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Why We Need Creative Medicine Now More Than Ever

Many creations of the past year might not see the light of day. Why not?

Medical researcher Jonas Salk was prone to long hours at study, pursuing his curiosity, devouring more knowledge, and experimenting with his team—all in the pursuit to find a vaccine for polio.

Source: My Life Through a Lens/Unsplash
"Together, We Create!" on a brick wall.
Source: My Life Through a Lens/Unsplash

So, imagine that in 1953, after over seven years of trial and error, Salk and his team, in fact, discovered an effective vaccine, but he kept that fact mostly to himself. Why? Because he feared the limelight. Because he didn’t want to be on the cover of TIME magazine or be hailed a hero by strangers as he walked down the street.

Salk didn’t hide his medicine, of course. His dogged pursuit as a creative thinker, plus his willingness to face the public and distribute the medicine to people who sorely needed it, changed if not saved millions of lives.

I have used this analogy for several years to implore reluctant creatives and thinkers to find ways to face the public and share their work. But now—amidst the pandemic and months of prolonged isolation—this message seems even more ripe.

Consider this: During the pandemic, many thinking creatives might have relished more time to go within, ponder, explore, wonder, and create. Interaction inspired by solitude might have given some of them the safe space to try new virtual collaborations, revisit old interests, or finally satisfy a creative urge that waited patiently for attention.

In fact, after such a long incubation period and after a long and lonely winter, many of us might anticipate something akin to the energy of the Renaissance, where creativity and curiosity blossomed and where discovery, growth, and innovation moved humanity ahead at a breathtaking pace.

The ideas and creations of the past year are ready to emerge. But many of those insights and innovations might not see the light of day. Why?

For the reluctant creative, the challenge isn’t discovery; it’s often the reveal. Much of their hesitation might stem from feeling that promoting their work is not authentic. It’s often the outreach, enlisting allies and mentors, improving skills, and ultimately sharing work that stymies the potential impact of their output.

Yet now, perhaps more than in a while, the time is ripe for curious creatives to show up and share their work.

Consider these three observations.

1. The need for new ideas and creative solutions is greater than ever, whether globally or filtered down to a family’s day-to-day life.

Charles Darwin once noted that the ones who survive would not be the smartest but the most adaptive to change. That adaptability is the hallmark of a creative disposition—one in sore demand during the pandemic.

The pandemic pivot demanded new ideas and creative solutions. Restaurateurs such as ETEN in Amsterdam created mini-glass cabins or "greenhouses" so people could dine safely outdoors. A deaf wife-and-husband team in Indonesia created see-through masks so lip-reading would be possible.

The shift from in-person work, learning, and even dating opened the gateway for creative thinking and collaboration. Old paradigms crumbled as the distinction between one's professional and personal life faded even more. In formal creativity studies, we might measure someone’s creative flexibility by how many novel uses they could come up with for, say, a brick. A perusal of Twitter last spring showed flexibility as a survival skill in ready order: People suddenly forced to work from home used everything from ironing boards (adjustable heights!) to trash cans to laundry bins for desks.

Professional personas softened as children made impromptu appearances during a conference call or video meeting. Adaptations and modifications in work and family schedules were now more of a common bond rather than a personal element most professionals felt they needed to keep secret in pre-COVID times.

While that cozy period of incubation satisfied the creative urge, it now presents the time to share the results. For the introverted creative, this is often the most difficult aspect of the creative process and feels more like posturing or pretending.

What you can do:

  • Promote on your terms. Discard the stereotype of hype and hyperbole when it comes to promoting and distributing. Instead, draw on what Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, calls the zone of stimulation that is right for you.

2. Dissolved boundaries provide more opportunities than ever for intelligent, sensitive creatives to contribute their medicine.

In the face of devastating illness, we had a massive worldwide hunger for a meaningful life. Some of us realized that slowing down and savoring life connected us all. As some psychologists have tracked, creativity and meaning-making can go hand-in-hand during this time.

The creatives of the world also showed us how to remove geographical limitations to offer us solace and meaning. Musicians, artists, and authors added online performances in lieu of in-person appearances, reaching a wider audience than ever. Even for the timid creative, this new format presented a manageable entry point into expanding and sharing their work.

Music sensation Billie Eilish shot a music video in an empty shopping mall, Taylor Swift quietly released two albums during 2020, and renowned introvert Bruce Springsteen performed at an understated presidential inauguration.

Music is medicine—not just for the makers but also for the listeners. IFPI’s Global Music Report 2021 noted that music streaming subscriptions spiked during the pandemic as people sought solace, comfort, and inspiration from creative people’s output.

What you can do:

  • Recognize and honor your authenticity and creativity. What you create through art or experience touches others in ways that big business often cannot. Someone is waiting for your words, your song, your painting, your creation. Honor your creativity by sharing it with them.
  • Connect and engage. Take advantage of this promising energy of dissolving barriers. The most impactful part of creativity is not the actual creation but showing it to the world so others may benefit.

3. The hesitancy to go public might feel comfortable at first but ultimately sabotages creative yearnings.

Many intellectually curious creatives I know relished the concept of isolation and social distancing over the past year. They saw it as an opportunity to escape the pressure of promoting, marketing, shipping, publishing, distributing, or fundraising.

But here’s a broken frame that holds back many talented people:

Mistaking solitary creative time as the only noble, authentic pursuit and regarding promotion, marketing, and distribution as the antithesis of the noble creative pursuit.

This frame is broken because it creates a false binary of creative generation versus marketing. If your creative work can salve someone’s pain, uplift them, or help them do or think or relate in some new way, then perhaps it's your responsibility to muster the creative, authentic means to distribute that creative medicine.

What if your best creative contribution is sharing it? And more so, reaping the benefit, both emotionally and financially, for doing your part to make the world a better place?

The private-to-public-to-personal cycle actually replenishes your spirit when you witness the benefits others enjoy while you make a worthy livelihood, which then feeds your creativity and enhances your life experience.

What you can do:

  • Maximize the freedom of solitude and quiet reflecting time. Then draw on that energy to share the best of your ideas and creativity.
  • Hang out with other creatives. Online opportunities are plentiful. You may find that many of your allies in creativity are also feeling this anticipatory energy.

Perhaps it is not only curious creatives’ responsibility to make novel things but also to share those creations. When we keep our ideas, talents, and skills hidden, we are not the only ones who suffer.

The world needs your creativity more than ever. The new renaissance beckons.


TedTalks: Cain, S. (2012) The Power of Introverts