Chapter 1 argued that the Four Ps model of creativity needs refinement if it is to prove useful in understanding innovation. The purpose of the next four chapters of the book is to carry out the necessary reworking of the Ps approach in order to develop a model of innovation based on the building blocks of product, process, person, and press. The present chapter begins the necessary reworking by examining the most obvious building block: the public face of innovation – product.
The Usefulness Imperative
The nineteenth-century French novelist Théophile Gautier stated in the preface to a product of his own aesthetic creativity – his novel Mademoiselle de Maupin, published in 1836 – that “nothing is truly beautiful unless it is useless” (emphasis added). This rejection of usefulness is typical of the notion of creativity seen in the art for art's sake movement, of which Gautier was a leading representative. In the early years of the modern creativity era, that is, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was still resistance to the systematic study of creativity on the grounds that it is ineffable and inscrutable, a mystical, divine phenomenon beyond the understanding of mere mortals and thus above trivial considerations such as usefulness. A modern version of the rejection of concrete products and endorsement of the idea that creativity is purely spiritual was articulated by Rothman (2014). He complained about what he called creativity creep, defining the term as a shift away from conceiving of creativity as a way of being – a position of which he approved – to seeing it as a way of doing – a position of which he disapproved. In rejecting the linking of creativity to tangible products he stated: “If you're really creative, really imaginative, you don't have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think, and feel” (emphasis added).
However, within the framework of a discussion of innovation in organizations, simply feeling creative without actually doing anything is of limited interest, and uselessness in a product is not a virtue at all. Levitt (2002) was particularly scathing in his comments about people within organizations who are eager to advance novel ideas but regard the question of whether they can be implemented as an unnecessary hindrance to their creativity.