Monday, July 7, 2008


‘There’s no life without creativity’, said a colleague many years back. She used to get annoyed at the lack of imagination. With her around, nothing was permanent, plans changed every day, consistent patterns were not the thing to look for … except, perhaps, consistency in her eccentricities. I might be planning a day off – actually, a weekend – to do nothing and to leave the mind blank and just at time there would be a call, ‘nisha ma, I have an idea … let’s do this by … ’. And I would sigh and say to her in my mind, ‘Why you didn't think of it before and why can’t you wait till the first work day next week’. Did I have a weekend or a holiday? No, not really, perhaps, four or five days in a year. My imagination had to follow her’s and make a contact with her creative spirit. My sub-ideas would follow and we would have animated discussions about the style of delivering the idea, planning the steps and on good occasions would also begin the implementation and bingo, the creative spirit would begin stirring again! Programme cycle management was an elusive venture. Occasional insights and non-stop manipulation of the phrases, ‘compliance with regulatory systems’ and ‘obligation to donors and participants’, would help me keep some things going. But more than often the planned action would give way to the persistent desire to innovate, to explore new ways doing and seeing things happen, to make creativity visible and more visible.

It wasn’t easy to manage creativity. The flashes of occasional insights used to be the last stage of a long process involving distinctive creative stages. The first stage used to be pre-empting the creative outbursts. The second, creative options for problem solving. The third, preparation for something altogether different – another more creative idea taking over the last creative idea. The fourth, options to deal with something altogether different. Did I realize that my own creativity was spent coping with my colleague’s creativity? Yes, that is one of the reasons I eventually left the organization. It was a free environment but in the hierarchy of creative order, my imagination could not roam free. It had to be a lot like the fire-fighters who follow fire.

But that brings me to the question whether all of us are creative or only a few are granted this delightful ability to innovate and imagine. I believe all of us are but some of us get caught in something like habitual fixedness. The day to day life does require a lot of order, unthinking responses and uncritical compliance. And this begins right from the formative years. There is a great danger of becoming so used to routinised way of thinking about practically everything. Because we are taught to look at the things in a particular way and have particular beliefs and so we see only the obvious way of coming up with questions, analyses and things to be created. We run into a situation where comfortable ways of thinking block innovation, deviation and imagination.

But it is not just the habitual fixedness, self-censorship and the pressure to be politically correct also suppresses thinking and an ability to see and create new ideas and things. It has the potential to make us a prisoner of what is deemed as ‘acceptable’. Actually even most creative people also have some or the other habitual fixedness or produce ideas and things along politically or socially acceptable norms. Creativity too is a matter of practice. I feel, it has to be acquired – constant mulling and pushing the mind to the limits is critical in order to step out of the box. Though some people go through this process and just when they are all set to come out and about, the fear of rejection hits and creative ideas and innovation are left in a permanent mental incubator.

Being alert and aware is not enough to be creative. The burden of realities may loom so large that every thought and every action may turn into a conscious exercise that may not allow ‘uncultivated creativity’ and beauty to surface at all. An alert mind, after all, is a calculating mind as well. It controls expressions, innovation and works of beauty from forming unpredictable associations. Without persistence to let go of the control by the mind, a random creative thought cannot be converted into a creative act or a creative creation.

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