Letter from Shenzhen
I recently went to China to speak at a conference on innovation and to launch the Mandarin edition of my book Creative Intelligence. I knew I was flying into China’s booming “Innovation Moment” because the conference topic was “disruptive innovation in banking.” And it was being held in the city of Shenzhen, where dozens of start-up incubators and maker spaces have grown in in the shadow of shuttered shoe and toy factories. What I didn’t understand fully was that this burst of creativity was facing powerful political and economic forces that could easily destroy it. China’s “Innovation Moment” may well be fleeting.
The banking conference itself was fun. Alibaba and Tencent, China’s online ecommerce giants, have been rocking the traditional state-owned banking world of marble and glass buildings, long lines and serious-faced guards with online personal mobile payments and investment platforms. To my surprise, instead of middle-aged men in suits, the banking audience was composed of mostly young women and men in their late 20s and 30s who clearly were deep into the digital, social world in their personal lives. They were confident and willing to disrupt the business models of their own banks, if given the chance. At dinner, a copy of Creative Intelligence was put on everyone’s seat and we played at book-signing (books make very good swag).
For me, what really makes this China’s “Innovation Moment” is the depth of the creative capacities in companies. It’s not just about harnessing the latest technology or the exploding local venture capital market or even Alibaba’s incredible IPO that’s so exciting. It’s that Chinese innovators can go beyond a tech-centric approach to innovation to understand what is emotionally meaningful to their customers. They can reframe the conventional business model narrative to fashion new b2c engagements with people. And of course, being Chinese, they can scale like crazy. In banking, retail, communications, media, there is enormous disruptive innovation going on in China.
Take virtual hongbao. Hongbao are the red envelopes filled with cash that Chinese give to relatives and friends on holidays. Companies use hongbao in a big way. There is no more important ritual exchange in Chinese culture, especially on Chinese New Year. Tencent was the first to design “virtual hongbao” by allowing people who use its WeChat messaging app to send digital hongbao that put real money into the bank accounts of others. It was a brilliant integration of a tech innovation—online mobile money transfers—with a deep cultural practice to generate a powerful user experience. With people linking their bank accounts and credit cards to WeChat, Tencent also boosts its online businesses, such as taxi-hailing and ecommerce. And retail companies can open new branding and marketing channels through WeChat by giving hongbao that are linked to New Year’s events. Very smart.
Innovation is moving so fast in China that the disruptors are disrupting themselves. Tencent disrupted Alibaba, the pioneer in mobil money transfers, with this product. Alibaba has since come back to offer, on its Alipay platform, virtual hongbao exchanges on its social networks, Laiwang and Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. Of course, we know the disruptive innovation Alibaba has unleashed in recent years—crowdsourcing movie/media investing, offering higher rates to Chinese savers and opening up whole new areas of investments for China’s upwardly mobile. There are now Chinese companies—big ones including computer giant Lenovo, as well as thousands of tiny new startups– that are doing innovation on a global par with American and European companies.
But I have doubts about whether it can continue and they began just as I walked into my hotel room. In Shenzhen (like everyone who travels), the moment I checked into the (pretty fancy) hotel, I checked my gmail and knew something was wrong. It was so incredibly slow. I couldn’t Google. I couldn’t get the NY Times. I’ve been to China before and this has never happened. In fact, this had never happened to me anywhere else in the world, including Russia. So I went down to find out what was wrong and a Chinese guest in the elevator told me. The government censors were finally into the Virtual Private networks (VPNs). For years, the deal in China was that the government would censor the internet for the masses but permit the elite to use VPNs (virtual private networks) to get around government controls. That allowed foreign and local business people, engineers, scientists, Communist Party bosses and bureaucrats, students, professors, the military—China’s elite—to breach the Great Firewall of censorship. Since the start of 2015, that is no longer the case. For China’s business class, including its many young entrepreneurs, China is increasingly cut off from the world.
That’s what I felt in Shenzhen—cut off. No Facebook, Google, New York Times, Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal and my gmail of course (a month after I returned to the US, Beijing cut off access to Reuters as well). That’s cutting me off from pretty much all the global economic and political news I use in my life. The only site I could access was the Financial Times, which is great but a singularly British lens on the world.
In addition, everything was so slow on my computer. It felt as though a government censor was in my room, at my keyboard, reading everything first and giving me permission to see just a little bit of the flow. The slowness itself freaked me out.
And it is disturbing Chinese innovators, as well. The Great Firewall is now so high it is preventing China’s innovators from accessing global networks. That means being cut off from the latest technology, business models, concepts, trends, talent, tools and capital. It means not being able to be on Facebook with your friends and workmates. The South China Morning Post (2/18/2015) quoted Pin Wang (@pinwang on Twitter), a video game designer who founded Substantial Games, (http://substantial-games.com) as saying “something that should take 15 seconds takes three or five minutes, and it screws with the way you flow or you work. We don’t have the resources to move because we’re a startup but we talk about it all the time.” Pin’s team can’t access their email, share documents, talk on Facebook or use other online services blocked by the internet censors.
This can’t be good for innovation.
At the banking conference, a friend who knew the city took me to visit the electronics part of Shenzhen. It’s a great part of that city, with towers after tower, 10, maybe 15 floors each full of electronics stalls, selling the latest in Chinese, Korean and American cell phones. It was a mob scene. China is huge market for mobile technology products. People love them. On our tour, we walked to the back and there was another scene—dozens of stalls with three or four people each assembling new “Apple” iPhone 6s and putting them inside fresh “Apple” boxes, wrapped perfectly. It was all done in public and I was stunned. It’s one thing to read about copying and counterfeiting in China, it’s quite another to see it being done so openly.
Counterfeiting clearly hurts foreign tech companies but it is now seriously undercutting the growing number of Chinese startups as well. In the ChaiHuo co-working space in Shenzhen, Ryan Liang (formerly of Philips and ZTE) developed a VR (virtual reality) headset (SMCP. March 3, 2015). Premier Li visited ChaiHuo in February to support the government’s drive to generate economic growth through innovation. What Li did not see were the cheaper knockoffs of Liang VR headset that were killing the product in the marketplace. “The economy has relied too much on copying other people’s creations and selling them at cheaper prices,” Liang said.
“It will take a lot of change for people to realize the true value of innovation.”
This can’t be good for innovation.
Neither is what I call the “Russification” of China’s economy. In this visit to China, I kept hearing about “who’s behind” this business, “who’s behind” that entrepreneur. By that phrase, people meant, which family and/or political faction secretly owned and favored different companies. Innovation depends on original thinking that is able to harness resources to scale in order to generate profits and rewards. If those rewards are then captured and taken away by powerful political groups, the incentive for innovation goes away. This is what has happened in Russia, with politically connected groups grabbing control of companies away from their founders. It began in the oil industry and has now spread to high-tech. Pavel Durov, 29, founder of Russia’s largest social network (with 100 million users), Vkontakte, left for Berlin recently after his two co-founders were forced to sell their stake to United Capital Partners, which the FT describes as “ a fund whose senior employees have strong Kremlin connections” (FT April 25, 2014). Durov is being joined in Berlin by a small army of Russian startup entrepreneurs who are fleeing the politicization of innovation.
It appears to be happening in China as well. Politically-connected families dominate the private sector. Ownership is opaque and crossing the wrong people can end a startup’s future. Caixin, the only significant independent China-based media organization, reported (2/9/15) that police from Hangzhou, Alibaba’s home province, went to Shenzhen province to scare Xiang Jun, the CEO and founder of Shenzhen Dimeng, a website that is involved in the sales of heavy-duty machinery. The company had posted accusations of Alibaba selling counterfeit goods and in doing so, evading 5 trillion yuan in taxes. Caixin quoted Xiang saying the police told him “do you have any idea who is behind Alibaba? If we told you, you would be scared to death…”
Actually, we don’t know who’s behind Alibaba. Founder Jack Ma didn’t reveal his co-owners to the investors of his IPO. But they appear to be powerful and connected. And they may have enemies. Xiang’s accusations came after the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) publicized a private meeting with Ma where they accused Alibaba of selling counterfeit products online and not doing enough to end the practice. By going public, SAIC has undermined Alibaba’s New York IPO and unleashed a series of investor lawsuits. I don’t know what’s going on—and neither does anyone else—except to believe that there are political forces we cannot see that could be acting against China’s most successful innovator. Since SAIC’s action, Alibaba’s stock has languished. It hit its low of 81 ½ on March 3, down from its high of 120.
