Do Analytical Creatives Actually Exist? (Or, How Curiosity Taught the Cat to Keep Living)

I’ve been reading a few books by master marketing guru and thought-leader Seth Godin. Most recently, Purple Cow and The Practice. As I’ve been reading “Purple Cow,” I’ve realized an assumption I’ve held for most of my life: I am not an analytical person.

I’ve never been much of a “numbers” person, in that words make much more sense to me than equations do. And until starting my own business, I was the exact opposite of interested in business classes, books or courses. Whenever I thought of owning a business, I’d see spreadsheets and accountability. I remember walking by the beautiful business school at UCLA on my way back from the humanities side of campus thinking, “That’s where the super smart people who know how to do all the maths and make all the money take their classes.” Seriously. It was Hogwarts and I was a boring muggle.

So, as I was in the shower yesterday thinking about “Purple Cow,” I realized something. Yes, I am a creative. But as a creative, and especially as a writer, it’s my job to take seemingly disparate ideas and make meaning out of them. Isn’t this an analytical practice?

Think of a spider web. Each spoke of the web may seem unrelated to the others. But they all connect to a central idea and in turn, are connected to each other. This is what we creatives do. We process and filter the way ideas connect. We weave stories and make meaning. And this is, by definition, analytical work. An analytical person is simply someone who studies and examines the elemental parts of something and relates those small parts to the whole. Data serves analysis. Without the connections we make as artists, writers, dancers, photographers, painters, etc. data wouldn’t matter.

Back to my belief that I could easily label myself a creative but would never dare to call myself an analytical person. Why have I always opted out of that possibility? Growing up, people who were interested in science, math and business were considered analytical. And people who were interested in music, art, languages, history and such were considered to be creatives. Here come the silos again. Delineated spaces where we can label and be labeled so as to make short order of people without too much relational work. But God isn’t a short order cook. And people don’t have easy-to-read nutritional labels telling us the percentage of aptitude for Math, English, Science, or History.

As I’ve become more self aware through practices like daily morning pages, centering prayer, reading, etc. I’ve noticed a jolting pattern. I have a tendency to exclude myself from certain spaces where I may have felt curiosity but not necessarily aptitude. I have missed out on a number of amazing opportunities because of this mindset. I’ve even misaligned myself with certain ideas and neglected my interest in others because of this self-labeling. Like the idea that I’m a creative person, not an analytical one, and so things like business, entrepreneurship and marketing are not in my wheelhouse.

But as I’ve continued to read, learn, grow, explore, get curious and give myself permission, I’ve also realized that so many of the things I once felt were totally outside of my sphere of interest are now riveting to me. Take marketing, for example. I never much cared about research and development, marketing trends, or social theories. Now, I can’t get enough of them. The spider web spokes are rapidly connecting, and now that I’ve tapped into them, I’m seeing all the labels I’ve always put on myself begin to fall away in the name of curiosity, the great equalizer.

And I don’t think it’s coincidence that I’m questioning this idea of labels and silos. Culturally, you can find these themes in popular books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” And, of course, there are plenty of people in the world of education who have been writing about this for years. It seems that we are grappling with this collectively.

For those of us in the creative/spiritual space, we are really feeling into this idea of how the labels we were fixed with as kids have selected us out of certain spaces, instead of seeing the accessibility we have simply through curiosity. My analytical brain doesn’t necessarily work through mathematical formulas, but it does work through ratios of connection. And they aren’t always 1:1. How does the idea of intentional living and travel connect to the way we view religious communities? How does my choice to write daily advance the cause of justice for a person I’ve never met in another part of the world? These are analytical spaces. And in these spaces, there are no silos. To be a creative is to wander the halls of every analytical space and borrow what we need to make meaning. This is precisely the definition of story. (For more on this idea of story and how we make meaning, check out Lisa Cron’s book “Wired for Story.”)

So, how do we nurture those analytical sides of our creative selves?

I have a really simple answer to this question. It’s a mind-blower. Are you ready?

Read and write. Everyday.

That’s really it. Make daily time to read something new in a field of curiosity and then write about what you’ve learned.

Curiosity is an analytical tool. When we stamp out curiosity, we stop the analytical flow. We stop learning and making those big, beautiful connections.

Check out this NPR Article about a study done in 2014 which suggests that curiosity is actually rewarded by our brain. The idea is also summed up here in an article which I’ll quote below.

“Interestingly, they (scientists) found that when monitoring their (subjects) brain activity using an MRI machine, the area of the brain that regulates pleasure and reward lit up when the participant’s curiosity was piqued. Even more cool was the increased activity in the hippocampus which is the area that is involved in the creation of memories.

Therefore, the area of the brain that energizes people to go out and seek rewards is the same when we are curious and it’s when this circuit is activated (that) our brains release a chemical called dopamine which gives us a natural high. The dopamine appears to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning.”

Do you see? Curiosity may determine aptitude, not the other way around. This is something the unschooling movement has put their money on for quite some time. Want a kid to learn? Let them follow their curiosity. And that same idea works for us adults too.

The system of education that tells us we can only be creative OR analytical is under scrutiny precisely because it stunts the flow of connection that exists in the space of both creativity and analysis!

So where are all the analytical creatives? Well, everywhere really. The truth is, I think most of us are both. But we’ve been led to believe that we can only be one.

If you’d like some concrete examples of people leaning into both sides, go check out my friend Ellen Yang’s amazing podcast The Analytical Creative. Ellen is a friend whom I met through an online business course. We also co-journeyed through “The Artist’s Way.” On her podcast, Ellen interviews a number of incredible analytical creatives. But beware! You may find yourself in a binge-listening spiral. The episodes are addicting.

So what about you?

Have you believed yourself to be only one thing or another?

Only a creative person?

Only an analytical person?

Maybe it’s not the interplay between creative/analytical for you. Maybe you’ve wrestled with other labels. How can you let curiosity guide you away from those rigid spaces?

Start by grabbing a book on a topic you’ve always been interested in. Then read it. Then write about it. It’s really that simple. Let your curiosity guide you.

And then, rename yourself. Business Owner. Writer. Chef. Marketer. Graphic Designer.

Because maybe curiosity didn’t actually kill the cat. Maybe curiosity taught it how to keep living.

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