Don’t Look Now, Our Creativity is Leaking

Portions of this post are based on excerpts from the book by Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis. We spend an awful lot of time consuming digital media, lest we get easily bored. A recent study looked at what happens to a bored mind without easy access to media?

The Canadian neuroscientist James Danckert recruited some volunteers and put them into a neuroimaging scanner, and induced them into a mood of being bored They had them watch two guys hanging laundry for eight minutes. You could say they were bored out of their gords!

While bored, a part of their brains called the “default mode network” fired on. It’s a network of brain regions that activates when we’re unfocused, when our mind is off and wandering. Mind wandering is a rest state that restores and rebuilds the resources needed to work better and more efficiently when we’re focused on the outside world.

Mind wandering is also a key driver of creativity, which is why other studies have found that bored people score significantly higher on creativity tests. Research dating back to the 1950s may explain why we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.”

If I didn’t already know this was a 1950’s Classroom, I would have guessed it. Has that look and feel – BTW, where are the little girls?

Ellis Paul Torrance was an American psychologist. In the 1950s he noticed something off target about American classrooms. Teachers tended to prefer the subdued, book-smart kids. They didn’t much care for the kids who had tons of energy and big ideas. Kids who’d think up odd interpretations of readings, inventive excuses for why they didn’t do their homework, and morph into mad scientists every lab day.

The system deemed these kids “bad.” But Torrance felt they were misunderstood. Because if a problem comes up in the real world, all the book-smart kids look for an answer in … a book. But what if the answer isn’t in a book? Then a person needs to get creative.

He thus devoted his life to studying creativity and its uses for good. In 1958 he developed the “Torrance Test.” It’s since become the gold standard for gauging creativity. The TTCT (Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking) assess how creatively a child’s mind works and are often given to children to determine advanced placement or as part of an entrance examination. Instead of traditionally taught subjects such as reading or math, these tests assess creativity. Children are scored on a number of aspects, including:

  • Creative titles for pictures
  • Expressions
  • Imagery
  • and Humor

He had a large group of children in the Minnesota public school system take the exam. It includes exercises like showing a kid a toy and asking her, “how would you improve this toy to make it more fun?”

Torrance analyzed all the kids’ scores. He then tracked every accomplishment the kids earned across their lives, until he died in 2003, when his colleagues took on the job. If one of the kids wrote a book, he’d mark it; if a kid founded a business, he’d mark it; if a kid submitted a patent, he’d mark it. Every achievement was logged. What he found raises big questions about how we judge intelligence.

The kids who came up with more, better ideas in the initial tests were the ones who became the most accomplished adults. They were successful inventors and architects, CEOs and college presidents, authors and diplomats, etc.

Torrance testing, in fact, bests IQ testing so much so that a recent study of Torrance’s Kids found that creativity was a threefold better predictor of much of the students’ accomplishment compared to their IQ scores.

Now, according to Easter, we’ve killed off one of the main drivers of creativity: mind wandering. The result? A researcher at the University of William and Mary analyzed 300,000 Torrance Test scores since the 50s. She found that creativity scores began to nosedive in 1990.

She concluded that we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.” The scientist blames our hurried, over-scheduled lives and “ever increasing amounts of time interacting with electronic entertainment devices.”

And that’s bad news. Particularly when we consider that creativity is a critical skill in today’s economy, where most of us work with our brains rather than brawn.

Despite what productivity gurus will have us believe, the key to improving creativity might be to occasionally do nothing at all. Or, at least, not dive into a screen. We’ll think distinctly, in a way that delivers more original ideas.

Yet, ironically, society’s tech giants still deliver more advanced software to supposedly aid us in our creativity, while holding us increasingly captive. A proper balance has yet to be realized. And may not ever.

While it may sound silly, occasionally doing nothing works. At least for me, it does. Of course, my body may not be doing anything but my mind is usually traveling at warp speed. It’s usually during these times that I let my mental forces do what they’ll do. More times than not, they produce . . . an idea . . . several ideas . . . a partial script . . . something to which I can apply time-in-the-future to develop.

Boredom is just one evolutionary discomfort we’ve lost from our lives. Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis, investigates nine others, covering what happens to our bodies, minds, and sense of self without them—and the benefits we can reap by reintroducing these evolutionary discomforts into our lives.

