Creativity and Innovation

February 18, 2011 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

One of my friends who is an artist said that she has come to fear words such as creativity and innovation. She is under the impression that unless the work is perceived as innovative, new, boundbraking and so on, it is judged to be unsuccessful.

As a co-founder of a new, smaller business enterprise, I know what she is talking about. First of all, it took my team quite some while to find our path as we never felt we were innovative enough. Even now that we have settled on market research we have been told that we don’t offer anything new. But how can we ever create something brand new. And what do people actually mean when they use words such as creativity and innovation?

I believe that creativity and innovation are used in order for us to categorize an area (art) that is highly complex, fluid and constantly in change. I see it as a “short-cut” route in order to brand and achieve a common understanding and perception of the art we observe. However, such categories does not only discourage artists, they also manipulate the audiences experience and expectations. Creativity and innovation is so vague in itself that I find they just represent an evaluation of good or bad, which is already a subjective opinion.

I believe it puts pressure on the artist in several ways. There is the artists own impression of her/himself and there is the artists own perception of her/his own artwork. Then there is the external impression and perception of the artist and her/his work. These will in most cases be significantly different.When you create a piece of art it can feel extremely difficult and also insignificant to explain or put a tag to your own artwork.

I am under the perception that the notion of being creative and innovative secures success and is some kind of valid discrimination of skill possession.

I find that creativity has long been acknowledged as a skill only dedicated individuals hold, as a special talent or gift. I hope that this view will change and I agree with A.K Coomasawari who said: “An artist is not a special person but every person is a special kind of artist”. In other cultures learning to sing or play an instrument is taught to all members of the community and everyone participates. No one is excluded because of the ability not to play or because they think they are not able to (Recomendation: How Musical Is Man by John Blacking, really interesting book on this topic).


Reading Chris Bilton’s Management and Creativity: From Creative Industries to Creative Management I find many of his points true and relevant on this topic. He suggests that when we mistakenly reduce creativity to innovation:

  1. We remove the values and purposes that gives creativity its true meaning
  2. We support the thought that ‘talented individuals’, ‘exempt from normal rules of behaviour’ who are ‘possessed of a special ‘gift’ or talent’
  3. When we build systems based on such assumptions we forget to acknowledge the ‘real needs of creative people and processes’.

(2007: p. xiv)

I find that judgments based on the two terms creativity and innovation, or requesting that of someone could be of a possible threat and contribute to inflexibility and limitation rather than encourage fruitful development. As was my experience with the my business team we were so caught up in the idea that we had to create something new. We spent hours and hours brainstorming and talking. We were afraid that our ideas could not be used in conjunction with such words. We waited for this on BIG idea. We were told that this is not what we were supposed to do, but still. We didn’t want to be categorized as uncreative and conventional. Being so concerned about that our level of creativity and enthusiasm dropped, I think perhaps even confidence in our own potential. As Bilton also points out: ‘The problem with too much brainstorming is that it isolates one particular aspects of the creative process and ignores the context in which the techniques takes place’ (p.7). All though I agree with him on this, I also find that being able to bring up as many ideas as possible without restrictions and rational thought you enable more potential for different and ‘creative’ ideas. Bilton believes that brainstorming can be unrealistic, however he also acknowledges its potential if followed by problem definition and testing’ (p.7). But every idea can’t be tested straight away and it also depends on on what grounds you are testing. If the thought of being creative and innovative means to develop an idea that is based on solving a huge problem and become successful in terms of sale I am not so sure that we would find as many exciting projects as we currently have. But for those who dare (and have the support) to proceed with the one crazy idea that no one thought would become a success will at least have done something unconventional, and even perhaps something new?

And the importance matter of creativity and innovation is to look at the process behind it and adding value. Rather than looking at one idea, artist or one piece of work as creative, it will be more appropriate to look at creativity as a process  says Chris Bilton:

”creativity’ is actually a much more complex, demanding process than simply coming up with bright ideas, being ‘inspired’ or indulging moments of spontaneous invention. Accordingly, while ‘creativity’ is not the possession of a precious handful of geniuses, nor is it something we all have within us, if only we dared follow our impulses. Rather it depends on a combination of processes and personalities which might appear contradictory. Creativity requires that we think irrationally and rationally,  that we cross boundaries between different ways of thinking, that we do not only have the ideas but also the resources and inclinations do to something with them. Creative individuals have the ability to hold these different, often contradictory impulses in equilibrium. But the ability to combine different thinking styles and processes is not the sole possession of creative individuals – it is, if anything, more likely to be found in groups of people working together, in teams, networks and systems, bringing together complementary competences and personalities’  (2007: p. xiv).

I overheard someone say that artists were often used to work in solitude and found it hard to work with ‘artist people’ in teams. My experience is different. I do agree that an artist might not wish to compromise on their expression or style, I wouldn’t. But most artists today that I meet are completely aware that you don’t get anywhere working on your own. You need exhibition space, funding, marketing, branding, publishing, engineers and so on. This involves constant collaborations unless you’re some kind of  superhuman. A solo artist is not really a solo musician is rarely playing solo, they have accompanists and sometimes a full band backing them up.  Some of my best experiences of team work has flourishes with other artists. They have been able to embrace new, different, challenging and risky ideas. Why so? Because I believe many artists are used to work on motives other than competition and economical value. Working with individuals who believe in the principles of a the standard business approach or set systems and conventional thinking, were more of a challenge to work with for me. Completely square and predictable. The two approaches would have two completely different views on successful outcome. If the successful outcome is gain, that be it income, audience, popularity or sales etc, then it is more tempting to choose a safe journey to get there. However, if the desired outcome is qualitative and based on emotions, experience, impressions, effects etc there are openings for choices which might be different, shocking and sometimes even repulsive I guess. Which brings us to the discussion of subjective evaluation and personal taste, which I will not discuss further. Our culture has thought us the rules of good and bad. Those who challenge those barriers might not find it important to be accepted, rather noticed. To be able to innovate I think you have to be able to challenge, push boundaries and avoid the traditional  ways of thinking, popularly called ‘out of the box’. And that doesn’t necessarily mean something new, but to draw on what we know and elaborate it. It is common to reject the unfamiliar. However, if we modify it I think it can offer great potential for innovation. No one says we have to follow the steps of those who set the standards.

Working with individuals who dare to follow their intuition, taste, opinion, desire and passion have for me proved to deliver truly inspiring and exciting collaborations which has added so much meaning and value. To create together is an amazing experience in itself.

When a team is not ready to cross boundaries and challenge what they perceive as the conventional path they are not able to produce the same excitement for me. It becomes routine based and predictable. It becomes focused on what is expected rather than challenging the expectations. It also underestimates its audience, because the audience is ready to be challenged, even the mainstream audience.

For me it is much more interesting to not accept the do’s and dont’s and rather do what you want to do. Why can’t you? Why shouldn’t you? It is extremely restricting but also tempting to work on: You can’t do this because: Usually…

The resources are there if you embrace them and also construct them, they will not create themselves.

For me innovation and creativity might not be the same thing but it is all about to find the tools you need in order get where you want to be, working on different grounds than rules, patterns and systems that were already there. But not many will be lucky to have it all coming too them (except from Mozart) and it is the actual process of collaboration, ability to challenge (even yourself) and understanding the value of what your are doing through a certain purpose and direction.

Bibliography: Bilton, C (2007) Management and Creativity: From Creative Industries to Creative Management, p.:xiv. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd

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