All too often, creativity is assumed to be synonymous with the creation of new ideas. This is a misconception. Ideas mean nothing. Anybody can have an idea. What really matters is the capacity to destroy in order to bring your ideas to life.
Destroy to create: a lesson from the arts
Great creators are also masters of destruction. Take Picasso for example: he learned a lot from his father, art teacher Jose Ruiz Blasco, but he rapidly came to reject his academism.
In 1901, the young artist went so far as to abandon his patronym and retain only the surname inherited from his mother, Picasso! Always questioning that which he learned, he was also capable of destroying his own creations.
He declared that “a picture is a sum of destructions.” With each new canvas he would construct and deconstruct the composition, the lines, the colours.
Artists are also adept at breaking down the staid certainties of their age. Picasso and Braque, with the support of art dealers including Berthe Weil, soaked up the influence of great painters of the past (not least Cézanne), but they also took aim at the art world celebrities of the time.
In their workshop in the Bateau-Lavoir complex, in Montmartre, legend has it that Picasso had pinned up one of Matisse’s works for use as a make-shift dartboard! More than an amusing anecdote, this destructive attitude to accepted norms is all part of the process by which established artistic trends are consigned to obsolescence by new and original movements such as Cubism.
Creation and destruction thus go hand-in-hand in the art world, but how can we promote this winning combination in business?
Encouraging destructivity in business
Many companies eschew the dynamics of destruction. Consider two simple examples. How many managers are keen to oversee project portfolios with vague objectives, and where the rate of failure is close to 80%?
How many are willing to embrace ambiguity, errors and improvisation?
Too few, alas. And yet, in order to create truly disruptive innovations, this open attitude is essential. Another example: many managers dream of creating a unicorn (one of those mythical, disruptive companies which achieve a valuation of €1 billion or more within ten years), but they would prefer to do so without disturbing the hierarchy in place, nor straying too far from their historic area of activity. Which is a bit like a horse and carriage company trying to spin off into auto manufacturing without rethinking their skills or values. Paradoxical to say the least.
Creation requires a framework which is at once demanding and benevolent. You need to ask for prototypes, partnerships and user trials, but you also need to know when to trust your project developers, and allow them to express their passion and conviction!
I would suggest that there are three decisive steps that you can take to encourage destructivity. First of all, do not attempt to manage disruptive innovation as if it were another everyday activity. Managers who are competent and capable of optimising existing resources may not be the best choice to lead the exploration of new business models.
They specialise in optimisation and guaranteeing profitability; not nurturing emerging opportunities and embracing the ‘maybes’! These are different worlds, requiring their own management models and professional skills. Next up, it is crucial to accept the existence of incompetence, not knowing, and the useless.
What are the odds of creating something new which is perfect at the very first time of asking? Creation requires a framework which is at once demanding and benevolent. You need to ask for prototypes, partnerships and user trials, but you also need to know when to trust your project developers, and allow them to express their passion and conviction!
Last but not least, you need to build the transition between the past and the future, between exploration and exploitation, with management systems capable of ensuring a smooth switch from one model to the other. Axel Springer and Toyota both provide high-profile illustrations of this process in practice.
If you want to create, first learn to destroy. Optimising the probable is never enough, especially when it comes to rising to the challenge of the ecological transition.
Embracing the fragility and febrility of creators, those who smash down old certainties to create the improbable; herein lies the key to nurturing the projects that will shape our future.
This article first appeared in French on Monde de Grandes Écoles et Universités.