When George Bernard Shaw penned the play Pygmalion, I wonder if he believed that his story would affect as many people as it has, more than not without these people even knowing it? Based on the Greek Myth of Pygmalion, who sculpted his vision of the perfect woman, it is the story of

Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins who makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. 

Perhaps his most famous play, Shaw actually struggled for years with various producers wanting a happy ending to the piece and Shaw wanting reality. Even though the piece is a wry commentary of the rigid British class system of the day and a true early depiction of strong independent women, it does demonstrate that if you believe in something strongly enough, then it is more likely to happen. This has even been coined the Pygmalion Effect. Higher expectations will lead to higher performance.

So what does all this have to do with Creativity and Innovation?

Tony Ryan – Learning Futurist and speaker, suggests that the world is a beautiful mess. He, along with myself, also believes in the Pygmalion Effect. He posits that, if 90% of the world’s population believes that the Earth will basically be an amazing place up ahead, then it’s more likely to happen. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The beautiful mess that Tony refers to, has come about through the process of creativity and innovation. Everything humans have devised, be it to the detriment or the prosperity of society has had a creative and innovative process behind it. Artists will always say, ‘it’s all about the process’. Creatives never think of the end product. The end product is a result of the process. Great creatives will focus on the process that achieves the product but they will never get hung up on the product. They will, however, never give up on the process. Likewise, great innovators will never focus on the goal. For them too, it is all about the process.

For all the definitions of creativity and innovation that abound, from an organic perspective, creativity is the art of conception. Innovation is the art of successful gestation. Scott Berkun goes on to suggest that the best definition of innovation is significant positive change. When we create we are looking for the original, the new. When we innovate we want to put these new and original ideas into place.

To harken then, back to Pygmalion and Henry Higgins. These guys had an idea. But in reality, was it original? Each was seeking to produce something of perfection. Pygmalion sought to create a woman for himself and Higgins sought to change a woman into something that she wasn’t. Whilst their ideas could be seen as novel and at a stretch original, the critical question is, were they innovative? Pygmalion did sculpt his ‘perfect’ woman and Aphrodite did grant his wish that the woman be made real but it was Pygmalion’s conceit that drove him, not a positive change. Likewise, conceit potentially drove Higgins but deep down Eliza Dolittle was still the same person. No significant positive change.

Creativity can’t exist without innovation and the reverse is also true. For there to be innovation, the creativity behind the change must be original, it must be new and it must be positive. ‘Positive’ is a relative term that will ultimately be dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the birth of the idea. For there to be creativity, support for innovation must be strong and willfully practised. A group or organisation without innovation creates a vacuum into which all creativity is lost.

No wonder Shaw continually strived for reality.


Shane Mallory

Shane is a performer, emcee, host, communicator, creative, mentor and innovative theatre director. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland with his wife Natalie, who are almost 'empty nesters' providing a home for their two daughters' dog and two cats.


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