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Old 12-11-2013   #1
Bill Moore
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Default Why We Don't Like Creativity

This is an interesting piece that I think many in the SWJ community will find of interest.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health...?wpsrc=theweek

Inside the Box People don’t actually like creativity.

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“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity.
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Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas.
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Old 12-13-2013   #2
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This one cuts both ways I think. Certainly there is some personal and institutional resistance to change. There's also some creative dilletantism that goes around, coming from self-styled creative or disruptive thinkers who in many cases do not have real mastery of what they want to disrupt, and who often have a very superficial approach. We can't expect to run an idea up a flagpole and have the surrounding masses reflexively genuflect and put our idea (and us) on a pedestal simply because we think our idea is new or creative. A certain amount of skepticism is natural and necessary, especially if an idea would require significant investment, and not all new ideas are necessarily good. It is up to the purveyor of an idea to sell it and to overcome skepticism; can't just go into a snit and accuse people of rejecting creativity because they don't jump straight onto a given bandwagon.
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Old 12-13-2013   #3
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This one cuts both ways I think. Certainly there is some personal and institutional resistance to change. There's also some creative dilletantism that goes around, coming from self-styled creative or disruptive thinkers who in many cases do not have real mastery of what they want to disrupt, and who often have a very superficial approach. We can't expect to run an idea up a flagpole and have the surrounding masses reflexively genuflect and put our idea (and us) on a pedestal simply because we think our idea is new or creative. A certain amount of skepticism is natural and necessary, especially if an idea would require significant investment, and not all new ideas are necessarily good. It is up to the purveyor of an idea to sell it and to overcome skepticism; can't just go into a snit and accuse people of rejecting creativity because they don't jump straight onto a given bandwagon.
First off thank you for expanding my vocabulary, I had to look up dilletantism, and it is a very appropriate word choice.

While I feel for the many young officers who claim their initiative and creativity is stiffled, which sometimes is true, yet more often the case is that their ideas shouldn't be adaptive due flaws in those ideas. There was a time when junior officers would propose an idea and a senior would explain why it wasn't a good idea, or if it had potential how to package it and sell it. I suspect that still happens, if it doesn't then it needs to. That is how a young officer develops over time. They shouldn't be offended if they're told their idea won't work, yet the younger generation seems overly sensitive to any criticism.

I do agree young officers and junior officers should be given more reign to improvise at the tactical level. We have excessive micromanagement, but that isn't the same thing as stiffling creativity. Some of the ideas I see or hear put forth demonstrate a lack of understanding on how things work which sometimes is only gained after years of experience. This doesn't state or imply that systems can't be, or shouldn't be, changed, but it takes more than a "good" idea, it takes considerable amount of effort to do the homework, then develop and implement the plan to change a system and manage the second the third order effects of doing so.

For example, I think most agree our personnel management system is far from ideal, so it is hardly creatively or innovative to state the obvious. On the other hand, coming up with a workable change to the system that can actually be implemented would be a God send.
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Old 12-13-2013   #4
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Default Those who embrace creativity are there

There are communities of interest that do embrace creativity, although they maybe rare here - criminals.

"Blood & brawn" may have dominated their methods, nowadays the more successful, who are rarely caught, use skill and guile to exploit new consumer products in ways their inventors and suppliers did not imagine. Fraudsters come to mind as being creative, I don't mean incidentally those in Wall Street and our banks.

No wonder at times the military community has sought their help, as was documented in WW2 with SOE and OSS.
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Old 12-13-2013   #5
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Con artists or criminals with creative ideas generally put those ideas into practice themselves, and any attendant risk is borne by them. In the corporate or military worlds, creative thinkers often expect the risks to be borne by someone else, which generates a bit of natural and necessary skepticism. When multiple people are involved, creative change takes longer, because more people have to be convinced. That's inevitable. Again, I'm sure the resistance to change is sometimes excessive and irrational, but I'm also sure that some people who think of themselves as creative or disruptive thinkers are a little too devoted to their own ideas and a little too quick to throw their toys out of the pram when their ideas get met with skepticism. A middle ground is needed.
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Old 12-14-2013   #6
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Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
There are communities of interest that do embrace creativity, although they maybe rare here - criminals.

"Blood & brawn" may have dominated their methods, nowadays the more successful, who are rarely caught, use skill and guile to exploit new consumer products in ways their inventors and suppliers did not imagine. Fraudsters come to mind as being creative, I don't mean incidentally those in Wall Street and our banks.

