Dogs ≠ Cows?

How studies of Innovation misinterpret creativity.

Creativity and innovation are hot topics right now with many academics rushing forward to present their most recent breakthrough observations... #designthinking

However, whether it's a tech start-ups, fin-tech or some other article, their findings by-and-large, sound like this...

“We observed over 100 innovative companies and this is what we found”…

Forbes - “Innovation is engaged in the “bigger picture, issues outside your walls, creating human behaviour change.” 

Harvard Business Review - “(they) challenge invisible orthodoxies”. 

Eloops - “Encourage Work Place Games and Activities”. 

While this all sounds "classically creative"... it is often generic, misguided and paints a clichéd picture of what creativity is or how it behaves.

I am not apologetic in bursting this bubble and here's why it's false.

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The error lies in the language, method and models, used to translate creative process.

Mathematic and scientific fields of study rely on the process that:

Standard input + Standard process = Standardised outcome

We start with a stable/control and apply conditions to determine a conclusion.

Within a LINEAR or logical framework this makes sense... it also logically allows us to track backwards from the outcome to trace it to its origin.

The problem with Creativity, is that it is quite often an ABSTRACT process.

Therefor applying a LINEAR model to translate an ABSTRACT process is nonsensical.

This is what academics fail to recognise, fail to value and equally fail to translate; quite simply, creativity it is a language they do not understand.

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A common process of LINEAR examination when applied to projects where there is no common stable (ie: creativity) is to apply statistical analysis to establish common denominators.

From these common denominators, researchers believe they can distill recurring habits as the 'foundations of creativity and innovation'... in reality what they present are extensions of apophenia and pareidolia.

Statistical analysis, while useful in deciphering certain metrics, is less effective (if at all) when applied to the ABSTRACT process of creativity.

Like a layman trying to describe a magic trick, these assumptions lead us further away from the truth and how the effect was actually was achieved.

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For example, if we were to go to a farm to conduct a study on the ‘Top Qualities of Pets’ observing the most common choices of horses, dogs, cats and dogs, we could claim…

“We studied the most popular animals in the world and conducted a cross-section analysis of the top performing dairy farms, alongside the elite performing stables, boutique kennels and feline sanctuaries in the country and here are the remarkable traits they all have in common”:

  1. “They’re all four legged”.

  2. “They’re all warm blooded”.

  3. “They’re all capable of being domesticated”.

Are these generic observations?  Of course. Though from these findings we can truthfully infer: "All Dogs are Cows" since they display identical traits. These study also 'proves' that and fish, birds and reptiles are incapable of being pets.

Any cursory discussion with a Dairy Farmer would illuminate the difference between a Holstein (both red and white), Jersey, Japanese Black, Brown Swiss, Guenrsey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn.

Though is a trick question: a Japanese Black is a breed of beef cattle... not dairy… it would seem not even all cows are the same.

Academics observing innovation are often no more creative than I am a Dairy Farmer, though you will notice that both of our findings are true.

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The point is in order for us to draw out ‘common denominators’ there is significantly more data required to be omitted than that which would give us greater insight into how each process actually behaves.

The process of seeking common denominators to replicate innovation

is shallow (at best) and misleading (at worst).

When seeking common denominators, we will always narrow our filter to omit context.

If we seek to genuinely understand creative process, we must pull back the microscope for an objective, contextual view. A more comprehensive value of creativity broader than... "how can it deliver corporate innovation"?

If you'd like to discuss how to develop practical creative intelligence, you can free download my CREATIVE MODEL here...

Book a chat with me here...

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Christopher. S. Sellers is an Expert on Creativity + Founder of the Six CREATIVE Skill Sets

Director + Lead Creative @ Black Bulb Creative