Dispelling the Myth of the New Idea

Could you spot a creative person in a room, just from their appearance or behavior? David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity, hopes to inform that you cannot. By presenting and dispelling 10 myths of the creative process, Burkus wants to show individuals and companies that creativity is not ‘biological.’ It can in fact be learned, like other good habits. The book opens with a chapter called “The Creative Myth,” which touches upon the main points of the work in broad strokes.

From there, individual misconceptions about creativity and innovation are expounded upon. “The Eureka Myth” discredits the notion of creative ideas as the product of one single ‘Ah ha!’ moment. Belief that people are born with creative abilities is questioned in “The Breed Myth.” In “The Originality Myth,” an idea’s lineage is traced as having been compounded from previous innovations, rather than being born from a single new, ‘original’ one. “The Expert Myth” contends that some of the best ideas come from people on the fringe of a particular field, and not its foremost experts. Later chapters include “The Cohesive Myth,” which shows how organizations that allow friction and contention can yield better idea generation than those that want constant harmony, and “The Mousetrap Myth,” which demonstrates that having a great idea is not enough – the innovator will have to work to get it exposed to the masses.

Throughout the book, Burkus cites past research into creativity in an effort to put together a model of the creative process. R. Keith Sawyer’s 8-step process is one such case. Sawyer’s model calls for agreeing on the problem, collecting information, finding further and possibly related information, stepping away from the process to let the unconscious mind stew, generating ideas, merging ideas, narrowing down the ideas, and then “externalize the idea” (evolve the idea). The creative process is seen not necessarily as sequential steps, but a cycle encompassing those steps as needed.

Though the company case studies consistently suggest Burkus wrote this book for the boardroom, individuals interested in expanding their creative vocabulary can just as easily make use of the tips. The author states his case in clear and concise fashion, allowing the reader to get the relevant information quickly. Perhaps he is too concise, as there is no end summary section to tie a bow on the whirlwind of information. Nevertheless, this book is recommended for both companies looking to embrace a more creative approach to business, and artists needing a reminder that creativity is a muscle best kept in practice.

The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Ideas,
by David Burkus.
Jossey-Bass. 2014. 224 pages.

3 out of 4 stars. Recommended.

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