What Americans Think About Creativity May 15, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: bill clinton, microsoft, mpaa, time magazine
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I just read the results of a fascinating new survey of 2,040 adult U.S. consumers, conducted online in April for TIME Magazine, Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). #strangebedfellows
First of all, Americans value creativity in others more than just about any other characteristic:
And although 83% of people say creativity is important in their job, a whopping 91% say it’s important in their personal life.
Fifty percent of people think creatively in pictures, only 34% in words. And 4% think creatively in sound…probably the musicians!
For you students and teachers out there: 62% say that creativity is more important to job success than they thought it would be when they were in school.
*If you follow the link below to the online article, you’ll discover that the survey is connected to a conference held on April 26, 2013, hosted by the MPAA, called “The Creativity Conference,” and you can watch video excerpts there (including of President Bill Clinton).
Creative Careers March 8, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: creative careers, lewis black, snaap, steven tepper, willie reale, zig zag
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The creative journey is filled with twists and turns, unpredictable developments, and surprising new insights (as well as frustrating dead ends). That’s the message of my new book Zig Zag, which is filled with advice about how to succeed in your creative journey.
At the SNAAP conference here in Nashville, today’s lunchtime presentation was an interview with comedian Lewis Black, by playwright and lyricist Willie Reale. Lewis talked a lot about his career, and I was struck by how many zigs and zags he passed through before he became “Lewis Black” the famous comedian. Until the age of 40, he was a struggling playwright, doing okay in serious theater, but starving artist poor…his path to standup comedy was not at all linear. Check out these zigs and zags:
- In high school, he loved theater, and decided he would go to college to study theater.
- At UNC and then at Yale’s School of Drama, he followed this dream.
- He moved to New York, and got a job as a bartender at a divey bar in the East Village. In exchange for tending bar, the owners let him book acts in the club, so he got experience and connections with the theater scene.
- Eventually he moved to manage the West End Theater, where he stayed for eight years. He started introducing the acts, and gradually his introductions became longer as he gained confidence. After a few years, he was doing a special one hour stand-up on Saturday nights.
- At the age of 40, still pursuing his career as a serious and respected playwright, he cowrote a quirky musical about the Russian Elvis Presley, filled with Cold War themes; it gained some attention.
- It was 1989, and two weeks before the play was to open, the Berlin Wall fell. He and his cowriter had to add a second act to the musical in which the Berlin Wall fell; that took six months.
- The revision was successful, and they were invited to produce the play at a respected theater in Houston.
- Down in Houston, after several days and weeks of being treated badly by the management of the theater, one night he got really frustrated. To let off steam he went across town to the local comedy club’s open mike night. He did a 15 minute bit, and as he put it, “I killed.” On the spot, the owners offered him top billing and $1500 a week. That, he says, was the moment he decided to give up on playwrighting and become a standup performer.
This story is just like the zig-zag path that leads to successful creative innovation. And it’s not just Lewis Black’s career; this morning, Professor Steven Tepper presented data showing that creative careers almost always follow these unexpected twists and turns.
It’s fascinating that creative careers have the same improvisational, unpredictable structure, as the path that leads to a single creative product or invention.
Creativity and the Superbowl February 2, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Creative performance, Everyday life.
Tags: football, matthew futterman, nfl, superbowl
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Will we see creativity on the field in tomorrow night’s Superbowl football game, between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens?
In one sense, of course there will be creativity–after all, no one knows what the outcome of the game will be. If coaches choose predictable plays, then the other team can anticipate them; you can’t win without being surprising and unpredictable. In every play, each player responds with movements that are highly attuned to the moves of the opposing players. In that sense, each play is a form of collective improvisation–highly constrained, of course, but still it’s improvised and creative.
In Friday’s Wall Street Journal,* Matthew Futterman argues that players have been taking more and more responsibility for game management from the coaches. As a result, we see “a more wide-open, improvisational game” because “the role of an NFL player is shifting at the team level.” And Futterman says:
The NFL is shifting from a league where coaches dictate most of the action, to one of constant improvisation, where even rookies, such as Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, are taking on an unprecedented level of responsibility for managing games.
