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Why Creativity Is Our Most Valuable Form of Currency

A Personal Perspective: The mysterious force transcends money, power, and fame.

Key points

  • Creativity is a prime indicator of who one is as a human being.
  • The workings of creativity remain largely a mystery.
  • Creativity is a much sought after asset in the business world and elsewhere.

Who doesn’t want to be more creative? Even though it’s free, an individual’s creativity today is what I believe to be our most valuable form of cultural currency. It can’t be argued that creativity occupies a special place throughout the world. Unlike externally defined symbols of success such as wealth, power, and fame, creativity is a personally defined trait that expresses one’s authentic identity and tells people who you are.

Rather than be limited to a certain number of gifted people, however, creativity is a basic human quality that can be further developed if one knows how. Best of all, perhaps, creativity crosses the boundaries of humanity with reckless abandon, illustrating that the process incorporates a confluence of mind, body, and spirit. Creativity also has a total disregard for our socially constructed buckets of race, class, gender, age, ability, and sexual orientation, revealing that we have way more in common than we tend to think.

Each of us has the opportunity to express ourselves through our unique creative abilities, something that we should eagerly seize whenever we can. “I’m a real estate agent but my real passion is painting,” we might overhear, or know of a CPA who is writing a screenplay in his or her spare time. We all know people who would immediately quit their real jobs if they were able to make a living in the creative act they truly love to do. Such anecdotes convey the singular sway of creativity, much in part because it can happen anytime, anyhow, and anywhere.

What is creativity, anyway? That’s a question with which some of the brightest minds of their day have grappled, with no one able to arrive at a precise explanation or definition. Where does inspiration come from? What accounts for certain people’s ability to see things in new ways? Despite that creativity has been around since ancient civilizations expressed themselves through cave drawings and tribal drumming, the subject remains cloaked in mystery, a big reason why we’re so attracted to it.

For decades now, scientists have put creativity under the microscope (actually the fMRI) but, because much of its workings lurk in the unconscious, it remains largely an enigma. Some neuroscientists have located creative thought in the right-side of the brain, but not much is known regarding how it operates or why the muse decides to make a cognitive visit (or leave abruptly). Creativity is seen as a kind of shapeshifting of the human mind that makes it impossible to predict when an “aha moment” will arrive and what form it will take.

As a basic human drive, however, there is no doubt that creativity can serve all sorts of ends if applied correctly, a wonderful thing by every measure. Innovation has emerged as one of the mantras of the business world, with creative thinking understandably seen as the thing that will lead directly to breakthroughs and big ideas. Infusing corporate culture with a heavy dose of creativity is a primary goal among organizations large and small, seen as a way to win consumers over by developing products and services with genuine points of difference.

Tellingly, the MFA has displaced the MBA as a more desirable graduate degree among young adults, reflecting the rise of creativity as cultural currency over the past decades. Big Data may be viewed as the recipe for success in the business world, but at the same time many companies are appointing Chief Innovation Officers charged with infusing creativity into their organizations’ DNA.

As well, creativity is seen as a major component of today’s knowledge economy; thinking with one’s “whole brain” is a designated goal in the 21st century. Content is the order of the day, it’s safe to say, putting those who can create it in an enviable position. Some have even made the case that we are now part of an “imagination economy” in which creativity serves as our most valuable asset to possess.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that creativity is indeed fueling the worldwide economy; the “flattening” of the Earth, i.e., intensifying competition not just for things but for talented people due to globalization, is making creativity be seen as the principal criterion that will separate the winners from the losers. Perhaps the best thing about creativity is that one is in total control of the process and that no one—even the client, if there is one—can take that away from you. One is the master of one’s domain within the universe of creativity, and no government, religion, or corporation has the ability to take ownership of it as it happens—a truly rare thing.

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