Seth Godin on Creativity

“To count, it needs to ship,” Seth Godin.

Whatever you end up creating, for it to count, it needs to ship. Ship in the sense that it needs to be published, displayed, lectured, drawn, invented, etc. Whatever you create needs exposure.

If you’re not that familiar with Seth or his myriad of work, go explore Seth’s site. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ve been following Seth’s podcast, Akimbo, for several years now and find it quite nourishing. I also subscribe to his emails. How he does this 365 days of the year, I’ll never know.

But, I’m glad he does.

So take a listen below to Seth’s take on Creativity if you haven’t already. Once done, choose to create something.

Then ship it!

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Special Edition: Creativity Mastermind, Father of Lateral Thinking Edward de Bono Has Died

I couldn’t let the week go by without a Tip-o-the (Six) Hats to the truly creative wizard I had the pleasure of meeting back in 2005 at an international creativity conference.

Creative thinker Edward de Bono has died less than a month after celebrating his 88th birthday. De Bono died last Wednesday morning and the news of his passing was announced by his family. 

I really didn’t know anything about him before I met him at this conference in Austin, Texas. He was one of the featured panelists at the conference and, one could argue, probably the most famous. He was also unassuming as he sat there on the panel giving out advice and counsel based on his many books, especially Six Hats.

Edward de Bono photo: Roy Zhao

That’s one of several he autographed for me as we visited for a brief bit following his presentation.

Born in Malta, De Bono graduated as a doctor but went on to study psychology and physiology from where he developed an interest in thinking processes.

He fathered the phrase lateral thinking, which has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, and developed multiple thinking strategies, including the Six Thinking Hats method.

In a statement, his family described de Bono as a global citizen, who returned to Malta in his final years.

“This has always been his home. He lived an extraordinary life, inspiring, encouraging and enabling all of us to be better and more creative thinkers. He wrote in his book The Mechanism of Mind: ‘A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.’ May the memory of Edward live on and inspire many future generations,” the family said.

De Bono received his initial education at St Edward’s College and the Royal University of Malta, where he achieved a degree in medicine. Then as a Rhodes Scholar at Christchurch, Oxford, where he gained a degree in psychology and physiology and a D.Phil. in medicine.

He holds a PhD from Cambridge, a DDes from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and a LLD from Dundee. He has had faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard. 

Thanks to the World Creativity and Innovation Week/Day

He has written over 60 books and programs, with translations into 43 languages, has been invited to lecture in 58 countries and has made three television series. Included among these 60 books are Serious Creativity, Creativity Workout, and Handbook for the Positive Revolution, all now displayed in my library with his autograph.

His ideas have been sought by governments, not for profit organizations and many of the leading corporations in the world, such as IBM, Boeing, Nokia, Siemens, 3M, GM, Kraft, Nestle, Du Pont, Prudential, Shell, Bosch, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young and others.

The global consultancy, Accenture, chose him as one of the fifty most influential business thinkers. In a 2004 interview with MaltaToday, de Bono even proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he launched his thinking centre in Malta.

In 1994, de Bono was made an officer of the National Order of Merit by the President of Malta.

Thanks to Kurt Sanson of MaltaToday for material upon which this blog is based.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Rising from the Ashes

A Macabre Tale of the Dearly Departed

I’m sort of numb, sitting in Pam’s huge, upholstered easy chair just staring into space. It’s only been a few weeks since she died and here I am staring at the forlorn-looking black box that the funeral home delivered containing her ashes.

I’m scared to open it. I’ve never even seen someone’s ashes before. Not sure what to expect.

I sit. I stare. I wonder. I need a drink! Maybe two!!

After I return with my Jack Daniel’s on-the-rocks, I put the glass down and notice some liquid residue evidently left over from a glass no longer sitting here on the coffee table. I just mutter to myself that I’ll wipe it up later.

I take a sip of Jack, replace the glass on the table and reach for the black box to open it. Opening is no problem but I see that the bag inside is tightly tied so as to prevent spillage of the ashes.

Or so I thought.

When I lifted the bag from its container and began to remove it from the box, it began to slip from my hand and spill out onto the table. Evidently, the bag was not as securely tied as I was led to believe.

