There are many definitions of creativity. This means a multitude of ideas about how it works. It also means there are many myths perpetuating inaccuracies. For one, let's all get past the idea of creativity as a frivolous exercise played out only within the artistic world.
The supporting research shows creativity is very much a science. We're not guessing about how it works. There is also mounting evidence on both a quantitative and qualitative level supporting the business value of well-managed creativity. Some of the world's most iconic companies are embracing creativity as a discipline (see this Forbes article about GE CMO Beth Comstock) and necessary component of innovation. As an innovation leader, you're responsible for ensuring a healthy innovation pipeline. And like anything else in the enterprise, this requires collaboration with people across departments. If you want your colleagues to support innovation, you have to get them on board with the value of creativity. By understanding how creativity works, you can communicate how accessible creativity is to everyone. Innovation is often a team sport, and you need to turn people into believers if you want to create a culture of collaborative innovation. We're going to equip you with the hard evidence needed to bust creativity myths held by even your most stubborn colleagues.
Here are 9 creativity myths to be on the lookout for:
Myth 1: Creativity is for artists
Creativity is in both the arts and the sciences. In fact, some of the brightest minds do both. A “polymath” is someone who is creative in both the arts and sciences. Wharton professor Rom Schrift explains how creativity is accessible for everyone:“It’s like a muscle,” he says. “If you train yourself, and there are different methods for doing this, you can become more creative. There are individual differences in people, but I would argue that it is also something that can be developed, and therefore, taught.”
Myth 2: Provide unlimited freedom
Examples of potential creativity inducing constraints include:
“There are many real-life situations in which imposing severe constraints leads to an outpouring of creativity,” writes Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, in her book InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity.
- Twitter - 160 character count limit
- Six Word Memoirs - Not What I Was Planning, is a collection of six word memoirs, such as "Well I thought it was funny." - Stephen Colbert
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Napolean Dynamite both worked within limited budgets but turned out big hits
- Guerilla marketing - P&G company Mr. Clean used pedestrian crosswalks to cleverly illustrate the benefit of the product in a cost-effective way
- Vine - Twitter's video sharing service, offers users only six seconds of video time
- Kickstarter - the crowdsourcing platform dictates users raise their intended fundraising goal by a set date in order to claim the funds
- "Mobile first" web design
- Tiny homes - one family lives in a house of only 196 square feet that cost just over $11,000
- Postage stamps - designers are limited to about one square inch to convey their message
- Instagram - users are only allowed to upload square photos
Myth 3: Excusive for the right brained
The stereotype of someone as "right-brained" or "left-brained," portrays a polarity in thinking that does not exist. This suggests inherent conflict between logical and imaginative thinkers.
It’s true the two brain hemispheres differ in function, but they are connected. Most brain functions involve both working together.
A two-year study by neuroscientists at the University of Utah published in the journal Plos One showed the results of brain scans on more than 1,000 people. They found no evidence people had a stronger left or right-sided brain network. The study's leader author, neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson, said:
"It's absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain, language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right." However, the neuroradiology professor also noted: "The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of 'left-dominant' or 'right-dominant' personality types. Lesion studies don't support it, and the truth is that it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other."
Myth 4: Creativity is an Epiphany
We often think of creativity as happening instantaneously. There are many stories conveying this sudden rush of inspiration that leads to ingenius creations.
- Michael Jackson said his bass line for “Billie Jean” fell into his lap as if a gift from God
- Sir Issac Newton supposedly realized the theory of gravity after an apple fell on his head
- The words to "Like a Rolling Stone" came to Bob Dylan right after claiming creative burnout and a possible end to his music career
These stories present only part of the story though. Focusing only on the "a-hah!" moment implies creative thinking and innovation are the product of passivity. In reality, these ideas materialize after significant investment of hard work and research. Their sudden appearance is illusory. The unconscious mind can sift through research and insights over time. We are unaware of this thinking until the moment the brain materializes an idea. This can feel like an epiphany, but is just the moment when we are conscious of this thought.
Myth 5: Creativity requires being the original
Many people get caught up thinking creativity requires originality. They get intimidated by the prospect of coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. But in reality, even some of the most admired artists borrowed inspiration from others.
- Shakespeare borrowed from his contemporary
- Van Gogh copied paintings of other artists of his time
- George Lucas put together Star Wars with a combination of stories. He drew from spaghetti westerns, Akira Kurosawa samurai films, and Flash Gordon serials.
Creativity as an act of originality is a popular idea. But it's often the ingenious combination of existing ideas that yields creative output. It's also important to remember creativity isn't limited to product innovation. Creativity contribute to process innovation, organizational innovation, and marketing innovation.
Myth 6: Creativity comes from brainstorming
Try not to turn your people into "sheeple" by constantly herding them into conference rooms for brainstorming. The allure of brainstorming sticks to the corporate world with stubborn perseverance. If everyone gets together to talk, we'll produce more ideas, right? Contrary to popular opinion, brainstorming doesn't yield more ideas or better ideas.
Studies by Kellogg School management professor, Leigh Thompson, published in the Harvard Business Review, support this idea. They found when groups brainstorm, only a few people actually contribute.
Just a few people do 60-75% of the talking. This is another reason why it's important to have other creative processes besides brainstorming for sourcing ideas. Brainstorming can work for connecting ideas and building ideas. But it isn't ideal for idea generation.3
Myth 7: Never criticise
How many times have you heard the contingency of not criticizing any ideas in a group? This rule stems from the good intention of maximizing creativity, but isn't true, and many have mistaken the role of criticism in creativity. However, research from Charles Nemeth, a University of California psychology professor, sets the record straight. His studies reveal criticism may have a productive role in creativity.
“Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition." On average, teams who debated their ideas generated 25% more than teams who did not for the same time period. (Source: Nemeth, C. J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. and Goncalo, J. A. (2004), The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 34: 365–374. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.210)
In a recent interview, HBO's CEO, Richard Plepler, spoke of his commitment to letting dissent happen.
"The work environment that we create has to be transparent and you have to be able to brook dissent," he continues. "Everyone can say what's on their mind and once we make a choice, everyone is behind it. Someone once said to me, 'You made the room safe to talk.' And I said, 'If you want to win, what other way is there to be?'"
Myth 8: Keep the office chilly
People work better in warmer environments. A Cornell University study found employees made 44% more mistakes at low temperatures (68 degrees or 20 degrees Celsius) than at optimal room temperature (77 degrees or 25 degrees Celsius).”
Why? The body uses up precious energy staying warm. This means there is less energy available for creative thinking. But don't turn your office into the Sahara. Too hot of temperatures can decrease productivity as well.
Myth 9: Creativity is the result of a solo creative genius
Many famous creatives appeared to work alone, but in reality had the support of a team.
- "The Muckers" were a group of engineers and scientists helping Thomas Edison
- A group of artists supported Michelangelo as he painted the Sistine Chapel
- Alexander Graham Bell and Eli Whitney also leveraged teams for their innovations
The concept of the lone inventor is more mythical than anything else. It makes for a better story. The single innovator is a more compelling proposition for investors and the public. The number of patents coming from cities supports this idea. When people collaborate and intermingle more, creativity increases.
- Anyone can be creative
- It’s important to involve your entire team in innovation to gain a diversity of knowledge and viewpoints
- The right kind of work environment can enhance creative thinking
- Idea generation and management is best managed to increase creative output
- Innovation can happen at any time, so it’s important to have a way to organize ideas and make them accessible
- Learning how to use creative processes is key to finding connections between ideas
- Innovation doesn’t happen passively - you have to be proactive
- Get out of the habit of brainstorming and find different approaches to collaboration