Getting creative with large-scale Angry Birds at the 2011 MeeGo  conference

Getting creative with large-scale Angry Birds at the 2011 MeeGo conference

I feel a little twinge of jealousy every time a friend in Tampere, Finland tweets about another fun collaborative endeavor or exciting new start-up venture.  Sympathy for many who lost lucrative careers with cell phone giant Nokia turned to admiration as some rebounded quickly, plugged into the can-do Finnish culture and started making novel things happen.  Quickly.  Disruptively.

We have much of that entrepreneurial spirit here in the US, too, although it tends to concentrate in certain spots, both geographical and ideological.  Even though the Dallas, Texas area is a successful creative incubator in its own right, for instance, even here when the word “innovation” is invoked, the qualifier “Silicon Valley” is usually not far behind.  The fact is that this area leans relatively conservative, and that works against out-of-the-box experimentation.

Every now and then some anthropologist or analyst gains web time by chiming in on the topic of creativity and the issues surrounding it.  In 2012 CNN published a well-written article by Amanda Enayati (“Is there a bias against creativity?”) that covers no real new ground for those of us all too familiar with the dilemma, but at least can serve to get other people  talking.

I’ll leave it to curious readers to check out the CNN article, but in essence the writer referred to a 2006 psychology book that describes the uncertainty arising from inviting creative solutions into a stable although obviously imperfect situation.  This in turn leads to a crippling irony:

Herein, however, lies the dilemma: Creativity is what we need to help us get through times of greatest uncertainty and difficulty. And it’s exactly during those times, perhaps when we need it most, that we are least likely to embrace creativity.

Creativity induces uncertainty which induces fear which kills creativity.

Another ironic element, not addressed in the article, is one that many people may not even consider: creative people are highly focused on results.  In fact it’s a hyper focus on the end goal, and avoidance of creativity-stifling standard procedure, that often gets them in trouble with conventional thinkers.  On the other hand, traditional-minded business execs talk results ad infinitum but are stubbornly focused on policy and process– again, obstacles for the creative solution-provider and in fact solutions in general.

Some savvy entrepreneurs are working to find a happy middle ground.  Services like the design-minded IDEO seek to direct creativity into practical channels without getting in the way of the very thing that makes them successful.  And there are many others.

Jennifer Mueller, the psychologist profiled in Enayati’s article, cleverly identifies conventional thinkers as “how people” and creative types as “why people”.  This is actually a useful way of summing the situation up without oversimplifying; like eager-to-learn children, creatives are fond of tearing the status quo apart with relentless down-drilling WHYs, but often find themselves unable to answer certain HOWs on demand.

That points not to a fault in their character, but rather, that any work team challenged with finding creative solutions to a problem is best served with a healthy mix of both types.  Just as creative thinkers are good at busting out of boxes, conventional thinkers excel at packaging the results into something broadly useful… crafting the next status quo for future artisans to gleefully disrupt.

(originally published at post404)

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