Why Your Crisis Is The Key To Your Creativity

"There is scarcely any passion without struggle." - Albert Camus

More and more studies are confirming that a crisis actually boosts creativity. It’s easy to see why we all live in a state of constant frustration. CNN reports that we consume about 74 gigabytes — nine DVDs worth — of data every day. And that’s not counting personal problems, career challenges, and other obstacles. But the Wall Street Journal confirms that “having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking.” How?

The journal puts it in the context of why so many immigrants like Victor Hugo, W.H. Auden, Vladimir Nabokov, Nikolas Tesla, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein have shown extraordinary signs of genius:

Several studies have shed light on the role of “schema violations” in intellectual development. A schema violation occurs when our world is turned upside-down, when temporal and spatial cues are off-kilter. In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the “wrong” order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group—the ones engaged in a schema violation—consistently demonstrated more “cognitive flexibility,” a prerequisite for creative thinking.

This suggests that it isn’t the immigrant’s ambition that explains her creativity but her marginality. Many immigrants possess what the psychologist Nigel Barber calls “oblique perspective.” Uprooted from the familiar, they see the world at an angle, and this fresh perspective enables them to surpass the merely talented. To paraphrase the philosopher Schopenhauer:

In other words, having your world turned upside down can often be the best spark for your creativity.  That’s not to say that getting fired, experiencing a divorce, moving to another city, having a health setback, or other crisis is a pleasant experience. But it does mean that even the most difficult challenges we face can cause us to re-think how we see the world, and plant the seed of a new perspective.

During your next crisis, remember that it could be the key that could completely change your world for the better.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Karen Covell

    I LOVE this article. It is so true and it introduces concepts that all creative people need to wrestle with. I’m going to pass it on. It touches on a human condition that we need to understand!

  • Truett Hancock

    Sadly, the truth is sometimes crisis is what’s is needed to motivate us out of our mediocrity. If we could just figure out a way to keep ourselves viewing from the “oblique perspective” I’m certain we would all benefit from the experience. That said, the experience has proven true for me. After a setback I have always been able to focus my abilities and find better ways to communicate.

  • Maryjo Petersen Castro

    It’s true, having our world turned upside down reveals our true character, attitudes, and it has the propensity to uncover talents and ideas that have been hiding in us all along. After experiencing a literal “Job story”, I discovered multiple talents in me that I was completely unaware of- which later proved to be the conduit to a dream career path. I experienced a second Job story ten years later while working in production which increased my creative energy and agility at every angle and brought much success to my work. In turn, it later propelled me to another level in my career. Pain creates action, reveals depth, and changed thinking about life and perspective. Now in my third crisis, it’s less about creativity and more about developing deeper values which will play out at a later date. Needless to say, I’m anxious to see the results!

    Each time my world has unexpectedly turned upside down, I’ve made a conscientious decision- don’t be bitter, ugly or angry, but learn from these experiences- think, experiment, stretch, reach and grow. Hey, after all, you ain’t got much to lose and everything to gain! This is so key in not only surviving a crisis but overcoming it with a smile on your face and success in your hand.

  • Matthew

    Actually that study is from J. Short, to be clear the 9 DVDs worth of “DATA” is 9 DVD’s worth of “MEDIA” OUTSIDE OF WORK. Quote: “These estimates are from an analysis of more than 30 different sources of media data, ranging from traditional media (TV, Radio, Voice telephony) to new digital sources (tablet computers, mobile gaming devices, smartphones, mobile video). Media consumed while at work is not included.” In other words, if it were “ALL DATA” (not limited to media) it would be substantially MORE than 9 DVDs worth.

    • The link is in the WSJ article I’ve linked above. Thanks of the clarification Matthew. Sounds like living in todays culture is even WORSE than we thought… :-)

  • Angie

    This a great article and a great perspective, Phil! Especially as parents we try to protect our children from things and give them the life we never have. But it is truly remarkable the way God can use crisis to strengthen our character, grit, and creativity. I had a somewhat tumultuous childhood and wrote a 232-page science fiction fantasy novel when I was in grades 6 and 7. I would say most definitely the divorce and drama in my household fueled a need for me to escape through writing and creativity.

  • L Kiser

    I like the idea of making breakfast in the wrong order to stimulate creativity. It’s good to keep in mind that too much crisis can be very toxic. Crisis has completely shut down millions of people’s creativity by crushing or worse… killing them. Getting creative about crisis isn’t always a good thing.