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January 19, 2019

How to look at art: Creativity and bureaucracy

The Parable of Talents etching by Dutch artist Jan Luyken, 1694
The Parable of Talents etching by Dutch artist Jan Luyken, 1694


or me, there are only two types of people: creative and bureaucrats. Discussing bureaucracy with the teenagers in a Kenyan school, I found some of them liked bureaucracy and even aspired to become bureaucrats. Surely, they did not know that bureaucracy costs billions to economies and human lives. ‘Cutting bureaucracy could boost the global economy by $1tn,’ says the World Trade Organisation.

Jesus’ Parable of the Talents illustrates well the difference between the creative and bureaucrats. Going away, a master called his servants. To the first man he gave five talents (a name for a currency), to the second, two, and to the third, one. A man with five talents traded with them and made five more, a man with two talents also traded and made two more. But the third man hid the money. When the master came back, the first man gave back 10 talents, the second four, and the third man just one. “Master, I was afraid, and I hid your talent,” he said. “You wicked worthless servant!” the master told him, and “cast the man into the outer darkness in the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (New Testament, Matthew 25:14-30 )

In the parable, the first two men are creative: resourceful and entrepreneurial. They are able to see opportunities and multiply resources. The third man is a bureaucrat lacking any ability to think creatively.

The students might have confused bureaucracy with management and order. It is neither. Bureaucrats are not driven by effective management and order. They are driven by three things, writes Alvin Toffler in his book, Future Shock. By economic security: to keep their jobs, they are ready to subordinate their own interests. By hierarchy of authority: they are heavily conditioned — by schooling, family, and cultural traditions — to subservience and conformity. And, by division of labour: they occupy a place and perform actions well defined by rules and regulations. Faced by problems, they get the routine answers. Frightened by change, they avoid creativity.

Today’s world demands people with totally different characteristics. New knowledge, technology and social change create new problems that demand solutions beyond the routine. Today, creativity stands in contrast to bureaucracy.

Where a bureaucrat fears the lack of economic security, a creative man is unafraid of competition and risk and is confident in his entrepreneurial abilities. 

Where a bureaucrat seeks status and recognition within the hierarchy, a creative man seeks it outside the hierarchy.

Where a bureaucrat is subservient to an organisation, a creative man is only loyal to his own professionalism and fulfilment.

Where a bureaucrat feels his role is predetermined, a creative man is a mobile individual. Hungry for novelty and change, he is self-motivated to move across the roles.

Where a bureaucrat solves routine problems according to rules, a creative man faced by new problems wants to innovate. 

Where a bureaucrat subordinates himself to a ‘team play’, a creative man recognises the teams are transient.

While a bureaucrat is not free, a creative man is liberated. 

Creative men also know this: in the new super-industrial world where rules change rapidly, people’s adaptability will be highly strained. If you are creative, you will survive and thrive on change. If you are a bureaucrat, you will fail to adapt to change and end up in ‘a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth’. 


Alla Tkachuk is the Founder of Kenyan MASK School for Creativity and Innovation: [email protected]

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