When most people think of how the great ideas of our time came about, they envision a single ‘eureka!’ moment when the idea arrives, fully formed, to only a special few. Mason management professor Matthew Cronin’s new book The Craft of Creativity (Stanford Business Books, 2018) argues otherwise. Along with co-writer Jeffrey Loewenstein, Cronin shares research, interviews, and examples to show that creativity isn’t a gift reserved for singular geniuses, but a skill that everyone can cultivate.
What inspired you to write this book?
We (Jeff and I) felt like the research on creativity was stuck in a rut, and so we wanted to change people’s perspective on creativity itself. We also felt like there was a lot of bad advice out there in the popular press and that we needed to provide better alternatives.
The book features some great stories that illustrate how creativity is most often the product of long hours and lots of hard work. Do you have a favorite?
I interviewed three people who developed The Nameless Mod—a new video game made from an existing game called Deus Ex. These three people, who had no formal training of any sort, and two of whom were 14 years old when they started, managed hundreds of coders, voice actors, and [others] across the globe. The game was free [and] won all kinds of awards. Considering that a typical [high budget] game takes three years to make and costs millions of dollars even when well-known studios make it, what the Nameless Mod team did was remarkable.
Was there anything in your research that surprised you?
Yes—how surprisingly common the creative process was across types of people. Artists were indistinguishable from accountants, and both were identical to lawyers, songwriters, and everyone else we talked to. It almost got laughably predictable when someone would say, “This is going to sound really weird but…” and then they would say exactly what we heard 50 times already.
What are you working on now?
I have a blog on Psychology Today (also called The Craft of Creativity ). For teachers, I want to figure out how to make our ideas into lessons. Outside of creativity I am working on a project to explore how to manage psychological pain in organizations. I don’t think typical wellness programs provide strong enough medicine. I think we need to make counseling skills a management competence.