Russification also extends to foreign high-tech companies in China who are coming under attack for “corrupt” business practices that identicle to those of all Chinese companies, local as well as foreign. Glaxo, Apple, Daimler, Qualcom are all great global innovators, forced to pay billions in fines, offer their technology to local competitors and publicly humiliated. When the CCTV ran a TV show slamming Apple for bad service in China, it wasn’t clear whether the attack came from local rivals who paid CCTV journalists to attack Apple, from the government itself which uses CCTV as a propaganda vehicle or from reporters trying to shake down Apple. People in the high-tech/startup scene believe it is only a matter of time before Apple comes under serious attack again and made to pay a huge fine and cough up more technology.
Again, this can’t be good for innovation.
So it’s a pivotal time for innovation in China. On the surface, innovation is boiling, with swarms of startups and much disruption. Beijing is strongly pushing innovation to replace exports as the engine of economic growth. Ma Xingrui, the head of China’s highly successful space program, has just been appointed party boss of Shenzhen. We are looking forward to Ma energizing Shenzhen’s ambition to be the next world-class innovation hub,” said Guo Wanda, vice-president of the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute. “ I think Ma’s reputation in academics and aerospace could attract overseas talent and capital.”
Perhaps. But his reputation will have to outweigh many policy negatives if he is to successfully stimulate an innovation revolution in Shenzhen. I wish China’s many startup entrepreneurs good luck but I can’t help worry that China’s “Innovation Moment” may be ending just as a thousand flowers are beginning to bloom.
Whether it is the HP ink jet printer or the writing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” the role of the patron–the provider of resources–is often key in the creative process. We can identify the role of creativity patron ( I call this person the “Wanderer” in my book Creative Intelligence) today among angel investors and VCs in our tech startup economy but they are everywhere, from the Medicis in Florence to the people who financed a year in the life of the writer who had the time to write To Kill A Mockingbird.
Leadership in the creative process is a poorly understood social phenomenon. It isn’t taught in engineering, business or design schools. But it is a key element of success in innovation and creativity. The amazing success of Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard in the early years of HP had a lot to do with their management style–Managing by Waling Around. They walked around the many labs, curated the science and technology advancements being made in them, and choose which to nurture.
Of course, Kickstarter shows that we can now crowd source the curating and resourcing of creativity and innovation. Each one of us can now play the role of Hewlett and Packard.
This ability to curate and nurture creativity is at the heart of successful startups and breakthrough art and music. It is probably the most important leadership quality we need today.
I watched The Normal Heart on HBO and loved every minute of it. Finally, after decades, Larry’s dream of getting it to the screen is fulfilled. And beautifully done.
I first met Larry Kramer in the late 80’s when I was researching my book, Good Intentions, I knew him in his second act, as leader of ACT UP, which he started AFTER he was thrown out of the Gay Mens Health Clinic (which he also helped found).
ACT UP did many things but the most significant was to change the way drugs are tested in America. In its drive to speed up drug-testing to save the lives of people dying with HIV, it sped up the way drugs are tested for everyone. Even as thousands of men were coming down with AIDS and dying every day, the FDA and NIH insisted that possible treatments be tested the conventional way, over many years. They rejected appeals to change their methods until ACT UP put tremendous public and private pressure on them.
An underground drug treatment underground was created by the gay community to test drugs and speed treatment. The Community Research Initiative–CRI- tested new, alternative drugs.
Larry led the fight against the NIH to change and speed up its drug-testing procedures. And, in the end, he succeeded. The treatments available today, promising a normal life for normal hearts, is due in large part to Larry’s angry pushing and shoving.
I haven’t read Good Intentions for many years but I did today in preparation for The Normal Heart movie. The stuff on ACT UP is pretty ggod. And the cast of characters in the book are wonderful. Not many are still alive, except for Larry, but they are all heroes. They helped save their community–and all communities.
“Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.”
DFW–Kenyon College speech.
We need to live a creative life to be creative persons and build creative organizations. You cannot do that walking around blind, certain of all the answers and all the questions.
So pull the buds out of your ears and really listen to the city around you, the campus you attend, the people working near you. The certainty of your music prevents experiencing the uncertainty of the opportunities around you.
And yes, perhaps the person who didn’t go to Stanford, Harvard or Yale actually has something important to say to you.
Lisa Kay Solomon is one of the smartest strategic thinkers that I know. She and Chris Ertel have book coming out in the Spring that you want to read if you manage people.
The most common complaint I get from managers is “I’m so booked i don’t have time to….” Then fill it in. “Think.” “Prioritize.” “Innovate.” Whatever.
This complaint personally drives me nuts. It means people are too busy being busy to be effective. But they use being busy as a metric of effectiveness. Longer hours, meetings, ever always being tired are markers of sacrifice.
But not necessarily results.
Lisa is a scenario planner, professor of innovation in the great MBA program in Design Strategy at CCA and coach. She was a terrific source when I was doing research for Creative Intelligence.
Now I’m going to pile into the proof of her book.
I recently gave a speech that makes the case for Progressive Education teaching the right kind of creativity skills that startup entrepreneurs need. Take a look at the case and let me know what you think.
The Power of Progressive Education: Can Creative Thinking be Taught?
Bruce Nussbaum. 1/10/14
City & Country
Some years back, IBM did one of its annual global CEO surveys. It asked 1500 chief executives around the world what was the single most important leadership ability. The majority answered “CREATIVITY.” They didn’t say “Strategy,” or “Operations” or “Marketing.” They said “CREATIVITY.”
I was running the editorial page at Business Week at the time and I was absolutely stunned. Never before had creativity been seen as so central to generating economic value by so many leaders of big global businesses. So, being a good business journalist, I asked three questions:
First, why now? Why were a lot of middle aged white guys trained in B-Schools in the of efficiency and problem-solving suddenly interested in CREATIVITY, which they usually associate with art, fashion, music, interior design, films and writing?
Second, what the heck is creativity anyhow?
And third, where do you go to get more creativity? How do you actually learn to increase your creative capacity?
In fact, how do you even measure creativity?
The answer to why is creativity is so hot in business today is VUCA. We live in an unusual historical moment of constant, cascading change. We live in a VUCA moment—a time of VOLATILITY, UNCERTAINTY, COMPLEXITY AND AMBIGUITY. VUCA.
We had a VUCA moment at the turn of the 19th century and we’re in one today. Most of historical time is spent slowly adjusting to one or two big technological or social changes over a period of many decades.
But when you have huge technological, demographic, social and global changes happening all at once, the problems are ever-changing and the solutions are OPEN-ENDED. Indeed, the most important problem-solving capability is learning to identify the right problem and then selecting the best of many possible answers.
As we will see today, that is precisely what PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION does. In fact, the blocks associated with progressive education are called OPEN-ENDED MATERIALS. Startup entrepreneurialism, of course, is also about open-ended challenges and solutions. The twin streams of entrepreneurialism and progressive education are merging. It is no accident that
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Larry Page and Sergei Brin went to progressive education schools where they were taught to be creative.
So what is creativity anyhow? I recently wrote a book called Creative Intelligence, CQ–as in IQ, EQ and now CQ In it, I define creativity as simply the making of the new that has value. Often, that originality has ECONOMIC VALUE. In stable times, making the same thing more efficiently squeezes out economic value. In VUCA times, making the new can generate huge economic value. Just look at the stock market valuations of Apple, Facebook and Twitter.
Let me tell you what Creativity is not. Creativity is not rare. It is not about individual genius. And it is not about brain waves. Creative skills and values and can be taught and we can ALL learn them. Creativity is mostly social—we do it in dyads, triads and teams—even as we often connect the dots alone taking that shower, running or spacing out over coffee. Above all, Creativity is about knowing what is meaningful in culture and harnessing technology to amplify that meaning.
