5 Reasons Why Creativity and Business Have a Problematic Relationship

Kim Hermanson
4 min readMay 30, 2019

Polls of CEOs reveal that they believe creativity is the most important skill of the future. As someone who has spent my life working with creativity, I’d like to offer a few thoughts about the problematic relationship between business and creativity.

(1) Creativity is about expansiveness, unlimited possibilities, and being comfortable with the unknown.

A few years ago while waiting for a flight in San Francisco, I got into a conversation with a scientist from Amsterdam who had just received a grant to study creativity. I asked him for his definition of creativity in science, and he gave me the example: “Why is the sky blue?” I then asked him, “Why does the sky have to be blue?” Starting with the end point of “the sky is blue,” limits our creative options and possibilities. Think of Monet’s Impressionist paintings. Monet didn’t look at snow and say, “Hmmm. Snow is white, so how should I paint it?”

We engage in creativity when we explore the world without a predefined idea of what we are looking at. Snow isn’t necessarily white and the sky does not have to be blue.

Business, like science, is a world of numbers, profits, systems, and things that can be measured and planned. So with that as our context, creativity in business necessarily becomes a process of problem solving. It loses its mystery and becomes a tool to help us try to reach a given end.

We’re limited to having to think within a box.

(2) True creativity is challenging, confronting and rarely ‘acceptable.’

Our culture regards creativity in an idealized way, yet rarely supports the person whose vision challenges traditional norms. When people are truly creative, they’re doing things and introducing ideas that aren’t going to be predictable, or even palatable.

In his book, The World as Will and Representation, Arthur Schopenhauer distinguishes between genius and talent: “Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.” In other words, people who are talented achieve what others can’t, but creative geniuses see what the rest of us can’t even imagine.

(3) Creativity is confusing and not readily explainable.

I once heard Terry Gross interview filmmaker David Lynch on her NPR show Fresh Air. She asked Lynch some question about making films and he replied something like, “You know Terry, when I’m making a movie, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Again, in a business world that’s built on numbers and profits, the answer “I don’t know what I’m doing” isn’t going to be tolerable.

(4) Creativity is not separate from who are as humans — it’s not a “tool.”

Thinking of creativity as a tool, or something we might want to set aside resources for, or something that would be fun to do if we have extra time on the weekend, or something that a few people have and others don’t, aren’t helpful ways of thinking. We are all creative beings living in a creative world.

Every day, we humans are constantly receiving information, input, and perceptions. We brew over these perceptions, and ultimately come up with our own conclusions on the matter. We are all engaged in a constant, ongoing process of expressing ourselves all the time….our lives are an evolving creative process.

(5) Highly creative people are comfortable with childlike play.

A fascinating research study at the University of Michigan revealed that a majority of people who receive MacArthur genius awards spent their childhoods creating fantasy worlds. The research demonstrated that their affinity for fantasy worlds continued into their present day professional work. This included the creation of imaginary worlds in paintings, plays, films, and novels as well as the invention of theoretical models in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Yet as adults, most of us regard fairy tales and fantasy play as childish and “make-believe.”

Play is effective because it takes us beyond what the mind thinks of as reasonable. Don’t we all need that?

Creativity lives in the unknown…in a fairy-tale place that’s beyond how we are currently “looking.” True creativity is confronting, confusing, unacceptable and childlike. And nearly impossible to measure, contain or define.

Both Carl Jung and Albert Einstein said in different ways that problems can’t be solved at their own level. To come up with truly innovative solutions, to sincerely dwell in the creative, we have to shift our focus.

We have to look in a different way.

Check out my website kimhermanson.com to download the PDF, 15 Tips for Creative Breakthroughs.



Kim Hermanson

coach for creative breakthroughs + guru of the power of metaphor + faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. www.kimhermanson.com