Sunday, September 11, 2011

Creativity: not in my town and not in my time...

 It seems like people admire creativity that happened before, but mostly believe that people that are creative today are nuts. "we cannot assume that organizations, institutions or even scientific endeavors will desire and recognize creative ideas even when they explicitly state they want them" say Jennifer S. Mueller, Shimul Melwani, and Jack A. Goncalo in the paper "The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas" recently published by Cornell Universty. The also say that:  
"Our results show that regardless of how open minded people are, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty either because they have an immediate goal of reducing uncertainty, or feel uncertain generally, this may bring negative associations with creativity to mind which result in lower evaluations of a creative idea. Our findings imply a deep irony. Prior research shows that uncertainty spurs the search for and generation of creative ideas, yet our findings reveal that uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most."
Well, I am not surprised.  Jesus supposedly said: "A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family." I would add also "in his own time", a statement Jesus himself is a proof of. He wasn't particularly popular during his lifetime...Whether you believe in him as God or not is beside the point here, he certainly was a most creative person.

It is a bit depressing though...
We need creativity more then ever, and here I speak about great creativity, not innovation of a new electric household appliance or yet another media for playing music (the number of music platforms my generation has had to endure are mindboggling, in such a short time we gone from live music all the, er, ------back to live music!). We need paradigm shifting creativity. But as Donella Meadows* says in the excellent paper Leverage Points Places to intervene in a System, people who question paradigm often end up being locked up -either as lunatics or as rebels. 

A later update: I came across this story in another blog post
An amusing story about Thomas Edison.  Apparently, early on in his career, Edison was trying to raise money for his light bulb project from late Nineteenth Century versions of what we now call venture capitalists. After one dog-and-pony show, a VC came over to Edison, put his arm around him and said something like: “Tom, that light bulb is an amazing piece of technology.  But for it to be successful, wires would have to be run to every house in the country, and that is clearly never going to happen.”

*Donella H. Meadows (1941 - 2001), American environmental scientist, teacher and writer. Lead author of groundbreaking, and criticized, book of the Club of Rome The Limits to Growth


  1. Dear Gunnar
    this is a very interesting discussion. You have yourself been one of the driving forces in introducing organic cultivation to fx Uganda. I think one primary reason for the quick adaption of organic agriculture in that area is exactly due to avoidance of insecurity by the farmers. They have all the insecurity they can manage, and they avoid more (economical) insecurity that would result from adapting conventional agriculture technologies. As they see neighbouring organic farmers raise their income while keeping economic insecurity in the form of new investments at the same level as when farming traditionally they become interested in change. Thise is to say, that it is possible to create change even under insecurity restrictions.
    Pretty documented intersting research results in his 2006 paper that support this point, as about 3 mil farmers cultivating about 3 mil hectares were able to raise productivity by 100%. Mainly farmers cultivating rain fed crop land who has a maximum of cultivation insecurity.
    Best wishes
    Klaus Sall

  2. Wonderful article - The organic community is as much subject to these mistakes as anyone else. Dana was a true inspiration and we miss her.