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Creativity on Demand

The Dilemmas of Innovation in an Accelerated Age

Business consultants everywhere preach the benefits of innovation—and promise to help businesses reap them. A trendy industry, this type of consulting generates courses, workshops, books, and conferences that all claim to hold the secrets of success. But what promises does the notion of innovation entail? What is it about the ideology and practice of business innovation that has made these firms so successful at selling their services to everyone from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies? And most important, what does business innovation actually mean for work and our economy today?

In Creativity on Demand, cultural anthropologist Eitan Wilf seeks to answer these questions by returning to the fundamental and pervasive expectation of continual innovation. Wilf focuses a keen eye on how our obsession with ceaseless innovation stems from the long-standing value of acceleration in capitalist society. Based on ethnographic work with innovation consultants in the United States, he reveals, among other surprises, how routine the culture of innovation actually is. Procedures and strategies are repeated in a formulaic way, and imagination is harnessed as a new professional ethos, not always to generate genuinely new thinking, but to produce predictable signs of continual change. A masterful look at the contradictions of our capitalist age, Creativity on Demand is a model for the anthropological study of our cultures of work.

Author Information

Eitan Y. Wilf is associate professor of anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of School for Cool: The Academic Jazz Program and the Paradox of Institutionalized Creativity, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


“Attentive, engaging, and highly innovative, Creativity on Demand brings an acute ethnographic sensibility to bear on the making of the ‘new’ in contemporary corporate life, showing us, in the process, how anthropology can help us better understand our present-day condition. This is a singularly thought-provoking read.”
— Don Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz

“I’ve been waiting for years for a book like this to come along. Using an approach that neither celebrates innovation nor dismisses it, Creativity on Demand is the first extended critical exploration of a concept with a lot of social force behind it, but—until now—not much ethnographic light illuminating its inner workings. Anyone interested in the political economy of operationalized creativity will find something to run with in this book.”
— Keith Murphy, University of California, Irvine

“Creativity on Demand shines an ethnographic light on the ceaseless production of newness as a quality of contemporary ‘fast’ capitalism. Wilf’s work with innovation consultants is an important contribution to anthropological and other critical studies of business.”
— Andrew Orta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Audience: Professional and scholarly;