Creativity is amoral

Wouldn’t it make life easier if all the good people were creative and all the bad people weren’t? 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

Creativity lives in the realm of ideas, and bad people have ideas just like good people.

So we can either learn from everyone, or only learn from people we agree with.

Personally, I choose to learn from everyone.

Take Basil Zaharoff, born in 1849; he was senior partner in the Nordenfelt arms company.

He was responsible for sales of the Nordenfelt type 1 submarine.

It was driven by steam, which is not a great idea for a ship that submerges.

Zaharoff had already failed to sell a single submarine to any of the great naval powers: Britain, France, Germany and the US.

They had large navies and saw no need to take a risk on a mere novelty. 

The US criticised its "dangerous and erratic movements", they found it "chronically unstable" and "completely unacceptable".

So Zaharoff got creative.

If the countries with large navies didn’t need it, what about the countries with no navies?

Zaharoff knew he needed a single sale to start the ball rolling.

So he explained to Greece how an underwater ship could be worth many surface ships.

It could approach unseen and, with its torpedoes, sink the battleships of larger nations.

And, because he was a loyal Greek, he would let them have it at half price.

The Greeks couldn’t resist, and they ordered a Nordenfelt type 1 submarine. 

Having sold one submarine, Zaharoff then went to the Ottoman Empire.

He explained to the Turks how the Greeks could control the seas with their submarine.

Turkish ships would be helpless, but as a loyal Turkish subject he was willing to help them restore the balance of power.

The Turks were so grateful they ordered two Nordenfelt type 1 submarines.

Then Zaharoff went to see the Russians.

He explained that the Turks would soon have control of the Black Sea.

Because they now had two submarines capable of sinking any Russian ship that dared venture onto it.

As a loyal Russian subject it was his duty to help Mother Russia all he could.

The Russians were grateful for the tip and ordered two Nordenfelt type 1 submarines.

So Zaharoff sold five useless submarines because he understood two important things.

1) People who felt secure had no need to take chances, but people who felt insecure had to take chances.

2) People will judge what they need based on what their competition has.

Basil Zaharoff was not a nice man, but even bad men can be creative.

If we don’t learn from everyone else, good and bad, we are like a horse with blinkers.

Take Chernobyl, when Soviet scientists refused to listen to problems with the design of the nuclear power plant.

It had been designed by the Soviet State, and the Soviet State could not be wrong.

Western designs were said to be superior, but the West was capitalist and therefore evil, so everything the West did was inferior.

Unfortunately, safe nuclear reactor design is neither capitalist nor communist.

By the time the Soviets accepted the faults in their design, 90,000 people were dead.

All because they placed ideology before thinking.

That’s the sort of thing we do when we believe only award-winning ads are good.

Only if a panel of judges, and the advertising press, has approved the ads.

And only if they’re for products we approve of, with a brand purpose we like.

In a world where all the good guys are smart and all the bad guys are stupid.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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