Creativity Isn't a Salve. It's Our Salvation Now

From constraints, a world of possibilities

Earlier this week, as I was presenting a 40-slide presentation to six clients from my bedroom (thankfully not on video), an all-out brawl erupted between two of my three girls right outside the door. 

Despite rules/warnings/cajolings about how "Dad needs quiet"—not to mention providing a deep menu of snacks and distractions—s*** still hit the fan. My only remedy was to intermittently mute my line, crack the door, whisper-scold my girls and respond to my clients before launching into the next concept. 

Pause. Mute. Repeat. For the next 30 minutes.

I survived every parent's nightmare while working from home by creatively summoning the skills of a professional wrestling referee and a club DJ.   

Fuming after the call, I took a breath and started to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. What was once a viral moment for a BBC contributor is now all of us who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home. Everyone is trying to make a seemingly unworkable situation work. And that takes an exhausting amount of energy, patience and, most of all, creativity. 

It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention. I'd like to add that crisis is the mother (and father and sister and brother-in-law) of creativity. 

Over the past few weeks I've realized that our saving grace will not be the federal government. Even our governors' and mayors' valiant efforts won't be enough. It will be people coming together and harnessing their own creativity that will get us through.

There are a ton of stories to back me up. The ones I find most hopeful and comforting are those about inventive individuals who are finding new ways to fight the virus itself, keep people safe or solve what challenges most of us stuck at home: boredom. 

From a medical standpoint, scientists are inventing novel treatments like blood transfusions from recovered patients and new ways of fast-tracking the vaccine process.

From the corporate world, companies like Dyson are shifting their production prowess to make ventilators. Apparel company Fanatics is making personal protective equipment for medical personnel. And countless distillers are making hand sanitizer.

Regular folks are making an impact, too, like the guys in England running marathons in their back gardens. TikToks that teach you how to make Apple pens with tinfoil and a Q-tip. Countless sidewalk chalk drawings in my neighborhood. Homemade masks. School buses delivering school lunches. Or my wife on a video call with a friend troubleshooting audio settings for an upcoming virtual karaoke night.

They're all using the simple but powerful formula for unlocking creativity: embracing constraints x envisioning possibilities. 

Because that's what the virus has done. Embraced the constraints of its spiky microscopic form to become the most terrible possibility we've seen in more than a century.

In our industry, creativity needs to emanate from every corner of every department. It could be a new paradigm for e-commerce. Leveraging media spend in a new way. An inspired crisis response. Or simply providing a moment of levity in these dark days. It's what we do. It's what we need to do now more than ever. For our clients. For ourselves. For the world.

For my part, I'm going to need to summon all the creativity I can muster. Distance learning has started at my house. As I told my daughter earlier this week during a tense science homework standoff, "I don't know if what I'm saying is right; I make things up for a living!"

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John Neerland
John Neerland is group creative director at Minneapolis creative agency Colle McVoy.

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