Though startled, and slightly embarrassed, even though there’s no one else home, I quickly apologized to Pam for having accidentally spilled some of her ashes. When I began to wipe up the ashes from the table, I noticed some weird reaction start to take place with those ashes.

It seems that some of them spilled precisely where some liquid remained from a few drinks ago.

I sat there mesmerized as I watched some chemical reaction taking place with the spilled ashes and liquid. To my amazement, it seemed as if some sort of figure was beginning to form.

A blob. Unrecognizable. But then, my God, it’s transforming right before my eyes into . . . a . . . person.

Pamela’s Voice imagerpy from The Night Gallery

I watch, amazed, not knowing what, if anything, to do. I am utterly transfixed on what is happening right before me. Then to my astonishment, it stands there and speaks, “Hi Joe!”

“It” is Pam, and I faint.

ii

“Uh, Joe,” she says. “It’s me, Pam, I think, though I’m not sure how I got here. It’s kinda fuzzy to me.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I muttered, slowly beginning to regain consciousness.

“Do you remember dying?,” I asked. “You know, you really screwed up my day, not to mention yours!,” I stated as flatly sarcastic as I could.

“I don’t know. I mean, I remember laying on the bed, semi-asleep and then, well, nothing. It’s as if everything went black,” she said.

“I don’t want to dwell on your death, Pam. I’m still in some kind of shock. It was I who discovered you, thank you very much,” I said.

“That moment was my worst nightmare come true,” I retorted.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t exactly plan it that way,” she said. “But enough of this! How the hell did I get back here and what am I doing in our living room?”, she asked.

“Well, I was handling your bag of ashes and they slipped out of my hands with some spilling into a little residue of liquid there on the table. The mixture began some sort of chemical reaction and the next thing I know, you formed into, uh, you” I explained.

“You mean I was sort of resurrected from my ashes?,” she blurted out.

“That’s pretty much it,” I said.

“Well, that explains the gritty taste in my mouth,” she said as she sort of spit out some sandy-like substance.

“Why are you looking at me that way?” she asked.

“It’s not everyday, Pam, that I bring the dead back to life!” I said. “And,” as I stumbled for words, “you’re much younger looking than when you died,” I explained. “You look like you did when we first met, about 30 years ago!” I confessed.

“Maybe your appearance has something to do with your transformation,” I offered. “Whatever the explanation, I’m glad it has taken place” I admitted.

Evidently, unknown to me at the time, the mixing of the liquid with ashes that produced the chemical reaction also transformed the liquid somehow to create a person. This has resulted in forming a human, in this case, Pam, as I recall her from when we first met.

Oh, man, do I have questions, I thought. Does simply mixing a little of the ashes with any liquid produce this magical transformation to a “living being?” Is this magical elixir the solution for bringing the dead back to life?

“Pam, why don’t we take a little walk outside and get some fresh air? You’ve been bagged and bottled up for too long,” I suggested.

She agreed and off we went. However, as soon as we began to walk out the front door, she screamed in agony. We both immediately stopped and I looked down in horror.

She had begun to disappear!

iii

Her feet and ankles were dissolving and were starting to leave behind some dust reside. Thinking quickly in almost a reactive sort of way, I grabbed hold of her and immediately yanked her entire body back inside the house.

Within moments, thankfully, the shape of both feet and ankles began to return to normal appearance.

“Whew, thank God,” I exclaimed in shortness of breath. I was still holding on to her and sort of afraid to let her go. We eventually made it back to the living room where we both sat down in utter relief, she on the table and me in her overgrown chair.

“What the hell was that all about,” she screamed. “I started to disappear,” she said.

“Yeah, I know” I said. “I have a theory,” I suggested.

“Perhaps once the person leaves the house or the dwelling she occupies, she begins to dissolve and then disintegrates. In other words, she can’t venture outside or else she returns to dust or ashes in your case,” I theorized.

“You mean I can’t go outside or physically leave this house?,” she exclaimed.

“Not this way,” I said.

“Damn!” she retorted.

“Well, after all, you’re dead, remember?” I told her.

“As you have said on more than one occasion, my dear Joe, ‘minor little detail!'” she deadpanned.

iv

My now-growing list of questions boggles my mind: Is this chemical reaction trick a way of always producing Pam whenever I wish? Even though this creation is evidently limited to exist within the boundaries of my home, is that enough to satisfy me or to counter my longing for her? Could I bring her back in a different setting if I began the process from a different locale?