No wonder at times the military community has sought their help, as was documented in WW2 with SOE and OSS.
What does embracing creativity mean? I think almost all communities, even those with the most dogmatic cultures will tell you they embrace creativity, but social and psychological factors generally prevent that from being the case.

The brain is not designed to be creative, it is designed to use routine patterns. We generally stick with what we know unless we're forced to adapt. Truly creative people for the most part are quite rare.

Criminals for the most part, I think, use existing systems (the internet) in imaginative ways, but do they actually create something new? I can't forget the officer who claimed to be creative because he built a Facebook page for his organization. If he created Facebook he would have every right to claim being creative. I think there is a difference between being innovative, which I think means using existing tools differently from the norm, and being creative where you create something new entirely. In this case it only seems logical in hindsight, but during development it will be meant with great resistance.

Just some thoughts, I find the topic fascinating.
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Old 12-15-2013   #7
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I've been staying out of this one. At my own place of business we are in an odd creativity Catch-22; where creativity is both quashed and encouraged in equal parts.

I won't go so far a Bill to say that "the brain is not designed to be creative," but certainly in my experience fewer people are naturally creative than are naturally not creative. Which is probably just as well, because if everyone was a visionary and no one was perfectly happy just following the recipe for some particular task, not much would ever get done.

I also believe that many institutions are far less appreciative of creativity than others. The regular military and its heavy reliance on doctrine and objective metrics is a poster child for this. Add to this institutional inclination the Darwinian effect of selecting for promotion those who most reflect the values of the institution, and it will be a rare senior leader indeed who rises through the system as a naturally creative thinker.

I remember clearly how ironic I found it to be when during the introductory phase of my War College class we were told that "now we were going to be taught to think strategically." News flash Army War College, your personnel system had flushed 90% of the officers with a natural inclination for strategic thinking out of the back end of the system long before they had an opportunity to be enlightened on the dogmatic "ENDs-WAYs-MEANs" perspective on strategy taught there.

The one question that needs to be asked the most, but that is asked the least is "Why." After all, the commander has told the staff what to do, so asking "why" may be fundamental to design (which is why we added this dogmatic approach to creativity to begin with, and why equally it is not really taking root), and "why" is largely unnecessary to the Military Decision Making Process. "Why" opens up all manner of messy issues that are largely viewed as unnecessary, or even dangerous, to effective military operations.

The intel community tells us who the "threat" is; and a narrow band of "experts" in think tanks and academia tell us why they are the threat in terms that fit the paradigms of those who designate who the experts are and who cut the checks that pay for such insights. Telling the person who pays the bills and bestows the status of "advisor" something that he/she doesn't want to hear is simply not good business; and as we all are sadly aware, this has been a very good business for many over the past 12 years

In fact, a personal theory is that the tremendous flexibility and creativity on the battlefield that the American Military likes to boast about was due largely to the fact that our wars were fought by civilians, conscripted for the duration of the conflict, and therefore largely either unaware or unhindered by the doctrine so carefully written about how we had fought the last war by the small cadre of regulars who wrote doctrine in peace, and wore stars in war. After nearly 70 years of sustaining a war fighting military during peacetime years and waging conflicts with regulars this is simply no longer the case. There is a downside to "professionalism," and that is the monoculture of thought that comes with it. Not just what people think, but how they think about similar situations.

How do we fix our creativity problem? Recognizing the problem for how systemic it is to our institutions is a great start. Creativity initiatives are a Band-Aid, but better than no effort at all. The real cure would require a major change in how we value that trait, and then adjusting the personnel system to identify, nurture and advance those who demonstrate that attribute.

The regulars love the creativity the irregulars bring to the military in war. We celebrate it in our military histories, movies and narrative. But the first thing the regulars have always done when the conflict was over, was close ranks and either demote or run off the irregulars whose creativity was so central to the recent success. After all, creativity is rare, and rare things tend to make the majority uncomfortable.
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Old 12-15-2013   #8
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I agree with both Bob and Bill: As an animal I believe we prefer routine and predictability to change. Change is scary and makes us apprehensive. Predictability is a large part of why we build social systems like the economy or the government. So we are inclined to prefer what we know instead of embracing what we don't know.

