Some argue that Creativity is overrated. If anything it is underrated. Here’s why…
I must be honest with you. While I don’t mind a good passionate discussion well just about any topic, I don’t really like to argue with articles, or more accurately with their authors. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I like to see and hear whoever it is I talk with. But there are times when I can’t just read an article and leave it as is. I find myself arguing with it inside my head. And sometimes, when that happens, I feel I have to respond. In a sense, Eliot Gattegno’s article “Creativity is Overrated” is an excellent article, not because I agree with the author’s opinions, but simply because it has driven me to respond.
So let’s start with the bottom line of my view: Creativity is not overrated. If anything it is underrated. Here’s why…
What is Creativity
To evaluate something or say that it is overrated, you must first define it. Unfortunately, Eliot Gattegno does not bother to define Creativity in his article, so I will go for the definition I use. It might seem like a simplistic definition at first, but I think that’s exactly why it is so powerful.
Creativity is the ability to see things differently. The beauty in this broad definition is that it is so easy to apply it to almost any context. What Gattegno refers to as Creativity is, in fact, a very specific application or interpretation of creativity (judging from the examples he lists). It is merely a fraction of human creativity. And, dare I say, not necessarily the important fraction in the context of this discussion.
So, once we define Creativity as the ability to see things differently, we can move on to the first issue: Creativity is not just for a few “chosen ones.”
Creativity for All
I must admit that when I first read the article, I felt a certain unease. The author’s claim is basically that not everyone can be creative, so let’s give all these valuable colleagues who simply “don’t have it” a big hug and let them know they are important to the organization. Of course, they are! But why are we labeling anyone as “non-creative”?
If Creativity is all about seeing things differently, finding new ways to interpret or apply what seems to be very obvious and concrete, and imagining (yes! imagining!) a better-unexpected alternative, I’ve got news for you: Anyone can do it! And anyone should, for their personal benefit as well as for the benefit of the company.
We are all born with the ability to see things differently, imagine, and invent. We are practicing it fluently when we are young children. Unfortunately, for many of us, this ability quickly deteriorate with time because we are not expected to use it (in school, and later in work). But we can regain this ability, redevelop it, and master it with ongoing practice.
So instead of “celebrating the non-creative,” let’s set a clear goal: we can all be more creative. Just like we can all improve our physical fitness, even if only a few of us will make it to the Olympics.
And yes, I do expect the people who are debugging a piece of code or working on some Excel sheet to be creative. I do expect them to imagine (and then try to apply) new ways to do their tasks. Or redefine their tasks altogether. That is exactly how organizations improve, become more effective, and achieve their goals. Any company that doesn’t expect its employees to do that is doomed. Doing the same things in the same methods is a sure recipe for becoming irrelevant.
And that is not the task of “the dreamers.” It’s everyone’s task. Sure, the dreamers might come up with the big idea for a new never-done-this-before product. But that product will never reach its launch day if everyone else will just do the same thing they’ve been doing for years. Everyone needs to innovate in their scope and level.
And don’t expect this to be easy!
Creativity is not Easy
Next, Gattegno claims that we are caught up in an illusion that creativity is easy while in fact, it takes huge effort and resources which you might not be able to afford.
Surprisingly, I agree! Of course, creativity is a serious investment, especially if you want it to be part of the company’s DNA. And maybe some companies think they can’t afford that. I’m willing to bet some companies think can’t afford developing the skills of their employees. Some companies believe they can’t afford investing in reasonable workstations. And the list goes on. The fact that developing and practicing Creativity is a serious investment does not suggest that it is not an essential one.
Investing in Creativity (at all levels) is probably the best investment there is, simply because it is an enabler for so many things. If you really invest in developing a culture of creativity and the skills that enable it, you are going to be ready to whatever your next challenge is. As simple as that.
Imagine a team of people who are masters in seeing things differenly facing a problem. Imagine how they examine it, think of it, come up with surprising ideas from other domains. Now imagine a team of people who were expected to do the same thing using the same method for the past five years. Which team do you want with you for your next big challenge?
Creativity Enhances Productivity
Which bring us to the last argument in Gattegno’s article: people with higher education contribute more to organizations than creative people. Wait, what? I have to admit I stared at this statement for quite some time trying to understand its logic: why are creativity and education being compared as if they are mutually exclusive?
Creativity does not come at the expense of education, skills, motivation or any other aspect you would normally take into account when hiring people. If anything, Creativity feeds by these aspects and enhances them at the same time.
Creativity is like the spice that makes the difference between a dull dish and an amazing one. No spice in the world can replace good ingredients. But great ingredients with zero spices are not likely to result in a dish you would remember.
When applied to all levels of the organization, Creativity enhances productivity. The idea that to get things done you have to put Creativity aside is a nothing less than dangerous. Are we destined to do more of the same to be productive? Can any company survive by doing more of the same for too long? I think the answers to these questions are clear.
But unfortunately, in many (if not most) organizations the answers to these questions are not that clear. Which brings me to the bottom line.
Bring Creativity to the Front
Creativity is definitely not overrated. Individuals and organizations will flourish when Creativity is applied at all levels. Anyone can develop and master Creativity. It is never an easy task. It sure does require serious investment, but almost anything with a significant long-term benefit does. Creativity does not contradict productivity. It enhances it.
But all these arguments are really not the key issue. Creativity is not overrated simply because in practice it is underrated!
Many companies talk about Creativity. Innovation is a great buzzword, and so it found its way to the mission statement of most organizations. But in practice, most companies still don’t invest in Creativity on a daily basis. Most companies would still prefer short term results over long term investments in soft skills such as imagination. Many companies might nurture a few selected Creative employees but fail to develop a culture of Creativity throughout the organization. So how can one argue that Creativity is overrated?
The companies most likely to thrive are the ones with Creativity flowing in their organizational veins. These companies will not be affected by the argument that Creativity is overrated. If you are leading any other company, you can certainly use any of the arguments in Gattegno’s article to reinforce your approach. That would be the easy thing to do.
Alternatively, you can stop for a moment and think. You can challenge these arguments and try doing something different. You can start investing in Creativity as if your company’s life depends on it. If you do that seriously, with real intent, you won’t need to read any article to know the value of Creativity. It won’t be over- or under-rated. It will just be part of your DNA. And when this happens you will find out that anything is possible. Literally.
Using seempli Lidor works with individuals, teams, and organizations seeking to develop, master, and apply creativity.