Preprint / Version 1

Open Anthro Vol 9-2 Creativity and Innovation



Open Anthropology, anthropology, creativity, innovation, anthropology innovation


As Stuart McLean notes (2009, 213), “everyone, it seems, is talking about creativity these days.” As we continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us marvel at the extensive improvisation and innovation we have called up recently. Indeed, billions of people have had to abruptly change their ways of working, learning, teaching, healing, shopping, and interacting with one another. Creativity has been a chief principal for guiding many pandemic responses—medically, physically, and socially. But even before the pandemic emerged, a capacity for creativity and innovation was seen as the means to success on several fronts. Entrepreneurs and artists—especially those who produce popular culture or social media content—are referred to as “creatives,” as the adjective has been transformed into a noun. These “creatives” include media personalities, often living in special communal houses to intensify their production of original “content.” In globalized commodity markets, many perceive a constant need for new and different items and services to sell and buy. Businesses and organizations tout their ability to innovate, to come up with big ideas and put them in to practice. Others seek to harness creativity to meet social ends, to help other people in their lives, and solve problems. Given these demands, educators feel pressured to produce creative thinkers and innovative doers. A spate of books aimed at general audiences claim to have discovered the underpinning of economic and social success in creativity of some sort or another. People are encouraged to experiment, think outside the box, and celebrate “the outsiders’ advantage” in solving life’s complex problems. Above all, creativity and innovation offer the means by which we can bring about change across a wide range of social and cultural domains.

Anthropologists have long studied creativity and innovation, and they cogently remind us that things are “always” changing. Neither our physical nor social world is static and truly fixed; as the anthropologist Tim Ingold has noted, we humans are always working things out as we go along (see Ingold and Hallam 2007). Just catalog the myriad of ways we adjusted in almost all
facets of our lives recently. Across millennia, some change has been relatively unconscious, the result of inexact replication or the almost constant processes of subtle adaptation or modification required when living in the “real” world. But much change is, in fact, more conscious, the result of creativity and innovation responding to various environmental, economic, political, social, and technological challenges or perhaps from some deeply personal desire to produce a new or novel thing. It is this latter form of purposeful and directed creativity that seems so much in demand today, including as a guide to navigating the COVID-19 era.


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