The Creationists

World Creativity and Innovation Day with Marci Segal

July 13, 2021 Steve Waxman Episode 34
The Creationists
World Creativity and Innovation Day with Marci Segal
Show Notes Transcript

Marci Segal was the first Canadian graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity program at the state university in Buffalo. She has the distinction of being the first creativity specialist hired on staff at an international advertising agency as well as being a creativity consultant at NASA, Bosch, Ricoh and CIBC among many others. She has been featured in Fast Company, Best Health and Strategy magazines and, in 2001, Marci and some colleagues established a day to acknowledge the important contributions creativity and innovation make in our lives. In 2017, the United Nations officially designated April 21st as World Creativity and Innovation Day and it is now observed in over 90 countries around the world.

One would think that you shouldn’t need a special day for creative thinking in your life or business but isn’t it nice to know that there is one out there? If you want to find out more about World Creativity and Innovation day and Week, please visit Poke around the site for some inspiration and new approaches to thinking. You can watch a video highlighting the UN’s 17 sustainability goals HERE.

Read the full transcript of this episode at

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Marci Segal was the first Canadian graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity program at the state university in Buffalo. She has the distinction of being the first creativity specialist hired on staff at an international advertising agency as well as being a creativity consultant at NASA, Bosch, Ricoh and CIBC among many others. She has been featured in Fast Company, Best Health and Strategy magazines and, in 2001, Marci and some colleagues established a day to acknowledge the important contributions creativity and innovation make in our lives. In 2017, the United Nations officially designated April 21st as World Creativity and Innovation Day and it is now observed in over 90 countries around the world.

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Steve Waxman:  Why did you think that the world needed World Creativity Day?

Marci Segal:  Because creativity exists. And for some reason, culturally, we're not welcomed to use it.

Steve Waxman:  So, how did you initiate it actually happening?

Marci Segal:  Okay so here's the scoop, I grew up in Toronto and ended up going to university in Buffalo, New York for the purpose of studying creativity and coming back to Canada to make civil service a better place to work and, in fact, making workplaces better places to work. And what drew me to Buffalo is that they have a program on creativity itself, it's the Interdisciplinary Center for Studies and creativity plus, being in Toronto, it's only 90 miles away. So I went to study it and learned a lot about my own creativity and other people's too and the bottom line is, I learned that you can use creative thinking to solve problems. That's the discipline. The thing is not everybody else knew that, so what I got into the real world after getting my undergraduate degree and then my graduate degree, I still saw people resisting the urge, or the natural inclination, I believe we have, to use imagination to think beyond the discipline that they're in. That we're not locked into the discipline. The discipline provides a ground work from which we can continue to grow and develop and create new things. And what happened was, over the years professionally I had a lot of different roles and responsibilities, but the main one was working with leaders in corporate environments, and helping them to use their imagination and use a creative problem solving process to do something a little bit different and make make their place a better place to work, whatever their criteria are. So, it could be productivity, it could be profitability, it could be interpersonal relations, whatever, but doing something new and different to make the workplace a better place to work. And what I discovered was that as soon as I left the environment, they didn't use any of what I shared with them. They didn't because there wasn't any time to use creativity because it wasn't on their measures. They were not evaluated for new and different, they were evaluated according to the corporate key performance indicators and creativity is not part of that. So I'm not going to use it because I don't get rewarded for it. Plus, there's a tremendous or was a tremendous taboo about using new thinking. I think I shared with you a story when I was an undergraduate, and studying cultural anthropology, I was in my fourth year, I was a senior, and I asked my professor what creativity is from her perspective. So my cultural anthropology professor, Dr. Jill Nash, said, "Marcy, creativity is bad manners." And I said, "What?" And she said, "Imagine doing something creative at the dinner table, what happens is you get your hands slapped. That's what creativity is." So as a good Canadian I'm thinking like, whoa, so people are getting their hands slapped everywhere. Dare to do something new and different and people will immediately evaluate it to the negative, rather than say, 'That's really cool. Yeah, let's see where that goes.' It's 'No, it doesn't fit into our current framework. No no no no no no no, no, don't.' Oh, here we are, right, here we are, and I know that creativity is inherent in all of us, that we are each one of us is the product of a creative act. So we have that energy in us and we can express it in lots of different ways. And for some reason our culture tells us don't use this, don't use this, don't use this and we can get into a long conversation about different perspectives on why that might be so. However, here I am, I've been working as a professional for a very long time in the field and people have in their training, we have to do creative thinking so they can tick off the box and then that's it. So,in May of 2001, I saw a newspaper article in the National Post and it read 'Canada in a creativity crisis.' So I started studying this stuff in 1977, this is in 2001. My career has been based on what it is that I studied in school, which is odd in itself. And I see this headline, and it's, give me a break. What is this, a creativity crisis? So I read the article and it was about a millennium conference in Ottawa between scientists and artists and they were debating who between them is more creative. And I just lost it because I know that everyone has the capacity for generating new ideas, making new decisions, taking new actions, achieving new results. I know that in my heart of hearts right here. I feel it as I'm talking with you. So it's like, let's just get over it, and people would say 'I don't have time to be creative' so I figured, okay, this is absolutely nuts. Let's have a day. You say you don't have time. Here's a day, use this day. And that's why the world needed World Creativity and Innovation Day. And from the way I was reacting and responding at the time, what I see is, now after all these years, it's been 20 years, is that people are using the day to advance new thinking or to build skill or to build community or to build an awareness and welcome new thinking, new perspectives, new activities and to celebrate the fact And that hadn't happened before. So, what motivated me as well was the millennium. Do you remember when we changed from the 1900s to the 2000s? It's so long ago,

