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BW Businessworld

Book Review: Finding New Ideas

The book provides valuable research and supports what I have always believed: that with proper training, anyone with a common-sense mindset grounded in reality can deliver creative and innovative new ideas, projects, processes, and programmes, writes Harkirat Singh

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Most people think creativity is divinely inspired, unpredictable and bestowed on only a lucky few… David Burkus’s The Myth of Creativity helps demystify the forces and processes that drive innovation.

The author’s choice of the word “myth” is quite appropriate, as the concepts explored in this book have deep, deep roots in our thinking about creativity, yet none of them have much scientific evidence. And many readers are quite likely to recognise most of them if not all as ideas they either believe to be true, or at least acknowledge as “common sense”. For each of the 10 “myths” explored in this book, the author introduces the “myth” (what it is and the thinking behind it), and then proceeds to cite both research and business case studies which dispel the “myth” and illustrate how the creative process really works. Together these form a “mythology of creativity”, a set of beliefs we carry around about how creativity works.

One of the things that this book does really well is to shine a light on these “myths”, exposing the truth behind some of our longest-held beliefs about creativity. This is especially important, because the “myths” exposed in this book represent unquestioned assumptions about how the creative process works. In the book, Burkus traces the origins of this ‘mythologising’ right back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that creativity had a divine source and was granted to only a few individuals whom the gods favoured. These divinely inspired people became society’s “creatives” and were admired by the rest as heroes. He goes on to take issue with the myth, common among creative people themselves, that freedom is imperative to enhance creativity. On the contrary, he believes, there is no such thing as a creative spark and that true creativity is an iterative process, often consisting of gradual, incremental changes and developments to an existing idea.

The book is a very easy read and also, quite honestly, a breath of fresh air. Using a variety of examples from business, I really liked that the author went into greater detail about what happened with each example along with great descriptions of prevalent myths of creativity, with excellent stories and summaries of work. Burkus outlines not just the misconceptions that organisations have around creativity, but also how some actually defy those misconceptions. For example, he discusses how Pixar hired “black sheep” to spur creativity in his chapter on The Cohesive Myth. Throughout the book, Burkus focuses on the rather self-limiting beliefs organisations have around creativity, and then deftly undermine them with the idea that creativity is well within reach, and that any organisation can drive internal and external creativity.

The book provides valuable research and supports what I have always believed: that with proper training, anyone with a common-sense mindset grounded in reality can deliver creative and innovative new ideas, projects, processes, and programmes. If I have one minor nitpick about this book, it’s that it doesn’t contain a summary chapter and ends abruptly. I would have also liked to see some practical advice around how to address the predominance of these “myths”.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2016)


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book review David Burkus wiley magazine 11 January 2016