Creativity is unique for everyone in its expression, process, and manifestation. Through conversations with people across demographics, generations, and cultures, creativity researcher Debbi Ponella explores how individuals relate to, embrace or exclude, and define creativity in their lives.
A Technical Executive—Scientist—Author—Lifelong Classical Musician's Definition of Creativity
Jonathan Phillips combines his expertise as a scientist and as classically trained violist in creativity that permeates all aspects of his life. He explains, "I'm motivated by natural curiosity, my love of creative people and ideas, and my spiritual foundation."
In this episode of the Defining Creativity Podcast, Jonathan shares insight about his journey from Kodak to Google and ultimately to his current position as VP of Imaging Science at Imatest and how his profession has progressed.
“Even before we called [them] digital cameras and digital photography, it was electronic still imaging I believe was the term that was used, so even the terminologies and how we describe technology changes over time. So, moving from the very chemical based imaging to the fully digital based imaging has been the pathway that I’ve been on which naturally leads to learning and creativity and innovation.”
Jonathan is an author of "Camera Image Quality Benchmarking”
Follow Jonathan on LinkedIn
A Musical Director of Musical Theatre at Indiana University—Broadway Conductor and Pianist's Definition of Creativity with Terry LaBolt
Terry LaBolt is featured in this week's episode during which he discusses creativity in his life from childhood to Broadway and Carol Channing to Indiana University (IU). Influences for the development of Terry's creativity came from diverse experiences, a significant one being exposure to Schoenberg's String Quartets performed by the LaSalle Quartet while at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM):
“In my tenure at the Cincinnati Conservatory, there was a string quartet called the LaSalle Quartet and at the time I was in school, they were recording the complete Schoenberg String Quartets for Deutsche Grammophon… every semester there was a recital where they would try out a Schoenberg Quartet. So three times a year I would go and hear the LaSalle Quartet play Schoenberg… and the Schoenberg was tough for a year or a year and a half, and my ear started to expand and, instead of just hearing... what you might think of as like Tertian harmony or traditional harmony, I started opening up to just listening for events and not listening for a chord to resolve or an 'amen' cadence and to just enjoy wherever it was headed."
Another source of learning at CCM was Terry's peers:
“A lot of my creative thinking came from sitting around with my classmates talking about how we play and how we think and how we interpret, how we remember, how we forget… you know, just analyzing, analyzing, analyzing to a ridiculous degree, but it did change me. All of that information changed me.”
While living in New York City in his early 20s, Terry took advantage of museums such as the Guggenheim, expanding his appreciation of abstract art and thinking. His work on Broadway and beyond included a significant amount with Carol Channing:
“My primary employer was Carol Channing, and [she] would say… ‘I love it because you’re the first person who conducts it the same every time’ and really I was the first person who did it differently every time, because I knew exactly what she needed all the time. I knew from the way that she walked on stage and how many times that she blinked her eyes in a minute; I knew how fast she needed to go. And, these are minor adjustments I would make. It wasn’t something that would throw the whole show off, but… I would just conform the show to her.”
Terry generously shares his expertise and experiences with students, most recently at the IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. His creativity goes beyond music, informing relationships and interactions through flexibility, listening skills, and openness allowing him to engage students and colleagues as well:
“I always have to know with who I’m dealing with—whether it’s a student or a colleague or people in a show—I have to kind of know where they are. If I don’t have students’ attention in class, my first thought is I’m not engaging them; they’re not being bad. It’s always like, ‘What am I doing that’s making them check out?’ And, I would say the same with my colleagues. So I’m kind of hyper-aware of where other people are all the time and I’m making adjustments.”
“There’s success and there’s achievement and that gets very confused for a lot of people… With my students, I really try hard to get them to understand the difference because most of them are people who have wanted to get the best grade on the test and who have wanted to know what the teacher wants and do all those things and I’m included in that. We equate achievement with happiness and really we shouldn’t do that. We can equate success with happiness, but success is not like a job or a salary, it’s a personal thing. It’s ‘Did I do my best?’ and so forth, not ‘Did I get this? Am I #1?’ all those things. That helps students be creative when they realize, ‘How can I do my best?’ instead of “What do they want?’ That’s a huge thing. That’s a goal that I have for each of them.
An Investment Advisor Representative—Civil Air Patrol Pilot's Definition of Creativity with Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb embraces creativity in a variety of ways. Acknowledging that creativity in his profession of investment advisor can be problematic, Malcolm channels his creativity into understanding and communicating with his clients. Similarly, being a pilot and much of his Civil Air Patrol duties do not lend themselves to creative manipulation, but he finds a creative outlet in the instruction of cadets.