Steve Waxman:  Of course. We were supposed to explode.

Marci Segal:  And what happened was I was moved by seeing the celebrations, starting in New Zealand, and then moving around the world. And I just imagined that the creative energy that the Portal would open, and that creative energy would begin to shine all over the world at the same time, and we would all celebrate that we can do something new and different. We have the capacity. Let's welcome it. And one of the challenges going through the years is that many people equate creativity to arts and it stops there. And my wish was to take it a little bit further than that, to move it beyond. The capacity to experiment in the arts is also a capacity that we have to experiment with new ways of looking at things and new ways of approaching challenges that we perceive and even new ways of perceiving the challenges that we think we have. You know, there's an old story I remember learning when I was an undergrad about a speaker that gets called into a class to give a talk to the students. And he walks in and he's got his notes and there's no lectern, and he's used to putting his note on the lectern to give his lecture. So, he looks around the room and he sees a garbage can and he sees the garbage can was empty, turned it upside down, put it on the teacher's desk so it could be used to hold his notes. Okay. He didn't identify the problem as there not being a lectern, he identified the problem as 'I need something to hold my notes.' If he had been stuck with, “I need a lectern, I need a lectern,” I don't know what would have happened. Chances are he wouldn't even have given his talk. So, new ways of perceiving the challenges that we're experiencing, new ways of approaching them by mixing the disciplines that we already have. Wouldn't it be nice?

Steve Waxman:  Absolutely. So this is a podcast about creating things, and you created a day. How does one go about creating a date that is recognized around the world? That seems to be a pretty big lift.

Marci Segal:  Well, yeah. Now, the next question is, 'Did you expect it to be a day that would go around the world?' That was my vision. That was my hope. I'm an anthropology undergrad and Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world." In fact, indeed, that's the only thing that ever has. I just did it. I did not ask for anyone's permission, I just did it.

Steve Waxman:  How did you start? I'm dead curious. How does this begin? I mean, okay, you have an idea, did you write it up.

