The Myths of Creativity: A book review by Bob Morris

Myths of Cre

As I worked my way through Burkus’ lively and eloquent narrative, I was also keenly interested in his discussion Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s insights relevant to incubation in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1997): “Once the incubation stage has run its course, which could be a few days or several years, it should lead a person into the insightful stage. This is where [and when] the feeling of ‘eureka’ happens, where the ideas incubated have fermented into a possible solution that can be tested and implemented. Sometimes the insight can seem as though it came from nowhere; other times it still takes intense focus on the project to yield a productive insight.”

With regard to collaborative innovation, another of the focal points in this book, I am also reminded of a passage in Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, one that he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”:organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.”

It is not only possible but highly desirable for members of an innovation team to reach a state of flow individually and thus help to establish the shared work to reach and then remain in a state of flow, also. That was certainly true of the Disney animators who collaborated on classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Pinocchio as well as of those who worked together in the Lockheed “Skunk Works,” were involved in the Manhattan Project, and explored breakthrough innovations at Xerox PARC. Each of the ten myths can be — and often is — a distraction and threat to individual and team flow.

When concluding his book with a discussion of the Mousetrap Myth, David Burkus suggests that it “is perhaps the most stifling to innovation because it doesn’t concern generating ideas. Rather, it affects how ideas are implemented. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it has to develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas…Leaders need to get better at counteracting their own bias and recognizing innovations sooner. We don’t just need more great ideas; we need to spread the great ideas we already have.” The process of doing that throughout an enterprise must therefore be at least as innovative as the process by which great ideas are produced.

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