Recently, I came across a post on LinkedIn in which the author claimed to have sworn off news for three years. Wait, what? Three years of no news? No Chicago Tribune or New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle. Three years without Fox or Morning Brew or MSNBC or NPR or Politico. No nothing. For three years.
Who pulls the plug on the news? Madness. If a bus in California went off a cliff last night, if another one of Elon Musk’s rockets blew up trying to land on its feet, if a few thousand people got their stomachs pumped after an encounter with a bean burrito at Chipotle, well, we’d need to know that. Wouldn’t we?
We might, but the evidence is pretty solid that our brains might not. As any neuroscientist will tell you, the human brain is neuroplastic. That means it has a tendency to change the way it thinks according to the ideas and attitudes that surround it.
If those ideas and attitudes are positive, then the brain sees things through a positive lens. Subject it to a steady diet of negative stuff, and bingo: suddenly, it starts seeing everything, and I mean everything, through a dark lens that can influence how you perceive your family, your friends, the people you work with and—if you’re in a creative field, this is the scary part—your creative ability.
But it’s possible something might be smothering your creative powers even more than the Debbie Downer we call the news. Something so insidious, it could be sucking the creative energy out of you at this very moment, and you’d never even suspect it. Even worse, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it unless we’re ready to loosen our grip on our opinions.
Why is that?
Creativity has to be unbound. It has to be free to go here and go there, uninfluenced by anything that could keep it from pursuing a particular path. If I believe Republicans are hateful, narrow-minded mouth breathers, if I believe that Democrats are elitist, holier-than-thou snobs, if I’m absolutely dug in on the idea that television is only screwy, branded entertainment and social media is rotting our brains, then the scope of my thinking is limited. We might think we can put our personal biases in a box. We might think we can keep them from seeping into our work. And maybe some of us can. But most of us? Not likely.
When you’re a creative director, you see this all the time. A team comes in. They’ve got some ideas they want to run by you. As they go through the work, you can’t help but think: OK, just like I don’t want to see the strategy bleeding through, I don’t want to see that East Coast intelligentsia thing bleeding through either. The same way I don’t want to see that red state thing if you’re in, say, Texas. In both cases, opinion leaks into the work. It skews things. It forces you to miss paths, blinded by your biases. And that’s a problem.
What this suggests is that the most creatively liberated people are the ones who don’t have a stubborn point of view on anything. It’s called “intellectual humility,” the willingness to recognize that knowledge is fallible and that no one possesses absolute understanding of any subject or issue. When you’re intellectually fluid, anything is possible.
Dogs and cats are both great. Red is as good as blue or purple or chartreuse. Vanilla? Pistachio? Praline fudge? Yes. Yes. And yes. You’re open to anything, so you’re open to any ideas—no matter how odd or quirky or misshapen—that might bubble up into your consciousness. In theory at least, you cannot be your most openminded, creatively untethered self unless you can truly empathize with other perspectives.
Few people are capable of this, as you can imagine, and creatives are no different. We think dogs are cool and cats are freaks. Beyoncé rules, and Sheeran is overrated. Steak is good, and tofu is, well, what was it our mothers used to say? If you can’t say something nice…
All that said, maybe you can convince me that I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe you can stuff your opinions away so that they won’t send your work off in one direction or another. Maybe you can do that. And I promise, I’ll try to remain open to the possibility that you could be right. But I don’t believe it. ca