The Science Behind Creativity?

Ideation

Steve Jobs is widely regarded as one of the most creative business owners in American history. Not only was he one of the “founding fathers” of the personal computer era, but he was able to take a struggling company – Apple – and set it on a trajectory to become the company with the highest valuation in the world (as of March 31, 2014).

In 1982, Jobs won the Golden Plate award from the Academy of Achievement in Washington D.C. During that speech, Jobs discussed his theory on creativity, which essentially boiled down to emphasizing the importance of unique and wide-ranging experiences. Few dispute the validity and value of that lesson; however, many have sought out a more concrete way to understand creativity – both where it comes from, and how we can generate it more reliably.

Recently, an article from the Columbia Business School addressed the very question of whether scientific principles can be applied to creativity. Can science, in fact, be at the foundation of creativity?

In the article, the author indirectly expands on the ideas that Jobs shared more than three decades earlier. However, instead of simply relying on personal experiences, the act of reading and learning from the experiences of others can be used to generate creative ideas. Creative ideas don’t simply come “out of the blue,” the author states. Instead, they are built on the great ideas that came before them. This principle is self-evident from the very fact that this author was likely influenced – whether directly or indirectly – by the speech Jobs gave in 1982, and the creative business philosophy Jobs engaged in during his life.

The article also discusses a study conducted by Professor Oded Netzer, who was able to uncover a “schematic link between the various components of an idea and its perceived creativity.” In the study, which was fairly involved (and can be read about in greater detail by clicking here), Netzer was able to make several conclusions.

  1. Ideas tend to fall on a spectrum of either “familiar” or “novel.” Where they fall on this spectrum is determined largely by the individual components – either familiar or novel – of which the idea is made up.
  2. There needs to be equilibrium between novel and familiar concepts in order to make an idea appropriately “creative.” If ideas were too familiar, a separate novel concept could be used to make the idea innovative. If an idea was too novel, then familiar concepts could be found that would make the idea more palatable to the average user.

Leverage this Research to Improve Products and Marketing Strategy

The results of Netzer’s study are obviously on the cutting edge, and it will probably take some time before the ideas truly take hold in the mainstream. Nevertheless, there are a number of lessons from the study that marketers can use in their own efforts.

Most importantly, marketers who want to be innovative and creative must have a strong sense of balance between novel and familiar ideas. Too much in either direction will lead to suboptimal effectiveness.

Beyond that, everyone (marketer or otherwise) can learn from the inherent truth found in the study — namely, that many things in life (marketing and business included) require a level of “harmony and balance” if they are to be successful. While this might seem a bit too philosophical for some, those who are able to internalize these ideas will be combining the best parts of science, business and innovation into their own lives.

Photo credit: Rob Enslin / Foter / CC BY

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About Christine Alemany

Christine is a marketing executive that has managed global P&Ls and developed metrics-driven strategies and methodologies on leadership teams at both Fortune 500 and startups alike. She has a broad range of experience implementing integrated campaigns and launching products across consumer, SMB and enterprise markets. Visit http://www.tbga.co to learn more about her company, Trailblaze Growth Advisors.
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