February 11th, 2020, Atlanta, GA / Giselle Ave. Media — Today, I’ve been taking time to reflect on my professional self. Nowadays, I get to wake up everyday and do what I love — blogging and creating here on Giselle Ave. For the past decade, I’ve been side-hustling my way into what I consider my “personal freedom.” The freedom to do what I love daily, thanks to the sacrifices I’ve made throughout my career. But this wasn’t always the case. Frankly, I’m not one to sit around and ponder on the past, but as I continue to get my feet wet in these thriving thirties as a full-time entrepreneur, I can’t help but consider the many industries I’ve dabbled in during my roaring 20s. I mean…. I’ve worked in Model Management, Talent Booking, Podcasting, Consulting, Public Health, Health and Wellness, Labor Law, Federal Law, Event Marketing, News/Media, and most recently — technology. My stint in technology was quite an experience, to say the least, but it wasn’t my first dab into the world of technology.
About a decade ago, in undergrad I took on an internship to bring a new product to market, in my home state of Alabama. Each state had a student representative and we were responsible for providing live demonstrations on our college campuses about this new, exciting technology! The training weekend was so much fun! I wasn’t legal yet, I was actually 20, but I’ll never forget the wide range of personalities and nationalities represented during this weekend. It was such a diverse group, students from USC, all the way to MIT, and I truly appreciated my first taste of working in tech. The software company flew us out to San Francisco– which is now popularly known as Silicon Valley — and we were given training on how to tell everyone we knew, about this new, innovate product. It was such an amazing experience, and it was the beginning of the bustling “startup culture” we know all too well today.
What I loved most about this opportunity was the freedom to create. As students on campus, our charge was to create new ways to bring this product to market. Whether we held seminars for student organizations, or we setup demo stations at school events– the creativity was all in our hands.
That was in 2010. It’s 2020 and my how things have changed.
What Is Creativity?
What exactly does it mean to be creative? Is this something everyone is blessed with? Or, are the chosen few charged with leading the path of creativity to the masses? Well, let’s get into definitions. When I searched what “creativity,” means, it is defined as:
Creativity – the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
In today’s climate, the idea of “creativity” continues to evolve. But, in certain industries, creativity is mandatory. Consider a music artist, dancer, or blogger (It’s Me, A Blogger) — the core of our work stems from creativity and original thought. Of course, we are all influenced by the environment we live in, but creativity truly comes from within. When I think of creativity, I think of amplifying the sound of my soul. For me, it translates into words and blog posts. But for some, it translates into music, dance, or makeup artistry!
A recent study from LinkedIn Learning ranked the 10 most in-demand soft skills of 2019, and guess which skill topped the list? Creativity. As you can see, creativity is a very important skill to have when it comes to certain industries, but what about technology? When I think of technology, I think of data, computers, artificial intelligence, and “the cloud.” When I think of career paths in tech, I think of dedicated coders, software engineers, data scientists, and research analysts. I don’t think of painting, colors, artistic expression, storytelling, or music– even though these types of positions are crucial to the success of any type of new technology. Ironically, it seems as if many careers of today — from music artists, to entrepreneurs, to data analysts, to website builders, work in “tech.”
There is a concerted effort to include “Arts” in #STEM fields, calling it #STEAM, instead of #STEM. Is this idea in theory, or are the arts truly included in competitive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career fields today? The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM even shared a list of 25 steam careers to explore, for those interested in the fusion of art, tech, and creativity!
But, are we there yet? Or is this some hopeful wish for the future? So today, I pose a simple, yet, layered question: is there truly room for creativity in technology?
Is There Room For Creativity In Tech.. Or Nah?
So, let’s dig in! My first point of personal reference for answering the question of whether or not there is room for creativity in tech was to examine the origin of Facebook. According to the popular movie, “The Social Network,” Mark Z. was portrayed to have actually stolen the idea of “The Facebook,” from the Winklevoss twins and made it his own. That’s not very original and creative, now is it? Today, Facebook is the reason why the term “social media,” even exists! But, in my humble opinion, although social media has the ability to connect us with millions of people across the world, it also removes us from engaging with people in real life. It’s as if Facebook/Social Networks took the soul out of connecting with humans. Instead of going out to find friends, you can simply add a friend online! Next thing you know, you have 5,000 “friends,” yet no one knows you in real life. Kind of wild huh? Technology simply does the work for us, so we don’t have to be “creative” with finding new friends and connecting with the world around us.
After a bit more research, I came across an article that was a bit dated, a Forbes article from 2014, but it was insightful. Basically, the author suggests technology indeed enhances creativity, as opposed to stifling creativity. How so? Technology allows us to automate the creative process, so we have more time to do other things. In short, the author suggests technology transforms the human experience and we’re better off using technology and creativity together as one. There’s also a new term being used to describe this, “technocreativity,” which is described as:
A fusion of creativity, instinct, imagination, rationality, Big Data, and measurement. In other words – both sides of the brain working together – technocreativity.
While this is a very optimistic approach to the future of tech + creativity, I simply don’t agree at this time, let me explain.
