Where Science Meets Muse

Can Too Many People be Creative?

Posted by Plish on November 16, 2009


According to this blog over at MIT, the answer is “yes”.

Researchers broke down society into creators and imitators.  Their task was to see what optimum amount of creativity is needed to benefit society through the dissemination of innovations.

Turns out that if creators are doing their thing 50% of the time, and imitators imitating 100% of the time, approximately 30%-40% of the population should be creators, the rest imitators.  As the quality of ideas goes up, less creators are needed.

While it’s an interesting study and worthy of some pondering, three shortcomings bother me.

1. The study assumes all creative ideas are meant for sharing. 

In fact, most of our creativity isn’t ‘public’ but is meant for us personally-meant to make our own lives easier.  Most ideas don’t get disseminated and hence don’t get built upon; nevertheless, these people are part of society and so indirectly improve society through their hidden innovations. 

2. Each creative idea does not result in negative repercussions.

Most solutions that get adapted result in unwanted consequences of some sort. This results in additional idea generation, often by others who at some earlier time were only bystanders (imitators) but could very well have been creators in a different realm.

3. The study assumes there is a portion of the population that is only imitating.

I don’t think this is a valid assumption (see Point 1).

While, I realize that this fascinating attempt to model the impact of creativity on society is not meant to be 100% accurate, if we apply this model to corporate cultures, we realize that only a small percentage of people in a company could truly be called creators -most are imitators and (gasp!) are expected to be imitators. 

Therefore, according to this model, those few creators in the company need to be amazingly brilliant and doing their creation the overwhelming majority of the time.   But, given that the minutiae of day-to-day workings insidiously creep in on most people without their knowledge, those creators are probably not even working on creating as much as they should be (imitating?) and not contributing to the overall level of corporate fitness.

The result (at least according to this model) is that most corporate cultures never reach their optimum level of fitness. 

This is something that, unfortunately, most people would not argue with.


5 Responses to “Can Too Many People be Creative?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Plishka, Michael Plishka. Michael Plishka said: Can Too Many People be Creative?: http://wp.me/pkQcg-qv (Is this really a problem at most companies?) […]

  2. CHIA Yew Heng said

    The fact that imitators are not defined, I would like to say that imitators are also creative in their dealing with ideas, work as well as business. In fact everyone of us are imitators at one stage and creators at another. Of course, the die-hard creators are the artists and inventors; but mostly, normal human creators have to imitate some ideas before using them in creatve fashion. At the end of the day, all of us need to be both, so why bother to distinguish between creators and innovators. Spend more time to get people to use their talents in innovating as well as some time on creating – whichever adds more value to their lives an the lives of people around them; and in general to society.

  3. Plish said

    Well said!! In fact, I think there are times when we are imitators and creators the same time.
    Thanks for your insight!

  4. Even imitators can have valuable insight based upon where they typically invest most of their time in an organization – insight that no one else could possibly have – and when it comes to addressing and resolving important problems or maybe just coming up with better and more efficient ways to approach succeeding in an organization, these are folks that you will definitely want on your team. It’s another way to increase the return you are able to achieve on what you are investing in your greatest resource – your people. Thanks for an interesting article and discussion. (Jim – Leadership Institute)

  5. Plish said

    Jim, thank YOU for stopping by and for sharing your spot on perspective!

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