Creativity is not a cure for the world


Albert Einstein once asserted: “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.”

Steve Jobs famously quoted a phrase from the back cover of the once popular The Whole Earth Catalog which read: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

The great author and education researcher, Sir Ken Robinson, exclaimed: “Curiosity is the engine of achievement. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”

These historically creative geniuses all highlight the importance of curiosity. Not the pursuit of revolution or innovation even, but simply the notion to “stay hungry and foolish.“

Yet we live in a culture that escalates the value of creativity into something it’s not; a world-changing force, a responsibility we owe the Universe.

For many, we’ve been led into believing the world is a disease and one of the best cures for it is creativity.

Why aren’t we all like Einstein, or Jobs, O'Keefe, Picasso, or Musk, we are asked incessantly. If we aren’t finding ways to cure cancer, to propel mankind forward, or to solve global problems, does that mean we are floundering our brain’s tremendous capacity for imagination and problem solving?

For a long time I didn’t have a good answer to this question.

Friends and peers would ask me what’s holding us, as a civilization, back from the limitless genius we could all possess if only we could think like Einstein or Edison!

But now I think I have a reasonable answer:

“Genuine creativity comes from a sense of curiosity, not the will to conduct some marvelous act or revolutionize the world.”

Curiosity, exploration, encountering and discovering what others have overlooked, that’s how the most novel and useful ideas come about. But when we see what creativity can do, it’s no wonder we ask why we aren’t constantly utilizing it for bigger or bolder things.

The answer I have come up with is: that’s the wrong question to ask.

Creativity has never been about changing the world or remarkable innovation. At it’s heart, creativity is about curiosity and uncertainty, little else.

That’s not to say that creativity can’t enable us to think of wild solutions to global-scale problems. It’s just that, if we set out to do those things, we may have missed the point and end up falling flat as a result. The drive to change the world must come separately from creativity, not as a motivator for it.

The point is to be curious, foolishly so, as Steve Jobs would say. Without that curiosity – behind ulterior motives and a forced sense of wonder, for example – creativity simply cannot thrive.

You don’t have to want to change the world to be creative. And you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you’re not changing the world with your ideas.

Find what you are passionately curious about and go do that. To quote one of my favorite artists and writers, Jonathan Harris:

“Don’t do what you think the world needs; do what you love. The world needs more people who do what they love.”

Illustration by KiJeon Nam.