Inside Out Sadness

Embrace The Pain: A Manifesto For Creativity From The Creative Circle

Creative Circle President Gabriela Scardaccione urges creatives to resolve the pain in order to create joy

By Gabriela Scardaccione

According to Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet, when Pixar Director Pete Docter decided to make an animated film about an eleven-year-old named Riley moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, he chose to depict the teenager’s conflicting emotions in a funny way.

Out of the twenty-seven emotions psychologists told him humans have, he picked Joy as the main character, with Fear being a supporting character, mainly because he thought Fear was very funny. He also considered sadness, but this seemed unappealing.

 Three years into development, Docter was scheduled to screen the film as work in progress for Pixar’s Executive team, and he was sure it was a failure. The third act didn’t work. According to the film’s narrative, Joy should have learned a great lesson. But Fear had nothing to teach her.

At that point in his career, Docter had enjoyed two mega successes – Up, and Monsters, Inc. - but he started to convince himself that these two films were just strokes of luck. He was overwhelmed by Impostor Syndrome.

He fell into a downward spiral and imagined himself failing, not only losing his job at Pixar but also losing his career. The thought of living outside the creative community made him feel he was drowning in sadness. And the sadder he felt, the more he realised how much he loved his colleagues.

And this led to an epiphany: the real reason for all our emotions - is to connect us. And Sadness, of all the emotions, is the ultimate bonding agent. Sadness triggers compassion. It brings people together.

He convinced John Lasseter to place Sadness at the heart of the movie and he went on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Inside Out was the highest grossing original film in Pixar history - with Sadness in the starring role.

 I’ve been working in this industry for almost thirty years, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered a pattern in the work I loved the most throughout my career: every piece somehow works to resolve pain.

Of course, the world is full of pain and that pain presents in many different forms: hunger, inequality, lack of clean water or sanitation; racism, lack of diversity, inexplicable wars, inexplicable presidents, lack of education... I can stand here all day and make you very, very sad.

Instead, I would like to invite all of you who dare to call yourselves creatives, to use your creative minds to resolve any pain you come across while trying to solve a creative brief. Keep your minds and your hearts open, because sometimes pain is evident and other times it’s so well hidden that it’s difficult to see. 

Pain can easily be found in the fun and quirky resolution of a brief for a fast-food company’s greasy Meal Deal - aimed primarily at low-income, uneducated people.

Pain can confront us when we walk into a client’s office – and find ourselves talking about values and purpose with a group made up entirely of privileged white people. 

Pain lives within a brand guidelines document that ticks all the boxes when it comes to diversity – but only features people of colour in minor roles.

Pain can be in a brief that seeks to increase sales of a product that everyone around the table knows is not sustainable and instead, harms the world we all live in.

 The best creatives have a superpower: the power of persuasion. They also have the power to decide exactly what needs to be said. They are ‘curators’ whose main job is to curate the brief and the message.

‘Curator’ comes from the Latin word cūrātor: “One who has care of a thing, a manager, guardian, trustee” and cūra which means “care, heed, attention, anxiety, grief."

This industry doesn’t allow us to connect to pain. Because pain doesn’t sell. Pain is sad. 

Perhaps, as creatives, we need to focus on connecting more – rather than just selling more.

Perhaps briefs should be excuses to make people feel less alone; to help them feel less depressed, anxious or hopeless.

Perhaps there’s a way to make our industry contribute to what we all know, deep in our hearts, is good for the world.

Perhaps we can use our creativity to help clients be sustainable in innovative ways for the next 100 years.

Or... perhaps we can find a way to show that acknowledging pain does sell, like in the Pixar example.

The beautiful truth is, it’s only when we understand the deepest pain around us - that we can begin to feel real joy and happiness in ourselves.

I’d like to end with words from the poet Khalil Gibran, who in his book The Prophet says:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked...

Some of you say: "Joy is greater than sorrow,"

and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone

with you at your board, remember that the other

is asleep upon your bed.

Gabriela Scardaccione is President of the UK Creative Circle and global chief magic officer at ScienceMagic


Bittersweet, Susan Cain / The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran


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