Is Creativity without Contribution a Waste?

Last week, after posting my last blog entry about Sir Ken Robinson’s riveting 2006 TED speech, I added a link to it from my LinkedIn profile status update, asking the question “Do schools kill creativity? Yes, says Sir Ken Robinson in his 2006 TED Talk!”

I didn’t think much of my decision to do so as I’ve been using my LinkedIn profile and my Facebook account to cross-promote my blog entries for quite some time. Additionally my most recent blog posts also display on my LinkedIn profile (as will this one). I typically receive a few comments on Facebook, but very few, if any, on LinkedIn.

This would be the case no longer.

Looking In from the Outside -- From 365 Days: 4/365 (December 4, 2008)After one positive comment from a colleague within my LinkedIn network, I soon found myself engaged in an unexpected, yet interesting electronic exchange about creativity versus innovation with another colleague.

His essential argument was creativity which does not result in a tangible good or service for which people will pay money is wasteful and void of value.

Further, he added society does not pay for the creative process, but the result of that process.

My counterargument was creativity is the foundation of innovation, that ideation without implementation is another word for brainstorming: an essential, though admittedly inefficient process.

What’s more, I argued the possibility of commoditization should not be the only indicator of value: a society worth living in should value ideas and reward creative thought. Notably, I found myself heretically disagreeing with management guru Peter F. Drucker’s canonical thoughts on the matter.

I’ve included a transcript of the exchange below, but I removed the name of the person with whom I had the conversation out of respect for his privacy (however, if you are in my LinkedIn network I presume it is something to which you have access):

Colleague: Sir Ken is great, but people aren’t paid to be Creative. Innovative, perhaps. The latter is operational; it includes implementation skills.

Me: Certainly the best ideas should be actionable. But can you have innovation w/o creativity?

Me: In a recent interview Guy Kawasaki talked about “ideas vs. action” as related to luck. I blogged about it: http://bit.ly/GoLuckYourself

Colleague: That’s my point. The obverse, that you can have creativity w/o innovation/implementation, is the concern.

Me: A valid concern, but re: ROI/measurement could it be argued that creativity indirectly leads to innovation by stimulating thinking?

Me: I suppose you don’t want to encourage aimlessness or hinder potential (w/ a BA in English and an MBA I see both sides).

Colleague: Everybody loves creative kids, but generally creative adults are misfits. Read Peter F. Drucker on “The Fallacy of Creativity.”

Me: But it is usually the misfits who make the biggest mark and through their rejection of assimilation render real innovation.

Me: Drucker says “creativity is no substitute for analysis and knowledge,” but I counter that creativity combines analysis and knowledge.

Colleague: Society doesn’t pay for (creative) process, it pays for contribution, for results. Process w/o results=waste.

Colleague: Matthew, I’m outta here! Have to create some clients!

Me: A society worth living in values ideas and rewards creative thought. Not everything can be commoditized.

Me: Process w/o results=brainstorming (which eventually leads to an idea that can be implemented).

Me: Thanks for the engaging discourse!

I appreciated this unique opportunity to engage in a spirited debate on LinkedIn. Ironically, one day earlier, I had espoused on Twitter that I often find myself unsure how to leverage LinkedIn because it seems to be the most formal and least interactive of all social media platforms I use.

How perfectly timed was this exchange to disprove my earlier assumption?! Coincidentally, I’ve been making efforts to participate more in the groups to which I belong and to add comments to the status updates of my colleagues.

In reviewing the exchange above, I realize there are some similarities between my colleagues thoughts and those communicated by Guy Kawasaki in my earlier blog post to which I referred my colleague. Specifically consider this passage:

“At the beginning of my career I used to think that the idea is the key, and once you get a good idea, implementation is easy. Now, I’m at the end of my career and I believe the exactly the opposite: I think good ideas are easy and implementation is hard.”

From that perspective I see my colleagues point: you can have all the ideas in the world, but until you do something with them or about them do those ideas really matter? In other words, you can think about doing something all day long, but until you actually do it, have you achieved your goal?

Yet, I also question how you can contribute without having invested time into the creative process? And, any reasonably person accepts that the creative process is, by nature and almost by requirement, inefficient and irregular.

Perhaps this is a chicken and egg scenario? Or, strangely, does it somehow connect to the age old existentialist question of “if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

What do you think: is creativity without contribution a waste?