INQUIRE: Experts Talk Creativity

We asked some of our favourite creative minds to share their insights + perspectives on this topic so we could share their wisdom with all of you.

Experts agree; we all have the capacity to be creative!

Alastair Knowles (pictured above) is one half of the comedy duo James & Jamesy and a board member of the Lookout Arts Quarry. His performances and work encourages interaction, creative expression, and connection and help people connect with their own inner ‘player’.

Aaron Malkin (pictured above) is the other half of the comedy duo James & Jamesy. Aaron’s two main passions are to support people in finding their full self-expression and to generate delight.

James & Jamesy’s national tour will culminate with performances of their hit shows 2 for Tea at Firehall Arts Centre (September 8th – 18th) as part of the Vancouver Fringe and James & Jamesy in the Dark at the Waterfront Theatre (October 5th – 16th).


Vanessa Young is a life-long artist who has a renowned career in the Entertainment Industry. She is also a Certified Creativity Coach and works with both clients and companies, offering performance and artistic career coaching. She currently runs workshops for all types of people, interested in exploring their Creative Self. She is one of the only coaches offering these services on Canada’s west coast.

Follow Vanessa on Instagram for daily inspiration @CreativityCoaching


Mark Busse is the Director of Creativity and Engagement at HCMA Architecture + Design in Vancouver, BC. He is also a co-founder and associate of the design consultancy Industrial Brand, an active executive and Fellow of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, and a design educator, advisor, and mentor with nearly three decades of design and creative management experience. Busse invests in the creative community by producing and hosting events such as Likemind Vancouver, Interesting Vancouver, and CreativeMornings/Vancouver as well as a frequent speaker at industry events and conferences.

1) How would you define creativity?

Aaron: If there were 100 people in a factory creating identical cupcakes all day, it would be a struggle for me to call it “creative”, even though they are clearly “creating”. The first cupcake ever, however, would be the result of creativity (so long as it wasn’t created by accident). I think of “creativity” as the process by which objects or ideas are combined in new ways.

Alastair: Creativity is the freedom to observe and interpret yourself and your surroundings without limiting yourself to your existing understanding of who you are or what you are observing.

Vanessa: Creativity is the simple act of expressing what your imagination can dream up. In short, bringing to life a unique idea. It’s glorious, satisfying and contagious.

Mark: I don’t define creativity. I will for you, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s constantly changing. I think creativity is really about innovation in the sense that, if there’s a challenge or a hurdle (whether it’s putting your pants on in the morning or trying to create something original), if through the application of effort you solve a problem or create something new, you just tapped into creativity. I think the special part of creativity is when there’s intentionality, when you really say “I’m gonna try this,” or “I’m gonna bust through this.” That innovation, that application of intent to produce something new, that’s creativity for me.

2) Why is creativity important?

Aaron: Creativity is not only important, it is essential. If you accept that you do not understand everything around you, we rely on our creativity to make choices that help us achieve our objectives.

Vanessa: Creativity lives in everyone. Even the people who “aren’t creative”. There’s no such thing! If you are alive, you are creative.

Giving life to your creativity has so many benefits to your everyday life too. It can entertain, motivate, and heal. It is a tool for relieving depression, building routine and healthily expressing yourself. It can also aid in addiction recovery, insomnia and trauma healing.

I believe creativity is the most important part of a person!

Mark: Creativity is important because it is inherently connected to our identity. Creativity and fear sit side by each. Many, maybe most, people have great anxiety around the idea. Who we are is established through personal choices and being a creative person and living in, to some extent, the fear that comes along with that is one of those choices. Our identity is also rooted deeply in our ability to overcome adversities, hurdles, and challenges. Life is a series of decisions and effort to go beyond survival and create value in our lives. Where we wind up is a result of a bunch of creative choices… so it’s crucial. I think you’re a better version of yourself if you can learn to live in the tension that comes with dealing with creativity as a scary thing sometimes.

3) What gets your creative juices flowing?  

Aaron: Play. Laugh. Run around. Allow impulses. When I don’t have to do something in particular, I am free to combine ideas in new ways. My best ideas for a show happen when I’m not working on the show.

Alastair: Being in situations where the consequences of my decisions or ideas don’t put me in jeopardy. Ooh, the pressure of being judged is such a buzz kill.

Vanessa: I’ll be honest, I hate writing. It always feels like a chore to me. But to help work through creative blocks I always free write. This is an exercise where you force yourself to fill a minimum of 3 pages with writing. It can be anything and mostly my first two pages are dribble. But somewhere around the third, I end up getting inspired and often write some big creative ideas and goals. By the time I finish, I feel clearer and ready to work on something.

Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way”, calls these morning pages. She insists on doing them every morning before you do anything else, to help achieve mental and creative clarity.

Mark: A lot of things get my creative juices flowing. I am a foodie—I prefer the term foodist actually—and enjoy making culinary expressions of creativity for others even more than I like eating… and I love eating. I’m pretty fearless in the kitchen, but there’s still anxiety for me and when I bust through it—that’s rewarding. If I can produce something that’s perfectly salty, perfectly sweet, perfectly crunchy, perfectly smooth, perfectly whatever it is I’ve been trying to achieve—that gets me going creatively.

Perhaps a slightly less surprising answer is human connection—storytelling as it relates to the human condition, putting people in a room and busting standard formats of communication. CreativeMornings is a great example of that. It’s getting people to listen to somebody else’s authentic, genuine expression of their origin story and their struggles with creativity, then turn inward or to each other and have a conversation about what it means to them and enjoy that human contact. That’s one part of my job here as the director of engagement at HCMA that I love, whether it’s managing internal staff interaction, or external community consultation. If you ask the right questions and be genuine about listening, you can find out from people where their needs lie in terms of the bigger pictures about health and happiness and longevity and social connections that make for good community—that fires me up. It’s a creative rush. If you can get people to break through and go “I didn’t even know we were gonna talk about that, but that’s what actually matters here,” those moments are just amazing.

