In the interests of fair coverage of our creativity topic this month, let’s discuss what can turn creativity into a drag. Let’s talk about when to stop being creative.

In this article, a demand is made that we “stop thinking outside the box”. This may be surprising, but the points that the author makes are valid. Why are we including an opinion that seems to be the polar opposite of everything that has been said in our Creativity series up to this point? Simply put, while all creativity is wonderful and worthwhile, creativity for the sake of being creative is rarely beneficial in the business world. Focused creativity, as mentioned in our previous posts, is the key.

Venture Outside the Box: Dont Stop Being Creative

 

The title of the article is somewhat misleading — and perhaps the title of this one is as well — it is not, as it might sound, an argument against creativity. The argument isn’t to actually stop being creative. The basic argument here is that in order to focus your creativity and allow the end product to be as relevant and meaningful as possible to your audience, you cannot totally reject the “box” that holds the basic assumptions about your organization, your industry, or the world at large. Put another way, we must critically examine what the real issues are, what box we actually live in, before we can begin to address those issues in a new, creative way. If our only goal is to think outside the box, we never allow ourselves the opportunity for this crucial self-reflection.

Let’s open this up for discussion. There are some great points in the article and even a few in the comments, so what is your take on this? Is creativity for creativity’s sake a drag on business? Do you think there really is a time to stop being creative? Is “thinking outside the box” a misleading term? Comment below!

4 thoughts on “When to Stop Being Creative

  1. You are right – the title is misleading. I agree with your thinking – creating for the sake of creating, or thinking outside the box for the sake of thinking outside the box can be inefficient. At the same time, stumbling (i.e., failing to focus) across a new concept could be disruptive, which is what creates whole new industries.
    Jim Davis – creator of the Garfield cartoon offers a quote that I’d learned and lived by since I was a teenager, “it’s amazing what one can accomplish if one doesn’t know what one can’t do.” The Wright Brothers didn’t know that they couldn’t fly. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t know a computer couldn’t fit on a desktop. Thomas Edison didn’t know that sounds couldn’t be recorded and played back…these are all examples of disruptive thinking when one steps outside of the bounds. Are there certainly principles that could not be ignored? Certainly. But the Wright Brothers certainly – to an extent – defied the most basic law of gravity.
    I think that “thinking outside the box” and “innovation” have to be qualified. The author discussed Microsoft’s Zune, applying the terms “innovation” and “thinking outside the box.” It is my opinion that it neither. This was a “me-too” strategy that had no advantage over the existing technology other than the operating system.
    “Thinking outside the box,” to me means that we are thinking outside of the current beliefs about something. That said, it implies that we know what the box is in order to think outside of it. Innovation implies that we are doing something (as opposed to thinking about something) that is incrementally or completely different, creating new perceptions about something.
    What are your thoughts? Do you feel that the over-use of a term makes the term invalid? Do you think that there are different roles for creativity – perhaps bounded and unbounded?

    Thanks!

    ~Rick

    1. Totally agree with you, Rick! To answer your question, I think the overuse of a term can blur the intention of its use. It ends up meaning different things to different people, which is fine, but requires, as you said, careful qualification of the term and, as mentioned in the post, introspection as to what it will mean to the individual or company utilizing the idea. I think the problem that people may run into is unfocused creativity. Like you say, Bill Gates didn’t know a computer couldn’t fit on a desktop, but he did know that he wanted to make a computer that the average person could use in his own home. That leaves a lot of room to create, but he didn’t try to create a totally new and unprecedented piece of technology. So often now it seems that when people want to think outside the box, they assume that they have to reject everything that has come before and attempt to do something completely new, rather than making something new of existing perceptions. Working inside of certain parameters allow products and, in this case, marketing to remain relevant to an audience, regardless of how creative you choose to be. But, as you said, having a particular focus ought to be a given from the beginning.
      As for whether there are different roles for creativity, my answer would be a resounding yes! Unfortunately, many companies do not have the time, manpower, or financial resources available to spend much energy on unbounded creative efforts. Google, for example, is able to allot their employees time to develop and resources to execute totally new ideas and side projects, but this is not the norm. For many, creativity must be firmly ensconced within known parameters to achieve a specific goal — whether marketing campaigns, product development, et cetera — which requires focus to be successful. Perhaps the more accurate thing to say, rather than “think outside the box”, would be to advise that people make something new with what they already have: Tap into an existing expectation and then turn it around to say or do something totally new. The familiarity will connect and the newness will excite, allowing the end result to truly resonate with an audience.

      DH

  2. You are right – the title is misleading. I agree with your thinking – creating for the sake of creating, or thinking outside the box for the sake of thinking outside the box can be inefficient. At the same time, stumbling (i.e., failing to focus) across a new concept could be disruptive, which is what creates whole new industries.
    Jim Davis – creator of the Garfield cartoon offers a quote that I’d learned and lived by since I was a teenager, “it’s amazing what one can accomplish if one doesn’t know what one can’t do.” The Wright Brothers didn’t know that they couldn’t fly. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t know a computer couldn’t fit on a desktop. Thomas Edison didn’t know that sounds couldn’t be recorded and played back…these are all examples of disruptive thinking when one steps outside of the bounds. Are there certainly principles that could not be ignored? Certainly. But the Wright Brothers certainly – to an extent – defied the most basic law of gravity.
    I think that “thinking outside the box” and “innovation” have to be qualified. The author discussed Microsoft’s Zune, applying the terms “innovation” and “thinking outside the box.” It is my opinion that it neither. This was a “me-too” strategy that had no advantage over the existing technology other than the operating system.
    “Thinking outside the box,” to me means that we are thinking outside of the current beliefs about something. That said, it implies that we know what the box is in order to think outside of it. Innovation implies that we are doing something (as opposed to thinking about something) that is incrementally or completely different, creating new perceptions about something.
    What are your thoughts? Do you feel that the over-use of a term makes the term invalid? Do you think that there are different roles for creativity – perhaps bounded and unbounded?

    Thanks!

    ~Rick

    1. Totally agree with you, Rick! To answer your question, I think the overuse of a term can blur the intention of its use. It ends up meaning different things to different people, which is fine, but requires, as you said, careful qualification of the term and, as mentioned in the post, introspection as to what it will mean to the individual or company utilizing the idea. I think the problem that people may run into is unfocused creativity. Like you say, Bill Gates didn’t know a computer couldn’t fit on a desktop, but he did know that he wanted to make a computer that the average person could use in his own home. That leaves a lot of room to create, but he didn’t try to create a totally new and unprecedented piece of technology. So often now it seems that when people want to think outside the box, they assume that they have to reject everything that has come before and attempt to do something completely new, rather than making something new of existing perceptions. Working inside of certain parameters allow products and, in this case, marketing to remain relevant to an audience, regardless of how creative you choose to be. But, as you said, having a particular focus ought to be a given from the beginning.
      As for whether there are different roles for creativity, my answer would be a resounding yes! Unfortunately, many companies do not have the time, manpower, or financial resources available to spend much energy on unbounded creative efforts. Google, for example, is able to allot their employees time to develop and resources to execute totally new ideas and side projects, but this is not the norm. For many, creativity must be firmly ensconced within known parameters to achieve a specific goal — whether marketing campaigns, product development, et cetera — which requires focus to be successful. Perhaps the more accurate thing to say, rather than “think outside the box”, would be to advise that people make something new with what they already have: Tap into an existing expectation and then turn it around to say or do something totally new. The familiarity will connect and the newness will excite, allowing the end result to truly resonate with an audience.

      DH

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