The Myth of Creativity

I read an article recently online and it really annoyed me. I found it by searching for something else and admittedly it was old, from 2006. Enough time has passed that perhaps the author of it has secretly repented and realised he was wrong. Perhaps a rebuttal now is a little unfair. But since the ideas that he puts forward still exist I’m going to do it anyway.

Robin Hanson in Business Week (July 3rd 2006) said that innovation matters but releasing your inner bohemian isn’t the answer. He’s partially right. Being a bit weird and dressing up like a clown and messing about will not make you more creative. But it may help in a way that Mr Hanson doesn’t realise because he misunderstands what creativity is and how it works.

A sense of play and a positive attitude enable and aide the creative process.

He goes on to say that most of what we hear about creativity is crock and that we actually want less creativity and more innovation. He says that artistic creations are things we admire for their ‘creativity’ and that they don’t feature in economic growth.

Innovation is a use of creativity. You can’t have innovation without creativity in the same way you can’t have chips without potatoes.
Creativity is not art. That is another use of creativity.

He says that individual great inventions (like the steam engine or mobile phone) are few and far between and were invented by many people around the same time anyway. We don’t need another ‘visionary’. We don’t need big ideas.

Creativity is about making new connections and new combinations. It’s about making tiny changes as well as big changes, about solving big problems and little tiny problems everyday. We all need to be more creative in everything we do, where we can. We all need to be visionaries of a sort otherwise we can’t envisage the future and plan for it.

He admits that we need small ideas and elaboration of existing ideas – but doesn’t recognise that this is what creativity is. He says that ‘people do it quite naturally’. Yes they do, sometimes, otherwise they wouldn’t be human. People naturally eat well, perform well on a job and are generally good at sport and some are really terrible. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be better at it. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t seek training and support to get better at whatever it is. Creativity is no different.

He rates productivity is more important than creativity. This is like saying that apples are more important than Tuesdays. It doesn’t make any sense unless you have an erroneous definition of what creativity is, which he has. Productivity is the end result of creativity. God didn’t just think about a great idea of creating the world in six days. To be a creator and manifest a creation, you have to actually do it and produce a result.

I’ve come across it from some business leaders, ‘why do I need creativity?’ they say. What they mean to say is ‘why would I want to mess about wasting time doing finger painting, watching mime acts or playing with lego when there’s work to be done.’ If anyone actually says that then of course they are right. That isn’t what creativity is.

My answer to the question is by the way is “Because the world is changing and you need to be able to cope with change. You need to be able to do things in a better way, to be constantly improving how you do it. You need to be able to have new ideas for new offerings or new markets or new ways of selling. You also need to understand creativity as you need to be able to extract and implement ideas from those in your organisation that are likely to have them (and let’s face it, that isn’t you). ”

So there is a myth of creativity, that it’s misunderstood as a frivolous sideshow to the main event of getting things done. The truth that it is in fact the most important attribute we can have. It is the fire of the engine of getting things done. Those that understand this needn’t worry about it as they will be the one’s who are still in business.

Here’s the link to the old article.

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The ‘C’ word in business

I’m not referring to ‘creativity’ as the ‘C’ word here. I mean the other one.
I was at a business presentation recently and the presenter asked at the end for feedback. The people in the audience were fair and polite, but they did have concerns and found flaws in the proposition and voiced them. In some cases proposing how the offer could be improved so that they would be more interested. The startling reaction from the presenter was to say, “people always say that, they always point out these ‘niggles’ and if you were to study the offer more you’d see that that’s what they are. I’m not going to change anything because of these little niggles.” Needless to say, no-one bought it that day.

How do you handle criticism? It certainly made me think about my own business. How do I cope when people don’t don’t like what I’ve got? Do I have a protective knee-jerk reaction of “what do they know” and fight on, banging my head against the wall?

The best approach is to weigh up who is providing the feedback and in what context. In the presentation it was prospective customers who wanted changes made. Are there areas of our business that we’re so arrogant that we create a product or service in a vacuum with an imaginary audience in mind and when a possible audience comes along, we won’t budge to accommodate them and make a sale? Would we really want to have our idea intact and unaltered, but unsold?

In literary circles, editors have a name for the parts of a novel that the author loves, is wedded to and focuses all their attention on. It’s usually a few paragraphs that the author thinks is really clever but everyone else things is jarring and irrelevant. They call them the ‘darlings’. The editor’s first instruction is that they need to ‘kill the darlings’.

Are there parts of your business that you love but no-one else does? Are there things that your prospects are saying ‘all the time’ but you refuse to budge. Could it be that you love your new website – but it generates no business. Do you love your old logo (you’ve had it for years and designed it yourself) but everyone thinks its old fashioned. Have you had advice that you should position or niche your offering in a certain way but you feel that would demean it or restrict you. (Have you every said to anyone ‘our product is for everyone’ and yet no-one is buying it?).

Criticism is horrible. Especially when it’s called ‘constructive criticism’. It’s horrible even if it’s called ‘feedback’. It’s not nice and it hurts. Especially when you know that they just misunderstood, they just didn’t get what you were trying to do. The point is – if you hear the same thing more than once you need to change something, either your offering or your prospects. The ‘C’ word can be invaluable to save time and stop your head from banging against that wall.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
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