Who Killed Creativity? How Can We Get Creativity Back?

They Paved Paradise

Paradise lost (see the video onsite with Gaia Grant talking about her once home)

Seven years ago two unassuming men carrying small backpacks walked  into two beach cafes, next to our home in Bali, Indonesia, and blew themselves up. By that simple act they instantly killed 20 people and wounded up to a hundred others. Although this was not the biggest suicide bombing to hit Bali, this event had a particular impact on us.

The restaurants they attacked were located only 50 metres from the front doorstep of the quiet home we had lived in for many years. We had planned to have dinner there that night, and it was just a strange twist of fate that meant we were not at the scene when the bomb exploded.

The bombing was, in fact, not just a one-off, random incident in this local area. It was the culmination of a long series of increasingly alarming events. We share this story with you because we think it mirrors the dramatic chain of events that may be leading to the death of creative thinking.

Ten years before that fateful day our sleepy fishing village had been relatively unspoiled and pristine. Then the tourists came, and hot on their heels, the entrepreneurs, keen to get a piece of the tourist action. And that is when the focus changed dramatically.

The first changes seemed innocent enough. After a few locals opened four small barbecue seafood cafes on the beach, we woke one morning, not to the usual gentle sound of waves lapping on a sandy shore, but to the grinding crunch of a cantankerous chainsaw. Soon the trees were pretty much gone, the cows had been moved to greener pastures, and the field was radically transformed into a huge paved car park ready to take large numbers of tourist buses.

The locals no longer had time for their religious devotions and cultural arts, and there was friction over who owned the cafes, who got the jobs and who made the money. The beach became the site for an amazing 110 tightly packed, smoke-filled cafes, each an almost exact replica of the one next to it. No originality or creativity, just rows and rows of sameness driven by the promise of financial reward.

Now thousands of tourists packed into the area, and soon the garbage piled up, the tourist buses clogged the tiny streets, soupy polluted water started lapping up on the once pristine sands. Suffocating smoke from the barbecues clogged the air, leaving your eyes streaming as you walked through, and no doubt poisoning the local people daily.

The death and resurrection of creative thinking

The degeneration of this pretty beach community was not due to one thing in particular but to a combination of factors, an apparently irreversible chain of events. No-one deliberately set out to destroy the beach or the village community. No-one would have admitted to contributing to the slow and painful murder. And yet the impact was clear. It was only after the bombing that the Balinese community – realizing that they would need to come up with a new model for growth in order to survive.

Consider the parallels with creative thinking. Comparisons of CQ scores over time have indicated that creative thinking has been gradually declining. And yet there is not one key ‘killer’ that can be blamed for this demise and there will not be one clear solution. If we fail to recognize and deal with the key ‘creativity killers’, or to put it another way — with the key factors that can block creative thinking and stop it from flourishing — we may pay the price. Creative thinking and innovation are critical to survival, and they must be adequately protected and actively nurtured.

Consider 2 key lessons we can learn from the story of the once sleepy fishing village:


We believe creative innocence is being gradually trampled, suffocated and more directly attacked in many areas of life. In our individual lives, in our communities and in our organizations, we are confronted by the realities of radical change so rapid that we are finding it difficult to cope. One of the first victims of this process is usually creative thinking, which cannot easily withstand such external pressures. Like the destruction of Jimbaran Bay, the suffocation of creativity is not necessarily deliberate. No criminal or institution (we hope!) has a master plan to turn us into unimaginative zombies.

The creative naivety that defined and characterized us as children simply seems to be lost in the pursuit of personal or institutional goals. It’s as though we lose sight of the principles and passions that give us purpose, and in the process lose our creative drive and ability. While everyone in Bali was busy making money from the tourists, the pristine beach was dying and the core values of the creative Balinese community were being destroyed.

Many organizations today are falling into the same trap — chasing short-term profit at the expense of long-term values. This is a clear example of innocence lost. When interviewed by The Australian newspaper this month, the head of Udayana University’s Research Centre Culture and Tourism Centre in Denpasar, Agung Suryawan Wiranatha, revealed,”We have to collapse first, then we learn.”


According to Dr Geoffrey West, in his publication Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations and People Always Die, and Life Gets Faster, innovation is critical for the survival of our civilisation, literally. West believes that if you are going to have open cycles of growth (as in our current capitalist system), you must have innovation to support them. The problem is that we need to innovate faster in order to keep up with the pace of growth.

All civilizations and all organizations follow a so-called sigmoidal growth curve, stopping or resetting after a certain period of time, West explains. It is usually only at the point that an organization starts to experience the stalling of growth or even a decline that the leaders see the writing on the wall, and inevitably they cut back on spending on innovation, for example limiting research and development budgets. And yet this is exactly the time when it is most needed. The lack of foresight organizations usually demonstrate at this critical stage in their life cycle is what ultimately kills them. When companies allow themselves to be dominated by bureaucracy and administration rather than creativity and innovation, as West says is inevitable, they are suffocated by the essentials.

It may be worth taking time out to assess the state of creative thinking and innovation in your own life, in your team, and in your organization. Can you see a decline in any of these areas, or can you see evidence of growth? Wherever you are in your creative journey, there are always opportunities for further development. It is critical that we all continue to actively promote creative thinking and innovation for long term survival. Let’s not allow our creative potential to get buried under paved parking lots!

Gaia Grant is the co-author of ‘Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get It Back?’. (Wiley) and ‘A Patch of Paradise: A Woman’s Search For A Real Life In Bali’ (Random House). Originally from Sydney, Gaia and Andrew lived in Bali with their family for 13 years. They are both international keynote speakers and the Directors or Tirian. Sections of this article are taken from these books.

Those of you who knew about our Patch of Paradise in Bali or read Gaias books, might like to see this latest video: presented onsite by Gaia Grant: Murder and Mayhem in Paradise https://whokilledcreativity.com/videos/from-the-book/murder-and-mayhem-in-paradise/

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