Marci Segal:  No. I am one of the most informal people you will ever meet. Okay. I'm just informal. So what had happened was I was pretty well ensconced in what I call the creativity community and this is people using creative problem solving, and I got into Buffalo State College, the International Center for Studies in Creativity, so I had a network. I had a network of the creative education foundation, I had a network of alumni and professors at the university. I also, at the time, was working in personality styles, so I was a teacher and teaching different ways of accessing creativity and so on. So I had a group of people, and I had a decent reputation. I guess people knew that they could trust me and I just said, "Hey, what about this idea?" And it seemed as if this idea was waiting to be born. It's not like I created it, and I'm sure you've heard other people talk about it to people who create things, it's just as if it happened. The energy was there and the door opened and they said 'Hey, let's do this.' And they went, 'Yeah, that's great.' Now, one of the other benefits of this designated day is they're professionals who study in creativity, creative problem solving, design thinking and so on and there was no platform, there was no space for that. Each person had to sell it themselves into organizations. So this day gives us a platform to come forward and say, "Hey, it's World Creativity and Innovation Day, what would you like to do? Let me help you with this," and so on. So a handful of countries started at the beginning and it's because I knew some folks who lived in Brazil, lived in France, who lived in England, who lived in the States, and they just took upon themselves and did it. And then, year after year after year after year, we'd grow and, of course, I was learning how to use social media so social media and I kind of got to be friends. I didn't like it, however, I became almost intolerable in being somewhat persistent, I guess would be the word, and saying we need this. Let's do this. It's World Creativity Day and my clients bought into it. Some of them did, some of them didn't even when I would say "Why don't you just have a lunch  among your executive team. Have a lunch and eat it backwards. Start with dessert, and then go to the salads and the sandwiches." And the looks I got were just so 'Huh?' Some people appreciated it and accepted it and some people didn't. But over the years there are more and more people just, kind of, stirring up the energy. And what happened a couple of years after the day was born, the day was born in May 2001, the first celebration started in April 2002, and the date April 21 was chosen because it's the day before Earth Day. And the thought was, wouldn't it be nice for people to use their creative capacity to do something in relationship to sustainability and good life on the planet. But that was that. A few years after that, I think it was a group from Turkey said, "You know, a day isn't long enough, if you look at the Bible, that took seven days, why don't we have seven days?" So a fellow from Brazil said "Well, seven days if we back date seven days, that goes to April 15 and that's Leonardo da Vinci's birthday." And those of us who are on the call go "Whoa! That's fabulous." And a door opened when we talked about World Creativity and Innovation week beginning April 15, you can first of all tell we're not American because that's Tax Day, but also people started to get it. Because Da Vinci showed creativity in the arts and creativity in science and the marriage between the two. So that seemed to be 'A-ha'for people, they got it. And then they started to wonder how do I do it, what can I do? And there are so many folks who are ashamed about their creativity. There's a program director at an arts center that I talked with and he said he doesn't want to use his creativity because he's afraid he's going to get it wrong. Which reminds me of when I was working with this large organization, I won't mention its name, its global, absolutely global and telecommunications, and I remember I was brought in to teach the creative manager course and I'm working with engineers, okay I love working with engineers, and I would say, 'Okay, so where are you going to be creative. How about taking a risk?' And they said 'Well, it's great for us to take risks. They want us to take risks but only if they pay off.' This is the world we live in. So wouldn't it be nice if there was a day when you could play with an idea, and not necessarily have that idea as a solution. It's like on the road to a solution, on part of the learning curve.

Steve Waxman:  To me, in my life, that's what creativity is. Creativity is the searching for an answer through alternative thinking in hopes of at least getting to, if not the answer to, a failure to learn something new.

Marci Segal:  Right, and I don't even think in terms of failure anymore. It's part of the journey. It works or it doesn't work. There's a resonance around the word failure. That discourages people, so I don't like using that word. That's part of the learning.  I remember being in corporate land and talking about creative accounting. Ho, ho ho, ho. People haven't learned skills that, at least that's my belief, are associated with using new and different kinds of things. They've been, let's say, in a brainstorming session and there is someone in a lead position that says, 'We don't need to do that, we need three ideas and let's just move forward on that.' So, actually working on the idea is not an option, and when the KPI has nothing to do with working an idea, it has to do with results. So I need results and I need results fast.

Steve Waxman:  In the video that I watched of your talk you mention creativity as a taboo and I'd really like for you to sort of expand on that and the alternative way of discussing creativity. 

Marci Segal:  Well, we have culture, and one of the reasons we have culture, and I don't mean arts culture, I mean the way that we behave in group culture, is so that we can pass along practices that work to the young so that they can survive. Doing something outside of those traditions is considered bad manners, just like my anthro prof talked about, and it could jeopardize people's lives and it could jeopardize survival. So there's a tight belief around what is the right way to do things and doing something differently from that is the taboo. So, we don't want any creativity here, we want you to follow the way that it's always been done. The challenge that I see with that is that conditions continue to change. So those specific traditions may not necessarily be relevant, and that's a whole bigger story. What was the second part of the question?

