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Don’t talk to me about creativity, I’ve got a business to run

When times are hard and money is tight, I hear this often. The belt-tightening process seems to automatically result in ditching the creative. It’s ironic, because when anyone starts a new business, it surely springs from a creative inspiration. So, why is it that the very thing that inspired the whole thing is seen as expendable?

I think it all stems from one simple fact that we really need to change if we are to move forward, pull ourselves out of recession and achieve a stable and abundant state: it’s simply that we are taught what to think, not how to think.

Consider any belief that you have, and you can usually trace it back to someone you trust telling you that this is a fact. It starts with our parents, and we continue this way of learning, often throughout our lives. Very little of the information we have is information we have originated ourselves. Politics, religion and education reinforce this way of learning to the point where we exclude creative notions as a matter of course – unless, by a process of repeated exposure and our own evidence-building processes (we want to believe certain things, so we find evidence that they are true for us), we start to believe them ourselves. Once we start buying into a belief, we tend to guard it, argue on its behalf and blank out counter beliefs. After all, we may have taken some convincing, and our self-esteem would be damaged if we think afterwards that we have taken on a wrong belief. You can see this happening in all areas of life, from the personal to the international.

We are not taught to be creative. A cynic might say that this is intentional, as it helps maintain control and order if common beliefs are developed that serve the purposes of those dishing them out…
Common beliefs are convenient, and they help things run smoothly. This is true in business, as well, of course. This is what corporate culture, corporate image and identity, advertising and PR are all about, and it can help a company become successful.

So it is to be expected, then, that we often have an uneasy relationship with creativity. Faced with a creative person, business executives sometimes don’t know how to deal with this uneasiness and may criticize or put down creative ideas without appreciating their potential or seriously considering them at all. I call this Fear Undermining Creative Knowledge syndrome, the acronym of which accurately expresses the frustration that is so often felt when a businessman and a creative person try to work together. Two ships passing in a pea-souper at night, foghorns blasting to ensure a safe distance, but each desperately wanting to appreciate the existence of the other. Left brain meets right brain in a tortured dance to find an acceptable middle ground.

Or not. I was listening to Michael O’Leary (Ryanair) on the radio, saying with some pride that he doesn’t use creative consultants, and anyone with a pony tail won’t even get through his door. He has young staff, and they produce all the advertising ideas themselves in-house, so he has created a mix of control and creativity that works for him. Not many companies have that much confidence and such a charismatic leader to make that work well. Often, a weakness of an owner manager is that he or she cannot determine when it is best to seek creative expertise. Many have an ego that serves them well in the good times but can be disastrous in bad times or when the company needs to take a significant step up in order to continue to grow.

All this means that whether the creative process is carried out internally or externally, it often gets a bad rap, and it’s easy to convince board members that it isn’t important for survival. But they are missing one important point in thinking like this. They need creativity in order to move forward, and it’s rarely the creative input that creates the kind of disasters we have seen in recent times, that all combined to create the financial crisis. As we know, it was primarily dodgy financial practices that caused the problems, fuelled by collective unthinking and a lack of creativity to create the tools and mechanisms to avoid it. Once we pull ourselves through the mess, will anything in the financial world change? There are already signs of a repeat performance.

What, then, is the message we are not hearing? Maybe we all have some fresh learning to do about creativity and what it contributes to our lives. Maybe, as Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently urged in his TED talk that has been admired by over 4 million viewers, we need to radically re-think our educational system.

I was told once that in the west, when we see an abstract work of art we assess it, judge it and criticize it. In other cultures in the East, they observe it, and see what they gain from it. To me, that rather sounds as if our culture blocks it out and maintains a distance from something we inherently don’t understand, and the other lets it in, and learns to appreciate what ever it is offering. Which way is the way of progress?

