Everyone Wants Creativity, But Don’t Want To Flirt With Failure

Now and again I have cited the 2010 IBM study where CEOs worldwide ranked creativity as the most relevant and important skill their employees needed to take their companies in the future.  According to a piece by Larry Robertson on Creativity Post, similar studies by consultants and multi-national companies like Price Waterhouse Coopers, Boston Consulting Group,  Ernst & Young and Adobe have all arrived at the same answer.

Robertson expounds on seven general themes that emerge from the studies. (I am just providing a simple list.)

Creativity clearly surfaces as:

1. A Key Quality…

2. Relevant at Every Level…

3. Critical in Every Sector…

4. A Motivator and Value Maker…

5. One of the Few Things You Can Actually Control…

6. The Telltale Sign of an Effective Leader…

7. A Greater Social Need…

And yet, even with all the agreement and evidence, a substantial gap still exists between what we want, value, and believe creativity’s importance to be and what we actually do to encourage and fuel it.

Few organizations hire, train, or create environments that promote and prioritize creativity. Few leaders set an example beyond their declarations of creativity’s strategic importance. And the few exceptions? Not surprisingly, they are the leaders viewed by their industries, the market, their employees, and their customers as having the highest likelihood of thriving in a disruptive world.

One leader, in a single organization, could read this and seek change. That would be good, but the need is far greater. Collectively, as human beings, we need to bridge the gap between “perceived need and actual use” when it comes to creativity…

I think we probably all realize that creativity isn’t supported in practice because it involves risk. No one wants to be the one blamed when something goes wrong. When TV shows and movies depict a creative risk taker, it is often a father (is it ever the mother?) who has relegated himself and his family to near poverty due to the failed inventions he has sunk resources into. If something works, everyone is surprised and it is usually to save the day.

If someone is successful at plying their creativity in a scientific way, it is usually as a vehicle for some adventure. If it is depicted in association with the arts, it is a rags to riches story that often involves the recognition of hubris that grounds them.

Rarely are creative abilities depicted as part of a successful character’s normal background that isn’t the basis of moving the story forward or some character flaw/quirk. Creativity is either the reason why someone’s life is held back or it enables them to lead an amazing life of opportunity. Sometimes it is a combination of both– the broke, but zany person who finds meaning in the simple pleasures of life and helps the main character change their life. Rarely is creativity associated with a solid, normal life.

Think about how many characters have been successful doctors, lawyers and business people who didn’t seem to have to do much in these areas to be successful. How many characters have a comparable life in a creative profession? (Mike Brady from the Brady Bunch? Can you think of more?)

Granted, most people get into a creative field because provides interesting opportunities and elevates your day above the mundane. They don’t necessarily want their story to be completely normal.

My point is that creativity is often depicted on the extremes, either part of resounding success or abject failure. With that context lurking in the collective subconscious, I wouldn’t necessarily blame businesses if they viewed cultivating and employing increased creativity with some apprehension.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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