March 15, 2011

Creativ!ty

What is the very essence of creativity, the force that entertains, enlightens and solves our largest problems?

The 10 speakers at “Creativ!ty,” the latest (and largest) TEDxAtlanta event, made clear that there is no one answer. But there are many intriguing ones.

Grammy-winning singer and songwriter India.Arie talked about developing the ability to “turn feelings into something tangible,” and then joined her musical collaborator, Israel’s Idan Raichel, to prove her own ability with four songs from her upcoming album, “Open Door.”

Encouragement and nurture are also critical elements of creativity. A case in point was actress and best-selling author Victoria Rowell, who spent 18 years in foster care, much of it on a Maine farm. She grew up feeding the farm animals, often dancing from the hog pen to the chicken coop. But without the help of a highly aware foster parent, she said, her creativity might never have bloomed. University of Georgia professor Bonnie Cramond shared her findings that children who seem “different” to many are often the most creative and innovative, provided they receive encouragement and nurture. And ad agency creative director Viktor Venson talked about activating the creative power of his industry to bring the nurture of creativity back into American schools, via his innovation challenge called No Right Brain Left Behind.

Turner Broadcasting’s Michael Ouweleen and Texas-based designer Armin Vit argued that a skewed view of the world is vital to creative problem solving. Ouweleen, who runs Turner’s Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media group, talked about the power of humor to heal wounds. “Humor,” he said, “makes sense of the senseless.” Vit defended “an underused source of creativity: stupidity,” which he defined as doing something that seems theoretically impossible. “One is considered stupid until proven creative,” he argued.

Advertising executive and author Sally Hogshead, who today studies the triggers and sources of fascination, highlighted the tiny space of time – nine seconds, “the same as goldfish,” by her estimation – that the modern world gives people to grab the attention of others. Such small windows of opportunity challenge our creativity daily.

Playwright Margaret Baldwin, sculptor Elizabeth Turk, and chef Linton Hopkins explored the creative value of understanding particular materials. Whether it’s the Alabama family history of Baldwin, or Turk’s medium of choice, marble, or the seasonal vegetables and fruits that appear and then disappear from Hopkins’ kitchen, all agreed that looking at familiar materials in new ways is at the heart of their creativity. As Baldwin put it, “Assume nothing. Notice everything. Make something happen.”