Maximizing certainty, minimizing creativity

Maximizing certainty, minimizing creativity

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I get a lot of e-mail from all sorts of organizations having to do with the things in which I’m involved or interested. One of those is music, in my case not making it, but loving and promoting it.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read an article and come across a statement by someone working in some aspect of the music industry talking about how much they value creativity in its myriad forms, and I find myself saying it’s just lip service. While they extol the virtues of originality and fearlessness, they continue to turn out products that reek of similarity and conformity.

Now I come to find there is solid scientific evidence to support my claims that what people say about creativity is at odds with how they actually respond to it.

In a poll, executives rated creativity as the single most important trait for success in business. Yet, those same people who said creativity is so important were observed routinely rejecting creative ideas and quashing creativity. Not only that, they couldn’t even recognize or decide for themselves what’s creative and what’s not.

Creativity means making something new, or doing something in a way that’s different. But new and different also make for uncertainty, because you don’t know what kind of response or result you’re going to get, and that uncertainty is too uncomfortable for most people. They would much rather know that what they have chosen to do is going to be received well and approved of, that it’s going to work. Consequently, they shy away from creativity, even while saying they value it.

The prevailing view of creativity is that it’s the polar opposite of practicality. One the one hand you have creative people with skills in painting and drawing, and music and writing, and you look around and you see so many of these artist-types unemployed or underemployed and struggling financially. 

On the other hand you have practical, responsible people with steady jobs and steady paychecks. So, for many people the question becomes, should you be creative and broke, or practical and comfortable?

The unfortunate thing is that creativity is precisely the quality that best enables us to flow through life’s ups and downs and not become overwhelmed or disillusioned. Creative people are more comfortable with abstraction and uncertainty, and are able to keep coming up with reasons to carry on in the face of defeat and disappointment.

This whole system is set up where people and companies want to maximize certainty, and end up shying away from creativity, which is creating more people who are less able to cope. Their discomfort with uncertainty is making them stressed and depressed, which is one explanation for all the antidepressant medications on the market.

It also paints our other attempts at gaining certainty in an interesting light. For instance, it makes sense we would use a GPS to help guide us to new destinations, or go online to read customer reviews of hotels or restaurants, because we don’t want to waste time or money or have a bad experience. Researchers, though, say that while these things make sense from the standpoint of sharing information, they might also be diminishing our capacity to deal with the unexpected.

As long as we continue to assess the value of things, ideas and relationships primarily in quantitative terms and minimize the qualitative value, we will continue to exist in a climate that smothers creativity. 

Quantitative judgments pertain to the workings of the left brain, and qualitative considerations relate to the right brain, or as we also refer to it, the emotional heart.

The remedy to this situation is for us to give greater credence to and space for right-brain activity and the power of the heart.


Ron Colone can be reached at


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