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Donald Trump, Creativity Guru?

by Alf Rehn

The Donald is easy to hate. He can be a buffoon, a bore, a bellicose and belligerent vulgarian, and many find him massively offensive. This is particularly true among people who see themselves as progressive thinkers, who are intrigued by the next big thing, and who profess a love of innovation. Among the creative class, the very mention of Trump is more likely to elicit guffaws than admiration. To many the very notion that he could be studied for insights into creativity might seem like a distasteful joke. And yet I maintain we can.

Both as a media figure and as whatever kind of political character he is turning into, the Donald is known for outlandish displays and statements that seem to come directly from an unconstrained id. For Trump, there is no building that doesn’t look better with his name in flashing lights, no display of wealth that is too garish, no statement that cannot be improved by making it even more extreme. In a way, his actions are like that of a child, one who hasn’t yet developed the many filters we adults possess. Certain actions that he revels in, seem forever cut off for most of us. We find boasting distasteful, extreme statements boorish, and outlandish behavior unthinkable. Not so for Trump. He gleefully indulges in all his ideas, no matter how unhinged or uncivil. This is also his greatest lesson to us.

For nothing says that creativity should be civil. Creativity is an energy, and in itself it is neither good nor bad. It can be used for both, and although we’re culturally programmed to enjoy new ideas more if they do not challenge our social mores, this cannot be a metric for creativity. We like what we recognize, and that which goes against our cultural programming we often find distasteful, even revulsive. You know, like the Donald.

So in a very real way, you can learn creativity from Trump U, but only if you find him a nasty and boorish persona. If you agree with what he is saying/spewing, there’s little new to be found here. Then you are merely nodding along to things you’ve always thought, if presented with an extra helping of theatrics and venom. If he makes your skin crawl, on the other hand… If this is the case, he can serve as an excellent yardstick for where your own sticking points are.

Do you dislike his boasting and braggadocio? You may be limiting your own ideas because you do not want to be seen as a braggard.

Do you deplore his lack of taste and refinement, his gaudy ostentatiousness? You may be limiting your own capacity for creativity by sticking to only those things that live up to your aesthetics and your own sense of decorum.

Do you hate the way in which the Donald reduces complex issues into punchlines? You may want to revisit the way in which you get bogged down in the minutiae of your ideas, rather than thinking of ways of running with them.

Finally, do you get angry about the way in which Trump always adopts the most extreme position possible? You might look at whether you are putting a straitjacket on your own thinking, adopting only moderate positions because extreme ones seem so… so… well, Trumpish.

Do not misunderstand me. I have yet to find a single political policy where I would agree with Donald Trump. Granted, this is mostly because he hasn’t formulated any, instead going for freeform ideation and slogans he makes up on the spot, but still. As so many others, I too find him comical, bizarre, and possibly deranged. But this does not mean one cannot learn from him.

In the field of creativity, the greatest risk lies in accepting a pre-packaged definition of the same. Too often we line up praising the same quotes from Coelho, the same TED-talks, the same pablum. The Donald might not make much sense, but his sound and fury can be studied and used to inquire into our preconceived notions of what ideas are, and how we often are our own worst enemies.

For whatever else we can say about Trump, he isn’t shy about his ideas. His ideas are never forced to deal with the crippling doubt that kills so many ideas in us others. Nor, for that matter, does his ideas seem to be hindered by consideration, logic, or facts — and there is something glorious about this.

No, I do not say that one should become an obnoxious bully in the process, but maybe more of us could do with a little of that ol’ Trump self-confidence. Who knows what wonderful things could be created if that unrestrained flow of ideas was bolstered by a heart and a brain?

Alf Rehn is a writer, a professor of management, a ginthusiast, a keynote speaker, a fan of Ethel Merman and a strategic advisor, although not necessarily in that order. He can be stalked at www.alfrehn.com or on Twitter at @alfrehn

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