By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
He’s a musician and a creativity expert — singer/songwriter/inspirational speaker and Juno Award-winner David Usher visited with hundreds of students from Palliser Regional Schools, as a keynote speaker last week during the Palliser Student Learning Conference Discover U. Its theme was explore, create and achieve. Usher is an artist, author and entrepreneur with a passion to use technology to build new and interesting businesses. His latest book with a focus on creativity and the creative process is entitled, “Let the Elephants Run.”
Usher started his keynote speech by telling the more than 400 Grade 7-12 students speaking at a leadership conference is a little bit different for the solo artist and frontman of the Canadian rock band Moist.
“Usually, there’s a whole band up here. There’s drums, bass, keyboards, and there’s backup singers and sometimes I have a cello player or a violin player — but today, I just have lonely John,” he joked, as he introduced his accompanying acoustic guitarist, who played an acoustic rendition of “Crazy Train,” as an introduction to the students’ applause and shouts.
Usher told the students he’s been involved with creativity and the creative process for pretty much his whole life.
“And, for my entire adult life, my job has been to look at an empty notebook, a blank page or an empty stage and then just out of my head make something up. That really is how I’ve made my living for the past 20 years,” Usher explained.
Although creativity is not a pure and perfect science, Usher noted, he has learned there really is something scientific in it.
“Creativity is a learnable skill and any person or company can learn to be more creative. There are no non-creative people,” he said, as he shared a song within a story. Students had an opportunity to listen to a few of Usher’s hits scaled down and in snippet form, along with video and picture montages.
The statement “I’m not creative,” Usher said, drives him absolutely crazy because the statement implies creativity is something you are born with or you’re not.
“The reality is creativity is 95 per cent work and discipline and just five per cent inspiration. You never get to the five per cent, you desperately want and need, unless you do the 95 per cent of the work,” he said.
Usher added he really does believe every person has it in them and the capacity to be much more creative.
In its simplest form, Usher said, creativity is really just a process of taking ideas, mixing them together and making something new.
“It’s very simple and it’s the same if you are an artist or entrepreneur or you’re in marketing or you’re a student. The hard part is trying to figure out which ideas to use and then how to bind them together, so you get amazing results,” Usher said.
One of the essential elements of developing a more dynamic and open creative process, according to Usher, will also increase the frequency of getting better results and that is by starting with the source.
Usher related to the students his three-year-old self held the key to creativity with an open mind, as he drew outside the lines because he didn’t see the lines and he didn’t understand or care about the rules.
“But as we go through life we naturally start to learn all the rules. The rules of law, the rules of work and the rules of relationships and a million other tiny rules we start to follow. And, we love the rules, because they keep us safe and because they give us dependable an predictable outcomes and in life that’s what we want,” he said, in the real world.
But, creativity is not the real world, Usher said. “In the world of creativity, we want incredible outcomes. We want amazing outcomes. We want outcomes we never could have imagined at the beginning of the process. For that, we need to step outside of the rules.”
He also stated in any creative process a person needs to anticipate fear and resistance and then overcome it, especially in today’s ever-changing world.
“The reason it’s so important to overcome it, the reason why creative thinking is so much more important these days, is because the Internet has fundamentally changed everything for all of us. In the pre-Internet age, we all had the safety of location. You could be the best in your town, your province or your country and that was enough. It was enough to be pretty good because you were still the best locally but in a world where anyone can see and buy and compare anything online just lying in bed tapping away on their phone, now we all need to be better just to compete. But, engaging your creativity is not just about building better things, and this is key — it’s really about adopting an attitude and a personal culture that embraces change. The ability to adapt, to be nimble, and to innovate quickly. Because, this revolutionary environment, we’re all living and working in is moving so much faster,” said Usher.
Students, after the keynote address by Usher, were guided by student facilitators through a series of breakout sessions on leadership skills including ways to encourage and inspire their own creativity. According to Palliser Regional Schools, the leadership conference will equip students with skills and ideas to make a difference at their own school and a difference in their own community and the global stage in the future.
After the keynote address Usher met with media to discuss his presentation and he was asked what was the main message he would like students to take away from the presentation?
“That’s hard. I guess, creativity really lives in all of us. If you’re engaged and open, you really have so many possibilities. Especially these days, it really is about being open to ideas and engaging with ideas. There’s so many possibilities for people and for kids these days — they just have to be open to them,” he said, adding leadership is also another important aspect, especially when working in groups.
“Understanding group dynamics, as a leader, is so important. You have to understand your position in the group, your responsibilities but also be really open to what everyone else’s role is and also the voices that are being said. When I’m in a group, usually I work as the conductor, whether it’s a tech project or a music project. I work as the conductor. I’m looking for the best ideas and I hold onto those ideas. That’s my job — to hold the best ideas and to synthesize those ideas. Other people’s jobs are usually to generate and also to synthesize, as well. But, in a group, you’ll often find the dynamic where you’ll find what I call ‘monsters and mice.’ You’ll find some voices that are really loud and some voices that are shy and quiet. What I’ve discovered is, the best ideas don’t necessarily come from the loudest places. The job of the conductor or the group leader is to really get the loudest people in the group to listen more and allow the quieter people to speak more. You’re trying to collect the best ideas but you can only do that if you balance out the personalities within the group,” Usher said.
Usher, who is also a parent, said you can’t make sure kids are creative, when asked about how creativity is learned by his own family. He said he and his wife, an actor with a theatre company, travel a lot and in some ways live a non-traditional way of life but it is a a life that is creative.
“I do all kinds of different creative things but I think they learn through osmosis. Because we are very open to ideas. A lot of our friends are modern dancers, actors, musicians and tech entrepreneurs. They see how this whole group of people thinks, lives, acts and works. I think a lot of those habits are picked up,” he said.
As for the future, Usher has a new book idea outlined but he’s not sure if he’s going to write it, as of yet.
“I’m working on a lot of projects. So, we’ll see,” he added, and he’s writing a new solo record to come out sometime in 2016.