Reassessing creativity

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What being creative is should be redefined, as well as its emphasis. We should move away from an obsession with the creativity in entertainment, of media celebrities and fashion, although invention in these areas is often impressive. There is a creative divide. Some activities are deemed to be creative and others not, such as social work, and the latter become disenfranchised by the fashionability of creativity in narrower fields. But creative heroines and heroes can be found in any sphere, from social entrepreneurs to scientists, business people, public administrators and artists.

A reassessment of creativity implies rethinking its ambit and applications. Marketing, media and technological innovations will still be significant, but creativity should also be applied to the challenges of misery, to nurturing our environment, and in political and social innovation. How democracy can be renewed, how our behaviours might change, how hierarchies can be realigned, how prisons and punishment can be reformed, what social care might look like, how young people can feel engaged, how community and mass creativity can be triggered - these are exactly the areas that require most of our cerebral endeavour and cannot be exempt from creative approaches.

In a study assessing the characteristics of 20 creative projects in Helsinki, including cutting-edge digital media, homelessness campaigns, business entrepreneurs, physical regeneration, social enterprise and scientific research, I concluded that the personal characteristics of project initiators and key staff are similar across completely different disciplines.6 They share an exploratory open-mindedness, deep focus, a lateral, flexible mind. The challenge is to value and link different forms of creativity together in the environ mental, political, economic, social and cultural spheres. This is the creative milieu.

We should value creativity as a form of capital. Creativity is multifaceted resourcefulness. It is applied imagination using qualities such as intelligence, inventiveness and learning along the way. It is dynamic and context-driven: what is creative in one period or situation is not necessarily so in another. Crucially, creativity is a journey not a destination, a process not a status. Every creative output has a life cycle and, as time and experience of the innovation in action unfolds, it will itself need to be adapted and reinvented again. Creativity involves divergent or generative thinking and is linked to innovation, which demands a convergent, critical and analytical approach and ways of thinking that will adapt as a project develops. Being creative is an attitude of mind and a way of approaching problems that opens out possibilities. It is a frame of mind which questions rather than criticizes, which asks 'Why is this so?' and is not content to hear 'It always has been like this.' Creativity challenges not just what has already become a problem, but many things that seemingly work well. It has an element of foresight and involves a willingness to take measured risks, to stand back and not to pre-judge things.

Yet precisely at the moment when the world acknowledges creativity, decisions are made that operate in the opposite direction. For example, the arts, a key area within which creativity is fostered, remain relatively undervalued in the school curriculum and by parents.

The expression of creativity in an individual, an organization or a city are different, but the essential attributes and operating principles are the same. Every city should ask itself very honestly, 'How creative am I?' 'What specific forms of creativity am I especially proficient in?' 'Where is this creativity to be found?' It is very difficult to assess how creative a city is. There must be no self-delusion, and the desire to find out how good other cities are must be repressed. For instance, merely holding festivals does not mean a city is creative; it may mean it is good at attracting creative people from the outside to perform in the city. On the other hand, I concluded after my work there that Adelaide is perhaps very creative in fashioning warm welcomes. Festivals and events feel good in this city. Adelaide's strengths may therefore lie in organizing and generating the setting. These attributes have great financial potential and the fact that Adelaide punches above its national weight in conferencing and conventions is evidence of this capacity.

Being creative implies individuals, organizations and the city as a whole set the preconditions within which it is possible for people to think, plan and act with imagination. This is what being a 'Yes' rather than a 'Maybe' or 'No' city is about. This means making people feel it is possible to take imaginative leaps or measured risks. When this happens there are dramatic implications for organizational culture and structure. Creativity is not the easy option. Creative organizations are unusual; they tend to break down hierarchies and find new ways of organizing; they are driven by an ethos; and they balance rigidity and flexibility. As David Perkins aptly notes, 'Creative people work at the edge of their competency, not at the centre of it.'7 This idea can sit uncomfortably within large organizational structures, especially public organizations, whose attitudes to risk are tempered by accountability issues. Risk assessment can be a cover for avoiding action. Risk, creativity, failure and bureaucracy are uneasy bedfellows. People rarely acknowledge failure as a learning device.

The more successful creatives tend to cluster in places of distinc-tiveness8 and so the geography of creativity is lopsided. Many areas, especially in the outer suburbs, suffer as there are not enough possibilities and stimulation is lacking. The danger is that if we focus too strongly on places that are already strong, a creative divide might develop, rather like the divide between the information rich and poor, or income rich and poor, or the poorly networked and highly networked. For this reason any overarching talent strategy should be targeted at groupings in all locations. This should include a networking strategy for the poor, because if they know only each other, they might have too few or inappropriate role models to emulate.

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