American Creativity

Redbud on Rooftop

Creativity is the residue of time wasted. – Albert Einstein

Author Jonah Lehrer, has been touting his new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works”. I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard it discussed on Slate’s “The Afterword”, Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” and NPR’s “All Things Considered”. Mr. Lehrer has been busy. The book sounds interesting, because the interviews are fascinating. Lehrer covers individual creative genius, like Beethoven’s or Shakespeare’s, but where he is most captivating is when he discusses the creativity of modern, common men. He profiles three businesses, Proctor and Gamble, 3M and Pixar to illustrate his points.

With Proctor and Gamble, he discusses the development of the Swiffer cleaning line, and reinforces the power of persistence. 80% of the job is showing up. The ah-hah moment with Swiffer came, when researchers realized that people spend as much time cleaning their mops, as they do their floors. Hence, the disposable mopping surface.

3M sounds like a fascinating place to work. First it has the 15% rule. All employees are permitted to spend 15% of their work week doing what they want. They can work on their own pet project or they can just goof off. It is at about this time that Lehrer introduces the above Einstein quote. 3M also has a nearly one-to-one ratio between products and employees. This speaks to a company cultural diversity that is unheard of in American industry.

In between his stints at Apple, Steve Jobs ran Pixar. When it came time to set up the company’s new campus the original design called for three buildings, one for the artists, one for the engineers and one for the administrators. Jobs scrapped this idea and threw everybody together in the rehabbed shell of the original Del Monte canning factory. All employee services were placed around a central atrium. Not content with a single cafeteria, I guess he still remembered the cliques of high school; he centralized all of the bathrooms too. Now almost every employee has a “bathroom moment”, a moment in or on the way to or from the bathrooms, when an epiphany happened.

Lehrer uses the phrase, “it’s the human friction that makes the sparks”, to summarize the success of these three companies. He disposes with brainstorming, with a pooh-pooh. with brainstorming, the quantity of ideas is held more valuable than the quality of those ideas. He does value criticism. Constructive or not, a polite critique advances good ideas over bad.

To add my own 2¢ to this topic, I offer the following points. This blog is my creative outlet. My real work is still creative, but I have no available outlet to express it. As to whether I am actually creative within this blog, I’ll leave that to the reader’s discretion. I’ll also leave you the following Einstein quote, a quote that only true creative genius could pull off with humor.

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. – Albert Einstein