Why Is Creativity More Important Than Capitalism?


Haydn Shaughnessy, ForbesContributor

Creativity
Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

Do you know your creativity quotient?  Creativity sounds a little weak, a touchy-feely topic, but it turns to be one of the most important memes of the past 100 years, and very definitely ranks alongside concepts (or ideologies) like capitalism in the pantheon of big ideas.

I admit to being a creativity sceptic. When it came into vogue thirty years ago I cringed. Creative? What’s wrong with busy? Or dedicated. Or hard working. But creativity’s rise – measured by the use of terms “creative” and “creativity” in Google‘s nGram database – has been relentless for over a century. It is NO fad.

For those that don’t know it the nGram database contains roughly 4% of all books ever published, in the case of this data in the USA and Britain.

The problem of creativity – how to manifest it in disciplined environments – hasn’t changed much during that period.

But if you look at the chart below you can get a sense of its importance.  The use of “creative” dwarfs terms like technological progress and scientific progress.

In fact digging a little deeper I found out:

The use of the language of creativity is increasing when people write about scientific progress. Progress itself is a term in declining use, seemingly replaced by the idea of creativity, at least in the sciences. You can’s see that from the chart – to get to that data I examined the use of a variety of terms over the period 1960 – 2010.

The best Google nGram data goes up to 2000 but I checked search interest in these terms, post 2000, and the patterns continue.

The use of creativity is increasing in business and management literature, declining where people write about religion and education, and of course rising when people write about cities.

Jonah Leher’s book Imagine underlines the slacker nature of creativity but also it’s importance. Let’s face it the quest to be more creative as a society is as old as (modern) business.

Creativity is big in entertainment too, naturally, if entertainment is taken to include art and music but surprise, surprise the use of the term in entertainment declined in the period 1981 – 2000, while it increased in association with business and management.

Is all this just a reflection of publishers pumping more books out? No, all data is normalised.

Is there anything to conclude from the data?  The themes of creativity have been pretty consistent down the years – how organizations stifle it, how necessary it is, and how it creates risk.

The one lacking ingredient seems to be a creative answer to those problems, though I think we may be on the cusp of one (more of that later in the week).

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