By: Gerry Hofstede
A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Apurimac, a vast, very poor and remote area of Peru. Situated in the heart of the Andes, the encounter with its majestic mountains was overwhelming, their beauty astounding. I could immediately relate to the Andean belief that mountains are deities, commonly referred to as the Apus. ‘Where the gods speak’ is the meaning of Apurimac in the local Quechua language. Mesmerized by this force of nature, the mere size of the mountains evoked an almost irresistible sensation in me to make a deep bow of gratitude. And then I remembered the Andean custom where people render their offerings of produce to the Apus as a gesture of gratitude for prosperity in life.
I had travelled to Apurimac to conduct a design & jewelry making workshop with a group of 30 women artisans. We were going to use a material that was abundantly available in their locality: copper. They had not worked with copper before. I soon realized that there was another local resource available in abundance, namely: creativity. The innovative drive of the women was awesome and quite remarkable, their exposure to ‘the outside world’ had not gone beyond visiting the nearest small town and internet was scarce. With little external stimuli, they explored working with this novel material, eagerly applying new techniques and making their own designs. It was as if in their minds they were travelling, stretching their imagination and enjoying it. The ingenuity of these craftswomen left an impact on me.
When I enrolled in the first CIC (Creativity, Innovation & Change) Coursera course and learned about the concept of creative diversity, I felt a pinch of awe, sort of like an aha moment. What a beautiful insight: creativity is not for a few lucky souls; all people are born creative. We are not creative in the same way though and express creativity in diverse forms. Creative diversity is manifested through differences in creative levels, creative styles, opportunity and motive. I became instantly intrigued by creative diversity. And I recalled the Apurimac experience. With strong innate creative capabilities, the women artisans had seized the opportunity of the workshop to expand their horizons, motivated as they were to acquire new skills that improved their creative levels. This made the distinct creative style of each one of them stand out more.
I signed up for the CIC course without giving it much thought. The three words: creativity, innovation & change sufficed to know that it was my kind of course. After all, these three words sort of described my life in a nutshell. Did I like creativity? I loved it and practiced it every day through my social design work. Did I like innovation & change? I lived it and quite boldly so, both professionally and personally. Little had I imagined that CIC would have a personal impact. Even though the course outline mentioned that CIC was also a journey of self-exploration, I had not paid attention to that detail and did not have much of an idea what that personal change might be. As a creative person cum change maker, my course expectations were more along the lines of fine-tuning some project ideas.
To my surprise though, I started reflecting on my own mindset and how, unknowingly, I may have had some preconceived ideas about creativity and innovation. Before the CIC course and in my mind, I used to divide the world into creative types and non-creative types. During workshops and other joint endeavors, I would quickly ‘spot’ who were the creative participants and who were the not so creative ones, at least in my criterion. I admittedly was also prone to classifying people into a ‘resistant to change’ category. The realization that people have different creative styles and especially that they perceive change differently, triggered a shift in my own perceptions. It made me aware that I had been seeing through my own, somewhat preconceived lens and by doing so, I had (unconsciously) not maximized the creative potential of people at various occasions. This was a key insight that made me rethink my approach in pursuing collaborative designer craft processes.
CIC deepened my understanding of creativity, innovation & change processes. More specifically, it influenced my own orientation towards change by realizing that any change starts with opening up one’s own attitude and challenging one’s own mindset; it is actually a process from the inside out. I am grateful for this personal transformation. It has made me quite keen to bringing out ‘the creative best’ in the people I work and associate with. Creativity is both a personal asset and at the same time a collective resource, and it is most exciting to explore ways to making it grow and flourish. In my case, I embrace this challenge through further innovations in the field of participatory design and craft collaborations.
During the Apurimac workshop, children of the participating women artisans would flock in, curious to help their mothers fabricate something. So was this eleven year old boy who would join his Mom every day. I had small conversations with him about his motivations and interests in life. The boy turned out to be a big reward of my training. He told me that all along he had thought of becoming an odontologist. This workshop experience had given rise to a new dream of becoming a designer; he found out that his passion in life was to create. This boy crossed my mind during the CIC course because of what he so eloquently had demonstrated: creativity, innovation & change is about discovering and seeing new possibilities. And the art of envisioning starts with igniting one’s heart. This is what makes the creativity process an intrinsically empowering process.
With creativity, the subject matter does not matter, as long as there is heart in the matter! I suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to express my gratitude for the CIC journey by paying it forward. I must find a way to go back to Apurimac and other places; this time on a more deliberate quest to contextualize creative diversity and exploring ways to tap into people’s unique creativity and connect their creative treasures. I originally set out the CIC journey with a motive of fine-tuning some project ideas. Now, upon completion of the course, my motive has grown and I am taking on a much larger journey of creating more abundance.
This story has turned out to be a personal journey after all, and it is just beginning.