So where do we go to get more of this creativity? Well, I teach graduate and college students how to boost their creativity right here at New School. We do Personal Creativity Mapping, Design Narratives and deep readings of Tanazaki and Cziksimahli. Around the block, City & Country, as we shall see, is coaching children to be more creative. What goes on in C&C classrooms is similar to what happens in the best high-tech labs or the smartest startups or on the hottest business development teams. They are all MAGIC CIRCLES OF CREATIVITY.
For example, the era of wearable technology was born not with Google Glass on the West Coast but here in New York, in Chelsea, at RG/A which developed Nike Plus in a creative process that mirrors what happens at City & Country.
Whether it is MIT, Stanford, Parsons or City & Country, learning 4 or 5 key creativity skills will boost your CQ, your Creative Intelligence.
Let me offer my version of these creative skills. The first is Knowledge Mining. In a world of VUCA, the most important thing in business – in life – is knowing what is meaningful to people. Not just their NEEDS but what Frank Knight, Chicago School economist, calls “higher order wants.”
You can Mine for these higher order wants two ways. First, through immersion—those 10,000 hours of study that makes you expert, but, more importantly, shows you the deep patterns. Once you get the patterns, you can see the new, create the new.
I am a birder. I am trained to look for the odd duck. It’s not an anomaly, not unusual. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in the field and always look for what is NOT there. When I saw a Black Swan in Singapore, I was not surprised. I mined the patterns.
The other way to mine for meaning is mining OURSELVES—what we embody as a generation, a gender, a region, a religious group. Look at the young entrepreneurs who have given us Facebook, Google, Airbnb (founded by a RISD grad, BTW). Why are they successful? They mined what is meaningful to their generation– the values, technology, and aspirations of their friends.
How do you get ZipCar? Connect the dots of wanting a cheap ride, a value system of sharing, not owning, and new online technology. Very simple. Instagram? Connect the dots of a value system of sharing to new technologies of easy image taking and posting online. Spotify? Match.com? The same. Mining what we ourselves embody as a group.
A second creative skill and perhaps the most important is Framing and Reframing. We frame our narratives—the story of our lives—in different ways to different people. And we frame our social engagements—how we relate to people—differently in different social mediums. Knowing this—you can reframe and change and generate the new. To my 95-year old mother, medicine is about disease and cures, with the doctor at the center. To me, medicine is about wellbeing and maximizing my abilities to do what I want. I am at the center of my health care. Very different frames.
A third creative skill is Play. Play is serious. Entrepreneurs, scientists, jazz musicians, stand-up comedians—all MESS AROUND. They use the processes of Play to generate the new. And what is that process of Play? You follow a game, with rules and constraints, doing it with people you trust. You succeed or fail in any number of ways—it is OPEN ENDED. You try and try again—you iterate. Serious Play is a 21st Century creative competence.
So is Making, my fourth creative skill. Thanks to new low-cost social systems like Kickstarter, technologies like 3-D printing, and networks like Etsy and Amazon, each of us can be makers not only of things but of global businesses as well. The cost of being creative in America is plummeting.
The final creative skill is Scaling. Taking creativity and scaling it to actual creation of things and services is the heart of generating economic value. The skills of Scaling are different from the skills of Creativity—but to me, they are essential to the process. I call the people who scale Wanderers but they are really CURATORS—the General Managers, the coaches, the teachers, the angel investors, the gallery owners, the bloggers—the people who decide what is truly creative for their circle. Steve Jobs, Peggy Guggenheim, Mrs. Hewlett and Packard, Fred Wilson, Mark Pinney—all great curators of creativity.
Now let me show you a clip from City & Country that shows nearly all these Creative Skills in action in the classroom. For those of you in the audience who haven’t been over to look at what happens inside a Progressive Education classroom, this will blow you away. ROLL VIDEO—CLICK.
So what have we seen? We see children learning by doing, not memorizing. We see them mining for meaning, framing and reframing, PLAYING and MAKING. The store is real at City & Country. The kids really run it.
Let me end with question I am frequently asked – Isn’t it impossible really to measure creativity. Well, really, you can. Many of the best companies, the best schools, the best sports programs and the worst TV reality shows assess creativity all the time and pretty much in the same way. They do it through Portfolio, Performance and Expert Juries.
I call it the Julliard School methodology.
The smartest companies and the most cutting-edge startups don’t care if you went to Harvard, Stanford or Yale. They want to see what you can do and how you do it. They want to see your portfolio of projects first. And then they want you to actually perform in front of them—to work a challenge with others in real time. The outcome is open-ended and the result doesn’t matter. They want to see how you play.
And they judges? Research shows that an expert jury in the specific field does a great job of identifying excellence and exceptionalism. Whether its Dancing with Stars, the Olympics, or Google, you can assess creativity—but first you must value it.
Let me now get my friend and mentor Tucker Veimeister up here…
There was a packed house at the Tishman Auditorium Friday night for an amazing panel on how Progressive Education promotes the kind of creative skills that people need to make them more entrepreneurial. I gave a speech and hosted the event which you can see here:
My friend and mentor, the great designer Tucker Viemeister, was the first to show me the connection between Progressive Education and Design Thinking (they are almost identical) and he brought me on board to help City & Country school celebrate its 100th anniversary.
New School President David Van Zandt was kind enough to lend C & C its Tishman Auditorium (New School’s roots are in Progressive Education as well, thanks to John Dewey) and he gave a wonderful, funny, introduction.
There were amazing talks by Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter, Lori Brewslow, Director of the Teaching & Learning Lab at MIT, David Rockwell who designs everything, including playgrounds, Mark Pinney, CFO of Vimeo, Eric Freitag, Director of Product Innovation at RG/A, Kate Turley, the Pincipal of City & Country, an extraordinary person,
We’ve all been to lots of big events like this but this, for me, was one of the very best.
So take moment to think about the connection between Progressive Education and Innovation and Economics. It’s critically important to get away from memorizing answers to problems and testing for them to move on to teaching people how to think creatively about understanding what is meaningful in a situation, being open-ended in facing challenges, and making the new.
Creative Intelligence made this short-list for best books in 2013 on innovation and creativity. CEO-Read focuses on books for businesss execs and managers who want to raise their creativity game. Is that you?
I’m in good company on the list. David and Tom Kelley’s Creative Confidence is on the list as well.
Back in 2010, IBM did a global survey of 1500 CEOs. For the first time, the CEOs said that creativity was the most important leadership ability. Creativity is more important today for senior managers than operations, marketing or strategy.
Leadership plays two central roles in promoting creativity. First, CEOs must understand what is meaningful to their companies’ customers. This is not the same thing as conventional strategy. Knowing what Frank Knight, the Chicago School of Economics founder called “higher order wants,” not just needs, is key in orienting your business. Lou Gerstner saved IBM in the 1980s by talking with its customers and discovering that they wanted help, not heavy metal big computers, from IBM. He turned it into a service company.
Knowing how to mine meaning is a key creative competency.
Second, curating creativity and then scaling what offers the most value and the greatest chance of success is a key CEO/leadership capability. Nearly all the great labs and great companies that innovate well have terrific curators of creativity who supply finance, markets and the making stuff to what they believe will provide value. In the art world, these curators are patrons. In sports, coaches. In startups, venture capitalists (or crowdfunders as in Kickstarter).
My thanks tot he curators at CEO-Read for including Creative Intelligence in their list of Best Books for 2013.
A huge reaction against teaching to the test is underway and the US is desperately seating for a new educational curriculum to promote creativity in its children. Ironically, there is already a 100-year old methodology that is a wonderful way for K-12 children to increase their creative capacities–Progressive Education. It is no accident that Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin all went to Montessori school. Many other startup founders majored in Design or Art in college, learning in very similar classroom environments.
Creativity can be learned. We can all learn to be more creative. And many of us can learn to be exceptionally creative.
In my book, Creative Intelligence, I show how creativity is directly linked to entrepreneurialism. We can all learn creative competencies that increase economic value, whether it is in the starting up of a new company or the launch of new services and products that engage customers.
In early January, City & Country, one of the earliest Progressive Education-based schools in New York City and in the US is celebrating its centennial birthday and if you can, you should come. The event will be in the beautiful modernist Tishman Auditorium, designed by Joseph Urban, at The New School (also founded as a Progressive Education style school with John Dewey as its leader).
