Creativity (and Finding Your Truth) at Chicago Ideas Week

“The truth lies in our subconscious.” — William H. Macy

“If you speak the truth, I will stand with you and so will the world.” — Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Every year, Chicago Ideas Week hosts a Creative Process Talk. It’s a talk that celebrates ingenuity, artistry, passion, dedication and, ultimately, the search for truth. The soul of this CIW Talk acknowledges that the process to discovery and originality is messy, confusing, frustrating and challenging, even if there is — as we acknowledged in the 2013 talk title — a “method to the madness.” This year, we spelled that method out a bit more, adding a new subtitle to the session: “the impulsive, calculated, evolving, joyful, maddening journey from idea to reality.”

I am fascinated with the creative process of exceptional individuals: How do they find the clarity of mind, the originality of vision, the serenity for the pursuit and the dedication to the result without being distracted by endless external stimuli? Seeking out creative originality — truth — is inherently conflicting and contradictory. Take 2013 CIW Speaker and behavioral economist Dan Ariely. His research shows that we often get in our own way when seeking the truth — by lying. His book, The (Honest) Truth about Lies, reveals his research that all of us lie — more than we think — both to others, and ourselves. So in addition to the predictable writer’s block and self-doubt, lies also get in the way of seeking the truth.

Yet we, at least most of us, continue to search for our creative truths. This search may feel, at once, joyful and maddening. You may find yourself plotting out your every move, only to end up going with your gut, and unearthing a truth — as William H. Macy (a 2014 CIW speaker) suggested — buried deep in your subconscious.

At each CIW Talk, we bring together a handful of individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to share their truths, and what we often find is that those truths, while all centered around the same subject, are contradictory. At last year’s comedy talk, for example, Second City’s Susan Messing demonstrated the importance of chaos in an improv set that asked audience members to bawk like chickens, embody Spiderman and sing childhood favorites on stage. Meanwhile, at that same talk, Dr. Peter McGraw and Joel Warner pulled out facts and figures to reveal the code behind humor, suggesting that humor is not about impromptu action, but about a calculated method. This contradiction was revealing: Side by side, these truths demonstrated the code within the improv chaos, and the chaos within the academic code.

I am left with the inevitable question: For a given topic, is there a truth? Or is every topic worth discussing, examining, and evaluating multiple truths, leaving us each to uniquely decipher what we believe to be the pathway to understanding? These questions, and my proposed response that this search for “truth” is what makes life so exciting, helps to create the magic of Chicago Ideas Week. The CIW platform allows for the exploration of truth through qualified, opinionated, accomplished and carefully curated voices who offer a diverse lens to a given topic. These exceptional and world-recognized individuals come to Chicago and share the CIW Stage, all so that we — all of those who allow themselves the opportunity to experience CIW — can reconsider our opinions and better refine our truths. What could be more exciting that an opportunity to “live the questions now,” as the poet Rilke beautifully said, so that “perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

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