NFL football is following the rest of the U.S. economy in moving towards collaboration and improvisation. This is a historic shift, one that I describe in my 2007 book Group Genius. In my book, I argue that basketball is the U.S. sport where improvisation is most important. And it’s great that football is becoming more collaborative and more improvisational; it’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying football so much more in recent years.
When you watch the game Sunday night, look for the small improvisations on the field, the ones that happen in every play, the ones that the announcers never comment on–because they’re just a standard part of the game. Look for the quarterback and the receivers to change their routes in response to the defensive moves. Look for a surprising play call, one that surprises even the announcers. Look for creativity!
*Matthew Futterman, “Power shifts to the players.” Wall Street Journal, Friday Feb 1. 2013, p. D4.
Toilet Lid Art January 17, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: barney smith, celeste massullo, lori schory, toilet seat art museum
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Who knew? You can paint, draw, and even sculpt on an ordinary toilet seat lid. Today’s Wall Street Journal* features artist Barney Smith, who’s created over 1,000 pieces of toilet seat art. Here’s a photo of his museum in Alamo Heights, Texas. The museum is free, and gets about a thousand visitors every year…including school field trips and even executives from toilet seat companies. The Wall Street Journal article names a few other toilet seat artists, like Ohio artist Celeste Massullo and Wisconsin artist Lori Schory, who says “Art isn’t just for someone in an art gallery”.
‘Tis the Season for Creativity December 23, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life, Uncategorized.
Tags: brag letters, christmas, christmas light displays, christmas tree competition, gingerbread house, gingerbread house competition, shrine of our lady of the snows
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Here in the United States, it is our special holiday season when we celebrate Christmas and the New Year. And there is beauty and joy all around. In these last few weeks, I’ve seen an incredible outpouring of everyday creativity:
- Visiting a local shrine, I toured a room filled with Christmas trees that had each been decorated by a different nonprofit organization. They were being auctioned to raise money for charity. The decorations were exceptionally creative!
- On YouTube last week, with my 9-year-old son, I discovered an entirely new domain of creativity: Christmas house decorations where the lights are synchronized to a particular popular song. Check out this display, set to the song “Gangnam Style“.
- My wife and I have received several extremely creative holiday letters, which describe another family’s events, vacations, and successes over the past year. Many of these are produced as “newsletters” with professional-quality layout and design. (Check out this one on Pinterest.)
- In my local town center of Belleville Illinois, we recently had a Gingerbread House competition. The winners are displayed in storefront windows facing Main Street. Check out this awesome best in show winner.
I love the holiday season, with its wonderful outpouring of human creativity. It demonstrates that each one of us has the potential to make wonderful things. Many of my blog posts are about the famous creators: Jackson Pollock, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs. But I deeply believe that creativity is something that we all share.
This is my holiday wish: May you find joy in the beauty of human creativity, on display everywhere this holiday season. And may you continue to find wonderful creativity in 2013.
The Apple Logo September 29, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: apple computer, apple logo, divergent thinking, newton and the apple, unusual uses
If you like this post, you’re going to love my book! Check it out:
I started this blog in April 2007, and you would never guess which of my blog posts gets the most hits: It’s a post from April, 2008, reporting on a study that seemed to show that people who glanced briefly at the Apple Computer logo were more creative than people who glanced briefly at the IBM computer logo.
Although it’s an intriguing study (and it got a lot of media attention), in my 2008 post I was skeptical…mostly because the measure of creativity was “think of as many unusual uses as possible for a brick.” The people who were shown the Apple logo came up with, on average, 7.68 uses; those who saw the IBM logo came up with an average of 6.10 uses. The headlines all said “Apple computers make you more creative.” But there are several interesting details that didn’t get reported: for example, a third group of subjects were not shown any logos at all, and they did just as well as the Apple logo subjects.
In my 2012 book Explaining Creativity, in a chapter on creativity assessment, I cited this study as evidence that this “Unusual Uses” test is not a reliable measure of a person’s creativity. When it was designed back in the 1950s, the goal was to develop a test that could measure a person’s creativity–much the same way that the IQ test was designed to measure a person’s intelligence. And think about it: if you could raise a person’s IQ test score just by showing them cute pictures, you would say that’s a horrible test of intelligence. A good measure should be reliable, meaning that a person should score the same no matter when they take the test. (I know there are IQ test haters out there, I don’t want to go there, but let me just say that today’s IQ tests have been shown to be extremely reliable.)
