Creativity is More Powerful Than a Pandemic
The pandemic has forced us to be more creative in our everyday lives. Here are just a few examples:
- Drive-by birthday parties, virtual dinners and celebrations and even concerts in driveways
- Late night talk shows and performances hosted from home, with musicians from the likes of Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood to Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney
- New Yorkers banging pots and pans and shouting from windows to support health care workers
- Parents and teachers inventing new ways to educate and entertain kids
- Life and service via video call: in-home personal fitness training, hair salons directing clients through DIY haircuts, and plumbers helping customers fix their pipes.
- Businesses supporting the efforts by converting manufacturing.
These actions are all wonderful examples of creativity in action. And, yes, these are creative actions. Creativity researchers James Kaufman and Ron Beghetto have identified four types of creativity. Big-C, little-c, mini-c and Pro-c. For the purposes of this article we will concentrate on Big-C and little-c
Big-C creators are people like Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Grace Hopper, and Helen Keller. They are the Nobel Prize winners and the Pulitzer Prize winners. These are the clear-cut, eminent creative contributors.
Little-c is the kind of creativity that we practice every day. It is characterized by an unconventional nature, inquisitiveness, imagination and freedom. little-c creativity is finding a way to fix machinery on the farm with just wire and duct tape, creating a delicious meal using only the leftovers in the refrigerator, or making a quilt using old clothing scraps.
All of the creative acts that are mentioned at the beginning of this piece are powerful examples of little-c creativity. So, here is the distinction as it relates to our world today: Big-C creativity will be the discovery of the vaccine that will beat the coronavirus, and little-c creativity will sustain humanity through this time and provide insights into ways of living that we have never considered before.
This pandemic has shown us what I have been telling people for 40 years: we are ALL creative and we all create in different and valuable ways.
We are experiencing a paradigm shift.
The pandemic is forcing us to be creative because the rules have changed. We are experiencing what is known as a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn as a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline. Originally referenced only to the natural sciences, the term is now used to describe other contexts.
Paradigm shifts have occurred throughout history. Think of the realization that the world is round and not flat; the invention of the assembly line as part of the industrial revolution; the ubiquitous use of personal computers; and the rise of ecommerce over the last number of years. Hello, Amazon!
Or…the effects of a pandemic on a modern global society.
All the rules have changed.
When the rules change, creativity is king.
Here is an example of a paradigm shift in medicine that is playing out right before our eyes – telemedicine.
In 1998, Dr. Robert Gatewood, board certified in Cardiovascular Diseases and Internal Medicine, and a Clinical Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo, NY, began working with an early version of telemedicine using a computer attached to a camcorder on a tripod and an electronic stethoscope while patients were still in the hospital. This allowed specialists to remotely examine patients to provide timely hospital consultations virtually.
Over the years he refined his approach to telemedicine using advances in technology and it was incorporated into out-patient settings. However, when I interviewed him in January of 2018, telemedicine had not even begun to become an accepted way of doing medicine. Here is what he had to say about the state of medical delivery just over 2 years ago.
“I’ve seen some really innovative and creative things done as far as the medicine that we practice. I never would have thought, 20 or 30 years ago, that we [would] be putting little tubes in patients’ arteries in the heart. [Stents] The problem is that we’re not very creative in the way we deliver medical care. There, we’re still stuck in the fifties, sixties and seventies.”
Fast forward to March 2020. Upon the onset of the COVID-19 virus, telemedicine became an accepted way of treating patients within two weeks. It took 22 years and a pandemic for telemedicine to become an accepted way to practice medicine. When a paradigm changes, often innovations that were seen as “on the fringe” are immediately implemented. In less than two weeks, this radical change forced physicians to adopt new processes and tools to treat their patients.
So what is the lesson here? Actually, there are two.
First, change is uncomfortable and radical change can be terrifying. But change is the catalyst for innovation. If we are complacent and don’t deliberately innovate by choice, the world around us will force us to innovate – maybe through our competition – or maybe through a pandemic.
Second, we need both types of creativity to survive.
Big-C creativity reveals radical new ways of understanding and living life. In the future, Big-C will be hailed as the breakthrough that beat the pandemic. But it won’t be just one huge breakthrough. It will take thousands of little-c discoveries to finally create a cure.
We are all going through a very difficult time, make no mistake. I would like to pass one thought on to you. I end my book, Create in a Flash with this passage from my philosopher farmer friend Phil Keppler. I would like to share it with you now.
“Creativity gives you hope. And that is the most important thing in the life – hope.”
(Photos by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)