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Most people are secretly threatened by creativity

14 March 2017

From Quartz:

Creativity is highly prized in Western society—much touted by cultures that claim to value individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit. But scratch beneath the surface, and it turns out that a lot of schools and businesses aren’t actually all that excited about bold new ideas. By and large, we tend to be threatened by creativity—and eager to shut it down.

The problem begins with education. We know that teachers say creativity is important. But research shows that many teachers define creativity as a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts—thereby downplaying the essential role that creativity plays in everything from math and science to argumentative writing and sports. Furthermore, teachers routinely label creative students as “disruptive,” treating outside-the-box thinking not as a strength but as a problem to be dealt with. So it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the US and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations. Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since the 1970s.

The same pattern holds true in business. IBM recently asked 1,500 executives which leadership characteristics they most desired in employees. The number one trait: You guessed it, creativity. But the same study noted that more than 50% of executives said they struggled with, and felt unprepared to recognize and embrace, creative solutions. Study after study shows that new ideas are chronically rejected at many companies, even businesses that say they want more innovation.

. . . .

The upshot is that we are in an ongoing war against creativity, yet we are loathe to admit it. Our negative feelings about unusual ideas are a knee-jerk reaction; we may not even be aware that we’re having them.

Link to the rest at Quartz

PG has had a group of Google Alerts running ever since he learned about the service several years ago.

A couple of those alerts are designed to pick up interesting stories about creativity. Over time, PG has noted the largest groups of news reports, etc., that talk about creativity tend to be centered on public education and municipal government stories.

Without demeaning anyone who works in those two areas, PG doesn’t associate big-time creativity with either endeavor. Both arenas tend to be dominated by bureaucracies which are difficult to move from their habitual ways of doing things (and are also constrained by a thicket of laws).


28 Comments to “Most people are secretly threatened by creativity”

  1. We live in a world that’s designed to produce millions of worker drones who do what they’re told, plus a few creative people at the top to tell them what to do. Schools set out to eliminate creativity from most of the kids, because the last thing you want on a factory production line is someone who decides to get ‘creative’.

    Of course, those production line jobs no longer exist, but politicians love having compliant drones to vote for them, so the system persists.

    Just not for much longer.

    • Well… creative off-hours endeavors have been known to be nixed because they “encouraged the wrong kind of attitude”.

      I’m talking poetry contest at a car factory.

      Just sayin’

      Take care.

  2. When I was writing evals in the Air Force, I was sternly told that the word ‘creative’ was verboten. I was told to use ‘resourceful’ instead.

    • Ah, I remember it well.

      New kit, and the new test benches couldn’t fix squat because they didn’t use/test the gear as it was actually used in the aircraft. One supply order purchase and a weekend of crimping and soldering connections and we had an aircraft mock-up with test points so we could tell which component wasn’t doing what it was supposed to.

      Used it for a month with it taking minutes to find the problem vs hours and still not being sure. Manufacturer finally came around to find out how we were ‘guessing right’ so well.

      Next Monday the rig and all the notes we’d made working on making a proper ‘tech order’ (TO) out of our system had been removed (and we were informed that the AF liked neither ‘creative’ nor ‘overly resourceful’ types.)

      Our shop SMS showed his disapproval by having us send back ‘every single component’ to the system when (not if) it acted up.

      (That lasted a week — the higher-ups were now having to explain not meeting flight readiness levels and missing training flights because the birds couldn’t fly. The rig was rebuilt and the TO was made asap.)

    • To be fair, given that people have died because aircraft mechanics got creative (‘this piece won’t fit right, but I’ll get a hammer and knock it in’), that’s probably a case where discouraging it may be a good idea.

      It’s amazing how many things that are designed so they can’t be installed the wrong way around can be once the installer gets a bit ‘creative’.

      • A few decades back there was an engineering fad called “poka-yoke.” Like many fads then, it came out of Japan. As such things go, it was relatively harmless and actually useful in many circumstances.

        Mostly, it boiled down to making parts asymmetrical so they could only be assembled one way, therefore eliminating entire classes of manufacturing, operating, and service problems.

        It seems not to have made much of an impression… a prime example of something that *needs* “poka-yoke” is ye aulde USB A plug and socket, which can be forced together upside-down with very little extra force, doesn’t like to go at all unless perfectly aligned, and can have its internal naughty bits damaged without being visible.

  3. “secretly”… I don’t think that word means what she thinks it does.

    Take care

    • Yeah, people are threatened by creativity? Story of my life. A square peg always being pounded into round hole. But I haven’t seen people be very secret about it.

      • Me either. I’ve been told on more than one interview that creativity, resourcefulness, self-starting and self-supervising are just the traits the company is looking for. Right up until you’re hired, when you’re expected to toe the line, don’t think, don’t question, don’t innovate.

        In fact, I have been punished with bad reviews for making the job better and easier, for coming up with computer programs to do a task quicker, simpler and cheaper. I’ve had my ideas stolen right out from under me, and watched that person be praised for coming up with them.

        I don’t blame millennials, I blame the people who corrupt our education, turning out people who can barely read, write and do math, know anything beyond passing the yearly tests, much less be capable of actually thinking.

  4. Dexter von Dexterdorf

    I think millennials are in a catch-22. We value individualism and free expression, but yet we are focused on prestige and one-upsmanship in every facet of our lives. The cars, clothes, phones, gadgets, apartments, houses… they all keep us tethered to the safety and security of the careers we managed to obtain in the terrible job market that met us out of school. We identify with what we do to make money, not what we love to do or who we are inside. We document every achievement and success on Instagram and Facebook, so we have to find new and different ways to impress our peers.

