There are many myths when it comes to creativity and, often consequently, innovation. And I, too, used to believe in many of these myths. When I started working with designers 20 years ago, I realised that most of what I believed about the creative process and creative people was wrong. In this article, I’ll explain why.
In the business world - the world that I've belonged to for the bigger part of my career - design is often seen as a luxury, a detail added if there's time and money left. This view has changed over the past decade, but there are still quite a few myths lingering about creative people, creativity, and their role in innovation. Here are the four of the most persistent ones – and why they’re false:
Myth no 1: Creativity is for artists
When I was young and worked in the IT industry, I didn't think of myself as a creative person. But I’ve always known that I’m an excellent problem solver. I’m good at viewing things from different perspectives and good at connecting the dots. Connecting the dots and solving problems in innovative ways is precisely what creative people do. Still, the myth about creativity as something intuitive that comes without any particular effort to a select group of - often irrational and airy – people persists.But the tale of the artist dressed in funky clothes and who creates their masterpieces at two in the morning is not the only version of a creative person. Everyone can be creative, but our organisations need to provide the proper, fertile grounds for that to happen. They need to build an environment of trust and collaboration, where people can be humans, not machines. Add the right amount of feedback, friction, and critique, and you have an environment that allows people to explore their creative problem-solving skills.
Build an environment of trust, where people can be humans, not machines. Add the right amount of feedback, friction, and critique, and you have the environment that allows people to explore their innovation skills.Ulla Sommerfelt, CEO EGGS Design
Myth no 2: Creative people will work for passion alone
Because there’s the persistent myth of the passionate, creative artist that is being creative simply by doing what they love for a living, many also think that creative people should work for free. That is, needless to say, wrong. Nobody should have to work for free. Still, many in the creative industry do it. There’s a notion that it is an honour to get the opportunity to design the next revolutionary product or to have your name on the design team of the next car model. It’s not an honour – it is fun, but hard work, performed with a lot of skill and acquired knowledge.
MBAs would never dream of offering their services for free, and nor should designers or other people in the creative industries. In fact, there's proof that designers are better problem solvers than MBAs. Ten years ago, Rotman School of Management launched the Rotman Design Challenge. The idea is to bring together top talent from leading MBA and design schools to propose solutions to complex business challenges. Who do you think consistently wins the challenge? The designers. This is not to say that designers are more intelligent or better than business people. Instead, it means that it is crucial to develop our creative confidence and to value our work, skills, and knowledge. Business schools and management consultancies have already realised this and are now offering design thinking courses and acquiring design studios at an increasing rate.
If you don’t ask to get paid, it’s the same as saying that your work has no value.Ulla Sommerfelt
Myth no. 3: Great innovations come from a single genius
Many leaders jump on a plane and go to Silicon Valley to get inspiration for innovation culture. There, they visit companies like Google and Facebook, and after seeing their ping pong tables, open offices, and free lunches, they jump back on the plane to do the same in their own companies. All while thinking, they now have established an innovative environment. While the physical environment can make a difference, that’s not what innovation is about. More critical than ping pong tables, or even hiring the best geniuses, is the composition of the teams. The myth of the lone genius is highly exaggerated. Even the best and most creative innovators need a team and a rig for co-creation behind them.
What is most interesting is that there is quite an exact formula for creating an innovative team. Diversity plays a significant role here – great minds don’t think alike. Innovation is dependent on different perspectives and views. Also, there’s an element of unfamiliarity versus familiarity that plays a part. On a scale from complete familiarity (1) to complete unfamiliarity (5) between the team members, the ideal number is 2,6. In other words, the team should know each other well enough to be comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating, but not know each other so well that there’s no friction or novelty within the team.
Great minds don’t think alike. Innovation is dependent on different perspectives and views.Ulla Sommerfelt
Myth no. 4: Design is expensive
The last and very persistent myth is that about the price of design. The myth that design is expensive can only live as long as myth number two – creative people will work for passion alone. Paying for something that can be received for free is, of course, expensive. That's another reason people in creative industries need to stop working without proper and fair compensation. Moreover, there’s clear and consistent evidence that design is a valuable and essential component in successful businesses. 9 out of 10 startups fail. And they fail because there’s no desire on the market for what they offer.
This could be avoided by involving design and designers earlier on in the development of the service or the product. Design reduces the risk that innovation involves and increases the success rate of a new product or service because it has the ability to make them desirable. Design increases sales, customer engagement, customer retention, and brand awareness. So, if you think design is expensive, try launching a product without it.
Design and other creative industries have come a long way and established themselves as important and valuable players in the business world. But we still have a long way to go. We still need to demystify the design profession, the design process, and its role in innovation. We need to kill these four – and perhaps more – myths. And I believe the best way of doing that is to continue to work closer and closer with the business
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