At Northeast Delta Dental we are making a conscious effort to be creative with our new product designs and diversification initiatives.   We work at it and struggle at it.   For the first time in memory, research shows that American creativity is declining.   What is going wrong — and how can we fix it?  Do we want to fix it?  

Please take a look at this Newsweek article and let me know what you think.  Thank you.   If you are into Baldrige and extended learning opportunities, do you see a connection?  Thank you.   http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/the-creativity-crisis.html

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9 Responses to Leadership

  1. The referenced article has me thinking a lot about the nature of creativity and how it manifests itself (or doesn’t) in our society. I’ll be traveling to Florence in a few weeks–birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment–where creativity was at one of its greatest peaks ever. Galileo, da Vinci, Dante, Machiavelli, Botticelli; the list is endless. Some of the creativity was a result of the times–a rejection of the creative repression of the Dark Ages, but much was likely due to inspired leadership. As cruel and nasty as were the ruling Medicis, they considered creative art and science a priority and funded both liberally.

    In America today art and science are neither a priority nor well-funded. Over the past 30 years much scientific research and development has migrated from the U.S. to Europe and Asia, and we see the same with musicians and artists. There are probably many reasons for the creative decline, but a few stand out to me.

    Creativity is on the decline is because our society doesn’t appear to strongly reward or value it.

    Creativity demands a lot of time and effort, and our Internet-ipad-cellphone saturated lives don’t leave us much time for free thought.

    The expression of creativity requires a good deal of individualism and confidence; many of us don’t really like to stand out from the crowd.

    There are probably many reasons for the decline, and we should think on all of them. Enlightenment thinkers provided the base material our founding fathers formed into American democracy. Our nation was founded, grown, and made strong by creative people. This is a decline we can not easily afford.

    • tomraffio says:

      Hi Richard: Thanks for your insightful comment; certainly food for thought. One thing happened Thursday evening that has added to my thinking on creativity — the Northeast Delta Dental management team had to re-group until close to mid-night to respond to our board of directors’ requests for some additional data on a product design initiative for which we were trying to gain approval. Boy, were we creative between 9 pm and mid night, our backs to the wall yet there was great team building and a lot of creativity thinking. So, while we may need more quiet time for creative thinking as you suggest, perhaps, too, our backs to the wall may nudge us along. What do you think? Tom

      • Hi Tom,

        Great (and intriguing) topic!

        I think that being really tired or near a deadline weakens the hold of our preconceptions and our ego, allowing us to think and create more freely.

        The weakening of preconceptions doesn’t just happen when we’re tired, but also when we’re waking up (how many ideas come together during the morning shower?), and studies show that a significant portion of the population’s creativity spikes when daydreaming.

        Kind regards,


  2. Karin Heffernan says:

    Hi Tom!
    Thank you for speaking at NEC’s Convocation this morning! I liked your emphasis on students being “passionate” about what they do. I still think finding one’s passion can be the most difficult enterprise, especially for those with multiple interests and healthy curiosity. This cover article from Newsweek that you mention is both sad and inspiring. I liked the emphasis on “real world problems’ in the teaching process. As a former elementary school teacher (before I became an academic librarian), I appreciate the struggle teachers face today to be “accountable” as measured by standardized tests while still keeping the teaching process creative and engaging students in critical thinking and not just the lowest levels of thinking on Bloom’s taxonomy. I do think we took a drastic turn in the wrong direction with our emphasis on testing as the process for evaluating school, teacher and student success. The Writing Process has disappeared in favor of “writing prompts” which is only one example of the hit that valuing creativity in schools has taken. I’m hoping that with a resurgence in the value of creativity boosted cover articles like this one, we will refocus our country on the value and power of creativity. The article blames the decline on creativity in children’s play (video games, TV, etc.) and the school issues I mentioned above. I think it is a big picture involviing all of us and how we use our leisure time. Parents need to read to their children and read themselves and play with their children, especially outdoors. Children need to be encouraged to go outside and make up games and work out the rules and decisions among themselves instead of only engaging in games created by others or monitored by adults.
    Thank you for raising this issue.
    🙂 Karin Heffernan