Steve Waxman:  Yeah, you reframed creativity in a really nice way.

Marci Segal:  I stopped using the word 'creative' for a long time, because I remember coming back from university and telling people what it is that I studied and they would put the sign of the cross in front of themselves and say, 'I'm not creative, stay away from me. It's a tool of the devil. So the indoctrination that we have around creativity, there really is a huge expectation that you have to be a genius or you have to change the world and so on, so cutting through all of those layers of meaning that have been brought forward through  the last 2000 years is a tough fight. So what I started to do was not use the word 'creative.' When I would say we're going to do some new thinking here. We're going to use a new perspective here. We're going to approach this in a way different from what you're accustomed to and you know what,  it's going to feel a little awkward and that's okay. Let's go through this discomfort together. And I would do that.

Steve Waxman:  You know, I was listening to an interview with Jimmy Kimmel the other day and he was talking about his initial struggles as a talk show host and he said he came to the realization that you know you shouldn't think outside the box, you should be inside the box and try and bust your way out. 

Marci Segal:  That might be easier for people to grab ahold of because what happens is 'Where did the box come from?' And the box came from someone who used to work at Disney, his name was Vance and he had this nine dot problem. Are you familiar with that?

Steve Waxman:  No. 

Marci Segal:  So you have three rows of three dots and the challenge is to connect all the dots using four straight connected lines. Okay. So then your readers might want to do that. And it's a little challenging because we perceive those three rows of three dots as a box. And in order to solve the challenge, you have to go beyond that perceived boundary in order to meet the requirements of the challenge. Okay, that's where the out of the box thing came from and then I started to think, 'Where else have we, as a culture, known about boxes?' And it's like, a-ha, Pandora. So Pandora was given a box. Remember the Greek myth?

Steve Waxman:  Yes.

Marci Segal:  So Pandora was given the box and she was told, don't open the box, and she's curious. So what does she do? She opens the box. And what happens? She lets loose all the ills of humankind and closes it tight so hope was left in the box. So here you are, boss, and you're telling me to think out of the box, and on a level beyond my knowing consciousness, I have this story of Pandora, saying, 'Oh, if I do that, I could let loose all the ills of humans. I could lose face. I could lose my security, I could lose my friendships, I could lose my standing. I'm not going to.' So bust out of the box, I kind of like that. It's good. But then people will say 'Well, how do I do that? And where is it okay for me to do that?

Steve Waxman:  Okay, so your little movement, which grew and grew and grew. 

Marci Segal:  It just grew. It's so organic, it's amazing. Yeah. 

Steve Waxman:  One day, in 2017, becomes a proclamation by the United Nations as a day of observance.

Marci Segal:  Yeah, I still am in awe of that. Okay. I just figured this was an idea whose time had come. Okay, and that's it. What occurred was in 2014, I get a call out of the blue, so this was unintentional, right, out of the blue from this woman, her name is Rhonda King and she introduced herself saying "Hi," or "Is this Marci Segal?" I wish I could do the proper accent. And she said, "The way we're thinking right now is not going to get us out of the mess that we're in. Would you mind if the United Nations adopted World Creativity and Innovation Day as an international day of observance?" And Rhonda, or Ambassador Rhonda King, is a permanent representative to the United Nations from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And she said she found out about World Creativity and Innovation Day and Week but, she said, "We can only claim a day so forget the week," by just scouring the internet to see what was there, what was out there and she said, "This is great, this is already happening, the momentum is there let's build on that momentum. And it took three years for the resolution to be passed, for the machinations that go on at the United Nations level to make that happen.

Steve Waxman:  So it's 19 years now from the beginning and we're four years away from the proclamation that was voted upon, so what are the challenges that you still have to this day, to let people know that this day exists and what they can do during World Creativity and Innovation week let alone World Creativity?

Marci Segal:  There's a website. Okay, so I will let you know that I have stepped away from being its steward. However, it exists at And that might be a good first place for people to go and see what is going on and to see if their home countries have been listed. At least 93 countries have participated this past year. And that's it. And I talk it up, but not as much as I used to. I used to be a real nuge, you know. When it became a teenager, I thought it's got to find its own footing, and make its way in the world, so it's now making its way in the world. I stepped away from the steward position, probably, I think it was like two years ago. It was enough. It was enough because I did all of this, and I didn't get paid. I didn't look for money. So it was all volunteer work on my part to get it going and I thought that was a nice contribution to the planet. And then, eventually, enough is enough. There are other people who have agendas that are important and they're feeding it and they're current.