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Lewis is an artist, author, entrepreneur, inventor, marketing communications consultant and business mentor. Fuelled by creativity and driven by a passion to provide innovation, impact and influence, his career has taken in a large variety of disciplines, skills and experience across many areas of industry and the public sector. He has worked with startups, SMEs, multinationals, rock stars, legends of film, the UN, people with AIDS and many more. All this has made him at times cynical, but more than ever confident that the future is bright if we can only empower ourselves and each of us employ our unique creativity to help achieve this. Through his service - - Lewis offers a powerful four-step programme and a range of marketing communications services aimed at improvement, transformation, increased efficiency and profitability. He also runs creativity courses and courses in currency trading ( His most recent venture ( is concerned with making complex and long-winded information on websites fun and quick to understand and act upon. His first novel, Hominine - it's time to choose ( is a powerful geopolitical thriller that fictionalized popular global concerns - and then provides answers!

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  • Brilliant post Lewis. While I was reading it, the “we are taught what to think, not how to think” reminded me of Robert Kiyosaki. His books speak about entrepreneurship, and constantly mention step by step how people plan to fail financially from the very beginning, how come very few people ask themselves “wait a minute, with this X monthly salary I won't be able to reach a decent retirement.. .” Going back to your point, that's because we're taught to go to school, get good grades, go to the university, find a job and… work really, really hard to go up the corporate ladder. That's a very structured way of thinking. Very few people take a minute to think that doesn't have to be the way at all… You can create your own path and live a different life…

  • Hi Lewis, Wonderful post! I really strongly agree with the point about our educational system and how that feeds the rest of society. I think that you can make an argument that our educational system on the whole stifles our ability to think and therefore in turn any creativity. I must say, I am really enjoying your posts. By the way, thanks for the wonderful calender. You are a talented man 🙂

  • LewisEvans

    And even before they ask themselves the question about their retirement, or even apply for the job in the first place, they are thoroughly conditioned as to what they think they deserve, what is possible for them in their lives, etc., etc. And of course I fully agree with your second point. Now more than ever, careers just ain't linear any more, are they! So why get on the treadmill? It is so important for people to 'get' this now, but they also need to break out of their limiting beliefs before they can actually do it with conviction.

  • LewisEvans

    It's still a sad fact though, that if you shout this from the hilltops, those with a vested interest, and those who still carry the 'traditional' beliefs won't listen, or will object to such notions.I'm glad you are enjoying the calendar. I have some left, so if any devoted Bloggertonys want one, just email me your address, and I will mail it to you. Or, better still, meet me for a drink at 64 Wine (wine or coffee) or FitzGeralds (Guinness) in Glasthule, and I will hand one over to you. I always want to meet virtual freinds!

  • KelvinGillen

    Hi Lewis – liked your post a lot – several interesting themes (and potentially posts in their own right?) running through it.Just picking on the creativity / business – oil / water metaphor. I do think that creativity, albeit under the pseudonym 'innovation' ( = creativity + application ) is starting to gain momentum at the board table and be understood from a value perspective. And while 'disciplined creativity' may seem like a paradox, it is up to all of us to endeavour to find a common tune that both fog horns can play 🙂

  • LewisEvans

    Too right! And that's an interesting point about 'disciplined creativity'. I think it has to be a discipline if it doesn't come naturally – until it becomes part of the company culture. For many companies, I think there's a control issue that makes it difficult for managers under pressure to invite innovation or even make a good assessment of suggestions.

  • Great! This is so inspiring for a business 'newbie' like me, you're giving me a vocabulary and reference points for explaining my highly instinctive approach to creating my arts-based enterprise to traditionalists, and more than that – you're giving me confidence! Thank you! Have to agree also re the stifling effect of the education system, I don't know about Ireland but here it's definitely achieved 'holy cow' status and if I had my way I'd dismantle it entirely and start all over again!I'd be very interested to meet up with you sometime Lewis, in fact as I write I have ideas forming along the lines of entrepreneurial workshops for arts people .. will pm you on Fb about it 🙂

  • elainerogers

    Lewis,Interesting post and very well writeen – thanks for sharing.As I was reading about your insight about teh financial crisis et al, I immediately though of a litte book called “Who moved my cheese”. I wonder which character we are in that story??? Now that we have run out of cheese, what are we choosing to do? Stay put hoping for more to appear, while starving to death meanwhile. Or are we tentatively sniffing furthe afield, hoping to smell some in the near distance? Or are we engaging in actively searching for better options, thereby inviting creativity to help inspire us to a better future?The choice is ours, but I believe if we shunt the right brain, we are in for a bigger shock. Time for all of us to get the thinking hats on, but let the creative juices flow.

