Creativity: Evolution vs. Revolution

Throughout this section all that has played over and over in my mind is the question of evolution vs. revolution. Especially after reading chap. 5 of Jackson, NiElsen & Hsu (2011, p.102).

When we see the traces of older media in the design and functions of newer ones) what seems to be revolutionary might, at best, be evolutionary.

The above quote has stuck with me since reading it. It came up again when reading Mayer’s below the line (2011). I had a real problem with the use of the word creative in describing what the assembly-line workers did to cope with their jobs. I had to remind myself of the meaning of the word.

…we seem to have reached a general agreement that creativity involves the production of novel, useful products.

Mumford (2003, p.110) summed it up nicely in the above statement from his look into creativity research.  This definition gives creativity a revolutionary quality. But in Mayer’s article, all that was pointed out as being creative, was really more of the evolutionary school. The workers worked within the system they found themselves in to find ways to stave away boredom and injuries. From his presentation on creativity, John Cleese spoke about creativity from the psychological perspective. In this perspective the idea is one cannot be creative when they are in closed mode and the example used was when one was at work and had tasks to complete. But, one could only be creative in open mode, which was referred to as play time when there were no real constraints on one’s time or resources.

On the other side, Mayer employs Joas’ social theory of creative action as the frame to be used to understand the workers’ ways of surviving their work environment as creative. This theory is from the sociological and philosophical perspectives, creativity is sanctioned by society. Therefore, if society says it is creative then an action is creative. But from the psychological perspective, the assembly-line workers’ cannot be said to be creative because it is within a closed system. The truth is the synonym deviceful fits more into what the assemvly-line workers were doing. Therefore, they really were doing evolutionary stuff instead of revolutionary.

The question then begs, is it fair to say that the changes in media has only been evolutionary? That is, a response to a need to adapt itself to the new needs and wants of people. Or, can we actually say that it is oversimplification to claim all new media is evolutionary? I have to say that when it comes to thinking about these concepts more in the sense of one being creative, evolution cannot represent all the changes. When we think of things like moving to the mp3 concept from a disc player was a revolution (a radical change).

Mayer pointed out that there is “a common association linking individual genius and creative action” (2011, p.31). This is something she seems to have a problem with, but I do not. There is a reason that this link developed, creative action has manifested itself most of the time with an individual or group of people noticing a need growing for a particular product that society as a collective is yet to realize it needs. I guess that is why people who argue against marketers and advertisements say that they tell us what we need. An easy example will always be Apple and thinking about the products it has come up with since its inception. The company has evolved greatly to meet the changes in the world, and so it has been able to create revolutionary products.

So going back to Mayer’s article, from our discussions in class about this article the consensus is one of seeing the workers as being strategic and maybe even manipulative. John Cleese made an important point, he said people believe that you are either born creative or you are not, but this belief is wrong. I agree that this belief is wrong, we all have some form of a creative process in us that allows us come up with strategic ways to manipulate constraining situations we all find ourselves in either at work or just in everyday life. The question really is are we being creative in an evolutionary or revolutionary way?

I think everyone can work out the evolutionary aspect of creativity, because change is a constant and we need to adapt to it quickly enough to survive. But, in the sense of an individual genius and creative action, I believe this is in the case of revolutionary creativity. What I took away from Mayer’s article was to find a way of empowering ourselves by being able to say the fact that when I am tired of studying I put on music to dance for about ten minutes is a creative action and not to trivialize that action. I believe her goal is to empower us by making us see that  a simple thing like the “hand games” of the assembly-line workers might have come about to survive a tough and repetitive work environment; but this does not make the action any less creative than the creation of the Iphone.


Jackson, J. D., Nielsen, G., & Hsu, Y. (2011). Mediated Society: a Critical Sociology of Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mayer, V. (2011). Producers as Creatives: Creativity in Television Set Production. In Below the Line: Producers and Production Studies in the New Television Economy. (pp.31-65, 192-193). Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Mumford, M., D. (2003). Where have we been, where are we going? Taking Stock in Creative Research. (pp. 107-120). Creative Research Journal, 15.


About oluwatofealadeadeyefa

A Masters student in Public Relations at MSVU. Bachelors in International Development and Political Science from Mcgill University. Interested in Internal Communication and Change Management.
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1 Response to Creativity: Evolution vs. Revolution

  1. mattdgp says:

    Hey Tofe, The same chapter from Mediated Society has really stuck with me as well. Specifically this idea of “what is banal is magical”. To quote directly (2011, p.117), “Media technologies are therefore revolutionary and magical only when they become banal and popularized”. The example referred back to electricity and how revolutionary it was in its day and now we take for granted only recognizing its impact on our lives when it’s missing. So it’s quite the paradox – the more common a technology becomes, the more revolutionary its impact on our daily lives.


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