Nation of Beancounters

The Myth of Creativity

Posted in Culture of Firms by Navin Kumar on January 24, 2013

One of Robin Hanson’s classic, if snarky, contrarian essays:

… the dramatic artistic creations or intellectual insights we most admire for their striking “creativity” matter little for economic growth. Creative new clothes or music may change fashion, but are soon eclipsed by newer fashions. Large and lasting economic innovations, like steam engines or cell phones, are rare and tend to be independently “invented” by many people. One less visionary would matter little.

Instead, the innovations that matter most are the millions of small changes we constantly make to our billions of daily procedures and arrangements. Such changes do not require free-spirited self-expression.

If you’re being marginalized it isn’t because of evil:

We throw away most ideas, while those we do bother to mention are rarely pursued. Almost everyone has suggestions they think were unfairly ignored. This is not because of evil conformism; given our limited resources, it simply could not be otherwise.

The downside of creativity:

Such striving for creativity can actually reduce innovation. Vying for creative credit, people routinely neglect good ideas “not invented here.” And they often join the crowd behind a new idea just to declare their creativity, which distracts them from really trying to make that new idea work.

… we don’t need more suggestion boxes or more street mimes to fill people with a spirit of creativity. We instead need to better manage the flood of ideas we already have and to reward managers for actually executing them.



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