As I report in Explaining Creativity, there’s a long history of research showing that various creativity tests are not reliable–the “divergent thinking” tests that try to measure your creativity by counting up the number of ideas you come up with. For example, if you change the test instructions and tell people to “be creative” or to “come up with as many ideas as you can,” their scores go up way more than they do when they look at the Apple logo.
I thought of my old 2008 blog post this morning, when I was reading today’s Wall Street Journal. There’s a fascinating graphic feature about how corporate logos have changed over time. Take a look at these now-retired Apple Computer logos. Do either of these make you feel more creative?
*Wall Street Journal, Sep 29-30, 2012: “Corporate I.D.” Page C12.
Also see this story about the history of Apple’s logos.
Everyday Innovation June 7, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life, Regional innovation.
Tags: consumer innovation, eric von hippel, household innovation, jeroen p j de jong, stephen flowers, united kingdom
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Have you ever modified something you bought, to make it work better, or to serve your own unique needs? Have you ever created something from scratch to solve a problem?
This is what innovation researchers call “consumer innovation” or “household innovation,” and it turns out it’s surprisingly common. MIT Professor Eric von Hippel, long famous for his studies of user innovation, has just published a fascinating study of household innovation in the United Kingdom.* Hippel and his colleagues did phone interviews with 1,173 adults, and found that 6.1 percent of adults in the U.K. had created something, or creatively modified something–that’s 2.9 million people! Among the household innovators, on average each of them had created eight innovations in the prior three years, innovations in many different categories, like these:
- Craft and shop tools: “I created a jig to make arrows. The jig holds the arrow in place and turns at the same time…Jigs available on the market do not rotate.”
- Sports and hobby: “I modified the cricket bat so it improves the play and contact with the ball.”
- Dwelling related: “I wanted my washing machine to spin only. I modified it…I bridged one of the circuits and inserted a switch.”
- Child related: “I colored two halves of a clock dial with different colors, so a child can easily see which side is past the hour and which before the hour. I used it to teach my kids to tell time.”
- Pet related: “My dog was having trouble eating [because the food bowl kept sliding across the floor]. I used a flat piece of laminated wood and put an edge around it like a tray to stop her bowl from moving around the kitchen.”
- Medical: “Because I have a spinal problem, I built a nearly diagonal slope for my keyboard. It is very handy for people who cannot look down when they are typing.”
Amazing evidence of the potential we all have to be creative!
Then, the researchers asked the innovators how much money they’d spent on their innovations. The average annual investment was 1,098 pounds; if you multiply by the 2.9 million projected consumer innovators, that’s a total expenditure of 3.2 billion pounds! In contrast, the total corporate R&D spending on consumer products in the UK in 2007 was about 2.2 billion. This means consumers spent more on innovation than the private sector!
The study also found that very few of these household innovators attempted to patent their creations. In fact, a large number of them freely shared their ideas.
What a fascinating study of the importance of every creativity! It should inspire all of us to find our inner creator, and solve our own everyday problems. Do you have a story of household innovation?
*Eric von Hippel, Jeroen P. J. de Jong, Stephen Flowers (2012). “Comparing business and household sector innovation in consumer products: Findings from a representative study in the United Kingdom.” Management Science, Articles in advance (published online ahead of print), pp. 1-13.
The Book Everyone is Talking About February 20, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: introversion, introverts, quiet, susan cain
A quick follow-up to my critical post about Susan Cain’s New York Times article:
Am I the only person who finds it ironic that the big newspaper ad for her book has this text and the cover image?
“The Instant New York Times Bestseller Everyone Is Talking About”
And at the bottom of the ad, I’m not sure if this is irony or just internally contradictory: the text announces that Cain’s New York Times article is the #1 most emailed NY Times Op-ed. Apparently in addition to talking a lot, introverts have lots of friends, too.
If you define “introversion” so broadly that it includes people who talk a lot and have lots of friends, then how meaningful is that definition, really?
Does Solitude Enhance Creativity? A Critique of Susan Cain’s Attack on Collaboration January 16, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Everyday life, Uncategorized.
