Creativity for Fun and Profit: Alex Osborn, Ernest Dichter, and the Quest to Liberate the Mind of Corporate America, 1950-1975

Samuel Franklin

Postwar American corporations used creative thinking methods not only as a new set of management practices and training regimens, but also as a discourse by which managers and employees could forge a new sense of purpose in the larger social and economic order. This paper will look at the careers of Alex Osborn and Ernest Dichter, two men who emerged from illustrious careers in advertising to become corporate creativity consultants. Drawing on the practices and conceptual frameworks of Madison Avenue, these men hoped to help a wide range of businesses meet the challenges of a quickly changing and more competitive postwar business environment. However the creative thinking craze was about more than just stimulating innovation. It was also a response to the critiques of the postwar corporate order, both as articulated in popular social thought and as experienced on the job. Creative thinking rhetoric followed a template largely invented by Osborn and later used by Dichter and other corporate creativity experts, which sets up and then resolves dichotomies between the imaginative and the judicial, the artistic and the scientific, the self-actualized and the alienated, and then promises clients a pleasurable and profitable synthesis of the two.