Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Creativity: The Psychological, Social, and Political Risks

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Creativity: The Psychological, Social, and Political Risks

Article excerpt


The purpose of this paper is to explore and develop an understanding of the risks associated with creativity. The paper will start with an explanation of creativity, here seen as not something limited to a special class of people or to special products but rather something possessed by all. It will then show that while the oft applied notion of play may be relevant, other factors such as a compulsion to create, the need for leadership, and the use of power to bring creations into being, result in psychological, social, and political risks that can internally (mainly psychologically), or externally (socially and politically), inhibit or even kill off the creative process. To illustrate the level of risk involved I will apply the theoretical to various vignettes, some personal arising from consultancy assignments, others will be applied to more well-known examples. I shall also touch on the need for leadership, self-awareness, and the creation of a facilitating environment, as a means of avoiding or minimising the risks.

Key words: creativity, psychological, social and political risk, leadership, destructiveness, facilitating, environment.


As humans we are able to have an awareness of ourselves as separate entities; we have an ability to remember the past, to visualise the future, and to denote objects and acts by symbols; we are able to reason to conceive and understand the world; and we are able to use our imagination through which we can reach far beyond the range of our senses. To enable us to gain a deeper understanding of the field and the research it will be helpful to examine what we mean by creativity. Creativity has been defined by Storr (1972, p. 11), as "the ability to bring something new into existence". That something new, may take various forms. For example, it may be a new product, a new theory, a new work of art, a new paper, a new vision, or a new strategy. The view taken here is that creativity is not limited to a special class of people-such as artists or writers-or to special products or to special circumstances, as some have argued, rather, that creativity is a drive possessed by all. In addition, it is suggested that such is the nature of the drive that we have a compulsion to create. Indeed, we might well ask that if that were not the case, why should I (and others) continue to write papers such as this?

Freud (1908e) observed, that every child at play behaves like a creative writer. That is, he creates a world of his own by rearranging things in a new way which links things of the real world in a way that pleases him. This linking, said Freud, is all that differentiates the child's play from "phantasying". Furthermore, this linking is taking place in what Winnicott (1971) has referred to as the transitional space-the potential space between the individual and the environment. As Winnicott explained, the special feature of the potential space is that it depends for its existence on living experiences, not on inherited tendencies. Following Freud, Winnicott also explained that creative apperception depends upon linking subjective and objective, upon colouring the external world with the warm hues of the imagination.


I have described elsewhere (Stapley, 1996, pp. 122-140) that while we create in the imaginary world of the primary process we exist and bring our creations into being in the world of reality which is governed by the secondary process, a world that includes the super-ego. Our conscience which is directed by the super-ego and instructing us what we may do or not do is developed from the world of our reality. Consequently, to develop something radically new will almost certainly result in conflict with our conscience which will be instructing us how we ought to behave. In going beyond the limits set by the world of reality the ego reacts with guilt. Guilt is experienced with regard to those others that he or she opposes through his or her discovery, new paradigm, or whatever we choose to call it. …

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