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Navigating COVID-19 Dissonance: Shaping Disruptions into Creative Fuel

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“Options are not your friend. The essence of creativity is constraint and getting creative with what you have is what it’s all about.” — Lucy Walker

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COVID-19 has presented its fair share of challenges to the global economy on a micro level and the individual’s day-to-day life on a micro-level. The pandemic will unarguably have far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease but many industry leaders are seeking to find the silver lining.

During #SMWONE, Lucy Walker, an award-winning filmmaker and curator of TEDxVenice Beach, Grey West‘s Alex Morrison and Rodrigo Jatene, and Tiffany Shlain Emmy-nominated filmmaker, speaker, and Webby Awards Founder came together to as they explore how dissonance in our daily experience is leading to an evolution of creativity, invention, and new ways of approaching the world.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Disruptive change can lead to creative discovery
  • Options are not your friends
  • One of the most advantageous qualities of being human is adaptability

Constraints can release rather than inhibit creativity

When sharing each of their personal experiences with encountering constraints, the panel unanimously agreed that more often than not constraints can be liberating versus a disrupting hindrance.

Shlain for instance, took a trip down memory lane to share the story of how the Webbys became known for its five-word acceptance speech and how the idea was conceived. In terms of her filmmaking, she describes having constraints for short films as “liberating.” “I love the challenge of taking a very complicated subject and having to distill it down into a finite amount of time.”

Walker chimed in through a similar lens of her documentary work, “Options are not your friend. The essence of creativity is constraint and getting creative with what you have is what it’s all about.”

In the advertising world, the constraint lies chiefly in the creative brief, Jatene described. “The brief is the ultimate constraint. It puts boundaries on a topic and forces you to channel your creativity in one way and not any other,” he said. “We need to be limited to become limitless.” Put differently, the absence of constraints can be an inhibitor to creativity.

Bending, breaking, and blending

During the conversation, Walker referenced David Eagleman, world-renowned neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author, and his view that novel experiences are all about laying down your memory. He further dives into this topic in his book, The Runaway Species, co-authored with music composer Anthony Brandt, which explores the brain’s behavior behind human creativity — specifically, a framework driven by the concepts of “bending,” “breaking” and “blending.”

“In the documentary space we are all making ball gowns for the Met Gala out of two bits of garbage, but I choose this. It’s astonishing how you can bring together jigsaw pieces together that shouldn’t fit,” said Walker. Jatene, in his own experience, is known to bend the rules of the advertising brief to explore the various angles within the confines of this very limiting space.

Shlain described her own process with cloud filmmaking and a new project she’s working on — a call and response video about the pandemic where people are asked to record and submit their responses to questions about what they’re most fearful of, the best act of creativity or kindness they’ve seen, and what’s the best to come. She described that the hardest part of this process is the creative blending required in the editing to accurately depict the humanity, fear, hope, and kindness we’re experiencing. “One week I thought I was making one film but then the next week the vibe will be totally different.”

“The classic test of creativity is that idea of how many things you can do with a brick and it really feels like that right now. Your first ideas are probably pretty obvious, but the closer you look and the more you’re paying attention the more you’ll make more exciting discoveries.” At first, there was the novelty of it all but to really cut through the clutter and be creative you have to now, figuratively speaking, use your brick to take a whole, break it apart and assemble something new out of the fragments.

Lean into your passions in order to adapt

“Before the pandemic, we were far away from what mattered in our society and our own lives,” explained Shlain, and what has enabled us to recognize this is having an extended period of time to reset and take a beat to go back to what matters most. She personally has been baking homemade bread with her children while Walker has taken up fermenting making her own natto and yogurt. For the group, these simple passionate activities can pave the path to breakthroughs, “To unlock a door you may need to become a yogurt maker. The history of breakthroughs is littered with people who had weird hobbies that led to great scientific discoveries,” Walker stated.

For Jatene he’s enjoyed designing which was his first love and running which until now he hasn’t had time for. He’s also enjoyed taking up homeschooling with his children and helping apply his creativity to his work to inspire them, put a different lens on what they’re learning, and have schoolwork be fun.

The big takeaway: even in times of stillness or isolation we can find ways to be creative, and starting can be as simple as physically putting down our phones so we have the ability to dedicate the time to what truly makes us inspired and happy and that we’re genuinely feeling.

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