Steve Waxman:  So what do people find there on the website?

Marci Segal:  Different program ideas that people have done, some testimonials, lists of countries and who's participated.

Steve Waxman:  One of the things that I found really interesting, and I do know that they exist on the website, and it's something that was brought to your attention from the UN, was their programs and how their programs mostly intersect with the World Creativity and Innovation Week. 

Marci Segal:  It's amazing. 

Steve Waxman:  Share.

Marci Segal:  Well, again, I feel overwhelmed at this germ of an idea that sought expression and is attracting people to use it to advance different notions. So I'm forgetting what company it was, a really big one, sponsored a scholarship for students and student mentoring. Some royalty mentioned it in their addresses. It's just like...sorry I just become so gobsmacked by it that I lose my words, and I get caught up in the cloud of the image of this energy with a portal open and more and more joining into it. One of the things that's important about World Creativity and Innovation Day, what people are choosing to do now because of the current situation EarthWise, is using this as an opportunity to address the sustainable development goals. And different organizations are stepping up and stepping forward and supporting different movements that are initiating movements and engaging students and young adults in new programs and new projects and helping to fund them and so on towards making the world a decent place or life a decent place for everybody on it. So one of the phrases for both Creativity and Innovation Day back in the beginning was to make the world a better place, and to make your place in the world better too because we each have the capacity to make even a small difference that creates a better life for everyone.

Steve Waxman:  Yeah, the thing that I thought was amazing about this is the sustainability map that the UN has. Just looking at it, if people would just take a moment to look at it, they would see that creativity is so much more than the arts. 

Marci Segal:  Yes. 

Steve Waxman: Because, regardless of what you do in your life, whether it's for living or just the way you live your life, I think when you look at that map, you can at least begin to imagine all of the different ways outside of your own personal universe that creativity could be used to make changes on the planet

Marci Segal:  Right. And when we talk about creativity, the way that I talked about it is new ideas, new decisions, new actions to create new outcomes. So what's a new idea? So there are 17 global sustainable goals and it covers almost every aspect of life on this planet. Food equity, and gender equality and life above water and life below water and you name it. And you can think, okay so if you wanted to do things from a gender equity perspective, what is it that you could do in your household with your son or your daughter to help there to be gender equity. That's something small that you can do so if in your tradition it's only the women who prepare the meals for gender equity, why not ask your son to prepare a meal and help him with that capacity. I mean, just on a very basic level. It doesn't have to be a heroic affair. It can be something very, very small. And even to get used to doing things a little bit differently, a friend of mine recommended this years ago, and I absolutely loved it. She said during the week, brush your teeth using your other hand. Because what that does is it helps to wire your brain a little bit differently to break some of the patterns that you're accustomed to and once you begin in one place, then it becomes easier in another, in another and another.

Steve Waxman:  So, in conclusion, what would you like people to do to spread the word? 

Marci Segal:  Spread the word. What if, what if what if? Okay, let's imagine that everyone has a milieu, an environment, a group of people, either formally or informally, that they interact with on a regular basis, okay. It could be a workgroup, it could be a community association, it could be their household, it could be, who knows what, and they say 'You know what, there's a week, April 15 to the 21st, World Creativity and Innovation Week. what if we used it somehow.' And then begin to imagine what it is that they could do, and then do it. So there's a group of women in Inglewood, every year, they have a potluck dinner every year for World Creativity and Innovation Day, and the potluck bottomline is, you have to make a dish you've never made before. It doesn't have to be huge, right. What if you're concerned about some people going without masks and you believe that masks are a good thing and you decide in your small group that you're going to do something to help people mask. What would you do? What might you do? The bottom line is something new and something different. That's it.

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One would think that you shouldn’t need a special day for creative thinking in your life or business but isn’t it nice to know that there is one out there? If you want to find out more about World Creativity and Innovation day and Week, please visit Poke around the site for some inspiration and new approaches to thinking. You can watch a video highlighting the UN’s 17 sustainability goals HERE.