The Dark and Light Side of Creativity: Vader and Skywalker Settle Their Dispute Over Calamarian C-tea

cup of tea

In this galaxy, in the not too distant past (although some might argue 1977 was ages ago), an epic space-opera was released that sparked a lasting cultural impact. In it, both the light and dark sides of the force vie for superiority (if you’re a Star Wars fan, please don’t send me angry emails about the oversimplification of it all).

Two of the story’s central characters, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, father and son respectively, stood on opposite sides of the force. Christmas dinners and family vacations were off the table – heck, you couldn’t even get the two in the room to chat over a cup of tea. 

And it wasn’t just them. You couldn’t put the light side of the force in the same room with the dark side of it without a fight because one almost always tried to dominate the other. 

In this vein, particularly in corporate America, I often find that rational/logical thinking and creative thinking (truly big, creative, no holding back) are constantly at odds, competing against one another just like the dark side and light side of the force.

I’ve asked myself ‘why’ this is more than once. I could likely write an entire book as to why; but a large part of it has to do with the fact that creativity itself has a light and dark side, and neither seems well understood. However – understanding both means being balanced.

Creative behaviours are powerful when properly understood and nourished. Both the dark and light side of creativity needs to be embraced in order to maintain a healthy balance.

Understanding The Dark Side of a Creative Personality

Research has linked being creative with all kinds of mental illness or issues. If you Google “Creativity and Mental Illness” you’ll see the plethora of research for yourself. Creativity is often associated with a wide range of counterproductive tendencies or negative behaviors that corporate America, on the whole, tries to suppress.

Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College of London and Columbia University, laid out a few of the negatively associated stigmas of creative people:

  1. There is a link between creativity and negative moods. Sure, we all get sulky, but creative people tend to cycle through the lows a bit more than the highs. Creative people tend to feel each swing a little harder and a little more than most.
  2. Creative thought processes are often ‘taboo’ in the workplace. Being creative means blocking out filters (often leading to inappropriate or irrelevant thought) and could potentially have poor impulse control. They speak their mind without a filter slapped on it.
  3. Creativity has been associated with dishonesty. It doesn’t mean creative people ARE dishonest. It just means they have a strong association with this negative trait. Likely because they can weave imaginative tales as easily as some people breathe. They also tend to have their heads in the cloud and live in a reality all their own. It doesn’t mean they are unethical in the least, or are liars, but some people are weary of their fast, colorful thinking.
  4. They have their heads in the clouds. They are often hard to get a straight answer from and like to spend time dreaming and thinking. Not exactly productive to a modern workforce (unless you’re lucky enough to catch a job like that).
  5. Creative types are often rebels. In modern culture and of course in the modern workforce we tend to look down on the rebel. Convention be damned, they tend to be nonconformists. Corporate work culture wants these types to often ‘get with the program’. The best creatives tend to embrace socially unacceptable ideas.

Within corporate America, much of what Chamorro-Premuzic laid out could constitute ‘warning signs’ of a problem employee. It might cause one to be cautious when hiring or even using a creative type – even though they might be the breath of fresh air the company or even a project needs to be propelled forward. 

Temma Ehrenfeld in her article, The Truth About Creativity and Madness”, calls this ‘the price of genius’. Despite the stigma and negative research on creative traits, she shares the work of Harvard psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg who found that what all these [creative] individuals have in common is ‘motivation’.

He spent 25 years interviewing living artists and scientists, tracking their progress on various projects. He concludes that ‘only one characteristic is absolutely present in all creative people:  They want specifically to creative and to be creative, [which requires] direct, intense and intentional effort.”

In other words, they are driven and they need the space, both mentally and physically, to do so. 

Some might find this to be a risk too great to take on. Safe is safe, but will it lead to greatness? Sure, you might end up with a Death Star (however, you won’t convince me that the design in and of itself wasn’t creative) or you might end up saving the universe with a ragtag band of unlikely heroes.

Creativity needs a little bend and give that goes against conventional thinking and conventional corporate culture.

Honestly, there is a reason that places will advertise their creativity, their free thinking, or their open work culture. They are showing that they are a place that fosters the creative spirit that is highly sought after but often killed in the traditional modern corporate culture. 

Understanding The Light Side of a Creative Personality

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” 
― Albert Einstein

Even if the work culture you are in or reaching out to doesn’t scream ‘creative’ there are a few ways to help foster that within your own team or with the people you work with (be that a vendor, a client or a partner company). 

Here are some things to keep in mind to help keep a creative on the ‘light’ side:

  1. Curiosity does not mean incompetent. Don’t assume because they are asking questions that they don’t understand; they want to expand their thinking.
  2. Don’t expect creative types to always be ‘on’. Seriously. Don’t. It’s pressure and even the most carefree are going to wilt under that type of ‘always on’ pressure. 
  3. Collaboration doesn’t mean they don’t know. This can go beyond just creative types. If someone who is creative asks the team to get in the room and talk, go with it! They are looking for someone to bounce, feed and foster ideas. This only means bigger and better things for you and your team.
  4. It’s okay to ask them ‘why’. Don’t be afraid to question the method. If you’re questioning it because you don’t trust it, that’s a problem. But questioning for understanding is okay. The method will likely always ladder back to a solid reason and structure/logical rationale. It might look chaotic or confusing on the outside but once you peel that curtain back you’ll find a neatly tied package. 
  5. Importantly, keep in mind that not all problems/questions require a creative answer. Truly.  Sometimes a straightforward answer is best. Your creative ‘go-to’ might just come back with a very logical and rational answer. And that is okay too.
  6. Let them challenge your conventional thinking. 
  7. It’s not about process. Don’t force creative types or creative thinking into a set process. In the 2012 film about Steve Jobs – Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview he discusses this very notion:  “It’s the people that get confused. Companies get confused. When they start getting bigger, they want to replicate their initial success. And a lot of them think, ‘Well, somehow there’s some magic of how that success was created.’ So they start to institutionalize process in the content. In my career, I’ve found that the best people are the ones that really understand the content. And they’re a pain in the butt to manage.  But you know, you put up with it, because they’re so great at the content. That’s what makes great products.  It’s not process, it’s content.”

So – let’s get back to where this started. Darth Vader and Luke.

Imagine, instead of destruction, death, chaos, and heartbreak what they could have achieved had they just worked together and actually shared that cup of tea. They really are two sides of the same coin, a balancing act that is still not well understood. One can’t exist without the other. 

They, like creative individuals, need those around them to have understanding and help to foster their spark and keep it ablaze. Creativity, once balanced, does amazing things.

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