What Does Creativity Without Heart Look Like?

I want to talk about Logan Paul for a minute.

Actually, I don’t. I don’t want to talk about Logan Paul, but the events of the past few months surrounding the callous video content he’s posted on his YouTube channel, his apparent contrition for offense or trauma that was caused, and subsequent missteps which show little was learned, have forced my hand.

Why?

Because after his latest antics were deemed outside YouTube’s revised guidelines, guidelines likely inspired by previous challenges the platform has had with Paul, he made an urgent plea on his video: “They’re cutting me, bro. Creativity being stifled.”

Oh, Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may.

While I have a number of issues with the argument put forth, I want to center on two in today’s post.

First, the idea of restrictions. Contrary to the popular belief that you can only be creative if there are no limits imposed on your work, a great deal of creative work is accomplished because there are boundaries in place. I think of the OG side hustlers Wright brothers, who successfully developed the first flying machine” with roughly $2000, while holding down full time jobs running a bicycle store. Comparatively, the US government had given Samuel Langley the modern-day equivalent of $700,000 and no other tasks to accomplish the same task. Langley’s behemoth prototype took to the sky once…before crashing into the Potomac, ultimately unrecoverable.

What did a lack of time and funding do for the Wright brothers? It made them efficient. Because they had to sandwich their work on the flying machine between substantial stretches of “real work,” they learned how to make things in short periods of time, to test things in low-cost ways, and to move quickly if something didn’t work…because they didn’t have time to dwell.

I remember this when I write posts for this site between other tasks, or create content for other publications within their set guidelines. Hell, even as  I think about (and stress over, and write right down to the wire of) deadlines. Without those boundaries, I’d never get anything done. And without content and style guidelines, publications and other outlets would never be able to refine their own voice- which, it’s important to note, is their right. So, Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may. Creating absent restrictions is possible for relative few. But creating with boundaries is both perfectly possible, and necessary for a few reasons. Which brings me to my next point.

Some really important points stand out in the written statement from YouTube’s Vice President for Product Management Ariel Bardin (emphasis added):

Recently, we faced situations where the egregious actions of a handful of YouTubers harmed the reputation of the broader creator community among advertisers, the media industry and most importantly, the general public. In light of this behavior—and our commitment to tighten our policies and communicate them more quickly and transparently—we’re introducing new consequences to apply in the rare event when one creator’s actions harm the entire community. When one creator does something particularly blatant—like conducts a heinous prank where people are traumatized, promotes violence or hate toward a group, demonstrates cruelty, or sensationalizes the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers—it can cause lasting damage to the community, including viewers, creators and the outside world.

That damage can have real-world consequences not only to users, but also to other creators, leading to missed creative opportunities, lost revenue and serious harm to your livelihoods. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that the actions of a few don’t impact the 99.9 percent of you who use your channels to connect with your fans or build thriving businesses.

Bardin’s recognition of the community harm that can be done by an idea (perhaps one that previously hadn’t been undertaken for a reason), reminds me of how I conceptualized the metric of heart in Cultivating Creativity. From the book:

It isn’t enough to just be creative. It isn’t enough to leverage the support of allies, advocates and activators, to take inspiration from varied places, and to enlist talented and varied people to do it. It isn’t enough to steel ourselves against the fatigue and insecurity that can hinder our determination or execution. It isn’t enough to learn how to hold these ideas lightly, or to grow into the people it takes to make them a reality. We also have to think about the impact that these ideas will have once they’re released into the world. We’d love to believe that the thing we’ve created will unequivocally improve the lives of others. But there are times where this is not the case; in extreme cases, there are times where the destruction of others is the express goal of what we create. Simply put: I don’t want to empower that kind of creativity. I don’t empower that kind of creativity.

To that end, I always encourage the asking of three questions when vetting an idea:

  • Who does this idea, project or solution help?
  • Who does it hurt?
  • What can be done to maximize the former condition while minimizing the latter?

I go on to talk about how you and your team can discern the most advantageous answers to this trio questions (invoking the other elements of the Cultivating Creativity Manifesto):

The first question is generally simple enough; it is those who we wish to help, often (but not always) including ourselves, that bring these ideas to the forefront in the first place. The second question is a little bit tougher. It requires deeper examination: in the process of elevating the population that inspired the idea, is it possible that others might be left behind, marginalized, or even hurt in the process? A thorough answer to this question can benefit from other essential elements. Honest and forthright allies, advocates and activators; a broadminded perspective; and varied and diverse collaborators can bring some of these issues to your attention sooner than if you didn’t enlist their help.

The third question might (and should!) test your determination, alter your execution, and employ your flexibility. It is affected by the mental models and assumptions you might have made but otherwise been unaware of. Growing past these assumptions, challenging them with new information and testimony, can change the face of what you’re creating and how it’s received in the world. The result? A more heartfelt project, one that aims to avoid harm and ultimately improve the world in which it exists.

Were Paul to have run through these questions before releasing the initial controversial video, he may have identified that he and his online image could be helped by its release, but in the process many others (survivors of suicide victims, those who hold the Suicide Forest sacred, those struggling with suicide ideation themselves, etc.) would be hurt. Further, if no one on Paul’s team was able to voice these objections, that hints at a circle of collaborators and allies, advisors, or activators with dangerous blind spots in their world perspective. To enlist people who will challenge you when insensitive or ill-advised actions are underway isn’t stifling, it’s enriching.

So Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may. Doing something novel means relatively little if it also brings about harm. Maybe that’s why there wasn’t much of it up to this point.

I have little hope that Paul’s particular brand of shock-based online entertainment will change; that’s far from my goal in examining his case. What I do hope, however, is to provide a framework by which others can vet their creative decisions. Not just by how novel an idea is, but how altruistically it can be achieved and implemented. That should matter, too.