20 Lessons of Creativity For 2015

The Editor in Chief of Fast Company shares lessons from this year’s Most Creative People in Business.

20 Lessons of Creativity For 2015
Welcome to Amy’s innovation lab! Go to our feature to watch Amy Poehler fashion new products out of everyday household and office supplies in under three minutes. Hilarity ensues.

What if you could develop a cure for Ebola? Or a nuclear power system without environmental risk? How about an app that kids love playing with—and, in the process, teaches them how to code? Or a game that executives love to play—and teaches them about cybersecurity? Wouldn’t it be great if the United Nations used cutting-edge technology to feed starving children? Or if the most urgent societal issues of our day—race, class, gender, age—were being addressed with thoughtfulness, humor, and impact?


All of these wishes are coming true, right now. And they’re only a small slice of what this year’s 100 Most Creative People in Business are achieving.

I love Fast Company’s Most Creative People franchise. I just love it. With each annual installment, we identify 100 all-new honorees, people who have not been profiled previously in the magazine. When our reporting begins, it’s a daunting mission. After all, the existing honorees in our Most Creative People 1000 community are ineligible. And yet as our team digs in, inspiration quickly follows. This year, the depth and breadth of creativity we discovered in our business landscape has been remarkable.

In recognition of Fast Company’s 20th anniversary, here are 20 lessons of creativity inspired by our honorees.


1. Creativity doesn’t discriminate

This year’s 100 honorees include 53 women, 43 people of color, and business sectors ranging from advertising to animal welfare.

2. Creativity defies expectations

When the Ebola crisis hit, it was an unassuming, little-known professor in Arizona, Charles Arntzen, who had a potential cure—courtesy of plant-based technology. (That breakthrough earned him the No. 1 spot on our list.)

3. Creativity is improvisational

Amy Poehler’s impact has spread from TV to books to streaming video—and from acting to producing—thanks to her willingness to break form and take risks. (That attitude also earned her a spot on our cover and a No. 8 ranking.)


4. Creativity starts from scratch

Jason Jones (No. 72) helped make Halo a megahit for Microsoft, but he wasn’t satisfied just to milk the franchise. So he turned his team toward a new idea, and the result—Destiny—is the most successful new video game ever. 5. Fear can’t trump imagination. Vian Dakhil (No. 41) has been targeted by ISIS and injured in a helicopter accident. And yet the Iraqi parliamentarian still taps into YouTube and mobile technology to generate global support for the Yazidis, who have been threatened with annihilation.

6. Aggravation is inspiration

Tracy Young (No. 31) was exasperated by the inefficiency of traditional blueprints, so she created PlanGrid to solve the problem; Martha Murray (No. 15) decided ACL surgery was unnecessarily debilitating and came up with a new tissue-scaffolding approach that could ease recovery for millions. 7. The bigger you are, the faster you can move. Nike was iced out of World Cup sponsorship by Adidas, but that didn’t prevent Greg Hoffman (No. 12) from building the “swoosh” company’s most expansive cross-media effort ever around the tournament—and garnering 400 million views. GE’s industrial scale hasn’t stopped Linda Boff (No. 22) from using humor to deliver a larger cultural message about science. 8. Creativity turns bad into good. When Zoe Quinn (No. 17) found herself the target of Gamergate online abuse, she and boyfriend Alex Lifschitz (No. 18) launched Crash Override to aid other victims. When Azzedine Downes (No. 33) of the International Fund for Animal Welfare saw endangered animals under attack by poachers, he tapped into drones and other technology to pinpoint perpetrators. 9. Creativity happens in 3-D. Caitlin Oswald (No. 30) helped create Pratt & Whitney’s next-generation jet engines by modeling with 3-D printers. Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis (No. 27) developed a machine that prints out 3-D electronics.

10. Creativity is ambidextrous

Designer Thomas Heatherwick (No. 24) is dreaming up plans for Google’s new headquarters. But he pooh-poohs right-brain “inspiration” as an idea generator, citing left-brain logic and problem solving as his guides.


11. Creativity can trump partisanship

Christine Leonard (No. 48) has drawn support from both the right-wing Koch brothers and the liberal Center for American Progress in building the criminal-reform-oriented Coalition for Public Safety.

12. Commerce and art are thisclose

An art collective called K-Hole (Nos. 49–51) started satirizing business trends as social commentary; now they’ve got a consulting practice for large companies.

13. Comic books can be cultural markers

Kelly Sue DeConnick (No. 64) has made a female crime fighter into a hero for Marvel.


14. Science can remake our assumptions

Leslie Dewan (No. 6) has developed a molten-salt-based process that eliminates environmental challenges associated with nuclear power plants.

15. Games can remake education— and cybersecurity

Jocelyn Leavitt (No. 86) of Hopscotch has spawned more than 1 million kid-coded games. Craig Stronberg (No. 83) of Pw­C built a game that allows execs to safely experience cyberattacks. 16. Bureaucracy is under assault. Veronica Juarez (No. 16) is making Lyft’s car sharing acceptable to municipalities, while White House CTO Megan Smith (No. 45) and Hillary Hartley (No. 46) of 18F are remaking the federal government’s approach to tech.

17. Data can shape society…

Dao Nguyen (No. 3) has relied on virtual data to vault BuzzFeed into the top echelon of news media, while Danilo Leao (No. 88) is using on-the-ground info to help cattle farmers in Brazil.


18.  . . . and so can conversation

Larry Wilmore (No. 44) is elevating discussions of race on Comedy Central, Janet Mock (No. 57) is furthering transgender dialogue, and Mike Judge (No. 75) is dismantling hero worship of the tech elite in Silicon Valley.

19. Creativity can bloom early…

Jerome Jarre (No. 58) has become a Vine star at age 25. Marques Brownlee (No. 28) is a popular YouTube tech reviewer at 21. Isabella Rose Taylor (No. 77) has a line of clothing at luxury retailer Nordstrom—and she’s only 14.

20. …and it’s just plain fun

Whether you’re listening to the music of Run the Jewels (Nos. 81–82), lost in a game of Minecraft (Jens Bergensten, No. 5), or enraptured by Vosges chocolates (Katrina Markoff, No. 85), you’re benefiting from a creative vision brought to life. Wherever there’s a problem to be solved, there are creative people imagining a solution.


About the author

Robert Safian is the editor and managing director of The Flux Group. From 2007 through 2017, Safian oversaw Fast Company’s print, digital and live-events content, as well as its brand management and business operations