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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