Creative Collaboration in Brisbane, Australia

This week I’m in Brisbane, Australia, visiting the School of Music at the University of Queensland. I’m giving a series of talks related to music education, performance, and creativity. Here are a couple of links:

Piano Collaboration Workshop: A local piano duo will perform Thursday afternoon, followed by an open discussion about music performance and collaboration.

The Creative Power of Collaboration: An open public lecture Tuesday night.

Brisbane is a beautiful city, the third largest in Australia and farther North than the larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne, which means it’s much warmer, a subtropical climate. Even though it’s July 25, the dead of winter, the daily highs are around 70F (about 21C) and there are tropical flowers in bloom and exotic birds in the parks. The beaches of the Gold Coast are a short drive away, and the Great Barrier Reef is just to the North.

Help Me Name My Next Book!

I’m really excited about a new book I just finished. It’s a self-help book with the goal of showing everyone how to be more creative. Here’s how the book proposal describes it:

A major new work of nonfiction that will provide a science-backed step-by-step method to maximize our creative potential in any sphere of life—in the workplace, at home, in the arts, in volunteer organizations, or in our relationships and communities.

Here’s the basic idea. Based on scientific studies of creativity, I identified eight steps to the creative process. For each step, I invented about 20 hands-on techniques: fun activities and exercises that will enhance your ability to get through that step successfully. In its overall structure and style, it’s something like the classic books Thinkertoys and Whack On The Side of the Head, but with updated techniques based in research.

My problem now is: I can’t think of a good title, so I need your help! I’ve listed the best of the many that my editor and I have come up with, and please vote for one of these, or provide one or more of your own. If you suggest a new title that we select, of course I will acknowledge you in the book!

A selected few of the many ideas we’ve come up with:

  • Creatopia
  • The Creative Life
  • The Creativity Discipline
  • The Creativity Cycle
  • Choosing Creativity
  • Zig Zag: The surprising path to greater creativity
  • Zoom: Creativity at the speed of light
  • Creatology: The science of successful creativity
  • Kaleidoscope: The eight facets of creativity

Everyday Innovation

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.

Indie Film Collectives

In 2012, the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival went to Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was generated collaboratively by an artistic collective. FastCompany Magazine interviewed three champions of collaborative film-making, and asked them to select a great film made by a collective:

Benh Zeitlin, Court 13. Notable film: Beasts of the Southern Wild

You need momentum. The way to make films without money is with a lot of help.

Sean Durkin, Borderline Films. Notable film: Martha Marcy May Marlene

When you work alone, there are points in time when you’re not actively writing or making anything. But we’re always in production; it’s so healthy for the creative cycle.

Nash Edgerton, Blue-Tongued Films. Notable film: Animal Kingdom

David, Spencer, and I had each worked on the other’s films. People knew we were collaborators, so they checked out our other work.

Of course, filmmaking is highly collaborative to start with; most big-budget films have five or ten writers working on the script, and actors (as well as a huge support crew) contribute throughout the shooting. And a lot of the creativity happens during editing, when some scenes are cut, sequences are changed, music and sound are added, etc. I suspect that what’s new about these collectives is that the “auteur” creative director is replaced by a more democratic and collaborative work process.

Congratulations to Beast for winning the top prize at Sundance! Another win for collaboration!

*FastCompany, June 2012, page 36, “Roving packs of indie filmmakers”