NightGalleryArtMinds

I have no clue at this point. The quest for clarification is now upon me. Where will it lead? Am I flirting with another dimension? Where is Rod Serling when you need him?

I think I’ll pour me another Jack Daniel’s and sit, contemplate . . . and chat with Pam.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

They’re Baaaaaaaaaaackkkkkk! Quotes, That Is!

I think Calvin’s been watching The Twilight Zone.

It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover. To know how to criticize is good, to know how to create is better. – Poincaré

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things. – Bruce Barton, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

A good ad should be like a good sermon: It must not only comfort the afflicted, it also must afflict the comfortable. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

I have learned that trying to guess what the boss or the client wants is the most debilitating of all influences in the creation of good advertising. – Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make. – William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Fun without sell gets nowhere, but sell without fun tends to become obnoxious. – Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will. – George Bernard Shaw

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Campaign From Gillette Venus Features Singing Pubic Hair

My my, what will they think of next? I learned something . . . that, evidently, a pubic hair can sing! I did not realize that. What else did I not realize, Gillette?

Now, I know what you must be thinking: “What in the hell kind of blog post is this?!” It’s, uh, well, different.

This blog sets out each week to present thoughts and ideas about various aspects of creativity; those that touch directly on advertising and those that do not. This is one that does.

According to AdAge, marketers increasingly have dared to defy traditional taboos when it comes to personal care, as we’ve seen in more pushes around menstruationbreastfeeding and grooming. In the case of the latter, brands such as Billie razors and Veet razors have given the thumbs up to having hair wherever you want it, while EOS recently celebrated a TikTok creator who has been teaching her fans the best way to shave their lady parts. Now, Gillette Venus is jumping into the bikini line fray by encouraging consumers to “say pubic.”

The centerpiece of the campaign from Grey is an animated film starring a singing pubic hair. Yes, you heard me right.

“Hi, I’m a pube!” she announces before breaking into a Broadway-style tune, singing of her plight as a lowly, gnarly curl, hoping to be treated like her colleagues who spring forth from other parts of the body.  As the tune ramps up, she’s joined by other pubettes in a Busby Berkeley-style routine. 

For those of you unable to log into the AdAge site to view the animation, here are the lyrics to Gillette’s latest.

I’m just a pube, and it’s not fair.
All I ever wished to be was just another hair
But when they got one look at me
The ruling from society was “Ewww”
“Not you!”
Oh what’s a curl to do
It seems like all the ads are showing perfect skin and shiny hair
But what about this other world inside your underwear?
It’s ok to say our name
You really can say pubic
No need to be ashamed
It’s even kind of therapeutic
Why the mass hysteria about the pubic area?
There’s nothing diabolical about this little follicle
So take care of us, your pubic hair
If you trim, or you shave or you’re bare down there
Whichever way’s your way
It’s all okayyyyyyyyy
Yes, it’s okay!

Another push encouraging consumers to be at ease with body parts and bodily functions

The campaign aims to normalize conversation around body parts like the pubic area to make women feel more comfortable about grooming there. “Because pubic is not a dirty word, and your pubic hair and skin deserve its own care,” the brand said in a statement.

Gillette Venus had conducted a female consumer survey about the use of anatomical terms such as “pubic.” It found that nearly half of them believed it feels more accurate to use such terms yet only 18% are actually using them. More than half, 56%, said they wished there were more accurate imagery and descriptions in media of women grooming in the pubic region.

The campaign playfully addresses the issue, while the Gillette Venus site promoting the products also features imagery of a diverse range of women shaving their bikini lines. The packaging too, features the words “pubic hair.” Along with the video, the effort includes a TikTok component inviting others to sing “The Pube Song.”

“With over two decades of research and scientific development in women’s hair and skin under our belt, literally, we know that grooming means something different to every woman,” said MyAnh Nghiem, Gillette Venus communications director in the statement. “Our new collection not only offers women more options for pubic grooming than we ever have before, but starts a new conversation about using language that accurately and respectfully represents the female body.”

Okay, okay, some of you may already be saying, “Enough is enough!” You gotta admit, though, advertising ain’t boring (well, alright, some of it is; some of it is even dreadful). This spot tries to be educational, informative, and entertaining, I guess, if not a little quirky. Frankly, if you didn’t realize the animated curl was in fact a pubic hair, I’m not sure that you’d figure it out based solely on looks.