4) What do you find to be the biggest misconception about creativity?

Aaron: That it isn’t available to everyone. It is often shackled by low self-confidence.

Alastair: That specific tasks are creative while others are not.

Vanessa: That it is hard! Everyone thinks that to do something creative, it takes a lot of work and talent. Totally not true! All it takes is a simple idea, and taking some time to do it. In the end, it may not look the same as the next person, but that’s what makes creativity so great. It is very individual, and there is no right or wrong.

Mark: I find there’s a common notion that creativity belongs to the artistic elite. Someone will say something about not being creative, but if you dig deeper a bit, what they actually meant was they can’t draw well. We all have different gifts and not being as strong at a particular thing as the next person doesn’t mean you’re not creative. I think separating those things and celebrating all kinds of different gifts within the context of creativity is part of why CreativeMornings has been so successful globally. It doesn’t matter what culture you come from, the story we were told as children that creative kids were the ones who could draw well was a false narrative. We made a mistake in the modern educational paradigm when we started to use the word creativity in the wrong manor. I think that’s changing.

I think people now are getting that we all have different strengths, we all have different modalities, we all have different learning methods. I love the fact that when I was young, dyslexic kids really struggled, but now many are offered a pathway around the normalcy towards solving problems. One of my former business partners was the first to receive a master’s degree in a special program tailored for dyslexics and it turns out that creativity really is just about the intentional application of effort. You can organize your approach to problem solving and be incredibly creative. Sure, he can’t draw to save his life, but it doesn’t matter because the dude is an idea machine and can produce solutions at a high level.

So yes, I find that confusion between certain skills or gifts and creativity to be pervasive. It is just something that most of my generation had hammered at us—and we have to unlearn that. I actually think creativity is an innate quality. Whether we’ve exercised creativity, embraced creativity, or suppressed it and found ways to avoid it, we all still have it and can develop it.

5) How can creativity play a role outside of traditional creative industries and settings?

Aaron: Creativity can help us find solutions to drought, non-potable water, darkness, and every other proclaimed problem.

Alastair: Creativity can help cultivate joy by empowering people to recognize their choices can and do have an effect on the world around them.

Vanessa: Everyone has a “creative self”. It’s a part of themselves that uses more imagination, and can visualize something that would be fun, cool or even efficient, to make. We know that some people embrace this part of themselves consistently and we often would label this creative person an “artist”. But there are plenty of people who would not refer to themselves that way who employ their creativity each and every day. Outside of the “artist life”, people use creativity in many ways. They choose something new to make for dinner, discuss their thoughts on a book they read, or decide what kind of flowers to plant in their gardens.

By embracing these creative moments every day, people live more interesting lives! They have more fun, become spontaneous, and try new things.

Mark: It already does to some extent. I think culturally, society, in all of its expressions and forms, needs to allow for failure to be okay, experimentation to be a part of process, judgment to be something that we hold back and collaboration to be emphasized. I believe that one plus one can equal three. If you have your allotment of creativity and I have mine, together, we are more creative than the sum of you and I working independently. Creativity in the world does need to be talked about more. It needs to be exposed and celebrated. It needs to become an integrated part of our process and that can be manifested in a ton of different ways.

6) What would you say to people who claim they aren’t creative?  

Aaron: I would ask them a question they would be happy to answer – get them to talk. Then I would try to show them that the very act of putting thoughts to words – what they have just done – is creative. I would attempt to build their confidence in the notion that they are creative, so they might start removing the barriers they have up to trying more conventional forms of creativity, such as painting, playing an instrument, or building something.

Alastair: I’d ask why they thought that way. I think everyone inherently is creative, so I’d encourage them to recognize ways that they are already creative beings. Identifying as something can either open doors or close them. I like being a doorman.

Vanessa: I challenge you to a dare! I dare you to work on something creative for 30 minutes, 3 times a week, for 2 weeks. You will be absolutely amazed at what you can accomplish! Go on Pinterest, buy a sketchpad, or have a good old fashioned “crafternoon”, and be a kid again. It can be fun to challenge yourself to something like this, and I guarantee you will change your mind about whether you are creative or not.

Like I stated above; if you are alive, you are creative! 😉

Mark: I don’t try to convince anybody that they’re creative. Instead, I’ll invite them to something or I’ll engage them. I like asking questions and listening to people talk about their life, their career, their struggles, whatever. If you engage them in enough dialogue, without saying so and being a brute about it, you can get them to reveal that they actually do lots of creative things in their life. If you’re a parent, for example, you’re creative, you have no choice. The minute you become a parent you have to tap into a deep level of creativity to make it through that long commitment of teaching or learning or protecting—that is all a version of creativity.

I’m fortunate because I’m involved in initiatives and communities like CreativeMornings that I can engage people in. I can invite someone to come hear a speaker with a totally different profession, be it the restaurant business or politics or visual art or science, who has a unique story and perspectives about their own struggles with creativity. Maybe someone can relate and they can open their mind up to wider notions of creativity and apply it in their own lives and career. I’d rather invite someone into a dialogue about the capacity that our community has if we get together in the same room than try to convince anyone that they’re creative. There are tricks and processes that I can teach and I’m happy to talk with people about it and help connect them with opportunities to explore that path, but I don’t feel it’s my place to explain to someone how to be creative.

Categories: Featured, MPMG