Is Empathy the Key to Creativity?

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In Destino, we’ve talked a lot recently about creativity and our need to create something new in our movments. We don’t do this for the sake of novelty or just because we like to be different, but we do this for the sake of hope for those that have previously been excluded. The history of our organization points to ethnic minorities not being included in our ministry as a whole. We see that and know that for a different future we need to lead in a different direction. We need to lead in a new way.

But what if you don’t really see yourself as the creative type? The culture of Cru is generally seen as one of pragmatism and practicality, so we either attract people who view themelves in this light or we mold people into believing that they are this type. Either way, our organizational personality is one that lends itself towards this.

I watched a fascinating TED talk from the founder of IDEO about how to build your creative confidence. In it, David Kelley shared that in actuality we are all creative people, but that along the way our innate creativity has gotten squelched and needs to be re-awakened.

I would agree that we are all creative people primarily because I believe that the God whose image we bear is a creative God. But what I found most intriguing about this talk by David Kelley was the story he told about Doug Dietz, a designer of MRI machines. He shared about how Doug had a moment of crisis in his life when he met a young girl and her family in a hospital and this girl was terrified of this machine he had created to save lives. The fact that something he made struck fear in so many children deeply moved him and motivated him to come up with a new way of using the MRI machine on kids. His solution was so brilliant and innovative, but what most stuck out to me was that the idea was originally born out of empathy. Doug Dietz entered the story of the people he was seeking to serve and it changed him and ultimately pushed him in new direction.

I see the same to be true in Destino. When we enter into the realities of the community we are seeking to serve, the empathy that surfaces in us will push us to dream new ways of fulfilling the Great Commision within the Latino culture. While I don’t often put empathy and creativity together, this talk really challenged me to see them as essentially integral to the other. Without empathy and a knowing of the story of the people we love and minister to, we won’t create something new.

So, maybe you like many in our ministry are thinking, “this is nice in theory but what does it mean tomorrow for me on campus?”

What I would say to those of you asking this question is that the most practical, pragmatic thing you can do for the long-term fruitfulness of your movement is to learn the stories of the students involved. Learn what challenges and barriers they experience in their families, churches, and student life. Learn what grieves them, trips them up, brings them joy, and empassions them. Without a posture of learning from the ethnic minorities you are seeking to reach, you will likely never create anything new but merely repeat the models you have always seen and are most familiar to you.

So, whether you see youself as creative or not, are you willing to tap into that creative part of you, not for your own sake but for the sake of others? I would say that in Destino we can’t afford not to do this. We need the “creative” in all of us to realize a new future where Latinos are reached, built, and sent out to change the world. I pray we’ll all be changed in that process too.

photo courtesy: auro

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Posted on June 21, 2012

About destinokristy

A Latina, DestinoKristy served with Destino from 2008-2013.

4 Responses to Is Empathy the Key to Creativity?

  1. BVirtue says:

    True – when we’re looking to passionately serve others in significant ways and in light of their realities, it’s going to lead to great creative energy and vision.  It’s an indictment on environments that stifle creativity. The question needs to be asked, “Have they lost the serving perspective?”   Great post!

    • destinokristy says:

      I agree, that question is worth keeping in front of us. We’re probably all prone to losing our heart to genuinely and meaningfully serve others which then leads to a lack of creativity like you said.  Thanks for engaging the post! 

  2. Mike Carr says:

    Thanks for the post @destinokristy – great encouragement to balance the tension of being pragmatic and being empathetic. Personally I think we are systemically pragmatic because we don’t celebrate margin and thus have any free time to pause and ponder thoughts like you have shared.  Wouldn’t it be great if the first stat that team members had to report weekly is how many hours did you sit silently listening for the voice of God. It would be great to hear you share stories of men and women in Cru who are being empathic and how that is changing them and making them usable in the hands of the Potter to reach ethnic minority faculty and students.

    • destinokristy says:

      Thanks for engaging this, Mike!  Yes, I would agree that we don’t talk enough about margin and how that directly influences how intentional we can be with entering into other people’s realities and stories.  We can get so focused on doing things that we can forget to ask more significant questions related to how and why we’re doing those things and if those things are truly serving others.

      I do think creativity takes margin, but even more than that it takes a relationship built on trust between leaders measuring results and success and leaders that are seeking to create something new.  Because the creative process is one that takes time and space, it can look like you’re being unproductive and lacking in any measurable results.  That can cause a lot of anxiety and squelch creativity before it has a chance to birth anything new.  

      All that to say, yes I agree that margin in our life is what makes entering into others stories possible, which makes empathy possible, which in the end is what makes creativity possible. Can’t do any of that if you’re only focused on getting stuff done.