We love and respect innovation history. In the marketplace, we see some experts running around claiming to have invented everything from integrative thinking to various forms of innovation. To us, such claims are nonsense. We all stand on the shoulders of many smart folks who contributed much before us. Let’s respect that.
Sure, we have updated, extended, and changed much of what was done historically, integrating new knowledge, methods, and tools to address contemporary needs, but there is a lot we can learn from the various streams of innovation history.
With so much hype around innovation and creativity today, we find it useful to be aware, at a deeper level, of the history of innovation, applied creativity, creative problem solving, and design thinking. There are many overlaps in the history that are quite amazing, in retrospect.
Pictured here is a gem from the Humantific Collection. This terrific, little booklet by Alex Osborn, entitled The Power of Your Mind, was published an astonishing 59 years ago, in conjunction with his book Wake Up Your Mind (also published in 1952).
In the historical publications, one can see early acknowledgement of numerous challenges that many organizations and societies still grapple with today.
Like time capsules, the early publications on the subject of applied creativity reveal the optimism of the post-World War II era—a focus on encouraging imagination, and the application of creativity in an American business context.
In 1952, Osborn wrote, “Exercise your imagination—the more creative you become, the more you will get out of life.”
It’s not difficult to see that, as early as the 1940’s, thought leaders were trying to make the case that American business schools, and schools in general, get more serious about teaching, and encouraging imagination and creative thinking. Evidently, many educational institutions, including the business schools, did not listen to that message for a very long time.
Also revealed in the historical creative problem solving materials are the societal stereotypes of that era. In the early publications, women were often depicted as housewives engaged in creative domestic work, while men were often depicted as business-oriented workers not making effective use of their imaginations.
“Many housewives work their imaginations more than their husbands do.”
Apart from the stereotypes that now seem comical, what is interesting to see is the view into a simpler world, the emphasis on idea finding in the context of product objects, and orientation towards engineering or science. Also fascinating to see is how little some of the problems around changing behaviors, in the direction of innovation, have changed since Alex Osborn, Sidney Parnes, and others began writing about the subject decades ago.
Today, organizational leaders face a vastly more complicated world in a state of constant change. Those engaged, today, in driving organizational change or innovation-enabling understand that many organizations have built judgment-dominated cultures, and simultaneously wonder why no innovation is occurring. How to create more balanced, more innovative cultures remains among the top ten most-encountered organizational business challenges even today.
Here is a small sample of Alex Osborn’s 1952 commentary on the subject:
“The thinking mind finds it easier to judge than to create. Nearly all of our education tends to develop our critical faculty. And our experience likewise builds up our judgment…The more we exercise our judgment, the less likely we are to exercise our imagination. By overuse of our judicial power we may even cramp our creative power.”
“Loss of imagination can be even more deplorable than loss of musculation… We can get along with less brawn in our later years but to surmount the obstacles which age piles in our paths we need more than seasoned judgment, we need well trained imagination.”
“When it comes to business, ideas are almost everything. Their value can often exceed that of any asset on any financial statement.”
Also, in the early 1950-era materials, one can see concern expressed that America was losing its creative edge—perhaps a timeless topic!
“There are many signs that Yankee ingenuity is on the wane — not because we are born with less creative talent, but because we no longer try hard enough to use the talent that is in us… Our softer living numbs our sense of enterprise and deadens our creative spirit.”
With the internet now enabling global interaction, and with it built-in judgment functionality, we are interested in how present-day and emerging technologies might serve to repair, balance, and address several deeply rooted human innovation challenges that have existed for generations.
Being aware of the history of education and innovation helps us and our client partners think about such issues in a context beyond the flavor trend of the moment.
Image Source: The Power of Your Mind. Chicago: National Research Bureau, 1952. Humantific Collection, New York.
(Originally posted in June 2009. Its a classic!)