The literature of creativity distances the concept from ethical considerations. But this stance is thrown into question when it is examined critically. How are we to evaluate the creativity of an Oppenheimer or a Hitler, a de Sade or a Henry Ford?
A thought-provoking question
In what ways should ethics come into creativity? This thought-provoking question was posed by Marci Segal, founder of World Creativity and Innovation Week Marci is planning to present a paper on the topic. Her question [July 2009] drew attention to the fact that much of the literature on the creative process makes no reference to ethics. In that sense, the subject floats free of ethical considerations.
Artists take as a given that art stands above conventional morality. Many scientists still cling to the rationale that the pursuit of knowledge is morally neutral. Business leaders have favoured the licence to consider their only responsibility is to the financial health of their organizations.
Scientists, artists, and business leaders create their professional products and engage in their creative activities in bubbles which have in the past excluded considerations of ethics. These traditional beliefs are now changing.
The moral neutrality of scientific discovery
Scientists, card-carrying empiricists, have long argued for the moral neutrality of scientific creativity. In earlier days, pioneering figures such as Darwin, Newton and even Descartes managed to hold on to the ethical systems of their religious beliefs and kept them distinct from their discoveries which were eventually to challanges those beliefs.
But increasingly scientists have accepted the social responsibilities of science (or at least of scientists). The moral dimension can no longer be tacked on as an afterthought to the discovery process. The creation of the first atomic bomb in the Manhattan project is often quoted as a historical tipping point for awareness of social responsibilities of scientists. A recent paper by Penny Gilmer and Michael DuBois discusses the Manhattan project as an ethical dilemma that scientists may have to confront. No longer can ethics be tacked on to the creative process as an extra dimension in assessing the potential of a new idea or of its implementation.
More recently, scientific discovery has grappled with the ethical concerns of its potential ethical consequences. President Obama’s reversal of President Bush’s stance on stem-cell research is a current example of the ethical dilemmas of scientific research.
The morality of artistic creativity
Artistic creativity retains ancient beliefs in the purity of art, and its right to exist beyond reach of moral judgment. The view may sometimes be tackled legalistically, as in the famous trial in the UK of the publishers of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Was Lawrence’s work creative art or pornography or both?
Artists have always deployed the weapon of challenging conventional notions of morality and ethics. Critics argue that the process is culturally benign and necessary. Artists help society to reflect on, and perhaps adjust its ethical beliefs. The cosy distinction between eroticism (OK) and pornography (Not OK) in artistic endeavours leaves many people uncomfortable.
Creative leadership and the Hitler problem
The terms creative leadership and transformational leadership are often used interechangably. Writings on transformational leadership have struggled with what is called the Hitler problem. Was Hitler ‘really’ a transformational leader? The dictator ticked most of the boxes of envisioning (creating) achieving enormous changes, however hateful the end or the means.
Hitler’s infamy derived from acts which were utterly contrary to the ethics of transformational (creative) leadership.
The ethics of production
In the literatures of creation and innovation, issues of ethics are largely peripheral to production and marketing considerations. One of the most widely-accepted taxonomies of creativity is the 4Ps of person, product, process, and press (environment). The 4Ps are rarely examined in the light of ethical considerations of products generated, processes engaged with, or of concerns of socially benign or malign environments.
Increasingly, the social benefits of production and growth are becoming tempered with considerations of resource depletion, and extravagant consumption. As with science, ethics is increasingly elbowing its way into the commercial world.
Ethics in or out
Should ethics be part of the professional training of artists, scientists, leaders, teachers, politicians? Or should it be granted independence, transcending the professions, and studied as a subject of itself? The debate deserves more attention than it has yet received.
Leaders we deserve welcome comments on this issue.
The Loyalty Wheel image is from
Volunteer Ethics, a site worth visiting. I found other sites with nice images of ethical models, accompanied by warnings about the unethicality of sharing their creative ideas with others …The creativity/ethics question again.