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In the early 20th century, original work entered the world of commerce. Chemical, pharmaceutical and electrical companies hired large numbers of academically trained scientists, believing that innovation was vital to commercial success and that science belonged in commercial organisations.
Companies such as General Electric and Eastman Kodak didn't think creative and productive work had anything to do with hiring awkward geniuses but with finding the organisational forms that allowed ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.
The military was a key factor in creativity's Cold War history, particularly American history.
A psychologist wrote: 'In the presence of threat, creativity could no longer be left to the chance occurrence of genius; neither could it be left in the realm of the wholly mysterious and the untouchable. Men had to be able to do something about it; creativity had to be a property in many men; it had to be something identifiable; it had to be subject to efforts to gain more of it.'
In 1950, a leading psychologist lamented that only a small proportion of professional literature was concerned with creativity.
Within a decade, a 'creativity movement' developed. Seminars on 'creative engineering' were held, asking what creativity is, why it's important, what factors influence it, how it should be developed. There was never a consensus about whether particular definitions were right, but sentiment settled around a substantive link between creativity and the idea of divergent thinking. People were thought to be creative if they could branch out and imagine a range of possible solutions.
By its nature, creativity is individual, eccentric, and antagonistic to attempts to plan to organise it. An effort to manage creative people might result in only getting the appearance of creativity.
The categories of being creative, or a creative person, transitioned over time from the sacred power to a secular ability. From the 1950s onward, creativity has been established as something desirable and essential, a value that was the source of many other values.
Marketing expert Theodore Levitt published an essay in 1963, 'Creativity is not enough.' Levitt stated that creativity might be a source of new ideas, but it is not ideal for good business outcomes. There is no short supply of new ideas.
Creativity is having a new idea, while innovation is the realisation of an idea in a specific outcome. It is innovation that really matters. Creative people tend to be irresponsible and detached from the processes of achieving results.
The rise of creativity has continued since the Cold War. Many expert practices have been incorporated into the everyday life of organisations committed to producing useful novelty.
The specific language of creativity has become normalized just as new and useful making has become normalized. Producing new and useful things is not less important than it once was, but creativity has become so invested with value that the meaning and practices of real creativity are at risk of being lost.
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