus on getting stuff done. Who knows, that might just leave me relaxed and comfortable enough, one magical moonlit evening, to allow that 1% spark to kick in.
Small business, particularly online business, depends so much on mundane activities to prosper; technical implementation, keyword analysis and optimisation, mailing list management, spreadsheets, link building, regular maintenance and updating, proof reading, file management, administration and processing…. you couldn’t be any more ‘inside the square’ by renaming 100 photos from DSC0003456.jpg to keyword1-keyword2-keyword3.jpg, but that’s what has to be done.
As I surrender to this mechanical reality of my day-to-day life, I am actually enjoying the process of building the systems, habits and infrastructures I neglected when I believed being creative was the only way to go. Now I am not only freer to be more creative in my down time, but I am much more prepared to do something with my ideas when I get them.
I can also do what all the other ‘creatives’ have been doing for centuries; borrowing and adapting from those around them who continue to be seduced by the enticing and rather unproductive realm that exists outside my humble – but very effective – little square.