Think Outside the Box: Cultivating Creativity

IMG_1105This weekend I learned some important new terms by taking a nose-dive into the rabbit-hole of an “alternative, non-repressive, nontraditional, self-governing cultural creativity community,” aka Smoke Farm’s Lo-Fi Arts Festival in the Misty Mountains (Northern Cascades/Jack Kerouac lookout tower territory) of Washington State. It’s variously described as being a soggy, slug-infested PNW version of Woodstock or Burning Man, or a hangover from Hempfest. I learned “hipster hobo” and what it looks like and that “GP” seems to have replaced “The Man” in these hipster hobo arty circles, as in “Tomorrow the GP will be coming so be prepared!” That’s almost a direct fireside chat quote from one of their leaders (who works at Microsoft curiously enough). I inappropriately laughed when he said that, thinking of the famous Far Side cartoon where the ‘natives’ say something like ‘quick, hide the TV, here come the anthropologists!”

But they were very welcoming, friendly people who fed me an amazing dinner, gave me a message in a tiny bottle, read my fortune with melted crayons, let me stay overnight on their ‘farm’ in my tent, and exposed me to some young ‘alternative artists’ and their work. I am grateful for all of that. Plus they gave me space to try a new type of writing (lyric essay) and a very different venue for reading my writing: in a grove of mature Douglas firs next to a rock statue of Pan, the skeleton of a kayak suspended in the air on stilts with a curtain of white river rocks tied on strings hanging from it, and a man named Nikoli drumming softly on the nearby hillside. My essay, appropriately enough, was entitled “Degree of Latitude.” This was all a decidedly ‘thinking (and being) outside the box’ experience, a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas (or the University) anymore” sort of thing.

It got me thinking about how little to no time we spend cultivating creativity within our healthcare professions education or practice. Where in our educational system or healthcare environments do we reward curiosity, nontraditional thinking patterns, exploration of new territory, and risk-taking? In my experience we work hard to educate people out of creativity, so it either gets completely extinguished or it goes underground, gets re-directed into hobbies or second (secret) careers. Higher-level complex thinking involves creativity, flexible or divergent thinking, and most people acknowledge that this is sorely missing from our healthcare endeavors. Creativity–like empathy–can’t be taught, but it can be cultivated, it can be incubated and rewarded. It seems as if narrative medicine tries to sneak creativity, or at least an appreciation of creativity, in the back door. But we need more ways of doing this. Ideas anyone?