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In this episode of We Are Crayons - The Podcast, we chat with Business Coach Keita Demming. His drive and focus are centred on change through disruptive conversations. Which is also the name of the podcast he hosts. On his show, he interviews persons who are trying to disrupt a system or sector. Keita is also co-organizer of TEDx Port Of Spain.
In our conversation, Keita shares his thoughts, on education, what it takes to be a high performer and building your community. Listen and enjoy. Then feel free to share and subscribe to the show.
Listening time : 43 mins
How do you define creativity, and what does it mean to you?
Creativity, for me, is simply, novelty that works. I got this definition from Harvard Professor, Teresa Amable. I use it a lot when I talk about innovation. Innovation which I define as the implementation of novelty that works.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
40% and I think this is true of most people. Again, some research suggests this. I am very wary of arguments that position things as innate. More recently, we have learned that the brain is more plastic than we thought. I subscribe to the notion of a Growth Mindset.
Additionally, I am in the business of change management. If things are too innate, then people cannot change, and things cannot change. We know this is not true because we have an example to the contrary. Change is hard, but it is possible. For example, criminals who transform their lives, people who were once sedentary and now live active lifestyles or people who have overcome addictions.
When did you realise that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
It took me a long time to think of myself as creative. I have done school all the way to a PhD level, and I am yet to have an Art class. I was told creativity was not a career. It was not until I began to work innovation and develop novel approaches for organisations that I began to think of myself as creative. Creativity, I believe to be often too narrowly focused on things like Art, but creativity is something I think we need everywhere, even in places like accounting, of course, within ethical bounds. If we can make creativity a cross-cutting them in organisations, we can have some of the most innovative organisation we can imagine.
What is your standard for evaluating your creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are financial rewards relevant to your projects?
Well does it add value in some way? If yes, then it works. When I say, 'value' it does not mean financial value. I think it needs to useful and usable to be a success. Now, I need to say that things like Art are different and I am thinking within my own space of organisational design. Within organisations, the evaluation standards are different and should be different for creativity.
So, in short, evaluation begins by exploring the context. So does the creativity need to provoke or produce? You then tailor the assessment to the outcome you intend. Also, always weight quantitative and qualitative evaluation, too many of our assessments are quantitative.
Do you think the views of other people influence your perception and evaluation of your creative endeavours? What role do you believe the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
Yes! We are social beings, we are continually looking for the approval of others. For example, imposter syndrome is prevalent among us all. In general, I think we are all influenced by the environment we are in. For example, there is a belief that creative people have to have had hardship or struggle. I do not think it is necessary, but it is sufficient to inspire someone to pursue a particular endeavour.
Similarly, being in a stable, loving home can also provide you with the support to practice your skill, for example, to become a musician. Since we are intensely social beings, I think we are always influenced by the environment, it is just how. What inspires one person can discourage another. We are all looking for approval from our peers, we want to know that we matter. Additionally, I think all creative ideas build on the ideas of the past, so culture and people influence everything we do. We are not in a vacuum, and you cannot be. Culture plays a complex role, it can be enabling or stifling. It can inspire, or it can drain us.
Does your creative work come easily, or do you struggle with your ideas? What obstacles (if any) do you experience when you are creating? If you do face obstacles, how do you get past them?
Mine comes easily. I think my strength is connecting ideas that people did not see going together. I read a lot, so I am often drawing inspiration from the things I am reading and trying to push the boundary. What is difficult for me is the expression of the idea, for example, something like writing a book. What I struggle with is finding the quiet time to do that and the only thing that helps is structure and allocating time to work on it. To qualify that, I mean, I need to have a clear head, and that is difficult when you are busy and always distracted. I am still working on finding a solution to that.
Is there something that you do to put yourself into a creative state of mind? If so, what? How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
Not really, I sit in a chair and start working. I usually have an idea I am working on, and with enough time dedicated to it, the task gets done. I just think the longer I sit in the chair, the more I produce.
Was the way you express your creativity now always your ambition? If so, when did you know for sure?
Yes! I guess. I have always wanted to be an educator and coach, so when I design workshops, I am always thinking about planning the day for the most impact. I have been doing this for years.
What has been the most significant sacrifice you have made for your craft?
In choosing to do a PhD, I lost income for the and career advancement for the five years I was doing the program. It is still to be determined if it was worth the time.
Which creative people do you admire? Why?
Hard question. There is someone called Tendayi Viki. Tendayi is the first person of colour who I would say is an innovation expert and consultant doing what I want to do. It is fantastic to see someone who looks like my doing what I want to do. Before him, everyone was white and male.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Community. I have a strong community around me, and in many instances, I have had to create myself. I learned about The Bloomsbury Group, which was a group of writers that included, included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. Although they never considered themselves a formal group, they met regularly and really challenged each others thinking. I think we all need to foster our own similar groups, and I have always worked to do this in my life.
Do you believe that it is essential to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
No. Pick five people you respect and focus on their feedback. Most people are full of it and can criticise very well but do not add much value. There is a big difference between being critical and offering feedback. Choose those whose feedback you consider carefully. You need input but be decerning about who you get it from.
Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
Yes! I have learned to get out of my own head and move on. Rejection is part of the course, and I have learned that it is an opportunity to improve.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
All the time. We all suffer from imposter syndrome. I choose the folks whose perspectives I trust and respect, and we all agree to keep each other honest and to give kind, candid feedback.
What piece of work are you most proud? Why?
I am yet to do the work I am more proud of. I think I have so much work inside me that is screaming to come out.
What is your ultimate creative goal, and how attainable do you think it is?
We need to change change. It is a concept I got from a mentor, but that is the goal. We do not understand how change works, and we need to change how we approach it.
What is the best advice you've received that helped you move forward on your creative journey?
Too many to mention, but I live by the Everett Dirksen quote: "I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times."
To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you give them?
You are not alone. We all need community. Find or build your tribe because we cannot do it alone.
For what would you like to be most remembered?
Changing change. It is the only constant we have, and we are so bad at it. We need to get very good at change; otherwise, we are going nowhere.
If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
Can I say rainbow? My favourite colour is yellow, but I would need to be a colour that is a paradox. I did a psychometric test years ago and scored high on spontaneity and deep thought.
The facilitator made me do it again because those rarely come together. I got the same result, and it has influenced how I think of myself. I think I am a combination of Deep thought and Spontaneity/Action. I would need to make a colour that embodies that.
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