Thanks to some research I have been doing with a friend and co-worker of mine, I have read many dozens of books on the subject of creativity and innovation and thought about the subject from a variety of different perspectives. I was recently reading a book that discussed creativity from the point of view of organizations and I suddenly thought that it would be worthwhile as well to talk about those organizations where innovation and creativity are not appreciated at all. One of the most effective ways to talk about a quality is to ponder when its opposite is appreciated or when the inverse of those things that would lead someone to be thought of as creative or innovative are the qualities that are treasured and appreciated in a given culture. As it happens, I happen to be very personally familiar with cultures that do not particularly appreciate creativity or innovation and it is worthwhile to ponder how this is the case and why.
In light of the spirit of 11 1/2 weird rules to follow when it comes to cultivating curiosity in an organization, I would like to propose the exact opposite rules in order to make sure that creativity is made as rare as possible: hire only those who are able to master the organizational code and how to work well with others, hire only those one is comfortable with, hire only those one absolutely needs, use job interviews to screen candidates, absolutely prohibit and harshly punish people for defying and disobeying authority, resolutely seek to avoid any conflict or disagreement whatsoever and label conflict-prone people as divisive, punish failure but reward success and inaction, seek to do only those things that one is reasonably confident of success in, avoid thinking of ridiculous things, spend a great deal of time trying to deal with the concerns of customers and critics, seek to study the solutions that other people have for problems, remember the past and glory in past successes. When one phrases the exact opposite of the sort of rules that cultivate innovation one can create institutions and organizations that absolutely throttle innovation and stifle creativity, and the odds are good that such anti-creativity principles are more common than the opposite.
We might ask ourselves why creativity would not be appreciated in certain organizations and in certain contexts. For example, I attend a church which was formed out of a doctrinal crisis from those who (like me) did not appreciate those in authority making drastic and unbiblical doctrinal changes. As a result of that it was made deliberately difficult to make any shift or change in doctrine at all (not that this stopped people from continually suspecting this in times of great stress). In this sort of environment and culture, creativity and innovation are viewed at in a decidedly negative way, and understandably so. Indeed, when it comes to proper religious belief, a high degree of conservatism and a marked reluctance to seek new and generally bad ideas is itself a tendency highly to be praised. The amount of space of new but generally untried and unknown ideas that are good is far smaller than the amount of innovations that are bad when it comes to religious doctrine and practice. There are far, far more ways to go wrong than to go right in such a space, and this tends to strongly discourage creativity and innovation in such areas.
Would there be ways to make this temperamental and reflexive conservatism less marked? There are at least a few possibilities. A religious tradition that recognizes the multi-layered aspect of the Bible may be amenable to learning new layers so long as they are not viewed as being in contradiction with existing truth and understanding. It is far easier to accept a new understanding if it is a new application in addition to what one already understands or a new area where something is applied without negating or denying any existing areas where a given verse is applied or understood as relevant. We may thus understand a hostility in general to creativity and innovation as not hindering a deepening of one’s existing understanding, but being strongly resistant to changes to one’s existing understanding. Having a proper understanding of what sort of creativity and innovation and novelty is involved can help reduce stress.
There are other ways of allowing for a certain degree of creativity without hindering one’s firmness of understanding of practice, and this is a certain willingness to label one’s own thinking and musing and pondering as speculation or inference rather than as firm conviction. People are in general more willing to tolerate those whose thinking is admittedly creative and unusual and eccentric so long as that comes with a willingness to see such exploration and imagination and novelty as speculative without the sort of arrogance that tends to come from those who believe that they have new truth and understanding while viewing others as defective for being more traditional or old-fashioned or conservative in their approach. All too often people who are creative and innovative tend not to be very humble about the general quality of their ideas, and tend to look down on those who (understandably) prefer what is tried and true to what is untried and new and not very secure. This is as severe a problem as the tendency to be hostile to anything one is unfamiliar with, as that which is speculative and new needs to be dealt with in a gracious matter that thoughtfully addresses the legitimate concerns of people who don’t like change all that much, which is basically everyone.