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Live From Davos: What’s the Key to Creativity?

The World Economic Forum at Davos has a theme every year, and the theme of the 2006 meeting is ”The Creative Imperative,” the idea being that business leaders and society as a whole need to come up with new and creative approaches to change. And so on this first day at Davos, I attended a session called ”Innovation and Design Strategy,” a topic that is of course close to our hearts at Fast Company. It was, in a lot of ways, a very un-Davos-like session–more a reality show than a typical gabfest.

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The eight panel members were each asked to describe what they think is the key to creativity. The audience then voted them off the island, one by one. Quick to go, for example, were panelists who pitched religious institutions and government as important engines of innovation. In the end, we were left with two finalists who are well-known to Fast Company readers, Ideo’s Tim Brown and Google’s Marissa Mayer.

Their respective arguments: Brown stumped for the beginner’s mindset, and for the virtues of rapid prototyping. Being or thinking like a beginner lets you approach problems in new ways, lets you make connections that haven’t been made before. And rapid prototyping lets you test those insights quickly and at limited expense.

Mayer argued for a ”healthy disrespect for the impossible,” combined with the virtues of constraints. A healthy disrespect for the impossible means you can take risks, while constraints–a price point you have to meet with a new product, a specific design problem you have to solve– mean your risk-taking will follow productive avenues.

In a later posting, I’ll tell you who won. In the meantime, what do you think? Which of these views represents the ”magic fairy dust” of creativity, as it was described today at Davos?

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