There will be great speakers, from Kickstarter, the Rockwell Group, Vimeo, RGA, MIT, Kid-O and yours truly.
US students did not do as well as Shanghai students on global math tests–yet again. And we beat ourselves over this fact.
At the same time, Chinese parents are increasingly turning against their education system which gives them high PISA scores and sending their children to the US to be educated. Why? They want more US-style creativity.
The truth is that innovation and entrepreneurship are not correlated with test-taking and high scores in math or science. A start-up culture is correlated with a culture of creativity–of learning how to discover and take what is original and turn it into something of value, economic value.
The best K-12 schools in the US in both the private and public spheres know this and teach kids how to be creative. Montessori and other progressive education schools teach kids how to be innovative and creative. They teach children how to become founders of new companies.
Ironically, tens of thousands of Chinese parents know this and are sending their children to the US for creativity education. We should learn from these Chinese.
I am about to head downtown to the Smithsonian Native American Museum in New York to kick off the annual Christmas Native American art show. Some of the most talented Native American jewelers, potters, fashion designers and painters have traveled to NYC from all over the country to sell their art. If you are in New York–or Washington DC since there is a market there as well–go.
This is a great opportunity to get acquainted with a small, creative art market that has a fanatic following and is just now going global. I know because I am a collector myself. Japanese and German art collectors have been buying Native art for decades but on a small scale. Once that scale takes off, look out…
Nothing proclaims the growing importance of creativity and design to entrepreneurship than the move of RISD president John Maeda to the key Silicon Valley venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins where he will become the first Design Partner. At the same time, John will chair the Design Advisory Board at eBay
From Airbnb to to Kickstarter to Youtube, a growing number of startup founders have a design/arts background that provides the skills and values to start new companies. Knowing what is meaningful to people, reframing what is conventional, playing to reach unexpected outcomes, scaling creativity to actual creation–all these skills come out of an education based in art, music, liberal arts and creativity in general. John has understood this for many years and has been a proponent of STEAM, not just STEM.
One of the great challenges ahead to to recreate venture capital itself using the tools of creativity and design. The old portfolio approach of backing many, many startups with the hope of one or two breaking out is ridiculously inefficient. VCs typically have a 5%-10% success rate. Applying the creative competencies of design to early startups could raise that startup success rate to 50% or 60%. And that could have a major economic impact on all of us.
Good luck John. Brilliant move.
Creativity is extremely hot as an existential issue–we, as individuals want to increase our creative capacities–and as an economic issue–the economic value of creativity is increasingly important. So here is my list of the best books on creativity that I’ve read this year.
Mea Culpa, I wrote one of them precisely because of creativity’s crucial role in society. So let’s start with that (yes it’s a bit weird).
1) Creative Intelligence. It offers five creative competencies–Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting (Scaling)–that individuals and businesses can learn to increase their creative capacity or CQ, creative intelligence. The message is that you can train to be creative. The book describes a new entrepreneurial “Indie Capitalism” rising out of creativity and innovation. With great stories about the Rolling Stones, the CIA and eating monkey brains.
2) Zig Zag by Keith Sawyer. A terrific 8-step process to boost your creativity by the modern pioneer in creativity research. Sawyer, a jazz pianist, psychologist and professor, provides very specific things we can do in our daily lives to make us more creative. (How to become an expert in 20 minutes–and then create something new). Great stories about Judy Blume and others living a creative life. From the author of Group Genius.
3) Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. Excellent suggestions on building your confidence in being creative by two brothers from IDEO. David is a founder of IDEO and the extraordinary Stanford D-School. Tom is the author of The Art of Innovation. Powerful examples from IDEO and the D-School of using Design Thinking exercises to learn how to become more confident in being creative. Building your creative muscle.
4) The Business Solutions to Poverty by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick. The inability of Social Innovation to scale limits its significance. Here is a book that shows how to scale water, housing and other projects to make a difference. Polak offers specific ways of building billion dollars businesses to work inside the Bottom of the Pyramid, involve the people and move them out of poverty. A realistic model that scales. Great.
5) Rotman on Design, edited by Roger Martin and Karen Christensen. Much of the best writing on Design Thinking is in Rotman Magazine, put out by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Former dean Roger Martin has been a key leader in promoting Design Thinking for innovation. The articles are business-based, brilliant and deeply useful. Many of the best creatives in the world wrote the pieces. Get it.
6) What Money Can’t Buy by Michael J. Sandel. This is an extraordinary book that talks about the line between what money can buy and what money can’t buy and how we are blurring it all the time. 21st century capitalism is all about taking what money can’t buy–your private information on Facebook or Google, for example–and transforming it into what money can buy, through advertising. Here is a philosophical reading (smooth reading) of that critical social and economic process. And maybe how we can stop it.
7) Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. OK, it first came out in 1997 but you should read it again. The first time you read it for the notion of Individual “flow.” This time read the section on Florence and how cities and class and culture act to promote creativity. It is about social flow–engagement–and critical to understanding creativity in social media. And important in understanding how cities can promote creativity. Why New York is hot and Paris is not.
8) In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. Yes, this is really old–1933 but I use portions of it in my class at Parsons. Tanizaki talks about how we really we engage with objects and takes us into a conversation about aura. This is critical in an age of social media and the network of things. Tanizaki shows us the emotional content of engagement when he talks of opening the traditional Japanese rice pot, the aroma, the look and feel of the rice, the connection people have to their food, their place, their lives. It’s not about algorithms, its about what is meaningful to people.
Read the Financial Time’s Edward Luce’s insightful piece on the failure of MOOCs and the need for Liberal Arts to foster innovation and jobs in the US. Brilliant. The MOOC movement is falling apart because its pedagogical premises are false. It transmits data in a 19th century methodology through a 21st century delivery system. We focus on the delivery when it is the skill set and value systems in education that are key to raising our creative intelligence.
In the US, IT jobs are crashing but creative work is soaring. We need to move away from an exclusive focus on STEM towards a Humanities-based education fostering creativity. Progressive education–Montessori, building with blocks, John Dewey, learning by doing, not memorizing, is the future.
Henry Ford is famously known for increasing the wages of his employees by asking his business critics who do you think buys Ford cars. Consumer demand is crucial to economic growth and that demand depends on people getting paid reasonable wages.
In one of my recent classes at Parsons, a student from Asia said “in America, you are able to sell McDonald’s hamburgers for $1 and cheap clothes at WalMart because you pay people such low wages they need government assistance to buy food or get medical care.” It was shocking and true.
It is one thing for corporations to cut back on wages during times of recession but it is entirely another when they are making good profits.
Companies ranging from WalMart to Boeing are focussing only on shareholders, not employees, in their business models. The consequence is a very weak recovery from our deep recession, with most people still behind even though we’ve had great profits for years now.
It’s time to share the wealth being generated with stakeholders, not just shareholders. It is the only way to boost demand in the economy and get people to buy more. And it is the only right and moral thing to do. And yes, economics is about relationships, not simply markets.
You won’t find it in the stats but “real” New Yorkers, born and bred are talking about the end of New York’s great 20-year run as a fantastic metropolis. These New Yorkers have lived through the good and the bad times and have a deep sensitivity to change. And what they feel these days scares them. It scares them because they feel the vibe of the bad days, the days of danger and chaos, the days before Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg.
In the subway, there are days when nearly every car has someone harassing you for money. On the street corners, there are times when you can’t walk two blocks without someone getting in your face with demands for money. There are more people sleeping in the subways stations, more urine and feces on the ground. There are more people living on the sidewalks who are off their medication, shouting angrily, waving their arms. More people sleeping in ATM spaces. There is more petty theft of iPhones and handbags, more stealing in clothing stores, more subway trains being held because of “incidents."
And there is a more sotto voce conversations being held about this growing dangerousness among New Yorkers who worry whether we are heading back to the bad old 70s and 80s when the streets were unsafe and the politicians unwilling to do what was necessary to make them safe.
Of course, all this is happening at a time when New York politics is changing. A new, progressively liberal mayor has been elected to replace an old, progressive mayor. Ironically, many of the people who voted for this progressive mayor are the ones now worrying about the rising danger in the streets and subways. They want to believe that the issues of inequality and housing will be tackled in the years ahead but see with their own eyes what is happening to the cityscape as the political transition takes place.
