We recently ran an interview with Alf Rehn, the author of Dangerous Ideas. Here, Leila Johnston reviews the book.
"We might start by asking the question: do we need creativity at all? Such a question will, without any doubt, be seen as heretical, even dangerous," says Alf Rehn, presumably in a menacing whisper. So dangerous is the message of this book going to be that almost the entire first third is given over to preparing the reader. There's a 'warning' message, a superfluous introduction and many, many more pages supplying a protracted, "Are you sitting down? What I am about to say may disturb you".
It's a long time coming, but once you get past the excitable first section, there are actually some good ideas in there. The notion that we should be bolder in our thinking about creativity is intriguing, but Rehn's eye drifts off the ball sometimes as he gets palpably carried away in a game of semantics and logic. His thought process amounts to something like this: all companies want to be more creative, but true creativity is by definition the dangerous thing that no one wants to touch. So either one should never want to be creative (because it's bland), or creativity is going to get a shiny new meaning. Either way, it falls somewhat short of the brain-blast we've been promised. "Think about it: if everyone tries to be creative and think of new ideas, doesn't it follow logically that the most creative thing to do in such a context is to consciously try to be less creative and instead utilize old ideas?"
But, wait: is that a new idea - to use old ones? Why are we trying to be the 'most creative' anyway. At times Rehn wants us to do considerably less, and follow the pared-down business models of simple popular electronics, deciding this is 'punk'. In other places he asks us to consider looking to torture methods for inspiration to help us think outside the box. It's an electric-shock-therapy sort of theory - and admirable, in a way, for its efforts to push us out of our 'comfort zones'. But, ultimately, it feels rather rough and brutal. It's the philosophical equivalent of banging the television to try to get a better signal.
Creativity, Rehn insists again and again and again, is not a cute fuzzy concept but a devastating, confrontational one. It need not be about making anything good or even 'blue sky thinking'. Rather, it's the art of freeing ourselves from the 'boxes' of preconception that we don't even know we've created. Now this, I suspect, is an extremely important thing to say, but the message is fatally diluted through repetition and poor editing. The pictures of children screaming and hands giving me the finger scattered throughout the book push the point too far, and somehow look oddly corporate and obvious in a book so adamantly dedicated to the spirit of punk.