Q&A with David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity
Why is creativity in the business world so vague and inaccessible?
The roots of it go back to our tendency to develop myths in the first place. When we as humans don't understand how something works, we usually develop some kind of educated guess or heuristic about it. Over time these heuristics become fully entrenched myths that can be hard to abandon. In the case of business, so much of "management" education teaches us to rely on solid principles and formulas that have been refined through the decades. Creativity, until recently, wasn't like that. It was hard to reduce to a set of defined metrics, and so many in business abandoned it all together, relying on outsourcing when needed to "creative" firms. Thankfully, decades of psychological insight into creativity have given us a means to study where it comes from and how to enhance it for greater innovation.
How can managers in the business world better understand what creativity is and where it comes from?
It starts by leaving the myths behind. The stories and heuristics we used to explain creativity and innovation aren't necessary and, in many cases, are contradictory to the empirical evidence. By beginning to study that evidence, managers will develop a better understanding of how great ideas develop and how to develop organizations that can consistently produce great ideas. Innovation will follow.
How did you determine the ten myths of creativity?
The myths actually grew from some research I began during my final few years of doctoral studies. I had focused on the relationship between leadership and innovation and was pretty orientated with what the literature had to say about how innovation happens. However, as I looked at how most organizations operated, they appeared to be misaligned with the evidence. As I looked deeper into these faulty beliefs and the motivations behind them, I came to realize how similar they were to the Greeks' mythology around creativity. No one still believes in the nine muses, but they do tell themselves a whole new set of myths of creativity.
Which myth is the one that almost all companies subscribe to and can be the most crippling?
I close the book with a discussion of the "Mousetrap Myth," the belief that once a good idea is generated, getting it implemented is easy. This comes from the maxim "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." It turns out that this saying is quite backwards. In most cases, when a great idea or innovation is presented to the world it is typically rejected at first. The digital camera, personal computers, and even talking pictures were all at first dismissed as nonsense. In most cases, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat you down and ignore your idea. The reason for this is most likely a psychological bias we all share against creative ideas. We say we want more creativity, but when we are presented with new ideas, we have a hard time recognizing their utility. This is something I see in almost all organizations.
Great ideas come from all levels of an organization, but pushing them through this bias at every level of the hierarchy is a long and arduous process that most people give up in the middle of. In this way, most organizations kill their most of their innovative ideas. Not all organizations are afflicted, though, many organizations have taken deliberate steps to counteract the bias and cultivate great ideas. Not surprisingly, those are the organizations seen at the top of so many "most innovative" or "great place to work" lists and experiencing outstanding growth in their industry.
“An engaging book that makes its case in good, clear language… [Burkus] forces us to challenge some widely held assumptions.”
—Morgen Witzel, The Financial Times
“Outlines how anyone—especially entrepreneurs—can embrace a practical approach to finding the best kind of mojo for new projects, processes and programs.”
—Entrepreneur.com (selected as a “Best Business Book to Get Cozy With This Fall”)
“We may no longer literally worship the Muses, but the myths surrounding creativity continue to delude us. In this smart and urgent book, David Burkus explodes these myths and replaces them with the scientific results of modern research on creativity and innovation.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author, To Sell is Human and Drive
“Creative potential is all too often held captive by misconceptions. Burkus tackles the myths head on and digs into the true underpinnings of creative insight. It turns out that great ideas are within your grasp as soon as you take the reins. Read this book to free yourself of the myths and assumptions that burden your true creative potential.”
—Scott Belsky, author, Making Ideas Happen and cofounder & CEO, BEHANCE
“Through rigorous research and engaging stories, Burkus debunks the myths of creativity and illuminates a creative process that makes ingenuity accessible to all. If you seek a more innovative company, The Myths of Creativity is a brilliant find.”
—Liz Wiseman, author, Multipliers, and founder, The Wiseman Group
“David Burkus is an important new voice, both as a scholar and storyteller, as well as a commentator of the emerging ‘GenEntrepreneur’ in America.”
—Peter Sims, author, Little Bets, and founder, BLK SHP
“The Myths of Creativity speaks the truth. The processes, environments, and organizational structures that foster creativity, as well as the obstacles that inhibit innovation, are laid bare. David Burkus uncovers the hidden elements which have been at the core of Continuum's innovation process, driving us to find better answers to the biggest questions.”
—Gianfranco Zaccai, president, chief design officer, and founder, Continuum
“You must embrace your creative ability in order to thrive in today's marketplace. David Burkus swiftly and effectively debunks the myths that limit your creative firepower.”
—Todd Henry, author, The Accidental Creative