Authors: Christian Stadil and Lene Tanggaard
This book is based on the premise that creativity is not a luxury of the few but a necessity for everyone. The authors make the argument that everyone is capable of creativity‘ (page 11), and this is reflected in the title of their first chapter titled ‘everybody can be more creative’. Written by two Danes, an entrepreneur and a psychology professor, the book is about how creativity flourishes in ‘…a country known for its creative achievements…’ (page 11). It espouses ‘the Danish model for creativity’, and draws its lessons from Danish innovators and companies.
The book explores the prerequisites for innovation which the authors say are ‘…professional ability, courage, passion, doubt, and a willingness to take risks‘. The authors dismiss the concept of ‘thinking outside the box’, rather advocating that creativity occurs ‘along the edge of the box‘, at the boundary of the existing and the new, straddling different professions and knowledge areas (pages 28-35). They emphasise that innovation builds on what is already existing, and creative people observe and re-administer the world around them (page 69). They used many illustrative examples to demonstrate how creative people ‘…combine things in new ways…and use these as foundations for their own products and ideas..’ (page 23). This implies that innovation is dependent on a deep knowledge of the field, and the authors stress that ‘you can only renew a tradition when you know it’ (page 37).
At the root of the Danish model is the creative culture that enables innovative ideas to develop and thrive. A key feature of this culture is a flattened organisational hierarchy which breaks down the barriers ‘…between employees and managers, and between work functions within the organization…’ (page 23-26). The result is a safe climate for employees to express their ideas and criticisms (page 135). The authors cite LEGO and Noma, the world famous restaurant, as examples of Danish organisations that are innovative because they have broken down these barriers (page 222).
The authors developed their ideas about creativity after interviewing many Danish innovators and studying their enterprises. A prominent example is the architect Bjarke Ingels whose case illustrates the view that ‘…no one can be truly creative without help from others…’ (page 69). Ingels and the other innovators use existing ideas to innovate, and their products have features of the recognisable old, and the unexpected new (page 69). They are creative because they ‘discover paradoxes, breaks, holes, and cracks in the existing knowledge, and use these as points of departure’ (page 84). Underpinning their success however is they are all ‘prepared to work hard, for long periods of time, and in a focused manner’, and they all have a ‘creative love doing what they do’ (pages 48-51).
The book reviews many concepts related to creativity. It referred, for instance, to the activities which enable ‘creative breakthroughs’. The authors gave many illustrative examples, prominently of Pablo Picasso, whose artistic inspirations often occurred in the bath (page 39). The authors looked at the leadership qualities and creative frameworks that nurture creativity, arguing that creativity works best when leaders set boundaries (pages 201-212). The book makes several rather curious observations about creative people; an example is the remark that creative people are androgynous, having both masculine and feminine ways of life (page 52).
This is a well-written book which covers a diversity of Danish individuals and enterprises. Many of the ideas the authors discuss are not unique to Danish creativity, and it is not evident that there is a unique Danish model of creativity. The concept of creative people building on existing ideas, for example, is explored in detail by Steven Johnson in Where Good Ideas Come From. The authors however made excellent use of their subjects to illustrate these concepts. They showed how innovation thrives when boundaries are broken down; in this regard the book’s key lesson is the importance of establishing a creative culture. Apart from the absence of an index, there is very little to criticise about the book.
This book is a useful contribution to the important subject of creativity and innovation. It complements other books which challenge the orthodoxy on creativity, for example ‘Inside the Box’. It was disappointing that almost all the people the authors interviewed where artists, with very few scientists; this however did not detract from their important insights. The book’s lessons are germane to all fields of endeavour, including healthcare, and I recommend it.
- Publisher, Place, Date: LID Publishing Ltd, London, 2012
- ISBN: 978-1-907794-47-6
- Number of chapters: 18
- Number of pages: 295
- Price: £14.99
- Rating: 5 stars