Tags: collaboration, groupthink, introversion, introverts, matt ridley, quiet, susan cain
I’ve just read a New York Times article by Susan Cain, author of the forthcoming book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s the frustrated cry of a true introvert. Cain is clearly tired of everyone touting the benefits of collaboration; some people, herself included, just want to be left alone. And, she argues, those are the people who really come up with all of the great ideas.
There’s a grain of truth to Cain’s claim: Psychologists who study creativity know that it requires both solitude and collaboration. Exceptional creativity involves a lot of hard work, and that often happens in solitude. But Cain misses the big picture: Researchers have found that breakthrough ideas are largely due to exchange and interaction, and that’s because breakthrough ideas always involve combinations of very different ideas. (Matt Ridley famously calls it “ideas having sex.”)
In 2007, my book Group Genius was partly responsible for what Susan Cain calls dismissively “the rise of the new groupthink.” So I feel like I’ve been called out to respond. Yes, solitude plays a role in the creative process, but Cain overstates her case and misrepresents some of the research. Here are five specific examples of misleading or incorrect statements in her article:
1. Cain says that research by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that exceptional creators are more likely to be introverted. Csikszentmihalyi was my graduate advisor, so I know that what his research actually found is that “Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted….[they] exhibit both traits simultaneously.” Reviewing all of the studies of creativity and extroversion using the “five-factor” personality model, most studies don’t show any relation between creativity and either introversion or extraversion. A few studies show a small relation, and for those, it’s always a positive relation between creativity and extraversion. (see my book Explaining Creativity for the details.)
2. Cain argues that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs, is a classic introvert and he’s the one who actually invented the Apple personal computer. She grants that Wozniak never would have had the idea if he hadn’t been exchanging ideas with the Homebrew Computer Club, and he knows that Wozniak’s computer never would have been built and sold if it weren’t for his collaboration with Steve Jobs. It’s true that Wozniak had to go home and build the thing alone…but the real creativity came from collaboration.
And the Macintosh computer–which was a much more innovative product, with the graphic user interface that the one we still use today–resulted from Steve Jobs’ networking and idea exchange with Xerox PARC, the lab where the windows-and-mouse technology was first demonstrated. No solitude story there.
3. Cain is critical of the new trend of using collaborative groups in school classrooms. But in the New York Times article, she doesn’t give any reasons to dislike this, and doesn’t cite any research on the topic (maybe she will in the forthcoming book). Collaboration and learning is one of my research topics, so I know that there’s a huge volume of evidence–going back three decades–showing that collaborative interaction enhances learning. Of course, it has to be done in the right way, and no doubt there are teachers who form student groups in ineffective ways, but you can’t base an argument on a few ineffective teachers.
Regarding learning and mastery, Cain cites Anders Ericsson’s expertise research correctly; that research shows it takes 10,000 hours of mostly solitary practice to become an expert. And I too have argued that this is a prerequisite to a creative life. But that’s not where new ideas come from; that’s just the base of knowledge you need before you’re able to play the game, to combine great ideas and to recognize good ideas.
4. Cain argues that the “Coding War Games” study shows that solitary computer programmers perform better than programmers that don’t get any privacy. But I’ve done studies of pair programming–a core technique of the popular approach known as “extreme coding”–and the research convincingly demonstrates that pair programming results in better computer programs.
5. Cain is absolutely right about the research showing that brainstorming groups generate fewer ideas than the same number of solitary people working alone. But there’s an important exception to this research: if the problems are complex, or if they are visual or spatial, then groups usually outperform solo workers. And in most real-world organizations, problems are pretty complex–not the simple word-generation tasks used in brainstorming experiments.
Cain has read a broad range of important research, and she gets some things right. And she’s smart enough to realize that the more defensible position is that you need both solitude and collaboration. But in her desire to elevate the role of solitude, Cain’s article misrepresents the research. And the research has found just the opposite: collaboration is the key to creativity.
There must be a lot of introverts out there, because when I looked at her book on Amazon.com today, it’s one of the top 100 best selling books. Cain’s book will no doubt appeal to those readers who enjoy solitary work, who’ve sat in endless time-wasting meetings, who did a group project in high school with a bunch of slackers…come to think of it, that pretty much describes everyone, including me! But don’t let yourself be misled by your own bad experiences with groups. The science of creativity shows that exceptional, successful creativity depends on groups, networks, and conversation. If you hole up alone at home, I guarantee you will be less creative.