  • Kelvin, great points! Can I add political table to board table 🙂 Perhaps this is one of the reasons we suffer from a lack of genuine leaders right now.

  • LewisEvans

    Thank you Ceris. I'm so glad you found some useful nuggets there!On education, I remember well the Thatcher years, where it was so obvious that 'education' was being manipulated to serve the aspirations and shortfalls of government. There was something distasteful and calculating about using children in this way.I like the idea of entrepreneurial workshops. Let's discuss thoughts…:0)

  • LewisEvans

    Right on! I think I'm an 'active sniffer'. Do you think that's PC these days?

  • LewisEvans

    Aha, thanks Niall. That reminds me of my idea for my next-but-one post….

  • aw6334

    Lewisit is not just creativity that small business owners have stopped: the recession has turned brave business owners into meek mice, who just want to secure their nests, and keep inside until the recession is over. Of course, they don't stop to think that unless business owners try something different and try harder, that there won't be an end to the recession for them :o( . I sell advertising, and the times I am told 'I'm sorry, I can't afford to advertise at the moment, because I don't have any business coming in'. Hello? HELLO?!So I think they are hunkering down and doing as little as possible. Not good, for them or for the country as a whole.

  • LewisEvans

    Well, I don't envy you selling advertising right now! I guess you are having to find all sorts of new ways to do that. And, no, it's not good for anyone to think defensively rather than strategically. I think that maybe a lot of business owners don't really know which bits of the business they should concentrate on, or what new opportunities a situation like this could possibly present to them. I was talking to Andrew Townley about this the other day. He has some good ideas on that aspect.

  • hedpig

    Never came upon your writing before and LOVED what I just read !Thou I am 'just' an old lady retired from the postal service, I am very much a 'product' of ->think what i say and don't give me any new ways to do anything<- mentality. I so wish I could somehow go forth with some of my creative ideas and make something, perhaps a small biz, with them. But fear of Who Knows What holds me back.Wish I had a mentor in the flesh [versus online] to push me forward and encourage me whsn the doubts come sailing in.You have a new fan, I will look for you now and loved reading everyone else's comments here as well…people with brains and go getter attitudes..maybe it will rub off on me…Everyone have a most encouraging day!

  • LewisEvans

    Thank you for your wonderful response to my blog!First, let me say that you should never apologise for being 'just an old lady retired from the postal service'. You are much more than that, and I have to say that I have a lot of admiration for those who work there. It's not a job I would want to do, and I am always appreciative of the man who comes to our door every day, come rain, wind, snow or shine, to deliver our mail.Secondly, if you now have free time, surely it's a wonderful opportunity to indulge your creative ideas! Never give up on them!.Thirdly, if you are looking for a mentor in the flesh, you have come to the right place. There are plenty on Bloggertone who I am sure would love to help you work through some ideas. Are you based in Ireland? I know that you are retired due to disability, but you are young at 56, and I am sure that you have many years of active and productive work in you that you can enjoy.:0)

  • clarencemiddleton

    Hey Lewis, Great post. Creativity is slowing being destroyed in the Government and business sectors in America. Step by step robotic procedures are replacing creative/skilled work. Some people love an atmosphere lacking in creativity, where you can turn the same widget the exact same way each day, until they retire LOL “or until a creative a solution is made that puts them out of a job”. Great post“Creativity is life adding to life”Great Pot

  • LewisEvans

    Thank you Clarence. I think you are one of the fortunate ones if you can see that. We have set up a society where it is obvious that it is in the interests of governments and industry to have a vast pool of disconnected, malleable people. Creativity and self-empowerment can be awfully inconvenient….

  • LewisEvans

    Thank you Clarence. I think you are one of the fortunate ones if you can see that. We have set up a society where it is obvious that it is in the interests of governments and industry to have a vast pool of disconnected, malleable people. Creativity and self-empowerment can be awfully inconvenient….

