Thomas A. Stewart
Executive Director, NCMM AND Former Chief Marketing & Knowledge Officer, Booz & Company

Is there a creativity crisis in America?

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Tom Stewart says creativity isn't a linear, consistent phenomenon but rather happens in clumps.

Thomas A. Stewart

Thomas A. Stewart is the Chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer (CMKO) of the global management consulting firm Booz & Company. Stewart most recently served as editor and managing director of Harvard Business Review, and is a best-selling author, an authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management, and an influential thought leader on global management issues and ideas.

During Stewart’s six years with Harvard Business Review, the magazine was a two-time finalist for general excellence in the National Magazine Awards, and received an “Eddie” in 2007 from Folio Magazine.

Previously, Stewart served as the editorial director for Business 2.0 and as a member of Fortune’s Board of Editors. He is the author of two books, Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations, and The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the 21st Century Organization, published by Doubleday Business in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

Stewart is a fellow of the World Economic Forum. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, and holds an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Cass School of Business at City University, London.


Question: Is there a creativity crisis in America?

Tom Stewart: I think creativity’s always an issue.  I think that it’s always a challenge to imagine how . . . well two things . . . how individuals can express their creative selves in the context of organization’s framework.  And that’s a management and leadership problem.  I’m running a company.  I’ve got some . . . . you know, I’ve got something to lose.  How do I then encourage wild and crazy ideas without screwing up what I’ve got to lose?  And that’s a … Innovation in organizations is an ongoing, constant challenge.  And nobody ever gets it right, but people keep working at it.  I think there’s another … another sort of social issue, which is … and it’s one that … talks about very eloquently . . . which is how do you create and support creative communities and creative places?  One of the interesting facts of cultural history and economic history is that creativity happens in clumps.  You know, whether it’s the Silicon Valley or the area around Waterbury, Massa … or Waterbury, Connecticut which was brass valley … and all of these clusters that Michael Porter talks about.  Or the cluster of the abstract expressionist down by the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village in the 1950s.  Or the cluster of … of people in Florence in the Renaissance.  Or the cluster of impressionists in Paris.  Or American impressionists in Lime, Connecticut.  You know, creative people clump together.  And … and creating … or I’m … too much creativity.  And … and … and supporting these anarchic but necessary communities, how do we … how do you do it?  I mean part of what you do is leave them alone.  But if you leave them alone, will they happen? If you, you know, leave them alone, will Soho suddenly become a place where there are only lawyers and the creative people have to go someplace else?  I mean, how do you … how do you keep this sort of energy going, or can you not?  You just have to say creativity emerges.  And when it emerges you let it emerge.  And when the lawyers come in, they go to … .

Recorded: 6/22/07