Malcolm discusses the impact of his interior designer mother and musician father in his cultivation of creativity:
“I became fascinated with the process [interior decorating] and [my mom’s] ability to see something in her mind that we didn’t see, and I tried to develop that...”
Another impactful personality with whom he interacted growing up was Leonard Bernstein. One remembrance Malcolm shares is the following:
“Charlie [Malcolm’s brother] was listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire, and he said to Mr. Bernstein, ‘It’s just rock music’ and I’ll never forget, Leonard Bernstein looked at him and said, ‘Yes, but is it good rock music?’ Now, that question expanded my thinking in a way that had not been done before, because I was young and I had not thought of rock music in terms of quality and now I did. With that one question, I did. Charlie’s answer, incidentally, was, ‘Well, it’s Earth Wind, and Fire,’ and he said, ‘That is good rock music.’”
An tribute to the relationship of Malcolm's family with Leonard Bernstein can be found in the movement VII of Bernstein's "Arias and Barcarolles" entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Webb Say Goodnight" in which Malcolm and his brother, Kent, are part of the dialogue as the soprano sings: "Boys! Stop that noise! Malcolm, Kent, cut the noise!"
Listen to a recording by the San Francisco Symphony here.
A Social Work Program Director—Social Worker—Teacher of Social Workers' Definition of Creativity
Carlene Quinn is the BSW Program Coordinator for the Indiana University School of Social Work in addition to her roles as social worker and teacher of social workers. She makes a strong case for how creativity is immersed in every aspect of social work. Additionally, she taps into creativity as an educator and both sees and appreciates it as well in others as well.
“A social worker can’t be a very binary thinker, right? We work heavily in the gray—the 90%. We’ve got 5% on one end of extremely wrong and 5% on the other extremely right. So being able to work in that gray space where a lot of folks aren’t comfortable, makes it easier for a person to feel seen heard and valued.”
“In education, creative expression—any form of it—can be channeled well and I think educators if, you know, you’ve got a kid that’s creative and their brain’s just always doing creative things like reading or doing art or making noises, making songs or… to channel that is better than to squelch it, because squelching it is just gonna teach them they have lousy ideas and that’s super unproductive for everybody and so hurtful.”
An Actor—Writer—Stand Up Comic—Improvisor—Freethinker's Definition of Creativity with Dev Meenagh
Dev Meenagh finds and embraces creativity in every aspect of life— from performing in various capacities and working with children to escape rooms and cosplay:
“I think that I kind of approach everything with this strong sense of wanting to know more, wanting to go deeper… and that ties into things like psychology. It ties into empathy. It’s all these little kind of feelings that I’ve always a sense for. And curiosity is a really big part of creativity, ‘cause creativity is all about an output and the input of that has to be a point of view, a psychological assessment, an idea, a feeling… There’s so much that you have to put into that. So, in my day-to-day life I’m just very curious... I’m very interested… and not just in things that would be described as typically interesting, but in the mundane—in things that are very quiet, in things that are very small, that just catch your attention because you think, there’s always more there. There’s always more going on… and not just with people, but things, like something like just staring at a cloud that looks a little bit different than all the other clouds. You know you can take things in from just anything, so just having a very open mind and open eyes.”
A Chief Sales Officer—Mom's Definition of Creativity with Brooke Ivey
Brooke Ivey, the Chief Sales Officer for a niche company in Jacksonville, FL that provides services to insurance companies, embraces the creativity she has cultivated her entire life. Her family has provided a multitude of examples for applying creativity—from vaudevillian grandparents, a trial attorney father with a job that necessitated publicly standing in front of people and delivering important concepts, and mother who was a 2nd grade teacher and elementary school principal, to her creatively inspiring husband and young daughter.
Proclaiming that everything she does is either telling stories or listening to people, Brooke understands the value and applies those skills to her job:
“Instead of just saying, ‘How do we find people who want to buy this product? [and] How do we find people who want to buy this service?’ (certainly the foundation of any sale)… We try to go beyond that though and say, ‘What are the problems out there that people have that we can solve? What needs are there in the market that we can solve? How do we become partners to people?’ and that’s, I think, really where business and creativity really meet oftentimes.”
She shares an encouraging outlook, not only in the positive and supportive way she is a leader, but also how she views changes in her industry:
“We seem to have come to an era of understanding where there is not only a willingness to say we value everyone’s voice, but to say in valuing everyone’s voice we have an obligation to make sure that voice is heard—not just to invite people to speak up and be a part of the conversation, but to make sure that they really are a part of the conversation and that’s really exciting to see for me.”