Crisis of creativity?

25 Aug

While global CEOs flag “creativity” as today’s most essential leadership competency (see related blog post), we’re losing ground in terms of preparing future generations in the United States to think and act creatively. That’s according to writer Po Bronson, who cites powerful research findings in a recent Newsweek magazine article, “The Crisis of Creativity in American Business”. He argues that schools at all levels of education should focus more intentionally on building creativity skills as part of the core curriculum.

Here in a video interview by the Harvard Business Review, Bronson discusses the link between creativity skills and innovation. In particular, he focuses on two core skills:

  • The ability to think divergently- to come up with multiple good ways of defining or addressing an opportunity or problem, to bring multiple perspectives to the challenge at hand.
  • The ability to think convergently- to evaluate, prioritize and make reasoned choices among options

Not everyone agrees that creativity is diminishing, nor that measures of creativity correlate with productive¬† innovation– the execution of novel and useful ideas. Michael Schrage, of MIT’s Sloan Business School, argues that creativity is not primarily about individual skills, nor is it primarily about generating ideas. In this rebuttal post on the Harvard Business Review blog, he argues that “It’s about translating ideas into ingenious products, services and solutions. Ideas are the seeds, not the substance, of creativity.” According Schrage, venture capitalists in the United States are inundated with good ideas as a result of the societal capacity we have built for collaboration across disciplines and geography. Specifically, he argues the following are key foundations for innovation:

  • The ability to build upon the ideas of others, and to focus on not only invention, but also improvement
  • The ability to understand the trends and context shaping the marketplace, to anticipate future market opportunities and problems using diverse sources of information
  • Organizations and systems in place that make it easy to gather and exchange real-time information, test and refine ideas quickly, and track market results (there is, in fact, a whole subset of business literature focused on building the capacity to execute creative ideas)
  • The ability to influence the marketplace about what has value, and why

What’s the takeaway? If you’re interested in creativity and innovation, you can build your individual skills. But at least as importantly, you can strengthen the broader context for your individual actions: how well is your organization, your community, your network positioned to foster creativity and innovation? How might you make it easier for collaboration to increase innovation?