THE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL OF INVESTING IN CREATIVITY—BY WHICH I MEAN CONSTRUCTIVE CREATIVITY
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." -Buckminster Fuller
I have become increasingly research oriented over the years—and, in fact, spend some hours at it every day. Primarily I do this so that I can write with more facility and authority—but I’m also innately intellectually curious. Additionally, I find that writing about a range of issues—which means I am constantly trying to master new concepts—exercises my mind and forces it out of its comfort zone. That said, I try and discipline my research so that I stick to certain themes of particular interest, and try and avoid anything that clearly is irrelevant to my writing.
Since I have wide interests, that still leaves me with a serious time problem—which you would think a well-trained mind would be able to resolve.
Clearly, my mind isn’t yet well-trained enough. I struggle—but, as with writing—that is partly the point.
Do I spend too much time on research and not enough on writing? I don’t quite know the answer to that. I suspect I should try and tilt my time allocation more in favor of writing, but my current research routine seems to be helping my writing so much that it is hard to be sure. Though I enjoy research greatly, I much prefer the actual writing.
It is so damn hard—but so rewarding.
But, it is, as they say, a dynamic situation. In the short term I’m resolving it by putting in more hours so that I have enough time for both. Anyway, the villain of the piece in terms of my time allocation is e-mail—a topic for another day.
I both love e-mail and hate it. And this year I have had more than ever before in my life to the point where I can’t cope adequately. Tough decisions await.
What my research is showing me—somewhat to my surprise and pleasure—is that there are answers to almost all the problems we face (except e-mail!) but that somehow we don’t seem to be too good at linking answers to solutions—even when those solutions are proven, are working currently elsewhere, can be viewed and studied in detail.
Why is this?
- FEAR. None of us like making fools of ourselves, but if you say, write, paint, or otherwise do something creative, you are opening yourself to both criticism and ridicule. Here I speak from first hand experience as an author, public speaker, and military thinker. At one stage in my life I received a terrible review in the New York Times—and it went through me like a knife (I’m tougher now) It helped that I ended up on their Best Seller list. But a bad review is as nothing compared to the consequences of creativity in the U.S. Here, you can lose your job for almost any reason—and that can ripple through to the extent that you lose your home. It takes sustained courage to be creative. It is particularly risky to be constructively critical about the military. In fact, there is a saying that an officer will lay down his life before before his career. In my experience, it is largely true. It is my belief that if we decreased economic fear—as many other countries have done—we would increase creativity in the U.S.
- GREED. We live in a money and power-driven culture where the incredible satisfaction that comes from creativity—is substantially ignored. This is ironic because many of us, arguably most—are not primarily driven by the money imperative (providing we have enough). I had better also concede that where greed is concerned, people are endlessly creative. How do you counter greed? You can’t completely. However, you can make it culturally less acceptable. One way to do this is to promote alternatives—such as the rewards that stem from creativity. In fact greed for creativity might even be a good thing! But probably not. Greed for pretty much anything is ugly.
- WRONG DEFINITIONS.We don’t define our goals, issues, and problems correctly—which makes it rather hard to identify solutions. As best I can determine it, if you can frame a question correctly, you can normally find an answer. For instance, where healthcare is concerned, our political focus seems to be on funding it—whereas we are not looking at our appalling diet and lack of exercise. The fact that our longevity is roughly three years less than that of Europeans—and two years less than that of Canadians—should be a case of concern but doesn’t seem to be.
- SELFISHNESS. We don’t care. We are an incredibly selfish culture. I have mixed feelings about this hypothesis because—personally—I have been met with much kindness and generosity. Nonetheless, published research seems to indicate that it is valid. For instance, we seem to neither particularly aware or concerned regarding many social issues.
- IDEOLOGY. Ideology, dogma and prejudice tend to dominate over rational analysis. A corollary is that ideology is often used to mask greed. Are other societies less ideological or is this a predictable byproduct of human nature? Some are definitively more pragmatic and rational—particularly the Scandinavians. In the U.S., we have now deteriorated to the stage where hard data, even if supported by considerable scientific evidence, is brushed aside. That seriously undermines any possibility of effective government—or any meaningful cooperation. It does not augur well.
- AUTHORITARIANISM. For all our talk about ‘Land of the Free’ we are a surprisingly authoritarian culture—and authoritarianism tend to be anti-creative because creative people inevitably question authority. Authoritarianism isn’t confined to the military (where you can argue it is required—though I debate the degree). It pervades our corporate culture, government, national security, and many other areas.
- VESTED INTERESTS. Vested interests don’t want change and do rather well out of the status quo. They are also, by and large, extremely well organized.
- LACK OF INTELLECTUAL CURIOUSITY. As a society, we seem to be woefully short of intellectual curiosity. Individually, intellectual curiosity—and talent—abound, but they doesn’t seem to translate into a determination to resolve national issues.
- FATALISM. We seem to regard quite a number of social problems as inevitable—even when they are not.
- POOR INVESTMENT CHOICES. We invest in the wrong things—like wars—and we don’t distinguish adequately between expenditure and investment. It makes no sense, for instance, for us to neglect our infrastructure the way we do. Currently, we are eating our seed-corn.
- SHORT-TERMISM. Primarily, we both think and act short term—and, as a society, we resolutely refuse to plan. Other societies, which do plan, seem to do better—much better. The Chinese, for instance, have been growing at over 9 percent a year for 30 years. That is awesome. This isn’t about communism versus democracy. It is about what works. We badly need to evolve a flexible method of planning for the long term.
- FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND CHANGE. We don’t devote enough attention to the mechanisms and processes of change. This is an interesting one. In brief it means that we are much quicker to organize a lobbying group to change something than to understand how change takes place.
