Creativity Vs. Productivity
Religion & Liberty Online

Creativity Vs. Productivity

We need both of course. But do we Americans put too much emphasis on productivity? And is it hurting us?

Jeff DeGraff, professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, thinks this might just be the case. It seems that industrialized country like the U.S. and Germany put great value on productivity, but not so much on creativity, and it may be costing us.

The alarm that we are trading our creativity for productivity has been sounded for years now. In 2005, stalwart industry and academic leaders like IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano and former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough co-chaired a Council for Competitiveness National Innovation Initiative Report that identified talent, investment, and infrastructure as the key components to economic prosperity in America. While politically contentious issues like the role of government and intellectual property rights were explored, it was developing creativity as a sustainable core competency that topped the list.

DeGraff isn’t ready to say that creativity alone is going to push the U.S. to the top of the heap economically, of course. There are many factors at play. However, he does note that our children (at least those enrolled in traditional schools) have suffered in recent years in the creativity department. Things like music and art classes are the first things to get cut when budgets get tight. Those types of learning experiences aren’t deemed as important as math and science. And in classes like science, creativity is often not rewarded or encouraged. When schools are forced to “teach the test” – that is, emphasize student test scores on standardized testing – it’s easy to see that creativity is going to take a back seat.

Creativity is too important to push out of education. We need to encourage creative thinking in order to encourage entrepreneurship. In fact, entrepreneurship can’t exist without creativity. An entrepreneur is someone who sees a problem or “gap” in needs or services, and comes up with ways to respond to and meet that need. Andreas Widmer, entrepreneur and president of The Carpenter’s Fund, defines entrepreneurship this way: “I would describe an entrepreneur like a person who sees an additional color.” That’s creativity.

Finally, DeGraff has this to say:

We now need to be creative about being creative. The cavalry isn’t coming. No one will save us. So I guess we have to save ourselves. Maybe that is the American Way. Saddle up. We paint at sunrise.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.