What will they think of next? Uh, I’d really rather not think about it.

Depression, Creativity and Leadership-Part 2

In Part 1 it was suggested that dwelling on repetitive thoughts can lead to useful reasoning and help with problem-solving. Another suggestion is that a depressed person may have a more realistic assessment of a situation. However, there are little data to support the notion that these cognitive features of major depression may aid in problem solving or creativity.

Previously, the example of Abraham Lincoln was used to raise the question as to whether he rose to greatness in spite of his apparent depression or alternatively was in some way aided by it. In reviewing arguments in favor of depression contributing to creativity or leadership, it was suggested that there are a number of challenges to the evolutionary viewpoint that depression might have desirable qualities.

Here in Part 2, again adapted from an article in Psychology Today, at least two kinds of cognitive traits have been taken to support some positive aspects of depression. They suggest that either the ruminations typical of depression, or a potentially more realistic assessment of situations, may have value in problem-solving.

Potential value of repetitive thoughts . . .

The notion that dwelling on repetitive thoughts may be useful has recently gained support from a study showing changes in brain networks associated with this activity (1). The “analytical rumination hypothesis” suggests that ruminations can lead to useful reasoning, first in a causal analysis and then in a problem-solving analysis. The implication is that ruminations can help a person come up with explanations and solutions for an unhappy event.

Counter-arguments would be that this view works best when depression seems tied to a particular trauma, and may more likely be a healthy response in a person who is sad after a specific upset; it is less clear how it might work in seemingly paralyzing severe depression, chronic depression, post-stroke depression, or mood disorders of old age (3).

Among those who study evolutionary psychology, there is an even split over whether rumination is adaptive; it suggests that supporters are more likely to be non-clinicians, while clinicians, who have witnessed patients who seem stuck in ongoing non-constructive circular thinking, are more skeptical (4).

We need bear in mind the distinction between sadness, and major depression, in which a despondent mood dominates one’s life for at least two weeks, and is associated with decreased functioning, cognitive changes, and a host of physical symptoms.

It might be that ruminations are more likely to be useful when one is sad, but that in major depression they are more likely to be circular and non-constructive. In major depression ruminations might be part of a constellation of cognitive changes which are generally unhelpful, like alterations in memoryattention and decision-making.

Realistic assessment of situations

A second argument as to how depression might be adaptive suggests that persons with depression benefit from what is known as “depressive realism.” In one often-cited study, depressed and non-depressed students were given problems on a computer and asked to what degree they felt their actions were related to a light flashing on the screen.

Non-depressed subjects tended to overestimate their responsibility when light flashing was frequent and considered desirable, and to underestimate it when lights were considered undesirable. Depressed persons had much more realistic assessments of the degree to which their actions were responsible for the lights flashing (5).

The degree to which depressive realism could play a role is not firmly established. One large analysis of available studies concluded that overall there was “a small depressive realism effect.” On the other hand, the authors noted that the findings were more likely to be positive in studies that lacked objective measures of realism and relied more on self-report (6).

In summary, reaching back to part 1 of this two-part series, depression’s ubiquity does not necessarily argue that evolution has favored it as an advantageous trait. Though it is an attractive idea, modern studies have had mixed results on whether there is a relationship between major depression and creativity.

The hypothesis that ruminations in depression lead to problem-solving is controversial, and may be of limited applicability. A second notion is depressive realism, but its effect is small and whether it is seen at all is highly dependent on the methodology of the studies.

It’s important to distinguish between sadness or depressed feelings in response to specific difficult experiences, and major depressive disorders. It seems possible that we have a built-in response to specific difficult experiences which sometimes can be of help in assessing problems and leading to solutions.

It also seems possible that some people such as Lincoln found ways to harness their distress and use it to spur a drive for achievement. But this is different from arguing that major depression is an often helpful state, or that any possible upside compensates for the suffering it involves.

As for me, my bouts with depression would have to produce a significant upside to adequately compensate for what I go through to get back to a state of normalcy. Thus far, only time, positive thought and medication help me get out of the clutches of depression. While in those clutches, however, I trust I don’t lose access to my inherent creativity. We all have it and it can be amazing!