- NARROW THINKING. We seem to have a problem thinking holistically. For instance we resent subsidizing public transport even though it helps car drivers by making the roads less crowded. We focus too narrowly on issues. We need to become much better at joining the dots.
- LACK OF EDUCATION. Our population, as a whole, is not well enough educated. Sadly, that is self evident.
- CONSTITUTION. Our Constitution needs updating. This is a profoundly serious problem which we largely ignore.
- PROBLEMATIC MEDIA. We have serious problems with our media. and with how we disseminate information. We are not adequately informed. Actually, it is rather worse than that. We are selectively misinformed. Media owners have their own agendas.
- UNDERESTIMATION OF CREATIVITY. We grossly underestimate creativity. This is a core problem. It means, in a nutshell, that we vastly underestimate what we are capable of—especially when working together. We act like people who possess a vast quantity of gold—but complain that we lack resources. Creativity is a great deal more valuable than gold.
So much for the negatives. But the good news is that the answers are out there and relatively easy to apply (or would be if we were rational and not ideological). Where the economy, and other matters that are fundamental to a good quality of life—health, education, housing, jobs—we aren’t facing the intractable ‘wicked problems’ that have the Middle East in chaos, for instance. If you want to know more about ‘wicked problems’ Wikipedia defines the phrase rather well. It has a specific meaning.
I’m somewhat baffled at how to communicate this finding. To me, it is self-evident, but most people seem to regard such a viewpoint as naïve. Frankly, I would have said much the same thing a decade or two ago, but the evidence I have now accumulated indicates that I would have been wrong.
Since all of this is far too much to cover in a single blog, let me focus on creativity. Here I have long thought we should invest in it more because it is the ultimate problem solving tool—and everyone has it though most don’t make much use of it. Further, because it threatens the status quo, we make great efforts to confine it to the arts. We ghettoize it.
What is creativity?
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships,or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods,interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination:
the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.
Creativity leads to innovation—which means change—and tends to be resisted.
How could we invest more in creativity?
Let me start by stressing the word ‘invest.’ I am somewhat uneasy doing this because it seems to stress the monetary aspect—which is positively not my intent. But what I am saying is that if we are going to invest considerable resources in creativity, we need to be fairly sure that we get more out than we put in (whether the return be financial or otherwise).
I’m not going to attempt to answer my own question comprehensively or this blog would turn into a book (one thing at a time). But some examples are clearly called for.
- EDUCATION. Schools tend to be rigid places which stress conformity in the interests of socialization. Here, we would listen to Sir Ken Robinson. His core point is that naturally creative children have that creativity crushed in school. He makes a persuasive case.
- THE ARTS. Most developed nations spend significantly more on the arts than we do—and achieve impressive results. Britain’s investment in the theater, for instance, helps to account for its international success in TV and cinema and underpins its truly impressive tourist trade. The arts yield both tangible and intangible results—and contribute greatly to our quality of life. They not only give pleasure but they stimulate. Creativity promotes creativity. It’s a virtuous circle.
- INNOVATION CENTERS. Since creativity fosters creativity so seems to flourish better in agglomerations. We could do a great deal more to encourage these. The Japanese, for instance have constructed a complete city—a ‘science’ city devoted to research. It has proved to extremely successful.
- THINK-TANKS. The concept of a think-tank—a multi-disciplinary group focused on problem solving—is brilliant. One of its great strengths is that it promotes perspective and attacking the problem from a fresh angle. However, think-tanks have been largely hijacked by people with specific agendas—which runs contrary to the whole idea of a think-tank. Nonetheless, the basic idea of a think-tank remains valid—and arguably needs to be revitalized.
- RESEARCH. Both public and corporate investment has been cut back despite clear evidence that it pays. The main objection to government research is ideological. Corporations have cut back because they want to increase short-term earnings. That tends to put share prices up—and CEOs are largely rewarded through share options. Long-term profitability is affected negatively but by that time most CEOs have moved on.
- DESIGN. In terms of raw material, it costs pretty much the same to manufacture something whether it is badly or well designed. In fact, if the highest design standards are applied throughout—as Apple tend to do—a well designed product may cost even less to make. Nonetheless, bad design is commonplace. This is crazy because good design is one of the most proven ways of adding value. The potential to improve the quality of our lives through improved design is incalculable.
- INSPIRATIONAL PROJECTS. Society seems to need projects which rise above the mundane and are incredibly difficult to do. They entertain, inspire and uplift us. Historically, they have frequently been architectural—castles, bridges and cathedrals come to mind. Today we have NASA and the challenge of space. We could do with many more. For instances, I would argue in favor of building a complete city from scratch—ideally car-less and incorporating a very high level of sustainability.
- WAYS OF FACILITATING HUMAN INTERACTION. The Constitution is no more than than a brilliant creative concept of how we might best govern ourselves. Right now, it clearly needs updating—although we largely seem to be ignoring that pressing requirement. But, the Constitution apart, there is enormous potential for us to to create new and better ways to interact. For instance, we don’t really have adequate mechanisms to develop communities—especially politically. There is huge gap between the individual and a congressman to the point where voting seems remote and irrelevant to many. Could we bridge that gap? I see no reason why not. Personally, I like the idea of some kind of non-political, non-religious community organization which one would join as a matter of routine. Have I worked out the details? No. I’m merely sowing the seed.
My argument is that we should consciously and deliberately invest in creativity as such to the point where virtually every human organization of any size would have a creative director.
People will argue that we can’t afford such an approach. My argument is that we cannot afford not to make more of this extraordinary resource—and that, primarily, it is about mindset.
Creativity creates its own value. Yes, it is disruptive and can be uncomfortable because it almost always evolve change—but look at what can be achieve with it—and wonder.
VOR words 2,232.