Innovation is a popular theme in corporate training. Participants are often encouraged to think outside the box without specifying what the box is, and why thinking inside it is no longer adequate. Perhaps there isn’t time for such details. The market is suffering from acute attention deficiency and hyperactivity disorder; everyone is under pressure to meet its insatiable appetite for something new all the time. Products must appear different at increasingly short cycles, in order to survive. Gimmick thinkers are in high demand.
In the rush to innovate, it’s easy to forget that most organisations, from government bureaucracies to small private companies, rely on certain established patterns to function. With time, these patterns may require renovation, even major restructuring or a revolution. But deviating from time-tested modus operandi, changing for the sake of changing, may carry disastrous consequences. Whatever’s inside the box has made the team successful enough to afford corporate training after all; it can’t be all bad.
Creative ideas can only come out of a small percentage of people by definition; when everyone obligingly thinks outside the box, the lone person who stays inside to dream will ironically become the outlier. Over-promoting creativity also risks undervaluing or alienating the average person who are better at working, getting things done, than innovating. Without the implementation power of competent and disciplined workers, innovative ideas are mere fantasy.
Without the average guy, Homo sapiens would even lose definition as a social species. The average guy defines the norm which defines our species. If we all had a brain like Einstein’s, then his IQ would be just relatively average. Plus even if we can all think like him, paint like van Gogh and compose like Beethoven, humans would remain infinitesimally insignificant in the big cosmic picture — the box within which we must do everything, including thinking.
Decades of desperate creativity has done very little to serve humanity, unless one regards fancy weapons and smartphone zombies as progress. Perhaps it’s time to rethink outside the market, within the cosmic box in which we always shall be?
James Tam 15.12.2023