Reporting live from the front lines of the war on creativity

Today I spent a great day at the Emerging Issues Forum, where I’m proud to say my home state of North Carolina attracted some of the top business minds in the world (the Twitter stream is going crazy here). This morning featured two Dark Matter Matters all stars, Roger Martin and Tom Kelley (who I have written about previously here and here), but there was also an incredible lunch session where Charlie Rose interviewed husband and wife creative geniuses Nnenna Freelon (the 5-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist) and Philip Freelon (architect extraordinaire), and plenty of other enlightening stuff.

The theme of the conference is Creativity, Inc., and from what I can tell from many of the attendee and host comments, the theme of this year’s event is very different than years past. But the undercurrent of many of the comments from this morning seemed to take a clear point of view on this theme.

My interpretation? For years the business world has been waging a war against creativity… and creativity is beginning to fight back.

It’s about damn time.

Roger Martin is one of the most eloquent speakers in the world on the need for change in business. Some key points from his talk today:

Martin talked about two types of industries– clustered industries (where much of the industry is in one part of the world, Silicon Valley for high tech being one good example) and distributed industries (where the industry is dispersed all over, hair salons and pizza places being two examples).

Martin’s research shows that clustered industries have a higher percentage of the creative class of workers. The average salary for a creative worker in a clustered industry? About $70,000 per year. But for a creative worker in a dispersed industry? Only about $56,500 a year. Pretty big difference.

So what does it mean? According to Martin, income disparities will continue to grow unless we can figure out what to do with routine jobs in dispersed industries.

He calls this one of the greatest policy challenges of the 21st century: How can we increase the percentage of creativity we use in all jobs? How can we make use of the whole human being in work environments?

I love this thought of us figuring out how to use the whole human being– how many jobs do we see that leave tons of creative potential on the table, at the expense of not only innovation, but also employee happiness? Too many, in my experience. And at all levels in business, from executive on down.

Martin went on to show data comparing the difference in unemployment figures for creative vs. non-creative jobs. The punch line? Even in today’s tough economic environment, there are significantly lower rates of unemployment in creativity-oriented jobs across the board. A good sign for the value of the creative worker.

He attacked our ongoing cultural focus on analytical thinking at the expense of creativity, saying emphatically that no new idea or invention ever came from analytical thinking. Which lead nicely into Tom Kelley’s talk, later in the morning.

Kelley gave even more insight into creativity and especially his and IDEO’s brand of design thinking. My favorite line from Kelley’s talk? The only defense against hungry competitors is to continue to outpace their rate of innovation. Meaning, you must create if you want to have a successful business over the long term.

It kind of makes you wonder why we spend some much time in business talking all about analytics, reliability, and proof if most of the growth opportunities stem from creativity. We spend too little time learning how people create. Possibilities. Passion. Hope.

As Nnenna Freelon got up at the end of lunch and sang a beautiful jazz standard to a group of us who probably don’t usually spend our business meetings that way, I started thinking to myself…

This is why I joined New Kind.

I think maybe we can help.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


8 thoughts on “Reporting live from the front lines of the war on creativity

  1. Chris, interesting insight on today’s sessions. Thanks for the breakdown.

    Posted by Betsy | February 8, 2010, 5:20 pm
  2. He attacked our ongoing cultural focus on analytical thinking at the expense of creativity, saying emphatically that no new idea or invention ever came from analytical thinking”….”

    Well,in SIT (AKA Systematic Inventive thinking), we believe that a contradiction between analytic and creative thinking doesn’t exist. On the contrary: a systematic approach to creativity and innovation can deliver a constant flow of creative ideas.

    Posted by michal | February 9, 2010, 6:22 am
  3. I’m curious if he Martin expanded more on exactly what a “creative” job is? My hunch is that it’s probably a pretty broad definition (i.e. not just design jobs, writing jobs, etc), but I’m curious if he commented on that. For example, is a project manager a creative job if the PM uses design thinking as an approach to solving problems, rather than strictly analytical/formulaic approach.

    I think Michal has a good comment there… In Martin’s new book he talks about finding a middle ground between intuitive thinking and analytical thinking (aka design thinking), which definitely incorporates aspects of both. I don’t think he’s saying to throw out analytics all together, but to stop relying on them exclusively.

    Thanks for the write up, Chris!

    Posted by samfw | February 9, 2010, 8:45 am
  4. Thanks for the update – it brings to mind “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” which I’m rereading and am again stricken by Edwards’ insights into how the two hemispheres of the brain work – “one verbal, analytic, and sequential and one visual, perceptual and simultaneous” — and that “the arts are essential for training specific,visual perceptual ways of thinking, just as the 3R’s are essential for training specific verbal, numerical, analytical ways of thinking.”
    Which also reminds me of a recent essay on the same topic in the Wall Street Journal, by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. It’s called “The Battle of the Brain”. In it, he argues that the left hemisphere of the brain has overtaken the right in our entire culture, with very bad results. He asserts, as do your comments, that both are needed.

    “In humans, the left hemisphere controls the grasping right hand and the bits of language that enable us to pin down meaning unambiguously. It helps us manipulate and use the world, in pursuit of our aims. The left hemisphere’s world is sharply delineated and certain, along the lines of the general’s strategy map on the command room wall, where the complexity of the world is stripped away. Yet we still need to see the essentially human world as it is before we simplify and disconnect it. A general needs to be in touch with the world in which his soldiers actually fight. The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.
    The right hemisphere’s take on the world is far more complex and nuanced. Instead of distinct mechanisms, the right hemisphere sees interconnected, living, embodied entities. In communication the right hemisphere recognizes all that is nonverbal, metaphorical, ironic or humorous, where the left is literalistic. The right is at ease with ambiguity and the idea that opposites may be compatible.
    There is a reason we have two hemispheres: We need both versions of the world.”

    Posted by Carol McMillan Lewis | February 9, 2010, 2:18 pm


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