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The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas Hardcover – October 7, 2013
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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
More About the Author
His latest book, UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT, reveals the counterintuitive leadership practices that actually enhance engagement and drive performance in companies. He is also the author of THE MYTHS OF CREATIVITY. David is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. His work has been featured in Fast Company, Inc., the Financial Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and on CBS This Morning.
David's innovative views on leadership have earned him invitations to speak to leaders from a variety of organizations. He's delivered keynote speeches and workshops for Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Stryker; at in-demand conferences such as SXSW and TEDx events; and to governmental leaders and military leaders at the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval Postgraduate School. He's also the host of the award-winning podcast RADIO FREE LEADER.
When he's not speaking or writing, David is in the classroom. He is associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University, where he teaches courses on organizational behavior, creativity and innovation, and strategic leadership. David was recently named one of the "Top 40 under 40 Professors Who Inspire." He serves on the advisory board of Fuse Corps, a nonprofit dedicated to making transformative and replicable change in local government.
David lives in Tulsa with his wife and their two boys.
Top Customer Reviews
Readers of this book will gain a newfound appreciation for just how difficult innovation is. Fortunately, Burkus equips readers with practices to help individuals and organizations overcome the biases and potential pitfalls that frequently derail innovation. For example, Burkus shows how conflict is a necessary part of the process and represents a risk to innovation if it gets personal. He then goes on to provide a solution by describing the practice Pixar developed that employs conflict in a constructive way while keeping it from escalating into internal combat.
I liked the way Burkus organized the book into ten myths about creativity including the Eureka Myth, the Lone Creator Myth and the Constraints Myth. I also appreciated that the book is under 200 pages in length, and is easy to dip in and out of. Today's readers of business books, many of whom suffer from time poverty, will enjoy Burkus' straight forward, cut-to-the-chase, high value-added writing style.
David Burkus is a university professor who teaches courses on creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and organizational behavior. He is the founder and editor of LDRLB, an online publication (which includes one of my favorite podcasts) that shares insights from research on leadership, innovation, and strategy.
In "The Myths of Creativity," Burkus demystifies the processes that drive innovation. First, he outlines four necessary components:
- Domain-relevant skills (commonly called expertise) are the knowledge, technical skills, or talent an individual possesses in a given domain.
- Creativity-relevant processes are the methods people use to approach a given problem and generate solutions.
- Task motivation is the willingness to engage. Simply put, it is passion.
- Social environment is the only component that exists entirely outside the individual. Research shows that the environment an individual operates in can either positively or negatively affect creative expression.Read more ›
One of my favorite chapters was the Breed Myth where creativity is deemed the province of the genetically gifted (Burkus states there is no compelling evidence for a creative gene). Another favorite was the chapter on the Originality Myth showing how creatives forge a narrative where they are the sole source of their inventions belying the fact that all invention springs from the work of predecessors. We all know the story of Apple and its roots in Xerox PARC but Burkus rewinds the narrative further for a fascinating demonstration of how we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Similarly the chapter detailing the Lone Creator Myth recounts the story of Thomas Edison concluding that his best invention was the collaboration know as Menlo Park which included some of the best inventors of the age.
Sprinkled throughout the book are stories with which anyone who has studied creativity will be familiar but Barkus expands the narratives and brings new insights. We know the stories of Archimedes and Isaac Newton but I didn't fully understand how apocryphal accounts undermine creativity.
There is something novel and intriguing in all the chapters, mostly good news for creatives. Others like the Constraints Myth (limitations do increase creativity) are not as good news but better to be informed that naive. Another somewhat bitter pill for creatives was the Mousetrap Myth which details why society is so reluctant to embrace new ideas.
Overall this was a great addition to my library of books about the creative process.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I began following David Burkus on Twitter a few months ago, as he is a prominent speaker in the fields of entrepreneurship and innovation. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
This is an excellent book. Burkus has excellent insight into how organizations foster or stifle creativity, and a knack for sharing that insight with clear language and... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Spencer Pasero
Easy but insightful read on the traps we fall into trying to innovate. Well worth the time and money to read.Published 7 months ago by Mike
I enjoyed this book from Chapter 5 onwards. The author dispels a number of 'myths', then repeatedly drives home and demonstrates just how wrong these myths are. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Anna Robak
Overturning traditional concepts of creativity on its head, the very first page of each chapter tells you what you're NOT in for, then immediately dives into the real meaning for... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Alan Ang
I found the case studies for each position to be incredibly helpful and relative to my studies now. The information allows a different perspective on some things that I have long... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Justin Pruitt
Out of all the business books out there, the myths Burkus outlines in his book are still common beliefs that many companies, individuals and teams believe whole heartedly. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Jb
A must-read for creatives and non-creatives alike. I work in a large corporate marketing department and wish that everyone could stop and read this book -- from the graphic... Read morePublished 9 months ago by srs1981