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István Bracsok, CCO/Founding Partner at White Rabbit Budapest: Fear & Creativity

09 February 2021

István Bracsok  

Chief Creative Officer / Founding Partner           
White Rabbit Budapest     
Istvan set up the independent ad agency White Rabbit Budapest with his partners in 2006.
His creative work won him awards like Cannes Lions, LIA, D&AD, One Show, Clio, ADC, Caples Awards, AdStars, Eurobest, Golden Award of Montreux, Lisbon International Advertising Festival, Golden Drum, White Square, Chip Shop and almost 20 Effies - including a Grand Prix.
When he is not making ads, he likes to take care of his exotic houseplants or count clouds. He happily opens a bottle of wine to accompany any of these activities.


Does creativity love crisis?
Ok, at times of crisis we need creativity.
And indeed some of the most creative solutions in human endeavour have come about because of a crisis.
But do we really need this?
Now we are in a crisis. This is not a question.
Yes. I mean Covid-19. Surprisingly.
But. This crisis we are facing right now brought another thing as well. A constant fear that the last couple of generations have never experienced before.
What are the things that get in the way of us being our creative best?
Have a wild guess. Yes, there are many culprits, like procrastination and having an over-scheduled life, but Number 1 is Fear.
Before Covid, we also had fears. We are afraid to be wrong. We are afraid to make a mistake. We’re afraid of not being perfect. We’re afraid of looking stupid and being laughed at or being rejected. There are a thousands scary things out there and inside us that make us say to ourselves, “I can not do it”.
And this fear-situation we are facing right now just made all these things above even worse.
The way we approach our everyday life and “thinking” impacts us now more than ever before.
Being constantly overwhelmed with too much information is unhealthy.
Moreover, being exposed to negative information all the time – is deadly. We are forming our perception of the world upon what media exposes us to and it exposes us to the most negative perception of the world. Why? Shouldn’t we question that? While you can blame media for not exposing us to positive news as well, you can also be a responsible adult and choose what the input to your mind will be. It’s your choice. I know you will have fewer topics to discuss in a variety of meaningless and pointless conversations. What about other downsides?
Less dopamine. You will have to actually do or achieve something to feel good, instead of using curiosity triggers for instant gratification on social media that eventually leads to nowhere.
But, let’s explore fear itself a bit more and connect it with its impact to our creativity.
There are three kinds of fear. Mortal fear, social fear (for whenever you submit yourself for an evaluation, for instance, publish your work to the public) and fear of fear itself (which causes you to avoid doing the thing that made you fearful in the first place - usually transformed into procrastination or perfectionism).
What exactly happens when we experience fear?
From the brain’s perspective: our amygdala fires, which inhibit prefrontal cortex. The appropriate reaction towards the fear happens when amygdala & prefrontal are in balance. Panic happens when they are not.
So, since it is impossible to avoid fear, what we can do is find a way to respond to it more reasonably and appropriately.
What does this have to do with creativity?
Well, do you start your day with reading or watching the news?
Do you do that before anything else?
As human beings, we are naturally terrified of the prospects of our own death. And when we are reminded of our own mortality, this triggers a panic response in the brain, which is often actually unconscious and acts more as a general anxiety. This is what we call ‘terror management’.
Then, we are more prone to temptations because we need an immediate relief.
Logically - and biologically - you won’t work on your long-term projects while feeling like that.
Fear can be a creativity killer. When you feel more or less positive, happy and safe, you will have more insights.
It is all very true, isn’t it?
But how about turn it upside down?
What if fear isn’t bad at all?
All emotions have a positive purpose that serves us. Have you ever thought about the positive purpose of your fear?
Sometimes our fear can be a really useful gut-response that helps us anticipate and respond more quickly to a genuine threat. If something is unfamiliar, it might be dangerous, so, whenever we’re in unfamiliar territory, fear crops up and alerts us to pay attention. And of course, from a survival point of view, that’s really useful.
Fear is a signal you’re learning. Because we’re designed this way, we tend to respond to all unfamiliar experiences with fear – even if they’re not dangerous. So long as you’re taking yourself into new territory, and growing, you’ll always feel some fear along the way. From a creativity point of view, fear is useful because it makes you more alert when you’re learning and growing. And fear is a signal that you’re learning. In fact, if you’re telling yourself you’re learning in a particular area of your life, yet you’re not feeling any fear in that area of your life, you’re probably not learning.
Fear lets you know what’s important to you.
A third purpose of fear is that fear lets us know what’s really important to us. Think about it: when something isn’t important to you, you probably don’t care what happens with it, and you won’t feel fear then. It’s the stuff that’s closest to our hearts that we really care about, that we feel the most fear about – because it matters to us how things work out. With so many choices available to us these days, a lot of creative people find it difficult to figure out what’s really important to them and decide what they want in life. A really counter-intuitive, but easy way to figure whether something is genuinely important to you is to notice how much fear you have about it. The more important it is to you, the bigger your fear will probably be.
Fear holds creative tension.
When there’s an unresolved problem or a gap between where we are and where we want to be, a tension develops. The bigger the gap, the greater the tension, and fear we’ll feel.
A lot of the time, in order to relieve the tension, we change our vision of where we want to be or stop asking that unresolved question.
Successful creatives embrace this tension, knowing that tension is an important part of the creative process. Creative tension motivates our unconscious mind to continue searching for a resolution, even while we go on with our other tasks or go to sleep at night, those epiphanies that you have, where the idea just seems to have popped into your head out of nowhere.
And what is the conclusion?
I guess, there’s no conclusion.
Keep on thinking and creating. And enjoy what you’re doing.
That’s the best advice I could give.