References

1. Zhang, R. et al.: Rumination network dysfunction in major depression: a brain connectome study. Prog. Neur-Psychopharmacol and Biol. Psychiat. 98, March 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2019.109819

3. Lehrer, J.: Comments by Peter Kramer in ‘Depression’s Upside’, New York Times, February 25, 2010.

4. Kennair L.E.O., Kleppestø T.H., Larsen S.M., Jørgensen B.E.G. (2017) Depression: Is Rumination Really Adaptive?. In: Shackelford T., Zeigler-Hill V. (eds) The Evolution of Psychopathology. Evolutionary Psychology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60576-0_3

5. L.B. Alloy and L.Y. Abramson: Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: sadder but wiser? J. Experimental Psychol. General 108: 441-485, 1979. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/528910/

6. Moore, M.T. and Fresco, D.M.: Depressive realism: a meta-analytic review. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 32: 496-509, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.05.004

Depression, Creativity and Leadership – Part 1

This post is adapted from an article in Psychology Today and is offered up so that we may understand more the relationship between creativity and depression.

The list of historical political and military figures who appear to have suffered from depression seems to be limitless, including such luminaries as Benjamin Disraeli and William T. Sherman, later notables such as Winston Churchill, writers over the decades (Ernest Hemingway, J.K. Rowling), and modern celebrities (Jim Carrey, Eminem, Anne Hathaway).

Articles about the possible relation of depression to success in politics or the arts have taken two general views—that these people were able to overcome their depression and go on to greatness, or alternatively that something about their mood disorder aided them in the process.

Abraham Lincoln’s tendency toward what was then called “melancholy” was well known by his neighbors in New Salem, Illinois. In his mid-twenties, after a woman to whom he felt close died of typhoid, he led an isolated life, spent long periods of time alone in the woods with his gun, and wrote gloomy poetry. Though he occasionally sought merriment with his friends, he confided to one colleague that his mood was such that he dared not carry a knife.

Five years later in 1840, the young politician was so troubled that neighbors removed all the razors and sharp objects from his home. He requested help from a doctor and at one point sought pharmacologic relief with various medicines including sedatives, camphor, and mercury-based “blue mass” pills (The latter, which he later discontinued, contained roughly 100 times the modern EPA guidelines for mercury). 

Feelings of failure and doom, as well as fatigue interspersed with agitation and thoughts of death haunted him his whole life, even as he struggled with the great issues of his day, presided over the greatest crisis in the country’s history, and ultimately saved his nation (1).

In my own experiences with depression, I have also felt fatigue and agitation and some subdued fear. I have never, however, felt so much despair as to take my own life. Most often I have this overall sense of not wanting to do anything of significance even though I realize I need to do so. I just don’t care.

Abraham Lincoln, by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1969/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Source: Abraham Lincoln, by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1969 / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

One article on Lincoln described three stages which he went through — fear, engagement, and transcendence — and argued that “Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering. Rather, it must be accounted an outgrowth of the same system that produced that suffering … Lincoln didn’t do great work because he solved the problem of his melancholy; the problem of his melancholy was all the more fuel for the fire of his great work” (1).

Is there something amidst the suffering of depression that might be of positive value and lead to achievement. Let’s look at the evidence associating depression with creativity and attainment, and the argument that the ubiquity and evolutionary persistence of depression suggest that it might be useful.

Depression and creativity

The seductive notion that a depressed mood is associated with greatness goes back at least as far as Aristotle, who believed that “Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy” (2). The notion of the “neuroticgenius” plagued by anxiety and depression continues to this day. Not surprisingly, it has generated more modern studies of a possible relationship, which interestingly, when excluding bipolar disorder, have sometimes been negative.

Psychiatrist Nancy Andreasen found “a higher rate of mental illness, predominantly affective disorder, with a tendency toward the bipolar subtype” in a group of 30 writers compared to controls (3). Alternatively, a study of 40 writers, 40 musicians, and a similar number of controls found no differences in measures of mental illness and stress (4).

A 2020 study found that artists were more likely to have vulnerabilities such as tendencies toward anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as resources such as ego-resilience and hope, compared to non-artists (5). Modern studies, then, have shown mixed results about the possible relationship of depression and creativity.

