Conceptualists Versus Experimentalists…Again!

June 8, 2007 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

Yesterday, at the HSM World Innovation Forum, Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point spoke about and compared the two types of creativity displayed by Picasso and Cezanne.  Those being conceptual and experimental creativity respectively, first discussed in David Galenson’s book, “Old Masters And Young Geniuses:  The Two Life Cycles Of Artistic Creativity“.  Released last year, the ideas preceded the book in public discussion as articles refering to Galenson’s work were available online as early as 2002 (from what I’ve seen, I may be wrong).

  David Galenson

Galenson, an economist applied economical analyses to famous artist and their ages of best works to come up with a model that split artistic greats into two categories:

1.  Conceptual Innovators:  Those such as Picasso that excelled very early on in their craft and often produced their best works in their 20’s or early 30’s.  What we would typically call a prodigy.

2.  Experimental Innovators:  Those such as Cezanne who tend to produce their best works in the second half of their lives after many years of tinkering and refining.

 Of course, these ideas were applied to business and I first came across them in an article by Daniel H. Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future” in the July 2006 issue of Wired magazine.

I’ve never read Galenson’s book, but it is innovative in itself because an opinion on the nature of creativity, a subjective topic, is created from the application of economic principles to artists and their qualities and characteristics.  Symphonic thinking indeed.  The ideas themselves are being rehashed though over and over again.  Gladwell spoke last night of how the conceptual innovators are favored over the experimental innovators in the business world, mainly because there tendency to pre-plan there creations and then solve the problem immediately lends itself to the “bottom-line” mentality.  On the other hand, the directionless tinkering of the experimentist is not looked upon favorably in a time and money crunched business world.  Fair enough, but now Gladwell has taken these ideas, rehashed over and over again already and changed them just slightly in order to rehash them once again.  We need both types of creative abilities to succeed in the business world today, he says.  Why?  Because the conceptual creative ability tends to get the funding, but experimental creative ability tends to produce strong brands, something that usually takes time to successfully develop.  His points are valid, but I think the slight change was probably just a money-maker for him.  I find this this lack of creative thinking such a disappointment after spending the last week reading about innovational businesses such as Nau and Threadless.

Just my personal opinion, but it seems hypocritical to give a lecture on innovation when you’re just rehashing old ideas.  Any thoughts on this from readers out there?

(Photo reproduced from


Entry filed under: Symphony.

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