Genius, context, breakthrough

Can creativity be managed? If it can be managed, are there principles behind the creative process that can be mastered by organizations? Of all the questions now emerging from the quest for innovation, these appear to me to be the most urgent. Creativity and innovation, like steam in an earlier era, transport economies today.

One of the first insights I gained into the creative process was from Tom Evslin, who remarked in a web log posting of his that our dreams are hyper linked. By that he meant that we don't think in linear processes, but rather go from idea to idea by something more mysterious, as in our dreams. Being someone who exults in the unexpected connection, that notion for me has a great deal of appeal.  Insight can carry me away and carry me home. 

I'm currently reading a book on the creative process called Sparks of Genius that examines the efforts of several creative geniuses from a variety of fields and concludes that people apply a number of methods ranging from observation to modeling to analogizing to empathizing to make the jump from ordinary to extraordinary. The common element among the innovators is feeling, without which imaginative leaps can't happen. That, too, has a measure of truth because what we feel in my opinion is not limited to our senses.

But can that process be mapped? I recently found a paper, Who Designed Brunelleschi's Dome? via the Business Innovation web log that asks that question and employs a history of creativity by way of an answer. The brief intellectual history of our concepts of creative thought alone is worth the time to read the 31 page paper.

Particularly helpful to me is the distinction between "presented" and "discovered problems," which involve a simultaneous discovery and solution to an unknown problem. Most managerial processes focus on presented problems, the solutions to which are easier to measure and control.

Skipping to the present moment, the author introduced me to two prominent thinkers, Dean Keith Simonton, who is a Professor of Psychology, University of California (Davis) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, who have added a new wrinkle to what we know about the creative process. Along with the traditional focus on exceptional people, the essay suggests that creativity can also be understood as a system, even social, dynamic, which takes creativity beyond the epistles of rationalism and empiricism that dominated an earlier era and locates it in individuals and community. Without other people, the solitary genius is no genius. She is just alone.

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