  • I love this post, it is something that costs nothing and makes such a HUGE difference. If you don’t want to serve people and connect for pete’s sake get a job where you don’t have to interact with customers!

    I remember as a child shop workers ignoring us children and made a point of “connecting” with customers of ALL ages when I worked in a shop during my school years. A couple years ago I listened to my daughter talk about an old man who came into the newsagents that she worked in and had to wait 10-15 minutes while staff went looking for his subscription magazine. When she was put working behind the counter she took all the subscriptions for each day and left them under the counter in the order that the customers (regulars) came in at and was rewarded with a huge surprised smile the first couple of weeks. Over time she started to greet them by name. When she left that job, one of them complained that the rest of the staff had reverted to the “old way”. The mind boggles.

  • It’s amazing how it’s the small things that make such a difference no matter where you go. I love your story about your daughter managing the subscription magazines – that’s what helps having customers come back time and time again – they feel special and so they should, and it doesn’t cost anything.

  • Hi Paul,

    I really enjoyed reading your post and nodded my head the whole way through.

    At a marketing seminar a year back, after confirming attendance, we were left to sit and have a morning drink. There was a gap in which the main speaker turned and looked around. I saw him smirk and what he said was quite a relevation to most – ‘It’s funny how this is a networking seminar and most of us are sitting at a table by ourselves’. I was quite smug at this stage because I’d been the good samariton and asked two ladies to join my table. But the message stuck.

    As you have shown in your article, people don’t always make connections. So what is it that stops them? Is it the fear of embarrassment, being misunderstood, getting too close ?

    Your line here – ‘True service lies in giving a part of one’s self to create value for another’. Is this so hard to do, to give something extra…?
    A previous boss once said to me – ‘Do you want to just do your job, or do you want to do more than your job?’ Its the ‘doing more’ that sets us aside. Its the going the extra mile that gets us noticed, and as Mairead said about her daughter – her extra mile produced a wonderful compliment.

    Thanks Paul

  • Hi Paul. A very fair representation of the absence of “the personal touch”. I think you are right, this is indicative of a major step change in societies values and sense of family that existed in our parents generation. There seems to be an innate sense of mistrust of others and also a sense of self-preservation/self-promotion that I think came about as a consequence of the Celtic tiger. The 1980’s was the “me” generation supposedly, but think that this happened again in the noughties!

    Personal connection in our marketing activities and every level of engagement with our customers to generate trust is key to growth. What is just as important is ensuring that as customers, we are willing to trust the companies that are opening themselves up in this manner.


  • Paul, Wonderful post! Really enjoyed it & I think we can all identify with your experience. The overall standard of customer service has slipped significantly in the last number of years. It could easily be one way for the smaller operator to compete with the big multiplies, although in my experience, they are often the worst offenders?? Thanks for sharing, Niall

  • Hi Christina, thanks for your comments. It doesn’t take much to go the extra mile and I believe it’s something we should all adapt if we’re to stand our from the crowd. P

  • You’re so right Barney and my own belief is that for businesses to grow in the future they will not only have to have value and personal touch at their core beliefs but they’ll also have to be built on the foundations of honesty and integrity. We will only do business with the people we trust and so many businesses will need to change their ways and culture. P

  • Hopefully that will change Niall. P

  • I agree with you, Paul, but I don’t think it comes under the guise of marketing. People are not always aware of the impressions they are making, or they are not sure how to act in certain situations. An understanding of etiquette can help people make the right impression the first time.

  • Hi Paul,
    Interesting points. I disagree with the general theme in the comments earlier about it being age specific. I accept that younger people are so much more used to connecting online and via text, that the personal contact is less important.
    One point I would make about the average convenience store is the wage. Some people actually think they get paid PER nicety – so only give out as much warmth as they receive from their employers.
    Our country’s service providers have a lot to answer for with regard to service.
    And we all have a responsibility to do our part too – I often purposely make eye contact with the folks in the petrol station or store, and often they respond in accordance (not always).
    Even in Ireland, it could well be a societal problem, even down to attitude towards our work.
    Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

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