    To leave the security blanket of our day jobs and pursue an entrepreneurial venture would be far too risky when one has to consider what going out on our own entails–the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, the start-up costs of business. Then we also have to consider the possible costs of failure–i.e. finding a new job should the money run out. Risk letting our peers on social networks know we failed…

    A few of us will dare to venture beyond. But my guess will be very few.

    • Millennials are screwed, because those ‘safety blanket’ jobs won’t exist much longer. They’re the ones who should be out finding creative ways to live, but the schools have beaten it out of them.

      Gen-X and… whatever the post-millennials are called… seem to have figured that out. But the millennials just got born at the wrong time. Most are like kids who were trained to join the Nomenklatura in 1990.

      • Dexter von Dexterdorf

        Most of my peers are also just not very talented. I don’t know if they were taught that they were special little snowflakes and didn’t need to work to excel at something or what. You hear that little phrase, but I never observed it during my school years (I also was born in a rural community where hard work was assumed).

        But I will say that the majority of the people I met in college probably shouldn’t have been there. They should have just moved on to their present career of being a barista or bartender and skipped out on their student loan debt.

        I think it’s probably too soon to judge the post-millennials (or whatever you call them).

        • I believe the next generation is being called Gen Z or the Homeland generation. They are (I think) people born from 2000-2015. A way to define them is a) they have no memory of 9/11 and b) they started using smartphones before they hit puberty.

  5. Somewhere between the ages of eleven and fifteen, the average child begins to suffer from an atrophy, the paralysis of curiosity and the suspension of the power to observe. The trouble I should judge to lie with the schools. — Tomas Edison

    (I think it’s earlier than that now a days.)

  6. Something must be working. I can get from NY to LA in a few hours, and type this stuff into a $200 machine so anyone in the world can read it.

  7. In my experience, there is creativity and stupid variation. The problem is creativity is rare and hard to identify because it often looks the same as stupid variation. Stupid variation is easy and can often get attention and praise. Then it is revealed to be a waste of time and creativity gets a bad name. The real problem is that even the perpetrator can have a hard time telling the difference and it is even more difficult for a bystander, supervisor, or manager to make the distinction.

    Creativity is beastly hard and involves many mistakes. Reminds me of my writing…

  8. There are two kinds of business/production creativity, in my experience: the superficial kind, and the deep understanding kind.

    The former is usually ungrounded in the existing mechanisms that it must springboard from, lazy and long on status or fashion.

    But the latter is wonderful stuff: take someone who has really internalized an existing system, or the desired end result, and can come up with different ways of tweaking it or doing an end run around some of the problems… that’s worth its weight in gold. Equally applicable in business, science, or the arts.

  9. When I was in the Army, I always found it a toxic atmophere creativity-wise. They did not do well with anything creative. So I was surprised when I got out and saw someone tweet about hiring military because they were so creative. I always thought of their version of creativity of inching over the line for a few seconds, then ducking back behind it before anyone noticed. Me? I can’t even find the line.

    • Here’s what creative means in the military (true story):

      Once upon a time the Western Space and Missile Center (WSMC) had a hole in its radar coverage over the Pacific Ocean. This made the Range Safety Officer nervous. So . . .

      A major who shall go unnamed looked for a way to fill said hole, but every time a new radar was submitted to the budget it got cut. By the grace of nosey elves, major found out the Navy was decommissioning a destroyer in Los Angeles and cutting it up for scrap. The destroyer just happened to have an exceptionally powerful search radar. Major went down to LA and talked with the decommissioning officer who confirmed the radar’s specs. Major said, “I want that radar,” and signed a chit for scrap. $0 transfer. (I did similar things but not to this extent.) Navy set the radar down on the quay. Major said, “How do I get this thing where it needs to go?” Navy said, “That’s your problem, but get it off our quay.” To make this story short (too late, I know), major found an Army transport headed to the right place with — lo and behold — space available. Got the local Seebees ready to unload the radar and install it on the island. That’s when the major went to the CO of the WSMC and asked him if he wanted to refuse the radar.

      They installed the radar.

      (This was told to me by the CO of the WSMC.)

    • I’ve noticed similar things since I left a few years ago. Maybe it’s all just poured out due to it being suppressed for a few years? I certainly don’t remember being as ingenuitive (pro-tip; dock tape really does solve everything) as I was pre-army.

    • So I was surprised when I got out and saw someone tweet about hiring military because they were so creative.

      Business is looking for people who can get things done with the available resources, even in an unfavorable environment. While the creatives are complaining that their ideas aren’t being accepted, the really creative guy is using what’s available to get things done.

      Antares story is a classic example of getting things done. Creativity is a lot more than ideas. It’s accomplishment.

  10. All of these creativity in the military stories remind me of the Allamagoosa:

  11. Creativity is disruptive to Political Correctness.

  12. All I can say is that when it comes to being creative with regards to education, it really depends on how much support a teacher can get from their Administrators and how likely they are to throw you under the bus.

    I’ve been to workshops PAID by the COUNTY that say an engaging classroom is talkative and loud as children discuss the lesson(s), work together and collaborate. Some admins will think a teacher is doing a great job if their classroom looks and sounds a bit chaotic. Other admins (from the SAME COUNTY) will ding a teacher for lack of classroom control for the SAME exact scenario. So be creative at the risk of your job.

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