They worry about strikes that could cripple the city–as they did in the past. They worry about harassment in public places being defined as free speech–as it did in the past. They worry about ineffective policing that allows petty crime–as it did in the past. They worry about neighborhoods declining–as they did in the past.
New Yorkers feel the change and worry about it. Cities rise and fall over time all the time, NYC included It’s glorious entrepreneurial startup drive will come to an end. The revival of neighborhood after neighborhood in Brooklyn and Queens will go into reverse. The beacon drawing so many from Europe, Asia and Latin America–as well as from all over the US–will dim. Unless the current trends are reversed, New York will be over.
Two articles, one in the online Politico and the other in the Wall Street Journal, reinforce my belief that a new kind of antiestablishmentarian centrist-populist-capitalist politics is being born in the US. I first began to talk about this trend in my book Creative Intelligence because the young entrepreneurs out of Brooklyn, Manhattan, San Francisco, Austin, Portland, Chicago and elsewhere in the country, the new makers of the Maker Culture, baffled me. They were intensely capitalistic, in the sense of wanting to set up their own companies and build their own networks and organizations, but were profoundly anti Big Business and anti-globalization. Their focus was on hyper-local, community, and making profits to support their like-minded community. Kickstarter was at the heart of this new capitalism.
In sense , this cohort is anti-political. Young, able to build their own institutions and entrepreneurial, these men and women face away from the political system because their see no role in it. They hate it.
But what if a “radicalized center” begins to speak for them and to them? What is someone like Democrat Elizabeth Warren decides to run for the President in 2016–or even Bruce Springsteen-loving Republican Chris Christy?
Opposing both the Tea Party and Occupy but sharing their anti-Washington and anti-Big Business perspectives. this new movement is just taking form in time for the 2016 Presidential elections.
Check out this piece:
The other story, The Radicalized Center, by Gerald Seib, is in the WSJ today –which I can’t link to because I get the FT, not the WSJ–so check that out if you can.
One thing to keep in mind–this growing maybe-movement is not against capitalism but FOR capitalism–startup, entrepreneurial capitalism. Practically all policy and regulation and money in Washington focuses on promoting Big Business, Big Agriculture and Big Banks. What if the focus were on creating NEW, smaller companies (where all the job growth is)? What if we had Kickstarter Capitalism in America?
Two of the smartest design people I know, MOMA’s Paola Antonelli and Parsons’ Jamer Hunt, have joined to create the first honest discussion of the relationship between design and violence. You just have to get involved because it is so good, so smart and so important.
Design has almost always turned a blind eye to its important role in destruction–even creative destruction. As a profession, it is almost always liberal and optimistic, which is why I am drawn to it. But as a result, Design does two things–First, it ignores whole categories of designed objects and engagements that it defines as “brutal” such as beautifully designed hunting rifles, knives and pistols (such as the Barreta).
And second, it ignores war. In a sense, Design is pacifist, without decline itself as such. Yet we all know that Design plays a critical role in combat and warfare, from objects such as the AK-47, the stealth jet fighter and the drone; to engagements, such as asymmetrical warfare, and the blitz; and to the combination of product and engagement, such as the carrier task force or cyberwar.
When I was covering Design and Innovation at BusinessWeek, I periodically tried to do stories on military design and hunting to no avail. Couldn’t get it through my editors. “That’s not what we mean by Design,” they said.
So I stand in wonder at this new initiative by Paola and Jamer. It will involve dozens of people over many months and produce an exhibition for MOMA and for all of us.
Here’s Paola explaining it:
Facebook has growing problems with framing its engagement with customers. This is very important.
The latest quarterly results show two big trends:
1- Younger tens are tuning out to Facebook and using it less. My guess is that they are moving to chat apps on their Androids and iPhones.
2- The average Facebook user clicks on an ad once a week. This is being lauded by founder Mark Zuckerberg as “a great sign that people are finding ads useful.” Really? They click on an ad ONCE a week and that’s considered a success?
What do they actually buy? How long do they linger? And why–again–only once a week? What are the measurements of this deeper, longer engagement?
Framing your engagement with customers is key to business success in this world of social media. It is is one of the key Creative Competencies. Facebook needs to get it right.
Mike Mandel at the Progressive Policy Institute has new data which shows that cities and localities with lots of new tech and iT jobs have bounced back faster and better from the Great Recession than other parts of the US. This is a big plus for Richard Florida’s argument that the Creative Class is a key generator of economic growth and higher incomes in cities.
The PPI data shows that startups and entrepreneurship are key to generating high-paying jobs. Policy-makers and the business press tend to focus on big business and finance but the important action lies elsewhere.
The polity implications are important. Much more effort has go to into supporting new companies. This includes finance (bolstering crowd-funding, improving the archaic venture capital business), regulation (cutting it for startups and new companies) and education (university campuses are cheap platforms for generating innovation and new companies).
Check out the list of counties that have the most tech/it new job growth. California leads, of course, but Brooklyn makes the top 25 list and there are surprises in between.
Great job Mike!
Lou Reed died on Sunday.
I remember hearing and seeing Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground upstairs, in some club on St. Marks street, sometime in the middle or early 60s. I was kind of expecting a hotter Bob Dylan but it was different–nastier, angrier, illogical and even hard on the ears. But things were getting nastier, angrier and harder to take as the 60s rolled on.
It was still illegal for blacks and white to marry in nearly half the states in the US. It was still illegal for gays to congregate–to simply have a beer in a bar–in New York City. It was still immoral for women to be more than wives and mothers and nurses or teachers for a few years waiting to become wives and mothers. It was just beginning to be unpatriotic to question sending troops to Vietnam. It was a time when we killed our President and a moment just before the great race riots of the later decade.
Lou Reed captured that era in his music. It was not optimistic but chaotic and dark. The Boomers came of age in that time and while they have made a mess of many things, they listened to the music and acted on it. Now they’re heading off the stage faster than the country is expecting and Gen Y is taking power faster than the country is expecting.
Lou Reed died on Sunday in Amagansett, on Long Island. Turns out I was there at his end, as well as his beginning.
China is having its Manifest Destiny moment and weak nations, such as the Philippines, are paying the price. Here is a wonderful piece of “New” journalism from the NYT’s that makes this shift in power very real
One of the biggest changes in the past decade is the rise of participation in nearly all of our social and economic relationships. Social media technology and value shifts have enabled us to actively participate in our entertainment, education, health care and work practices. We can and we want to participate and not simply passively “experience our lives.” So the concept of “Engagement:” is super-big today. It is one reason why Walter Benjamin is hot again and why I teach him at Parsons. Aura is the epitome of engagement.
Smart people at Google and Facebook and elsewhere in ecommerce are trying to assess engagement. But educators pushing MOOCs are not. We now have enough data to know that 90% or more students in a MOOC drop out entirely and barely 1%-5% complete the entire course. Why? Because MOOCs are not designed to engage. They merely push information at you and you stare, passively at a screen. The educators pushing MOOCs are mostly engineers and mathematicians who see learning as absorbing data and facts and throwing them back on a test. It’s typical teach-to-the-teach pedagogy and it’s awful.
If MOOCs are to succeed, we need much more interactive technologies employed to engage students. But that means more professorial time–which increases the cost of online education. The true cost of MOOCs that really work has yet to be determined. It’s time to reign in the hoopla surrounding MOOCs coming out of Stanford, MIT and other universities.
We live in an Engagement Society. MOOCs need to be designed to engage.
We’re all trying to make sense of the wreck in Congress that cost $22 billion and achieved nothing. We tend to think of the destructive Tea Party as an aberration–a minority within a minority. But Frank Rich this week reminded me of one of the most important Creative Competencies in Creative Intelligence–the power of Framing and Reframing.
Nullifying The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress, the Supreme Court and the reelection of President Obama by a strong majority of the popular vote, was the first and most important reason for the Tea Party shutting down the government and threatening international debt default. But this policy of nullifying laws started with the Nullifier Party in South Carolina in the 1830’s, The Nullifier Party said that federal laws should not be enforced inside South Carolina–a forerunner of State Rights laws that proclaimed the same thing. In the 1830’s, the South tried to stop a tariff that protected Northern industries and raised the price of imports into the south. Today, it is the South and West that objects to extending Medicaid to the poor and mandating people buy health insurance.
