What is the cost of preventing creativity?

creativity leadership strategy transformation Nov 27, 2020

When I browsed through my archive I came across a book - The Creative Process and a text written by the famous Swedish industrialist Dr. Curt Nicolin.

We can read from Wikipedia:

"Nicolin was in the 1960s a board member of ASEA, SAS, Swedish Intercontinental Airlines (SILA), Incentive AB, AB C E Johansson, Swedish Employers Association and the Swedish Mechanical Association (Sveriges Mekanförbund).

In 1976,
Marcus Wallenberg Jr. retired from the position of chairman of ASEA and the post was transferred to Nicolin. Nicolin was also chairman of the board of the Swedish Employers Association from 1976 to 1984.

At ASEA together with the new CEO since 1980,
Percy Barnevik, Nicolin participated in the preparations for the big merger with the Swiss Brown, Boveri & Cie. Nicolin was its chairman until the merger in 1991, the same year he became honorary chairman. After ASEA's merger with Brown, Boveri & Cie, Nicolin was chairman of the board of ABB Asea Brown Boveri from 1988 to 1991."

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Curt Nicolin at several occasions and I remember especially one when I was newly employed by ABB-ATOM (previous ASEA ATOM). My job was to participate in developing a new system for transporting coal slurry. The test facility was in New South Wales in Australia and Dr. Nicolin visited our site. He asked why we sent all equipment from Sweden to Australia with boat instead of transporting it via air freight. The Project Manager said that it was not within our budget. Dr. Nicolin said that don’t you think ABB has funds for air freights. Time is money and its crucial to find out if an innovation is working or not. For me this was the first time a come across fail fast in order to get knowledge.

This episode happened 1985 long before the todays famous Spotify culture:
“Fail Fast. Learn Fast. Improve Fast.” – Spotify Engineering Culture”

Dr Nicolins text in the book mentioned above explains the importance for organisations to invest in creativity and also the cost of preventing creativity. Dr. Nicolin means that longterm growth requires growth of knowledge and that growth of knowledge is made possible by economic freedom, which in turn is a prerequisite for economic growth. He writes also that creativity is at heart of positive development of conditions for life in society. The cost of preventing creativity whether by lack of freedom or any other way, is therefore enormous. 

He elaborate this further by writing that politicians at large find it easier to reduce freedom for the citizens that they find it to make decisions to increase freedom. Today the politicians around the world is balancing personal freedom versus protecting society and its functions such as health care. The under-lying problem is that politicians applies one size fits all instead of using creativity to tailor-made solution to maintain personal freedom and boost creativity on the society. In todays turbulent time where we need to re-think and re-start we need creativity more than ever.

Figure 1: Creative vs not creative person

So what is then creativity?

Let’s start by defining what is NOT creativity. That is very difficult to answer but I will try to get some ideas. It will be fare from complete but is will maybe guide the reader in some directions.

  • Creativity is not about good looking or nice.
  • Creativity is not easy.
  • Creativity is not solely the domain of artists, designers, or ‘right-brained’ people.
  • Creativity is not just for young people.
  • Creative ability is not something we are born with.

Maybe it will now be easier to get some ideas around creativity

Creativity is certainly ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. But it can also involve transforming and reshaping the box from within, by re-imagining the box, or putting it to a new use. And it must at times also involve forgetting that there is a box at all, a condition of flow

Failure and learning from getting it wrong are essential parts of the creative process.

Creative people are open to inspiring ideas wherever they occur. Like an apple falling on the head.

Creativity isn’t intuitive. It often questions and goes against common sense.

Creativity is a process.

Creative types don’t necessarily look and act peculiar.

Creativity is not simply newness. It is newness with a practical purpose.

Figure 2: Matti Bergström, Professor of Physiology, Specialised on Brain research

Professor Mattis Bergström defined creativity is the ability to produce something new and unpredictable. Many others have tried to define creativity. 

In wikipedia we can read: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something somehow new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a printed literary work, or a painting).


  • Requires chaotic activity and inner struggle
  • Is always irrational, absurd, often meets resistance
  • Is a condition for true development
  • Is an individual thing, always takes place in one brain

It is hindered by:

  • Much, deep knowledge of the problem
  • Strong organisation, planning
  • Strong discipline, order
  • Bureaucracy

Is promoted by:

  • Free environment
  • Personal freedom
  • Aesthetic activity
  • Dream, fantasy, play
  • Common knowledge

The creative process can be a private and independent process, but it is better as a collaborative exercise. The more diverse the team is the better creative process.

The most successful creative teams are also the most diverse. New ideas flourish where there is difference.

Creativity comes from society’s effect upon me and my effect upon society. They are in mutual dependency.

Figure 3: Creativity comes from society’s effect upon me and my effect upon society.

This one reason why we NOW needs creativity to flourish in the society. We need creativity to solve this pandemic and future ones, we need creativity to transform they way we live on the planet, we need creativity to find new more sustainable energy sources, we need creativity…..

I think that the need for creativity has never been larger than it is today.

Figure 4: Creativity is like a fire - the one, igniting spark can start
a process that eventually causes the whole world to change.

In todays turbulent time where we need to re-think and re-start we need creativity more than ever. It is crucial that societies enables personal freedom and allows people to be creative. Many fires needs to be lightened so that crises will be solved and root causes eradicated from the face of the earth.

There are two types of creativity. The one that create the novel thing, the discovery and the one who makes the discovery useful.

Figure 5: Two types of creativity.

The one without the other is just waste of time. They need to function together. In organisations, public or private leaders surpress creative persons and think they are in control and are the best persons to lead through these crises.

Lastly I am quoting the famous Apple ad from 1997:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. the rebels. The Troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who sees things differently”
- Apple Ad 1997

I urge organisations, leaders and co-workers to let the creativity flourish and allow re-set and re-star, so that something new can prevail.