Talking Openness to Experience with Al Jourgensen

A ministry founder discusses the conceptual foundation of his creativity.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

“People are happy 

When they’re not so trapped” 

— From “Just Like You” by Ministry

Al Jourgensen is the founder of the industrial band Ministry. Industrial music is a raw and provocative music style that blends electronic music with more traditional rock music. What is most notable about this particular genre is that it employs a range of sounds including not only more traditional electric guitars and synthesizers, but also more unconventional sounds such as car gear shifting or steam engines. Any sound that exists in the industrial or electronic world is fair game.

Ministry is considered one of the greatest industrial music bands of all time and a pioneer in a sub-genre of industrial music called industrial metal, which also includes bands such as Nine Inch Nails and White Zombie. They have been making music for almost four decades and show no signs of slowing down, working on their 15th full-length studio album, including a newly released song, “Alert Level.”

 Derick Smith, used with permission
Source: Derick Smith, used with permission

In my conversation with Jourgensen for The Hardcore Humanism With Dr. Mike Podcast, what emerged was that the underlying foundation of Jourgensen’s approach to both his creativity and his life is an openness to experience. Openness to experience is a personality trait that generally refers to a more curious, imaginative, and open-minded style of relating to oneself and the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, openness to experience is hypothesized to be associated with increased creativity. The theory is that imagination and curiosity naturally lead people to see the world in novel ways and express that in their artistic expression.

Research has supported this hypothesis, as studies show that openness to experience is consistently associated with creativity. For example, one study assessed 831 primary school participants on measures of creativity, openness to experience, and intelligence, with the results indicating a strong positive correlation between openness to experience and creativity. Further, among urban participants in the sample, openness to experience moderated the relation between intelligence and creativity, suggesting that intelligence is more likely to translate into creativity among more open participants.

Perhaps because of the ongoing recognition of the role of creativity in professional settings, there has been more interest in and evidence that openness to experience is also predictive of job performance in business environments. For example, one longitudinal study of 3,489 participants examined the relationship between openness to experience and job performance over a five-year period. Results showed that openness to experience predicted promotions in managerial and professional positions.

Jourgensen’s career has involved both artistic and professional success, and one can see the connection between his openness to experience and his musical creativity. Many people assumed that industrial music’s reliance on machines and more electronic sounds would disconnect the art form from the human experience as compared to genres that rely more heavily on non-electronic instruments such as folk rock or Americana. And yet Jourgensen was open to a very different approach to the creative process. He made it very clear that he views electronics and machine-generated sounds as a facilitator of human experience — particularly human emotion. He sees these sounds as a connection rather than a barrier to understanding our experience and the world around us.

Further, Jourgensen describes his novel creative method in which he builds upon ideas, thoughts, and images he had when he was asleep. This method is based on scientific evidence: Theory and research suggest that our brains are active and can push our thinking forward when we sleep. Jourgensen feels that during sleep his mind is most attuned to and connected with the world around him, and therefore the best vehicle for his creative process.

So, check out what Jourgensen has to say about his life and creative process, and see if you can apply any of his experience to being more open and creative in your own life.

You can hear Dr. Mike's conversation with Al Jourgensen on the Hardcore Humanism Podcast at HardcoreHumanism.com, Apple Podcasts, or your podcast app.