Most of us have come across the saying that every five-year-old is an artist, and by the age of ten very few of them are. It does ask questions about creativity and how we raise kids. I’m convinced that if we have a broad enough view of “creativity” nearly everyone can express creativity. When we realise this, the damaging self-narrative of “I’m not creative” can be identified and challenged.
But there is a subtle lie that can impede genuine creativity.
A while back a vendor of a virtual learning platform pitched to us. His platform allowed all kinds of knowledge assets to be collected and formed into learning programmes. Whilst I was having lunch with our social media marketer, she reminded me what this guy had said: “You can create or you can curate.”
Now, this a compelling challenge.
But is it true?
As I thought about this, I was reminded of a story Bill Johnson wrote about in his book, Dreaming with God :
Years ago I bought a jazz album on a whim. I eagerly looked forward to something fresh and new as I placed the album on the turntable. But I was horribly disappointed. It sounded like a child randomly pounding on a piano, with no melody or harmonies, no consistent rhythm, nothing to give it purpose or direction. Coincidentally, I found a magazine article by the same musician a year or so later. In that magazine he described a particular season of his life in which he tried to be completely original, without being influenced by any other musician. He referred to it as a dark season of his life.Bill Johnson
Johnson goes on to say that it was obvious that the album had come from this season of the musician’s life. And then he refers to a key conclusion from this musician in the article:
He said that to really be creative he had to go back to what he had learned from others, and use that as a platform from which to create. (p.48)Dreaming with God, Bill Johnson
All true creativity honours the masters before them. Pure originality is a myth. And maybe seeking pure originality is pride. We all stand on giants’ shoulders.
Striving for originality used to inhibit me. Now I delight in the work of others and, with due attribution, I seek to connect it with other ideas and sometimes I might even achieve in taking these ideas further.
Recently there has been some analysis on successful innovation and how it is often the second adopters who make the breakthrough. Horseless carriages were too much for society when they first came on the market, but someone had the idea of putting a dummy horse’s head, a sort of masthead, on their cars and it began to get traction. Innovation through evolution seems to be very close to this idea of creativity building on others’ work. We see this in the rise of Agile which is shameless in cannibalising and evolving first ideas.
Maybe we should just relax from the attempt to be original and seek to hone and improve what already is.
What examples can you think of where a breakthrough innovation was building on the concept of an earlier approach?
What about examples in your own life?
Where have you built on the ideas of others?
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