Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Nurturing Creativity with David Usher

I like to write, but I don’t do it much anymore.  It gets crowded out, pre-empted by other commitments, the spectre of fatalism, or simple laziness.  The session on Saturday night at Christ Church Cathedral called ‘Nurturing Creativity’ with David Usher (hosted by CBC’s Sandra Abma and in support of Usher’s recent book, Let the Elephants Run ) focused on how to foster creativity despite such barriers.


In discussion with Ms. Abma, Usher discussed the key points of his outlook on creativity.  It is innate in all of us, rather than the realm of a chosen few.  It is also, in multiple ways, a learnable skill requiring time and discipline to master.  Contemporary culture demands adaptability to constant change, particularly due to the advent of the Internet, and creativity is crucial to navigate this new world.  Creativity requires dreaming big (“letting the elephants run”) to generate good ideas rather than starting with what we perceive as achievable.  Creativity involves an approach that, to a large degree, transcends the subject matter.  Creating is “double-edged”, yielding great joys and great pains.


It was an enjoyable evening, with a good and encouraging vibe.  It was refreshing to hear time and again that creativity is in and for everyone, innate and waiting to be unlocked. It’s a cliché, but Usher’s example of watching children play does make it hard to deny.  It rang true that creating requires lots and lots of hard work, much of it uninspiring in itself, and that this labour must be accepted to pan out the creative gold.  And it raised a host of great questions.  Does Usher want to argue that, since creativity is innate, everyone is capable of being equally creative?  He referred at one point to creativity as one’s “competitive advantage”; does he view it primarily as a means to an economic end, or as valuable in itself?  I’m sufficiently interested to see him unpack such questions that I bought the book; we’ll see how he does.  Really, given the vastness of the subject, the event was all too brief.


There were some things worthy of critique too.  Given the limited time, performing four songs seemed excessive. I understand that the author is a rock star, but the evening was purportedly about the creative process rather than showcasing the talent of an established artist (I confess though, I thoroughly enjoyed the acoustic version of ‘Push’).  Usher was also short on detail, and lacked some clarity in his presentation.  Was this because he refused to take an algorithmic, “how-to” approach or (asks my inner cynic) because there were books to be sold?  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt; but again, time was short.  The host struck me as underprepared as well, and might have better led the discussion (particularly given Usher’s admitted lack of focus after a night on the town!).


Still: few flies, fragrant and interesting ointment.  The scent of which will, I hope, entice me to write something beyond this blog entry.