You need community for creative innovation. ‘The Creative Curve’ is an amazing book about creativity by Allen Gannett. Among the gems that you will discover within its pages is the idea that every highly creative individual has a very specific community of roles that support them.
This is a powerful statement because of the powerful myths we have around creativity. Typically, society sees creativity as the work of a lone genius, coming up with divine-like inspiration in splendid isolation.
The research paints a very different picture, and it is important to unpack just how different and what this means for both businesses and individuals.
Gannett’s creative communities have 4 pillars:
- A Master Teacher
- A Modern Muse
- A Conflicting Collaborator
- A Prominent Promoter
I’m not going to recite verbatim what Mr Gannett says in his book, for that you can buy it yourself here.
What I AM going to do is reflect on each pillar and what it can or should mean to each and every one of us.
The book demonstrates that every single person who has gone on to do amazing things was nurtured and cultivated by a Master teacher … someone who took the time and energy to help that person grow and learn.
This doesn’t mean you need Mr Miyagi in your living room. What it does mean is that to be more creative, you need to be committed to learning. As an organisation, you must provide on-going learning and training. Simply put, when you continue to learn, you acquire more dots or data points and can therefore solve more problems … in other words, become more creative.
Being committed to life-long learning is not just a buzzword. It is a recipe for innovation, problem-solving, ideation, change and growth, both personal and business.
Not everyone has or wants a muse. Ancient Greek women reaching down from on high to inspire, doesn’t sound like everyone’s cup of tea.
But what Gannett is referencing here is the need for Intrinsic motivation … a sense of purpose, of destiny. Not a goal, nothing so short term. A notion of WHY we are doing things so that, when the going gets tough (and it will) we are able to stand up and carry on again tomorrow. Without a Muse or purpose, it is very hard to do the experiments, break the rules and take the chances that innovation and creativity require. You will be tempted to just stay right there in your comfortable place is you are not driven by the sense of something bigger than yourself.
Purpose is an oft-misunderstood notion. Here, I mean it in the more large-scale sense of an overriding mission directive that is bigger and includes all the goals one might have. Mine? I want to change the world for the better.
Someone with whom you have ideas-based conflict is not your enemy. They may be your most powerful ally because they push you to be better, to be thorough, to think things through. All the great art movements of the 20th century were movements composed of individuals who did not agree with each other. It was this disagreement with drive, the growth in the expression of their ideas and desire to escape the traditional shackles of art.
Companies often hire for fit. This quite often translates into a lack of diversity a desire to fit in and a tendency to agree and not compete over ideas …
When you want to get better, you don’t want anyone who agrees with everything you say. You need people around you who will question, challenge, and inspire you. Conflicting collaborators are the whetstones that sharpen the mind.
If everyone in your room agrees with you, you’re in the wrong room (to butcher a well-worn idea).
Every highly successful creative appears to have emerged under their own power into the spotlight. Until you do some research. Then you discover, inevitably, that there is no such thing as an overnight success or a stroke of luck.
What the book reveals is that there is always someone, or many someones, representing that individual, pushing them forward, networking for them, marketing, promoting them. To draw on the art world once again, Vincent van Gogh had his brother Theo and his wife. Without them, we still today would not know of Vincent.
In your life and your team, the role of the prominent promoter is what takes brilliant ideas into the light of day. Many high creatives are not comfortable parading in the light, and someone needs to get them and their products out there. That’s OK. But you must have that promoter on board!
The Creative Book demonstrates that it is always a mistake to think of the creativity that underpins innovation, change and problem-solving in isolation. You always HAVE to see the big picture, from the processes to the products, the environment where it takes place AND the people that are involved. They are all factors in an equation that needs to be finely balanced to give you the best outcomes.
You need community for creative innovation.
If you’re not getting the innovation you want, maybe you need to think about the kinds of people you have in your team.