Challenging times provoke creative responses

It goes without saying, but the last few weeks and months have been the biggest challenge to society faced in my lifetime. Nonetheless, it’s been a fascinating time to witness how people have adapted and responded; and not just within the creative industry. As an agency, we’ve relied heavily on technology to stay connected and have endeavoured to offer our clients the same standard of creativity as before. I have always been a firm believer that creativity comes from debate and dialogue, which can only come from being together, but the output of lockdown has been surprising. We have found ourselves pushing and adapting how we use our technology in new ways to connect and think differently. We have approached our problems from unusual angles and been creative in different ways.

In the hands of creative individuals, lockdown has packed social feeds with unusual and inspiring observations of the world around us. Moreover, beyond the creative industry we have seen creativity thrive everywhere; who’d have foreseen the public get so decidedly artistic from home? Windows have been filled with rainbows and neighbours have clapped for carers using pots and pans as drumkits. We have fuelled our inner musicians, poets, bakers and artists, resulting in an outpouring of creative expression.

So, why in the face of uncertainty do we get creative?

Connecting through creativity

Human beings are social creatures. We need to be connected to our own tribes – the friends, family and like-minded people that surround us. As technology has evolved, our tribes have become bigger. We innately use creativity to help our conversations stand-out and get noticed, so why do we see more creativity now? The bigger the crisis, the more our narrative becomes one – and this narrative is one the whole world is experiencing. Like it or not, we’ve all been talking about ‘isolation,’ ‘lockdown,’ ‘stay safe,’ and ‘crisis’. Twitter’s top five hashtags (at time of writing) are: #COVID19 #lockdown #StayHomeSaveLives #coronavirus and #StayHome.

Our brands are no different, they are with us suffering together and therefore are a vital part of the Nation’s narrative. They also need to find ways to connect with their tribes. It is creativity that pushes everyone harder not to get lost in this shared narrative, but instead, to generate original ideas that stand-out. These are crucial in order for conversations to connect with an audience and also to move them on.

The bigger the challenge, the more creative we get

One of creativity’s greatest abilities is to solve problems in unexpected ways. Dave Trott notes that some of the best instances of creativity are born in times of war. The example I remember was the design of the Mosquito bomber from World War II. At the time, the convention was for aircraft to protect themselves from enemy planes by adding armour, guns, the people to fire them and bigger engines (with bigger fuel tanks). Of course, the extra weight the planes carried resulted in bombers that were slower and subsequently vulnerable to being shot down – many of which were. Until Geoffrey de Havilland had a different idea. Why not build the bomber out of wood, with no armour, no guns and just two crew? The result was a bomber that was significantly lighter, but more importantly faster than enemy fighters. Instead of defending itself, it simply outran the enemy. Its survival rate was far greater than all other bombers, all because de Havilland used creativity to solve a problem. In times of crisis when the stakes are higher than usual, we see creativity rising to the challenge.

In the post-2008 recession, we saw a spike in entrepreneurs and new business start-ups. WhatsApp, Groupon, Instagram, Pinterest and Uber are all born out of the wake left by the global financial crisis. This crisis will dwarf that of 2008, sadly, with the cost way beyond its financial impact. Businesses across the globe are being tested to their limits, whilst others simply won’t make it. People’s resilience and their ability to respond to the upcoming challenges, along with their courage and creativity will shape what happens next. Hearteningly, history tells us that we will see innovation, an abundance of new ideas and stronger businesses as a result.

Creativity is optimism, the antidote to a crisis

I remember reading a quote from an interview with Brian Eno about art that really stuck with me: “Art is everything that you don’t have to do”. There are things in life we need to survive – food, water and sleep – but we don’t need art and creativity to exist. Creativity doesn’t help the vital functions we need to live, but it does define who we are. It helps us express how we feel, it helps us deal with complex emotions and it gets us talking. Especially during this time of isolation, creativity has been proven in countless studies to make us feel happier as well as helping us overcome more serious conditions such as anxiety, depression, and restlessness – I read in a Forbes article, that creativity can even boost our immune system.

Yet, it can be even more profound still. Our creativity is more than a cognisant response or an action; it is embedded in our subconscious minds. It is born out of our own personal mental landscape – raw, uncontrolled reflections of our feelings, often more creative than our conscious ideas. It explains why our best ideas happen when we switch ‘off’ – in the shower or driving. When I am trying to sleep, I often listen to my subconscious creative mind – it’s why I keep a pen and pad next to my bed. The human brain is hard wired to make sense of the world around it and creativity is one of its most powerful tools.

So, during this global pandemic, it seems fitting that we have turned to creativity to reassert control and give ourselves something more optimistic to focus on.

What’s my take-out?

Nothing is certain, and nothing is more uncertain than now. However, what I am sure of is that the ability to be creative is a gift that goes beyond painting a landscape or baking a cake. It drives us to be both curious and optimistic about our future, whilst being brave enough to go and create it. Things won’t be the same after this crisis, but creativity will help us adapt and change – we just need to be open-minded and recognise where it can take us.

Creativity flourishes in a crisis.

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