Creativity in Today’s Innovation Climate

Photo by Beyond Neon

Photo by Beyond Neon

What is the state of creativity today? Is creative thinking following the roller coaster ride of the economy (with lots of stomach-churning drops)? Or, is creativity going the way of bonds, holding steady in spite of the tumultuous times?

In my opinion, creativity is easier to be had today than ever before. With more information at our fingertips thanks to technology, stimuli are truly all around us all the time. The myth that creativity is an innate trait granted to a select few has been debunked, and we now know that creativity is a skill that can be learned. Creativity is more reliant upon our circumstances and context (nurture) than our genetic makeup (nature). Yes, there are some who have abnormal creative abilities (e.g. Steve Jobs) but we all have the capability to exhibit creative behavior.

That said, in the economic turbulence we’ve prioritized things precariously for creative thinking. Our obsession with the bottom line leaves little to no room for coloring outside the lines, and with careers in the balance we focus wholly on doing our job as defined. One of the intangibles that gets overshadowed in the considerations of the day-to-day is creative, innovative thinking (this is true whether you’re on a growth team or not). Because it’s something that is tough to articulate and tougher to measure, we stick with what shows tangible, short-term results to convey our productivity and efficacy. While innovation and creativity take us into uncharted, high-potential waters, it is much safer to stick to the shore. In today’s climate, that is awfully hard to reason against.

Nevertheless, it has inspired countless innovations. Economic uncertainty leads to frugality (in many, not all cases) and frugality often results in lean strategies for a number of things that have ballooned lazily during feast time. Car-share programs—from Zipcar and car2go, to RelayRides (rent your own car)—have gone from metropolitan exclusivity to mainstream ubiquity. Group buying sites like LivingSocial and Groupon, while imperfect business models, still take advantage of the massive wave of frugality that spread through the country in an instant in 2008/09. We have even seen some interesting revenue models like pick what you pay dramatically rise in popularity – in applications from music albums to restaurants.

The gauntlet thrown down by the economic pressures of late is that we have to find the risk worth taking, and we have to be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing where it’ll take us. The rewards are not only well worth the effort, but creative thinking is essential to a sustainable future.

What do you think the current state of creativity is?  Would love to hear other opinions and examples!

- Clay Maxwell (@bizinovationist)