Creativity presents a moral dilemma. True?

Is creativity the right thing for everyone? It depends on how you look at it. I’ve heard Teresa Amabile, of Harvard University state creativity itself is amoral, its morality rests in the people who use it.

Mark Runco, a respected creativity researcher and executive director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development at the University of Georgia also says that creativity is amoral. He writes

“…moral action is sometimes defined as “doing the right thing,” but “right” assumes a value system, and that means that the action is consistent with existing values. Doing the Morality, Ethics and Gifted Mindsright thing might therefore preclude creativity, given that creativity requires originality. It may be novelty, uniqueness, unusualness, or rarity, but in some way all creativity requires originality. One complication, then, is that too often moral action is tied to the status quo, while creative action is contrarian or at least highly unusual” ( The Continuous Nature of Moral Creativity, in Morality, Ethics and Gifted Minds, Springer, 2009. p.107).

Interesting notion.  Is it possible that when we encourage people to use their creativity, say, during World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21, to make the world a better place and make their place in the world better too, without causing harm, that it rubs some people the wrong way because they perceive doing so is immoral?

From my early college years as cultural/social anthropology major, I learned about how values are different from group to group: what’s important and treasured in one culture or society, may be perceived as taboo in another, an example might be arranged marriages. Perhaps there are taboos associated with creativity that we haven’t fully explored.

At the Creative Problem Solving Institute in Buffalo, many years ago, I was interested in knowing how creativity was regarded in different cultures and spoke to as many people as I could from nations around the world.  One continuing sentiment in particular stuck in my mind (okay, it’s a small sample, still…).

A woman from Greece let me know that people aren’t creative, it’s God who is, and that all creativity comes from him. A man from Egypt said the same thing. Their comments opened my eyes to consider what we might be challenging when encouraging people to access their creative capacities. (Cultural relativism is a great perspective to maintain when asking people questions.)

In business, energy for innovation is okay; energy for creativity, not-so much. Taboo? Innovation maintains the status quo by using systems, structures, measures and thinking directed to support a positive economic outcome.  Creativity, on the other hand, speaks to the human spirit, and giving free reign to the unlimited imaginative potential, without necessarily bringing it back to the bottom line.

And yet, business metrics are changing. Instead of one bottom line, profit, there are now three:  profit, people and planet.  We’ll certainly need the power of creative imagination to dream up ways business will be more relevant in months and years to come.

Bottom line: How to include people in the process of creating the new future who may believe that using creativity is immoral?

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