Prolonged lockdowns and visible grief all around have started impacting everyone, even the most optimistic among us. We saw many people seeking ideas to stay engaged and remain positive, while dealing with a whole lot of bad news that left us with a sense of helplessness. To some of my social media friends, I suggested indulging in creative pursuits - be it writing, painting, embroidery or creating anything, maybe even new recipes that were the flavour of the first lockdown. The responses that I received reminded me of my corporate career days when I used to lead innovation initiatives. When we used to conduct sessions on being creative, people enjoyed the workshops and the break that it brought to their otherwise mundane lives, but they could rarely apply creativity in their everyday work.
It took me a while to understand this. Employees in large organisations are trained to follow SOPs - the standard operating procedures. As soon as they enter corporate life, and maybe even before that, they are trained to follow the policies and processes. Any deviations are looked down upon and may even be seen as obstacles in their well-defined growth path. Now processes work well in a purely manufacturing environment, but the same models were exported to the service industry that can do with a lot of creativity, intuitiveness and spontaneity. Nonetheless, the disconnect was that a mind that is taught to blindly follow the process was suddenly expected to let go of all that training and come up with creative ideas within the walls of a training room or perhaps a resort, and then revert to processes back on the job. I see the same has permeated our day-to-day living as well. When we are reminded to do something creative, we suddenly go blank.
When we look at what all we missed during this pandemic, the biggest answer was the festivals, festivities and celebrations of all kinds. We missed our extended family and friends, family events and meeting new people who always come in our lives like a breath of fresh air. With it we also missed our regular sojourn with creativity. Our festivals are a big source of inspiring creativity, in a very subtle organic way. Think of Ganapati pandals that are put up across Western India and how they are created in a new way each year, carrying forward a tradition but with a dash of current situations and modern sensibilities infused in them. In Goa, last year during Deepavali, I saw all the Narakasur effigies wearing face masks, a mark of the times they were created in.
If we look at the calendar of Indian festivals, most, if celebrated traditionally, give us windows to not just be creative but also to showcase our creative expression to a larger audience. Look at the intricate Kolam designs in the streets of South India, walls of Madhubani homes in Bihar, Aipans of Uttarakhand or Mandawa of Central India, mostly drawn during festivals, that let you experiment and express your creativity. In fact, festivals let you be creative on multiple dimensions - dressing up, food, finding and wrapping gifts, writing or designing greetings innovatively, decorating the home and most importantly creating the festival space from scratch - be it designing the Durga Puja pandal with the chosen theme or performing Ram Lila for 10 days and creating effigies of Ravana et al. to burn on Dussehra or making a rakhi for your sibling. Personal festivities like weddings and birthdays intersperse with the regular flow of festivals through the year. Basically, our festivals were ensuring that we get a regular dose of creative pursuits, and a fair percentage of these involved working with ad hoc teams of whoever was around and available, bringing in the diversity of age and skill sets, breaking hierarchies and using role reversals for a while.
Can this regular brush with raw creativity be brought into our professional lives, especially those who work in the organised corporate world? It may be far more effective than the innovation workshops offered as single-shot doses to induce creativity in the environment. Can some rituals be introduced that allow or maybe force people to step out of their comfort zones, form their own teams from within or outside the organisation, work on projects without really having a defined plan or budget but a defined output at a defined time? It has the ingredients of an innovation project where you work within the constraints of budgets and available resources but your end goal must be delivered within the broad boundaries. Can this lead to a basket of new ideas to experiment with? Can new synergies between diverse teams be leveraged to create intersectional innovation, where ideas from across the verticals meet and create new ones? The idea is to keep the creative juices flowing and leverage them for the organisation as well as society in general.
The question that remains open though: Do organisations have the fluidity and flexibility to absorb the ideas that these bursts of creativity would bring out?
(The writer is an author and founder of IndiTales. She can be rached on Twitter: @anuradhagoyal)