A recent Newsweek article (The Creativity Crisis, June 10th 2010) by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman warns us of a crisis looming over America's future. Maybe they're focusing on the wrong set of problems.
According to a recent Newsweek article
, "the US' focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing is killing its creativity".
And so it seems, America is living a "creativity crisis".
It sounds surprising that, with all the emphasis being put on the idea that creativity is quintessential for the survival and growth of modern societies, we would now come to such a report. This growing attention to a new crisis (!) is but a symptom of a slow realization; that the models we have adopted during the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century are now due for overhaul. We've build organizations structured around a shared collective impetus to significantly improve our standards of living, by mass producing and mass managing products and individuals.
Moral and discursive inertia has let the praxis live on despite the successive cultural revolutions that have led us to the so-called knowledge-based society. Hence, we still hold the rational-legal domination as a superior form of human organization, and fail to adapt to the increasingly sensible, educated and creative needs of urban populations.
We focus on creativity now because we are slowly growing aware of the fact that this rationalization of the world, with its intellectual property, project management courses and quantified meritocratic obsessions, is what's killing us.
We need to introduce a bit of chaos. But don't know how.
There are no graduate degrees in Chaotic Sciences [even a math degree specialized in stochastic processes ends up being quite a rational endeavour]. We are still waiting for HBR's Top 10 things to do to deconstruct your organization. We keep asking how much it costs instead of asking why things are done. Maybe management principles are, in essence, contradicting the idea of creativity. What does that mean, to manage?
One may have a sense of such crises, intuitively. It was probably such a "feeling" that provided Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman with the impetus to write the Newsweek paper. But the fact that they felt compelled to use a time series of Torrance scores - a standardized test to measure creativity - demonstrates that they have failed to seize the matter properly, and weakens their argument that standardization is killing creativity.
Interestingly, the article also points to Europe and China as examples. The European Union's efforts - who designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity - are supposed to prevent the same kind of creativity crisis from occurring on the Old Continent. We are to believe that one of the largest bureaucracies in the world - Europe - is able to provide the sufficient stimuli to draw 500 million Europeans, on which they have little effective control, to behave creatively. Hence France, with its Ecole Nationale d'Administration and world-class strike rates, its lazy merry-go-round semi-public oligopolies, is going to lead the way out of this standardization of the world. The Greek will creatively scheme their public finances, leading to massive liquidity crises, and somehow, they are to help us out. Is Europe really the rope to swing on?
Modernity is filled with anxiousness, a feeling some have come to appreciate in this successiveness of crises. Some even make a living off of them; suffice to look at Goldman Sachs. A creativity crisis? Really? A permanent one, for that matter. Some will argue that the world is never creative enough. It isn't, indeed. Creativity is something that pushes us forward and above. A virtuous spiral of ideas and chaos. It is difficult to locate creativity specifically, let alone to measure it. The crisis is not so much that of creativity, but of the space that is left for this creativity to be expressed. Reduce formalization. Bug off with your GMATs and econometric analyses, and make the effort to talk to others. Open your doors, instead of formatting brain-dead managerial zombies and their disconnected dashboards. Eliminate IPRs on most ideas, words and concepts. We'll see then, who's in crisis.