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October 17, 2013
Creativity Training For Creative Creators
Here's a bilous broadside against the whole "creativity" business - the books, courses, and workshops that will tell you how to unleash the creative powers within your innards and those of your company:
And yet the troubled writer also knew that there had been, over these same years, fantastic growth in our creativity promoting sector. There were TED talks on how to be a creative person. There were “Innovation Jams” at which IBM employees brainstormed collectively over a global hookup, and “Thinking Out of the Box” desktop sculptures for sale at Sam’s Club. There were creativity consultants you could hire, and cities that had spent billions reworking neighborhoods into arts-friendly districts where rule-bending whimsicality was a thing to be celebrated. If you listened to certain people, creativity was the story of our time, from the halls of MIT to the incubators of Silicon Valley.
The literature on the subject was vast. Its authors included management gurus, forever exhorting us to slay the conventional; urban theorists, with their celebrations of zesty togetherness; pop psychologists, giving the world step-by-step instructions on how to unleash the inner Miles Davis. Most prominent, perhaps, were the science writers, with their endless tales of creative success and their dissection of the brains that made it all possible.
I share his skepticism, although the author (Thomas Frank) comes at the whole question from a left-wing political perspective, which is rather far from my own. I think he's correct that many of the books, etc., on this topic have the aim of flattering their readers and reinforcing their own self-images. And I also have grave doubts about the extent to which creativity can be taught or enhanced. There are plenty of things that will squash it, and so avoiding those is a good thing if creativity is actually what you're looking for in the first place. But gain-of-function in this area is hard to achieve: taking a more-or-less normal individual, group, or company and somehow ramping up their creative forces is something that I don't think anyone really knows how to do.
That point I made in passing there is worth coming back to. Not everyone who says that they value rule-breaking disruptive creative types really means it, you know. "Creative" is often used as a feel-good buzzword; the sort of thing that companies know that they're supposed to say that they are and want to be.
"Innovative" works the same way, and there are plenty of others, which can be extracted from any mission statement that you might happen to have lying around. I think those belong in the same category as the prayers of Abner Scofield. He's the coal dealer in Mark Twain's "Letter to the Earth", and is advised by a recording angel that: "Your remaining 401 details count for wind only. We bunch them and use them for head winds in retarding the ships of improper people, but it takes so many of them to make an impression that we cannot allow anything for their use". Just so.
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