The evolutionary argument for depression

Even though many of the features of depression such as fatigue, decreased appetite, and libido would seem to have negative evolutionary value, some have argued that its ubiquity—major depression has a past-year prevalence of about seven percent of American adults—suggests some evolutionary benefits.

During my own bouts with depression, I have definitely been fatigued but my appetite has usually not waned. My erratic libido doesn’t seem to know how to act during my still-transitioning-grieving stage. While I am trying to move on from Pam’s death, my finger still seems to be on the pause button more than I would like.

According to the article, even if depression is associated with greater adaptivity, it may be that it is not depression per se, but some other unknown trait to which it is genetically linked. Or it could be that depression had some value in a past age or some specific situation that is now less applicable. In that sense it is similar to sickle cell disease in modern Western society. All in all, it should not be a foregone conclusion that the ubiquity of depression means that it has been favored by evolution.

This post has been adapted from an article in Psychology Today by Wallace Mendelson, M.D.

In part two, we’ll look at aspects of depression that have been claimed to be helpful—ruminations leading to problem-solving, and “depressive realism.” We’ll also look at possible cognitive mechanisms by which depression might help with motivation in achieving our goals. Focus will be on major depression and the clinical features of bipolar disorder.

Portions of this post are adapted from Molecules, Madness, and Malaria: How Victorian Dyes Evolved Into Modern Medicines for Mental Illness and Infectious Disease.

References

1. Shenk, J.W.: Lincoln’s great depression. The Atlantic, October 2005. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/  Accessed 2/28/21.

2. The Famous People: Enlightening quotes by Aristotle. https://quotes.thefamouspeople.com/aristotle-116.php  Accessed 2/28/21.

3. Andreasen, N.C.: Creativity and mental illness: prevalence rates in writers and their first-degree relatives. Am. J. Psychiat. 144: 1288-1292, 1987. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3499088/ Accessed 2/28/21.

A Few Last Quotes for Awhile

Well, as with any blog post, one tends to change one’s mind once in awhile. I had planned to begin a series of posts dealing with depression, among other topics, as it pertains to creativity. As I find myself not ready to do that yet, I went back to my vault of various quotes. Since I have only enough for one more post at this point in time, that’s what I’m posting this time out. Stay tuned.

Apparently on screen I look tall, ageless, close to  omniscient-delivering jeopardy-laden warnings through gritted teeth, but when people see me on the street, they say ‘this kid is 5 foot 5, he’s got a broken nose, and looks  as foreboding as a bank teller…’ Rod Serling.

The place to start in advertising is the basic selling appeal. An appeal that fulfills some existing need in the prospect’s mind, an appeal that can be readily understood and believed. – Morris Hite, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan, philosopher 

I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one. Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been. – Alan Alda

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow. – Robert H. Goddard

Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected. – William Palmer

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.  Bruce Barton, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

It’s kind of a strange, backslapping ritual that we go through in this town where you get awards for almost everything. For surviving the day you’re going to get awards. So I can’t suggest that those things represent any pinnacle of achievement. – Serling from #Oscars #AcademyAwards

Curious, Memorable, Unsettling, Quirky, Quixotic and Quotable Quotes

My Quotes blog posts have proven quite popular and, thus, I offer up another version. I also offer up a side note to say that some future posts will cover some rather serious posts on psychological aspects of creativity and where the industry may be heading amidst the pandemic in which we still are engaged. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow often says, “watch this space.”

Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it at the bud.  Alex Osborn, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level. William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Stabbing little thoughts gouge my brain. Ugly, frightened thoughts. Projections of tomorrow and the next day. Twilight Zone’s “The Hitch-Hiker” by Rod Serling stars Inger Stevens

Rules are for people who don’t know what to do. Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

I don’t like closed doors. Creativity flourishes best in an environment of open doors and open minds. Keith Reinhard, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is. Fairfax Cone, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

We don’t grow unless we take risks. Any successful company is riddled with failures. James E. Burke, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Anyone who thinks that people can be fooled or pushed around has an inaccurate and pretty low estimate of people — and he won’t do very well in advertising. Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Most writers, you go up to them and say you’ve got an idea, they reply, ‘You do the acting, kid, and we’ll do the writing.’ Not Rod. You go up to him with a suggestion, he gets the pencil out and starts writing.  — Earl Holliman, star of Twilight Zone’s “Where is Everybody?”