    • tomraffio says:

      Hi Karin,

      Thank you for your thoughtful write up on creativity, testing, accountability and reading. First, I agree with many of your observations. Also, as a State Board of Education member, I know I struggle with testing and accountability versus creativity and passion. So much of what we do has to be measured so that a student graduating from, let’s say, John Stark in NH, can be compared with a student from Iowa or California or any state USA when a college or university is trying to determine who should get into their college. And, of course, everyone always seems to be concerned about teacher performance, so again accountability comes into play. I still stick by my motto which worked well in my school career (Weston High School; Harvard; Babson) and currently works well at Northeast Delta Dental: take courses / jobs for which you have passion, and let the grades (numbers) take care of themselves, which they will, if you have passion! Creativity and Accountability — we have to find the optimal balance but I would lean towards passion and less testing, if I had to make a choice. Thanks for sharing and coming to the Convocation.
      Sincerely, Tom R

  3. David Elberfeld says:

    For the first time in memory, research shows that American creativity is declining. What is going wrong – and how can we fix it? Do we want to fix it?

    For a long time the U.S. had a protectionist policy, using it to protect our businesses and industries. When Ross Perot railled against passage of NAFTA he realized the impact it would have on U.S. productivity. I think that so many companies have moved their facilities overseas, and so many opportunities of improvement of products and processes have been relocated outside the U.S., inventiveness within the U.S. has declined. When Sputnik was launched and the “space race” was in progress, the U.S. launched an effort to become a leading country in the sciences, promoting them in our educational institutions. Now we lack reasons for pushing ourselves forward. So, in a rather broad and unfocused answer, I would say that the reasons for the decline in creativity are both political and economic in nature. NAFTA was probably one of the initial steps leading to the decline.
    The answer to how to fix the problem lies in the answer to other questions… How can we promote research on the federal level? How can we stimulate business research and development drives? How can we instigate educational institutions, especially at the grade school and high school levels, to improve and promote curriculums that lead students towards scientific research? What political actions would promote the growth of entrepreneurial ventures and increase the success rate of new businesses? As my economics professor once said… “Nothing is easy… “

  4. tomraffio says:

    Hi David,

    Great thoughts. Thank you. Two things — American businesses are too short term focused due to Wall Street pressures, so R + D suffers at the expense of short term profitability. This is why the Delta Dental model works so well — we are not driven by Wall Street, we are Main Street. So we can take the long view and do dental science research without having to worry about Wall Street pressure. You are also correct that Education is the key — in New Hampshire, the State Board has been working on promoting more flexible school guidelines to encourage entrepreneurship and creativity. And you are correct, nothing is easy and to paraphrase a famous quote — simple answers to complex problems are generally wrong. Thanks for writing, David. Tom R.

  5. David Elberfeld says:

    Thank you for your thoughful reply Tom, and all points are well taken. Our “Main Street, not Wall Street” driven company model does work well. The best idea in the recently exhibited ideas at 2-Delta was, to me, own our own bank. I would modify the idea to – have our own non-profit status credit union, with membership provided to all our “customers”. If we could interconnect it with our DCS2000 system for dentist office reimbursements and payments, and make it available for accounts for all the customers for instant electronic payments or refunds, it could greatly reduce the level of paper passing into and out of the company, expedite transactions, and perhaps end up saving the company money. I wonder if company investments made through our own credit union would save transaction fees? Just thoughts to consider. Thanks again for your response.

  6. tomraffio says:

    Hi David:

    Thank you for your “banking” idea. Always helpful when employee colleagues are thinking about the future in general, our future, creative product ideas, and connections with our customers. We will include this idea in upcoming planning sessions.

    Thank you, David.


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