Bringhurst: Find Creativity in the Chaos of Capitalism


(Chronicle archives)

By Maggie Bringhurst, Opinion Writer


Capitalism is exhausting. Young people today talk about how working a mind-numbing corporate position or food service job stifles their creativity and prevents their personal growth. Millennials bogged down by student debt and an inflated housing market feel prohibited from spending time on their habits and passions because it doesn’t pay the bills. And Gen-Z is next in line.

Many jobs don’t allow for creativity, and our creative outlets aren’t a sustainable form of income. While we can strive for systemic changes that incorporate creativity into society, it is also vital for us to find personal growth and achievement in our current structures. By prioritizing personal growth and allowing creative decision-making in all industries, we can foster creativity while paying the bills.

The Problem with Monetary Incentive

The idea that capitalism breeds innovation is only applicable if workers can innovate within their positions. This isn’t the case in many industries. Executives limit innovation and creativity by restricting their employees’ decision-making. While executives enjoy the benefits of their workers’ labor, the workers are drained and exhausted after a day of repetitive work with little pay.

As a culture, we can’t obsess over making financial gains. Executives should value the personal growth of their employees and prioritize creativity in the workplace. This may mean less consistency in profits because creativity isn’t predictable. Harvard Business Review suggests that because creativity is intangible and produces less monetary incentive, it hasn’t been the focus of most managers’ attention.

Incentives don’t increase innovation, according to psychology professor Barry Schwartz. “If you reward teachers for kids’ test scores, they stop caring about educating and only care about test preparation,” Schwartz explains this inherent flaw in capitalism, which relies on monetary incentives. To provide the best result in every field, we need to prioritize growth rather than incentives.

Consequences of Limited Decision-Making

Creativity is one of the most valuable aspects of human nature. Creative solutions and adaptation are necessary to bring about change to society. Many industries limit creative decision-making opportunities to maintain consistency.

For example, mandatory minimum sentences set by Congress in the 1980s limit judges’ ability to accurately match the punishment to the crime. Most mandatory minimum sentences apply to drug crimes, and were enacted during the “War on Drugs.” Selling 28 grams of cocaine triggers a minimum sentence of five years in prison under federal law. Judges are not allowed to use their own decision-making skills to create a sentence that matches the individual circumstances because of laws created 40 years ago. They must enforce the minimum sentence even if it is not fit for the crime. Allowing for creativity in the criminal justice system would increase humane charges.

We see the same thing happening as schools across the nation debate the role of standardized testing in education. A study by Flagler College found that those with lower ACT test scores scored higher on a creativity survey. Teachers are pressured to raise test scores, so they tailor instruction to only that which will be tested. Not only does this lower creativity among students, but it restricts creative and passionate teaching.

Benefits of Creativity

Some school districts stopped assigning letter grades in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to a broader conversation about the importance of teaching to learn rather than teaching to facilitate good grades.

Teachers who focus on creativity in learning see their students engaging in problem-solving and critical thinking more often than teachers who do not.  Enforcing creativity in education might be easier than other sectors, considering education is publicly funded. Other sectors rely on maximizing profits, so changes made to day-to-day labor aren’t always accepted if they pose a threat to profits. But making changes that allow for employees to execute their own ideas is vital to improvement.

“Traditional management prioritizes projects and assigns people to them. But increasingly, managers are not the source of the idea,” said Intuit co-founder Scott Cook. Founders of Google and Linden Lab find higher success in ideas backed by lower-level employees versus ideas executed by founders themselves.

Working a repetitive job without making creative decisions inhibits personal growth and restricts innovation. Prioritizing creativity results in more personal satisfaction and long-term improvement.

Society cannot improve if we don’t encourage thinking outside the box. Individuals must be able to utilize creative decision-making in their own communities to continue innovating and building a better society.


[email protected]