Nuffliers put into place Jim Crow voting laws at the end of the Civil War that nullified the right to vote for ex-slaves. Today, Nullifiers are doing the same with new Voter ID laws in the South and West.
Nullifiers are also nullifying the law that gives women the right to have an abortion. It may be the law of the land but it is being gradually eroded in conservative states everywhere.
During the last government shutdown in 1994, Nullifiers tried to nullify the election of Bill Clinton. These past two weeks, Nullifiers tried to nullify the election of Barack Obama.
Not accepting the will of the majority goes deep in American politics. It runs along ancient social, cultural and political fault lines that cleaved in the Civil War and have never been repaired.
Reframing the Tea Party as the Nullifier Party gives us the context and meaning to understand just what happen in Washington over the past two weeks. It shows us that negotiation and compromise is impossible. Like the Civil War, nullifiers have to defeated.
I have just seen the first museum exhibit that would make MOMA’s Paola Antonelli jealous. It is at the Museum of Art and Design in NYC and it about the amazing work being done in fashion, art, jewelry, furniture, sculpture and other stuff with 3D printing technology. It’s not replication–it is creation. unbelievably beautiful creation. We have new tools to create new things in new ways and the MAD exhibition is exuberant in showcasing how glorious that can be.
One entire floor is over to museum goers participating in and using the new tools. And there is something special about playing with 3-D machines in a museum setting with artists who show you what they are doing and why. There will be artists in residence throughout the months of the exhibit.
So congratulations to Ron Labaco, curator at MAD, for putting this on. It took him two years. It’s just wonderful. And thanks to Shapeways, which just bought MakerBot, for providing the financing, the tools and people too.
I was at the AIGA Head, Heart, Hand conference this past week https://twitter.com/AIGAconference and it was terrific.
Incredible speakers, wonderful audience and great city–Minneapolis. I had incredible experiences–signing Creative Intelligence books, presenting on Creative Competencies and running into amazing people. But the MOST amazing experience came in the afternoon at a roundtable of about a dozen people who came to talk to me about creativity.
Most were teachers of design at design colleges around the country. We went around and talked about our teaching methods and our students. I boasted about the amazing students at Parsons, of course, and talked about using Creativity Mapping and Design Narratives.
One woman, almost in tears, shook her head and said, “you have to remember that you have students from all over the world. I teach in a small college in Mississippi. I am getting the first generation of K-12 No Child Left Behind students and all they want is for me to tell them the answers so they can get it right on a test.”
I was stunned. We now have students going to college who have spent their entire lives in classrooms focussed on Teaching to the Test. And the result? All the students know is how to take tests. Any smart teacher knows that testing is not teaching. Any smart teacher knows that testing is not learning. Testing is simply assessment. And what are we, as a nation, assessing? It is the ability to memorize facts and regurgitate them on a test–an archaic skill in a world of Google.
The professor of design from the Mississippi college said her students went “white-knuckle” when she asked them to find their own answers to design challenges. They were unprepared to “Do” creativity, to meet unexpected challenges and come up with different outcomes. And that’s exactly what we need to do today, in a world of VUCA–volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. What kind of jobs will they be able to get with their Testing skill-set? In Design? None.
We need to bring back Art, Music, blocks–progressive education that shows us how to play and innovate. No Child Left Behind is killing creativity.
It’s now clear that the design of the critical health care exchanges for the Affordable Health Care Act is a mess. And no one in either the design community or the tech community is seriously talking about it. The Obama Administration had 3 years to get this right and blew it.
What we have is a beta test of software. Well, that can work in the business and IT world–it’s the culture. Launch and fix it along the way. But for a medical insurance system used by millions of people–many of them computer-illiterate? Common.
It looks like the biggest flaw is forcing people to first open a personal account before they can actually look at the competing health insurance plans. They have to sign in before getting the information they need. That crush to sign in appears to be what is crashing the system. According to the Wall Street Journal, which is the only major MSM covering this (yeah, I know, it’s conservative but design flaws aren’t political), healthcare.gov was supposed to have an option to browse before registering but the tool wasn’t developed on time. Really? The “tool” to browse couldn’t be developed on time?
I’m at the AIGA conference today, giving a talk on Creative Intelligence. I wish the Obama IT/Design folks were here. They certainly need more creative intelligence.
You can measure the maturing of a startup into another Big Business by its edifices. Often, you can even measure the apogee of success by its edfices. Starting up, its all about low-cost, renting and what-ever works. When gargantuan, expensive and starchitect-driven headquarters rise, it often becomes a forget-the-cost, own, and ego exercise. With tech companies, there is always an overlay message of promoting more innovation by building bigger, better space.
We now have huge, new headquarters going up for Apple, Amazon and a bunch of other companies. I was an business journalist for many years at BusinessWeek and I can tell you that on Wall Street, this would be a sign that the companies have shifted from Growth to Value–from innovation to milking the innovation to squeeze out money.
Its all good. Creative Destruction depends on moving along the curve of creativity and innovation. But how to assess that movement? Look to a company’s edifice complex.
It was buried in the New York Times and absent from the Financial Times, but today the official JOBS Act went into effect–expanding crowd funding from a niche to a platform scaler of creativity. This is a very big deal. I repeat–this is a very big deal. With Kickstarter and Indiegogo, we can act as patrons, participate in creativity and get a “thingie,” a product in return. With the JOBS Act, we can put our money into something and get a monetary return on it, not just a product. This allows all of us to be venture capitalists.
I call this Indie Capitalism and it amounts to the resocialization of capitalism. We have been living in Financial Capitalism for the past 20 years, where the economic system was all about market transactions for money. Financial Capitalism made nearly all of us consumerists–we simply bought stuff on the market and defined our lives, our status, out culture by what we consumed and money.
Indie Capitalism, Kickstarter and crowdfunding will change us into Makers and Participants in a different sort of system, an Engagement Economy. We can all be investors, creators, participators and consumers at the same time. We can take the power away from distant finance people and claim it as our own.
The JOBS Act was delayed by a year by government regulators afraid of fraud in crowd funding. They worried that naive people would invest in bad or phony businesses. Given the fraud of the prevailing Finance Economy by the banks, ratings companies and investment bankers that brought on the Great Recession, this concern is laughable while laudable. Banks had to pay fines for their dastardly deeds, but were allowed to deny any guilt. CEOs received bonuses, not prison sentences. Let’s hope the regulation for crowd funding is better.
For real coverage of crowd funding, check out Amy Cortese.
Amy’s book, Locavesting, is the best analysis around of this new–and hopefully better- form of capitalism.
New York City went through a long contest to pick the next taxi and a Nissan van won. Along with lots of cabbies, riders and Made-in-the-USA folks, I was never really happy with the choice. I loved the old, roomy Ford Crown Victoria and every other car since has been uncomfortable, cheap and unlovable. Sure, the Nissan van will be roomy but have you looked at it? Tall, boxy, ugly, with sliding doors, which practically every aging Boomer I know hates. Hard on the hands.
So why not the fabulous Tesla? It’s as luscious as the Crown Vic, Made-in-California, roomy–and all-electric! New York needs an iconic taxi and the Tesla taxi could do that.
OK, the Tesla S model is expensive. We could wait a couple of years for the less expensive version. Or perhaps the next mayor of New York could work out a deal with founder Elon Musk for 30,000 cars over 3 years to bring the cost down. How about leasing? Maybe the city could pick up the cost of recharging so it would be free to taxi owners.
Common. New York is a city of Creative Congestion. We need a great taxi to be congested in. The Tesla Taxi–sounds good, right?
At this 5-Year Anniversary of the crash of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the Great Recession, we are stuck in a weak recovery (except for stocks and those who own them), with unemployment still at 7.3%. Good-paying jobs are hard to come by and lots of folks have just bailed out of the job market entirely.
There may be a better way. Mike Mandel, one of the best economists around, thinks that The Internet of Things has the potential of igniting a new manufacturing boom in the US. He may be right. We need to get rid of the Finance Capitalism that has taken over and get back to Making again.
