Creativity: The Dark Side

By Shlomo Maital

 dark side

      Some 53 years ago, Harvard Business School Prof. Ted Levitt, as always ahead of his time, noted in the Harvard Business Review that creativity has a dark side.

     “Creativity…can actually be destructive to businesses. By failing to take into account practical matters of implementation, big thinkers can inspire organizational cultures dedicated to abstract chatter rather than purposeful action. In such cultures innovation never happens – because people are always talking about it but never doing it.” [“Creativity Is not enough”, HBR 1963. Reprinted August 2002].

   My friend and colleague Prof. Ella Miron-Spektor drew my attention to this wonderful article.

     Levitt’s prescient insight shows how and why organizations tend to stress one half of the creativity yin-yang circle – novelty – and fail to invest time and resources in the crucial second half – usefulness and implementation. A case study of an Israeli high-tech company shows how it pioneered a unique approach for overcoming creativity’s dark side.   The key is in having high-level managers examine every creative suggestion, while guiding the workers toward ideas that are BOTH novel and highly useful.    

      ‘Innovative’ organizations, large and small, often fail to generate successful innovation, because their innovation process puts far too much weight on ‘novel’ and far too little weight on ‘useful’ and ‘creating value’.    One reason for this is that process innovation – how you do things, not what you do – is often neglected. Process innovation pays a far higher return than product innovation, yet many organizations don’t bother much with it. Why?