I also believe that the Army, as an institution, is designed to weed out creativity. American's are taught to believe that individuality is what you should strive for. A large part of that has to be indoctrinated out of Soldiers in Basic Training. Further, as with any large bureaucracy, the unintended consequence of its success is a desire to perpetuate itself. This means that change is often seen as a threat.

The juxtaposition of American's idealizing individuality and entrepreneurship and the Army's requirements to indoctrinate its members into a belief in conformity and the necessity of any large, diffuse organization to standardize creates some interesting problems.

I believe that Bob's observation that a standing army does not create the conditions for creative thinking is accurate. It would seem that we need to reduce our size dramatically if we really want to embrace creativity. Given the choice, the Army will take more armor brigades to more creativity any day of the week.
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Old 12-15-2013   #9
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Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
As an animal I believe we prefer routine and predictability to change. Change is scary and makes us apprehensive.
In my experience 'change' is only a challenge when it is forced on us. On the other hand if we initiate the change it has the effect of making us feel we are in control and have the initiative. (In a military sense)

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Predictability is a large part of why we build social systems like the economy or the government.
Predictability, is what we look for in our enemy in a counter insurgency environment and is what the look for in us. Once any predictability is detected it can be exploited to maximum effect.
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Old 12-15-2013   #10
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In my experience 'change' is only a challenge when it is forced on us. On the other hand if we initiate the change it has the effect of making us feel we are in control and have the initiative. (In a military sense)
True in a small organization, but less so in a large one. Not because of any difference in human nature, just because of the numbers involved. Only so many people can initiate change, all the rest have to have it forced upon them.



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Predictability, is what we look for in our enemy in a counter insurgency environment and is what the look for in us. Once any predictability is detected it can be exploited to maximum effect.
Again, true on the battlefield but not so true in day-to-day life. You like to know that when you go out to your car and turn the key it is going to start; when you turn on the faucet water comes out; that when you turn on a light it comes on. We like predictability, but you are correct that it can be a lethal in the wrong places.
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Old 12-15-2013   #11
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Posted by TheCurmudgeon

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Predictability is a large part of why we build social systems like the economy or the government. So we are inclined to prefer what we know instead of embracing what we don't know.
I think everyone is making good points, and ultimately it comes down to finding the right balance. The point about predictability is something Kilcullen addresses at length in his new book where he expands upon a concept called "competitive control." In short, people do desire predictability and rules, which is a key part of the Islamist Strategy articulated in "The Management of Savagery," which may be why AQ extremists and communists were able to establish control relatively quickly compared to Western forces, because they imposed rules that everyone understood, where in some cases we imposed chaos, but that is a separate topic.

To me, I need to do some further research to see if I'm right, creativity means creating some new, so much of what is discussed about military units adapting is more along the lines of being innovative.

Creative examples, include the development of the nuclear bomb, the Air Force as a separate service, unmanned aircraft, etc. Allegedly Henry Ford said if he asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse, on one would have a said car because it was outside their ability to perceive such a thing. Creative ideas when implemented disrupt the existing norm. Where innovation generally works within the established system using existing technologies (the combinations of processes and technologies may be new, but that fall short of being creative).

Getting to Bob's point, about civilians in uniform being more creative than regulars this may be true. The OSS did things the regular military couldn't conceive of. In the book, "An Army at Dawn," the first in the trilogy on the war in Europe the author wrote prior to going into North Africa several Army Officers were resistant to the idea of adapting armor, they felt a good horse Calvary unit could defeat Rommel's armor, so it seems apparent we haven't found the balance between being creative and predictability in the military despite claims to the contrary.
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Old 12-15-2013   #12
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I agree that there is a valid distinction between creativity and adaptation or innovation. Creativity is rare - it requires thinking in ways that no one before has. Adaptation is simply an improvement on an existing system.

This is particularity important in COIN. It seems like we are stuck trying to improve upon a paradigm that is wrong from the onset ("Hearts and Minds"). The alternative is no better ("Total control of the population"). So we flounder looking for another answer.

How do you really look "outside the box"? How do you get others to see the world as you do?
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Old 12-16-2013   #13
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Default Stan, fortunately, my coffee mug was secure ...

when I read this:

Quote:
How do you get others to see the world as you do?
looked at the Curmudgeon and his cat; and tried to get inside his Worldview.

Regards

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Old 12-16-2013   #14
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Mike,

The world would be far better off if it simply accepted me as its mostly benevolant overlord.
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Old 12-16-2013   #15
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Default Stan,

Do you ever step on that brown cat ?