Here is Mike’s report:
Of all the innovations of the past 20 years, one of the most powerful has been financial innovation. Wall Street “quants” used technology and math to create new financial instruments that sliced and diced mortgages and sold the resulting "derivatives" around the globe. In the end, this financial innovation triggered a huge crisis that nearly tanked the entire global economy. We are still suffering from low employment as a consequence.
Larry Summers, who just withdrew his name for consideration of running the Fed, the US central bank, was a key innovator in financial innovation. In the Clinton Administration he pushed for deregulating the banks and for not regulating the new financial products. He believed in financial “modernity,” the creation of new financial products and services and the efficacy of markets to always make the right decisions. In his way, Summers was a huge promoter of innovation. And the failure of that innovation is what tanked his candidacy for the Fed. Congress, especially liberal Congress people, hold him personally responsible for the havoc that followed financial innovation.
So let’s take a minute to understand something that most designers, entrepreneurs, artists and creators in general tend to forget. Creativity and innovation are value-neutral. You can do good and do bad with the new. You can even think you are doing good and still do bad with innovation.
There is a great line in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention – “Creativity must, in the last analysis, be seen not as something happening within a person but in the relationship within a system.” One of the key systems, of course, is the city, which is the reason why politics and elections are important to artists, entrepreneurs and all creators.
The New York City mayoral election appears to be turning out to be a huge negative for creative people. In a week when London Mayor Boris Johnson is calling for a “London Visa” to attract high tech, fashion and other talent to his city, New York is facing a choice between an old-fashioned liberal and an old-fashioned conservative and a return to an old 20th century era of class and ethnic conflict. Sad and boring. It’s as if the past 10 years hadn’t happened in Brooklyn, that the booming Maker Culture wasn’t there and that the soaring Gen Y and immigrant populations weren’t important. Did any of these candidates for mayor hear of Kickstarter?
To whomever eventually wins the NYC Mayor’s office, I’d like to suggest a few policies to promote what I call "Indie Capitalism.“ It’s the kind of capitalism that is remaking the face of the city. Here goes:
1) Crowdfund new housing for the middle class. Moderately priced housing is in short supply in the city, threatening to drive creative people–and lots of non-creative people–away. Brazil is pioneering the crowdfunding of skyscrapers. Why not do the same for middle class housing. Kickstart another Stuy Town–or 10 Stuy Towns.
2– Fund the student creative class. There are amazing universities in NYC where students produce remarkable work in their classes, especially senior classes. That creativity gets flushed after graduation (it goes into student portfolios). My sense is that a good third of those senior projects could become the kernel of a new businesses. Many of my students go to Kickstarter for this, but Kickstarter is a narrowly curated crowdfunder. A city-wide AppleStarter available to all MBAs, senior design students and young creators could generate lots of startups and jobs.
3–Start a "C-School” that does innovation the New York City way, putting culture, experience and engagement first in generating products and services, in contrast to the “D-School” kind of innovation out of the West Coast that is technology-centric. (I’m working on an Institute of Creativity at Parsons and this could be the foundation.)
4–Expand the Gifted & Talented public school programs. New York already spends more money on education per student ($22,000) than any other public education system in the nation. But very little goes to develop creativity. Even children who test highest for being creative have to enter a lottery to get into Gifted & Talented classes because there are so few of them. This is just nuts for a city that runs on creativity.
In fact, this whole election in New York appears nuts for a city that runs on creativity.
There is a big happening sweeping through New York City and it is officially called “Fashion Week.” But really it should be called “The Creativity Carnival” and anyone and any business interested in innovation needs to participate. Fashion Week is all about discovering what Chicago School economist Frank Knight calls “higher order wants” that people dream of, often can’t express but desperately want to have. Higher order wants are the true engine of new products, new companies and new profits.
How does Fashion Week do all that? Look at the process. It’s a series of big Play Grounds, in tents at Lincoln Center and in studios all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, where ritual, deep play by creators takes place. They offer their original ideas to fashion experts (professionals and consumers) who jury the work. It’s serious play with serious economic consequence. It is Creative Capitalism and it requires three things to work: creative people, experts who can judge cutting edge work, and scalers who can take what is judged to be great and scale it into commercial brands sold on the market. Fashion Week does all this.
I am teaching Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s book on Creativity in a course at Parsons on Creativity and Cities this week and “Chicks” says that “creativity must, in the last analysis, be seen not as something happening within a person but in the relationship within a system.” Fashion week is that system.
“Chicks” talks about how creativity takes place within a domain–fashion, science, math, music, health, painting–and new work is judged “creative” by a field of experts within that domain. He says that there are domains with cultures that welcome change, insist on change and those that don’t. Creativity happens fastest and most where it is core to the culture. Fashion is that kind of domain. He also says that creativity happens fastest in domain cultures that have the experienced experts to just what is truly unique. Again, Fashion is that kind of domain (see how this is important to your business culture?).
Fashion Week mirrors our society and economy because there are formal and informal Play Grounds. I went to the opening day of Fashion Week at Lincoln Center and the first thing I saw walking up the steps to the wide plaza were dozens of young designers who were NOT invited into the official Fashion Week runway tent all dressed up in their own clothes being photographed by dozens of friends and professional photographers. They were all posting their own fashion blobs and sites or the many other online “street” fashion sites.
Social media is expanding both the domain of Fashion and the field of “experts” who judge new work. It was amazingly cool and a significant addition to capitalism. What is “creative” is increasingly being determined by the “crowd” expert. It may be that extending the domain and field of experts wider changes the nature of Flow (“Chick’s biggest intellectual contribution). There is a big new push on Flow research. When you talk to brilliant tennis players, chess players, artists, designers or basketball players–really brilliant– they always talk about being "3 to 4 moves ahead” of their competition. So Flow is not just a state of being, it is a state of being forward. Way forward.
Again, Fashion is a domain where experts reward that kind of Flow. Runway shows are about showing off cutting edge fashion that then gets toned down for the prevailing market. But the goal is to go way forward. Alexander McQueen was brilliant at this. And the Lincoln Center Plaza unofficial runway show allowed for even wilder fashion looks, maybe 4 or 5 moves ahead.
When we talk about innovation and creativity, we need to understand the relationship between creator, culture and the city. Fashion Week in New York highlights all this. Fashion Week is about a lot more than just fashion.
The dismal New York Mayoral campaign has me wondering if we might be seeing the peak of New York as a creative, innovative hub for this cultural/economic cycle. The biggest political themes are class and ethnic conflict revolving around “You got yours, I want mine” politics. What I don’t hear is an understanding of why New York is so “hot” right now, while Paris is not and why dynamic young people from all over the world are moving the to Big Apple and not to Rome.
I am not hearing much about innovation and startups, incubators and universities, Kickstarter and MakerBot, creativity and economic growth, the data-driven economy and the art-driven real estate market. There is silence about the need for better gifted-and-talented public school programs or better tax-breaks to build middle-income rentals for the people who are not Russian moguls and escaping Chinese plutocrats. Does any candidate even know about what is happening in Brooklyn and the Brand Brooklyn? Or understand what the growing share economy means?
Meanwhile, over in London, mayor Boris Johnson is calling for a “London Visa” to attract more talent. The special visa would target high tech startup people, hot fashion designers and creators of all sorts to London. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/62459d68-1701-11e3-bced-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz2eJGbJSik
Now that’s brilliant thinking. I hear nothing of the sort from the horde of candidates wanting to become mayor of New York City.
I am co-teaching a grad course at Parsons this fall on Creativity and the City which examines the crucial role cities play in engaging and promoting our creativity.
This week in class we are reading Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s book “Creativity,” focussing on his chapter on Creativity and the Renaissance which deals with the rise of Florence. It’s so good I could cry. He says that “…creativity, must, in the last analysis, be seen not as something happening within a person but in the relationship within a system."
The ultimate system, or "domain” as “Chicks” calls it, is the city. Without the proper leadership which understands the value of creativity to both society and the economy, you won’t get creativity. Without the right kind of patrons who support creativity, the right kind of experts who can recognize creativity and the right kind of spaces and neighborhoods where creative people are drawn to live, you’re not going to get creativity.
