Creativity’s Role in This American Moment

Over the course of a month, more has been done to create racial equality in America than in the last 5 years combined. This is an American moment of deep and significant change led by the work of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

How did we get here and how can we continue down the road of equality and equity? I recently spoke with Creativity Strategist, Author, and President of Figure 8 Thinking Natalie Nixon to discuss how creativity has played a crucial role in this American moment of transformation. 

In Nixon’s newly released book The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work she dissects the elements of creativity that lead to innovation. Reimaging a world without systemic racism is a creative feat in itself since it runs deeply through every aspect of America from our criminal justice systems to our office culture. Here are some ways creativity has been utilized to drive change and some advice to help you channel your creativity to further the movement. 

Creativity thrives in chaos 

COVID-19’s shut down of the economy helped set the stage for an American movement fueled by innovation. For the first time since the Great Recession of 2008, we’re experiencing widespread unemployment rates skyrocketing. While this recession collapsed our economy and left many people jobless, it also broke routines. 

Creativity is the key to surviving chaos. It helps you improvise in your life and adapt to new challenges. When things aren’t in their usual places, people look for answers in places they’ve never explored. Not to mention that without jobs draining people’s energy and trapping them in a closed-loop—breakfast, commute, work, commute, dinner, sleep, repeat—they had the time and space to let audacity and wonder take hold and explore their curiosities. 

Wonder and curiosity

During the past 3 months, more people than ever outside of the African American community are being inquisitive and skeptical about their way of life. Nixon says the precursor to empathy is inquiry. “Before you can empathize you have to be curious about another person’s life and experiences. You need to open up better communication by asking why do you think about it this way? This leads to connection that helps us extend beyond our tribe.” With the horrendous murder of George Floyd white America finally started questioning their norms and trying to understand the roots of racism and its manifestation in society. 

Right now, Nixon explains, we are facing huge, complex challenges—the pandemic, social justice, climate change—and they won’t go away with the same kind of thinking we’ve been throwing at them for centuries. “We talk about innovation quite a bit, but people don’t understand that creativity is the engine behind innovation. It’s not some frilly extra, it’s a necessity for creating any change.” 

Rigor and practice 

But we’ve been here before, on the verge of greatness, hopeful and determined. The Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, but little has changed within the legal system until now. Wonder and curiosity alone cannot change the world. Nixon says the next piece of the creativity puzzle is rigor. “People have the time and space to create lasting change. The application of creativity in design intervention and problem-solving [for the systemic racial injustices] needs rigor and action.” 

She says we need to toggle between wonder and rigor. Ask questions, then put in the work to fix the problems. “Good, we’re all aware of the problem. Now, how can we apply creativity to do things like ensure voting registration is available at touchpoints during the social justice protests? The wonder part is happening with people thinking differently, but we have to apply rigor to solve the problem, to change the system.”

Creativity in protesting

Nixon points to a recent example of how wonder being backed up by rigor can hold real power in politics today. Through the social media app TikTok, K-Pop fans started a viral trend of reserving tickets to Trump’s Tulsa rally with no intention of actually attending. They wanted to show the President just how little support he actually has, especially in a place like Tulsa where a racial massacre occurred in 1921. 

This form of protest and political dissent was unique to their generation. “Gen Xers would’ve never thought of this. Gen Z used their digital mindset to hack the system and protest in their own way, completely rethinking their use of power. This generation makes me very optimistic.” 

We also see this ingenuity in the total take over of Instagram to refocus its users on the Black Lives Matter movement. Over 28 million Instagram users posted a plain black square on BlackOutTuesday in order to remove clutter from users’ feeds and allow for an open line of communication with the protest efforts. While there is some controversy over the effectiveness of the effort, there is no doubt that this generation once again used social media to move millions into action. 

These touchpoints in the overall American movement of racial equality are wonder and rigor coming together to create new solutions, new ways of thought, new norms. With more applications of creativity like this, our future may be shaped into something abstract and beautiful—something imagined and enacted by those who choose to think creatively. 

Related: Marketing and PR Do’s and Don’ts of Black Lives Matter