Though, I have to admit, the cat is totally in step (in a mirror image way); and should be safe. What's his name - Vortegern ?

Regards

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Old 12-16-2013   #16
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Default If you are gonna have a cat...

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Do you ever step on that brown cat ?

Though, I have to admit, the cat is totally in step (in a mirror image way); and should be safe. What's his name - Vortegern ?

Regards

Mike
The cat's name is Azrael,

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Azrael is often identified with the Archangel of Death in some traditions and folklore but not in any religious texts. The name is sometimes attributed to the angel of retribution in Islamic theology and Sikhism but the name Azrael is not actually used in the Qur'an nor considered as a religious personification. The name Azrael is an English form of the Arabic name ʿIzrāʾīl (عزرائيل) or Azra'eil (عزرایل), the name traditionally attributed to the angel of death in some sects of Islam and Sikhism, as well as some Hebrew lore
My Avatar alter ego is named Gilgamesh:

Quote:
Gilgamesh (/ˈɡɪl.ɡə.mɛʃ/; Akkadian cuneiform: ������ [������], Gilgameš, often given the epithet of the King, also known as Bilgamesh in the Sumerian texts)[1] was the fifth king of Uruk, modern day Iraq (Early Dynastic II, first dynasty of Uruk), placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian King List he reigned for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription,[2] Gilgamesh, and his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil, in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur. Gilgamesh is the central character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the greatest surviving work of early Mesopotamian literature. In the epic his father was Lugalbanda and his mother was Ninsun (whom some call Rimat Ninsun), a goddess. In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who built the city walls of Uruk to defend his people from external threats, and travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Deluge. He is usually described as two-thirds god and one third man.
Pretty intense for a kids cartoon, and, in a pathetic attempt to bring things back the topic of the thread, perhaps a good example of creativity...
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Old 12-16-2013   #17
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Default But, Stan,

with Azrael and Gilgamesh, you were starting to convert me to your Worldview.

OK, I'll STFU and be a good boy.

Regards

Mike
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Old 12-18-2013   #18
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I just ran across this quote from Bruce Lee on innovation. It pretty much sums up my thoughts on this topic as well:

"Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is essentially your own."
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Old 12-18-2013   #19
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A lot of people only know of Bruce Lee's movie star persona, but he more than any other martial artists broke the hold of the traditionalists on Asian Martial Arts by challenging the traditionalists. His book the Tao of Jeet Kune Do is well worth the read. His philosophy equally pertains to strategy, military art, etc. Some choice quotes:

Quote:
“Using no way as a way, having no limitation as limitation.”
Quote:
“Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there.”
Quote:
“Having totality means being capable of following "what is," because "what is" is constantly moving and constantly changing. If one is anchored to a particular view, one will not be able to follow the swift movement of "what is.”
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Old 12-18-2013   #20
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Bill,

Good stuff, and completely relevant to the paradigm and challenges of strategic thinking faced by those in the national security business in the emerging strategic environment.

Clearly much of the understanding and approaches that brought us to this place where the US can actually credibly call itself a global leader and have to deal with the myriad challenges associated with the rapidly evolving strategic environment are still valid. Equally clear should be the realization that much of it is not.

We must have the wisdom and the courage to retain that which is still valid, to delete what is no longer valid, and to add what we create in the course of our open-minded pursuit of understanding and adapting to the environment as actually is, rather than as we wish it to be.

Bruce was not just a theorist, but an operator as well, and was equally innovative in his approach to training, nutrition and competition to be able to accomplish personally what he already envisioned. I suspect he toppled or surpassed more than a few "experts" who were so comfortable in the rightness of their superior position that they were blind to the value of the changes they saw Bruce visualizing and operationalizing right in front of their faces.

Bruce Lee joins Albert Einstein and James Madison on my short list of thinkers who are particularly relevant to guiding strategic thinking in the current environment. (The standard host of military guys are all still on the shelf, but they tend to default to "war is war" and too often render what is otherwise very brilliant thinking into narrow corners of their own design that limits their applicability to our emerging challenges. They represent the body of work where one must evaluate with fresh eyes what must stay, what must go or evolve, and where the gaps are that one must fill. The thinking, and the thinking about thinking, of the three guys listed above are helpful in making that lonely journey).
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