In Fall 2019, I was offered an opportunity to work on a contract as a Digital Brand Storyteller for a startup company based here in Atlanta. During this four-month project, I was responsible for crafting the brand’s story, while ensuring our voice was being heard online. The founder insisted that I “be as creative as I wanted to be,” but for some reason, I couldn’t really tap into my higher, creative self. The stage was set for success! I worked alongside a stellar digital marketing agency and they were responsible for implementing all of the ideas and creativity to bring this startup to life. There was a hefty budget, so there were no budgetary constraints, but something was off. As an artist, I felt so stifled when asked to “be creative,” and I couldn’t understand why. But then, I realized how tech is drastically different than working in a creative field. There is a fine line between where the two — tech and creativity– gracefully intersect, but this line is very fine.
Once the project ended, I took time to really reflect on why I simply didn’t enjoy the “work environment” and I felt like I was in a cage, trying to express myself, but I couldn’t. I’m not the “collect a check” type of person, I like to do work with passion, and for a cause. But, I learned a lot from my experience of trying to operate as a creative artist in tech.
Here’s what I learned:
Creativity is Subjective, Technology is Driven by Facts
In order to get those creative juices flowing, you have to be mentally liberated. You have to take the limits off of your mind so that you can dig deep, from within, and produce your best work. Once the art is created, the artist falls in love and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, that’s the beauty of creating art! It’s highly subjective and isn’t judged, you either like it or you don’t but the art exists, as is.
Technology, on the other hand, is driven by data and facts. It’s focused on solving a problem. It’s focused on finding solutions. It’s focused on using certain algorithms to influence a specific outcome, and it’s solely driven by facts. Although there are “new technologies” presented to us daily, if the technology doesn’t solve your problem, you can simply reject it– as a matter of fact. As an artist, I simply do not thrive in this type of environment, where things must be absolute. I’m more of an abstract thinker, and I enjoy creating something from nothing.
The barriers of entry for technology are extremely high.
If you can move your body in the form of dance, you can create a unique form of art with your own body. If you can pose enlightening conversation that garners the attention of thousands, your blog or podcast is your art form of choice. It doesn’t take much to start a creative endeavor, except to simply start. In contrast, the barriers for creativity are extremely low, and it invites a more authentic approach to creating, as opposed to trying to get so many people on the same page, to work towards the same vision.
Diversity in Tech…..Where?!
The first thing I noticed about working in tech was the overwhelming lack of diversity. There weren’t many people of color, let alone women. I remember attending a Tech Breakfast in Cobb County last year, and I stood out like a thorn! I was a millennial black woman, wearing a pink rose dress with flowers, and nude shoes. I wore my favorite nude lipstick, and of course, my hair and makeup was laid! When I got to the event, everyone else was either male, or a middle-aged woman, and wore blue, black, white or grey. It’s as if that’s the unspoken dress code for working in tech! I’m like, where is the color? There wasn’t any color in the room, so I felt a bit out of place.
I recall an older white woman walking up to me, she was so fascinated by my presence. She said,” Wow look at you? I love coming to stuff like this because how else would I meet someone like you?” She goes on to share that she’s “a housewife, and grandmother of 3– she doesn’t work in tech.” Her husband, however, was one of the event sponsors and is a tech millionaire-to-know. At first, I was flattered that this woman came and sought me out of a crowd of 500+ and wanted to talk to me! But then I thought– is it because I’m young, gifted, fabulous and black? And in her world, she would never cross paths with someone like me? Well, maybe… maybe not.
Either way, I really couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity in tech. How can I be expected to create and be “creative,” if I can’t even really be myself, in a room full of people who look/sound/act/dress nothing like me? Of course, I’m an advocate for pushing through racial and gender barriers, but honey that gets exhausting! Hats off to ALL women of color, paving their own way in tech, because that’s a whole different type of pushing through!
There Is Room For Creativity, But You Have To Make Room
Of course, tech companies like Amazon and Google are creative in their approach to providing good and services for their customers, but they are also very intentional about making room for creativity. I was given the opportunity to work a hackathon one weekend at the Google office here in Midtown Atlanta, and I was so inspired by their office environment: bright lights, open desk floor plan, bright colors, snacks, coffee, and even beer on tap! Google knows they want to inspire their workforce to bring out the best and brightest ideas, so they make room for creativity.
Amazon is constantly innovating how they deliver packages and cater to the needs of their customer-base! From free 2- day delivery, to offering just about everything you can think of on their app– Amazon is constantly making room for creativity in their business.
In the field of technology, you have to make room for creative juices to flow. My most recent experience in working in tech helped me realize why I’d much rather create freely on Giselle Ave. than to “partner” with another organization to help them be “more creative.” The creative process is a sensitive process that must be handled with care. When there are other interests outside of creativity– generating revenue, raising money, pressure from the board and shareholders, lack of product, managing a remote team, etc..– there simply isn’t any room for creative juices to flow.
In today’s digital world, everything is seeming to overlap! Many industries are either going under completely, or pivoting quickly to stay abreast with the ever-evolving world we live in today. If you’re looking to break into the tech industry, go for it! If you’re an artist, looking to pivot into tech, brace yourself and be sure to make room for your creative juices to flow freely!
As always, I’d love to know what you think about my take on creativity in tech. Do you think there’s room for creativity in tech? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments section!
Creating freely and intently,
Belle in the City Giselle