Charles Leadbeater: On Creativity and Innovation


Over at CKS, we’ve been talking and writing a lot about innovation and design, but something that we’ve largely avoided so far is the highly nebulous subject of creativity. What is it? How is accomplished? And where is it located? We are only just beginning to delve into these vast and unclear waters, but since we are attempting to understand creativity as one of the necessary components for innovation, it makes sense to begin with the thoughts of one of the foremost authorities on both innovation and creativity.

Charles Leadbeater, renowned management guru, former adviser to Tony Blair, author of several books and papers on innovation and entrepreneurship, provides an excellent introduction to the links between creativity, collaboration and innovation in the following TEDx video:

The traditional view of creativity is that it happens

in organizations, in government — is that creativity is about special people: wear baseball caps the wrong way round, come to conferences like this, in special places, elite universities, R&D labs in the forests, water, maybe special rooms in companies painted funny colors, you know, bean bags, maybe the odd table-football table. Special people, special places, think up special ideas, then you have a pipeline that takes the ideas down to the waiting consumers, who are passive. They can say “yes” or “no” to the invention.

But this model is increasingly found to be untrue, or at least insufficient, to describe creativity, which lies in the realm of users just as much as it does in the realm of organizations, if not more so. Users are often inclined to be creative, to collaborate and to innovate, and in fact, Leadbeater claims, it is users, not organizations, who are most often the source of disruptive innovation. He gives the example of rap music:

who in the music industry, 30 years ago, would have said, “Yes, let’s invent a musical form which is all about dispossessed black men in ghettos expressing their frustration with the world through a form of music that many people find initially quite difficult to listen to. That sounds like a winner; we’ll go with it.”

Users, people who were passionate about this new form of art, invested their own time, energy and resources to push rap music forward, and now, a few decades later, it has emerged as one of the most powerful modes of expression in popular culture.

This suggests that cultural and technological changes happen more because of individuals collaborating creatively to make something they truly believe in and are passionate about, rather than because a new idea is immediately seen as a valuable business and profit-making venture. Perhaps passion is one of the main ingredients – or at least one of the main precursors – to both creativity and innovation.

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