The Creative Spark

I got detailed this morning to attend a session entitled “Sparking Creativity”, an innovation/brainstorming workshop. The point was not so much to generate actual ideas, as explore the ways that the workplace discourages or encourages creativity amongst employees.

For the most part, the emphasis was on Montessori-school flakey (my bad — see comments) conceptions of creativity, where creativity is equated with playfulness, laughter, and the almost complete absence of rules or constraints. I haven’t got much time for this sort of stuff, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

One thing that interested me was the underlying assumption of the session (and of most of these sorts of exercises), which is that what we lack are ideas, and we need to encourage the generation of more ideas. But innovation has two elements, the generation of novel forms and the testing of them against real-world problems. Put another way, there is the creativity and the destruction — both play a critical role.

So here’s the question. If innovation is what we want, which side of the equation is lacking? Do we have too few ideas? Or are there plenty of ideas going around with insufficient discipline and attention in the testing? I suppose the answer differs from one field to another. I think at the CBC for example, there are too many ideas that aren’t subject to the discipline of proper testing. But how about the newspaper business — is it more creativity we need, or a more judicious process of destruction?

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