Bloomberg, a high-tech financial entrepreneur, who became the single largest philanthropist in New York City, understood most of this. But who among the seven candidates running for mayor really does? Beats me and I have to vote next week.
It is Fashion Week in NYC and an incredible number of hugely talented fashion creatives are crawling its streets. Samsung needs to hire some of them. Perhaps it is not as bad in real 3D, but the new Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch really seems ugly/clunky to me.
Google Glass has serious value issues with privacy but it looks very cool on the face–thanks to Google hiring a Swedish industrial designer, hooking up with Warby Parker and Sergey hanging out at runway shows with Diane Von Furstenberg. Who are the guys in Seoul hanging out with?
Tech companies moving into “wearable technology” really need to start hiring graduates They have been designing wearable technology for eons–call them clothes, eyeglasses, shoes, hats….Each draps the body, extending and enhancing its capabilities. Clothes frame and reframe identities and personalities. They allow you to try them on and become someone, something else.
Fashion designers know all this already–and have amazing skills at understanding the deep meaning of “wearing” and the true purpose of “technology” in peoples’ lives. They also live in a global world and understand the importance of mining culture, male/female, Chinese/American/boomer/gen y. They are deep into “Making” culture–indeed, unlike other designers, they never left it. They do two collections a year–they create twice a year, year after year. And designers are hugely entrepreneurial, they love to set up their own businesses.
So Samsung and other wearable technology companies, listen up. Hire fashion designers if you want people to actually love your technology. And check out the Fashion Week runway shows now:
It’s all about creative intelligence.
I just came across a Wall Street Journal piece that I wrote for their online Speakeasy column when my book, Creative Intelligence, came out. It’s one of my best pieces. I especially like the “10 Fast Ways to Boost Your Creativity.”
10 Fast Ways to Boost Your Creative Intelligence
1) Find a creative friend. The social aspect of creativity cannot be underestimated. Spending time with creative peers can boost your energy and help you identify your own creative skills.
2) Map your creativity. Keep a daily journal about the places and activities that inspire you. Add something new one every month. Just changing the way you go to work every day can help.
3) Go for a long walk–or run or bike ride. Give yourself “zone-out” time to let your mind integrate all the new ideas you’re taking in. Creativity is social but still requires “alone time” too.
4) Conduct a “creativity audit.” Take a weekend to think about the knowledge and skills you have that you might be underutilizing. Dive deep into yourself. Bring a close friend to help.
5) Play the “reframe game.” Is your business or industry stagnating? Change the conventional wisdom about the way things have always been done and create something entirely new by connecting two previously unrelated ideas.
6) Find a wanderer. In their heyday, the labs at HP were hugely creative thanks to the founders’ policy of “managing by wandering around.” They choose promising research and championed it. Seek out the person at your organization who can help you bring your ideas into the world.
7) Become a wanderer. Find out what your colleagues and employees are thinking about and ask yourself: how can you help support their ideas? Can you become the person who makes things happen, whether by partnering with them or hooking them up with the right people?
8) Slow down. The rise in social media has left many of us longing for deeper, more meaningful experiences and engagements. There is an increasing need for people and organizations who can devise ways to help people simplify their lives.
9) Venture past the possible. We are often so accustomed to seeing things in a certain way that we’re blind to the possibility of something we can’t yet imagine. Set aside time each week to think about why things are the way they are, and imagine them differently.
10) Embrace uncertainty . There is so much change in our lives and in our work that it scares us, even paralyzes us. Yet uncertainty offers the greatest opportunities. With the right creative skills, you can make uncertainty a place of discovery for you.
I remember the day Betsey, Sam Farber’s wife told me the story of how OXO was born. Her hands had begun to hurt because of arthritis and she was having a hard time in the kitchen. She couldn’t grip the utensils well or without pain. She and Sam loved to cook so this was a big deal. Sam saw this as an opportunity, not a problem, and turned to Smart Design in New York to design kitchen gear that Betsy could hold and use. And hey, why not design kitchen gear that EVERYONE could use easily. The fat handles of Good Grips products was born–as was a great company, OXO.
I met Sam after he had founded and sold Copco (and yes, his uncle had founded FarberWare). Sam was actually retired. OXO was his second company. He would go on to startup a third with his son.
Sam was at the center of a tight circle of great design people. Pattie Moore did amazing research on the elderly and went on to create one of the great consultancies. Sam and Pattie established Universal Design as a credible design strategy.
Sam sat on the board of the extraordinary IIT Institute of Design, lead by Patrick Whitney. He helped make this program one of the world’s best graduate programs in design.
But most of all, Sam sat and talked. I could always get him for long lunches to talk about stuff. I’m old enough now to know that age does not automatically bring wisdom. Only a few truly unique souls attain it. Sam was one of them.
I am stunned at his sudden leaving and I will miss him forever.
I’m going to my first IDSA annual conference since I left Business Week. Check it out–some fantastic speakers, from Bill Buxton to Dean Kamen. I’ll present on the Dogmas of Design and my new book, Creative Intelligence.
Core77 has played a huge role in my career covering innovation. When I was launching the Innovation & Design online site at Business Week, Core77 was my first partner. It proved critical. Partnering with outside sources of content was, at that time in the early oughts, revolutionary at a print magazine. I took a lot of heat but Core77 allowed me to make it happen.
Here’s my Q&A off my new book, Creative intelligence.
My book, Creative Intelligence, emphasizes creativity over design, because my experience covering business led me to believe that the term “creativity” is more inclusive–managers and just about everyone identify with it more than “design.” The book’s Five Creative Competencies–Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting (Scaling)–can boost our personal and organizational creative capacities.
In October, the doyens of Design Thinking, David Kelley and Tom Kelley, have a new book coming out. It’s called “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential in us All.”
The paradigm shift from Design to Creativity is ongoing, responding to what people and organizations want to meet the challenges of a world of VUCA–volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Time published a new poll on how Americans viewed creativity–with remarkable results. The good news is that a huge majority of people believe creativity is very important. Nearly 2/3s believe creativity is more important to their workplace careers than they knew in school. The bad news is that most Americans don’t know how to practice creativity. They value creativity but don’t understand it.
So we need both a lot of social time engaging with trusted friends and colleagues working on challenging new ideas AND alone-time to integrate those thoughts and connect the dots to generate new stuff. It’s not “either-or.”
The five creative competencies of my book Creative Intelligence: Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting: are skills that can build both creative capacity and creative confidence. This is true for business organizations as well as individuals.
Karen Yair has written a wonderful review of my new book, Creative Intelligence, for CRAFTS magazine. You can follow this great UK-based magazine on Twitter at @craftsmagazine but, alas, the publication itself is not yet online. So go directly to the reviewer–Karen Yair’s–own WordPress site for her reasons why Creative Intelligence reflects the importance of making in creativity–and for remaking our around the economic value generated by innovation.
Check it out.
Truly high-growth innovative businesses, whether they are startups or big ole behemoths, need both a creative and an operations person at the top. Think Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. When the creative leaves and the operations person takes control, the transition is tricky at best–and often problematic. The narrative frame of Apple now is all about taxes and profits and money–not innovative products, not love and emotion, not aura. OK maybe for shareholders and Wall Street. Not good for those of us who us Apple stuff.
A similar thing has happened at another “Design-led” big company in the US–P&G. At P&G, A.G. Lafley redesigned the company from 200 to 2010, opening up its silos, promoting a business culture of creativity, and ultimately generating 30% of annual profits from new products. He brought in Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, to rethink strategy. And Tim Brown from IDEO, to instill Design Thinking. Lafley was replaced by an operations guy who focussed on efficiencies and traditional marketing and the result? Lackluster results.
In my book, Creative Intelligence, I spend time explaining how Lafley used Knowledge Mining, Framing and Pivoting (Scaling) to change the sources of P&G’s profits and boost them to new highs. Lafley got his managers to “Connect + Develop,” to take their deep domains of knowledge in chemistry and product and connect them to new spaces, new ideas. No brainstorming of a 1000 ideas. No funnels and processes of innovation. Just smart people thinking about extending outside their silos to create the new. Then scaling like crazy.
The next big question is whether or not Lafley brings back Claudia Kotscha, the genius who tried to change P&G’s culture and make it more creative.