Where does creativity come from? Ex nihilo – from nothing. Neurons in your brain somehow reassemble themselves into a new pattern, following a new path to a different arrangement. You recognize the pattern as different than those that have gone before. Presto! You are creative! Everyone can be creative. Everyone is creative.
Next up is the way in which you apply your creativity. In business, we usually associate it with newness and novelty: invention, innovation, improved products and services, better communications, greater efficiency, emergent ways to generate value, grow business and widen margins and make customers feel better. Creativity is a pathway forward, a way to open new doors, see new vistas, and open up new possibilities.
Creativity also does the opposite. It reveals how the old ways of doing things were inadequate, or at minimum how they can be improved or replaced. The opening of new doors is the closure of old ones. Creativity abandons error and leaves it behind. Creativity is the history of civilization, continuous movement in the direction of betterment. Sure, there are times when we can observe steps backwards, but creativity always makes us aware of them and relentlessly pushes in the other direction.
Creativity, therefore, is a form of non-compliance – non-compliance with erroneous beliefs, with bad policies, with lies and misinformation, with science that is non-scientific, with statistical analysis that draws the wrong conclusions and finds causation where there is none, and with bureaucratic regulations that limit choices. It’s non-compliance with the refusal to change, with the failure to adopt, with the reluctance to explore.
Creativity, then, is protest. It criticizes, not by pointing out the weakness and error of the status quo, but by imagining the future where the status quo is replaced. Imagination is the superpower of creativity. With imagination, we are able to conjure up future possibilities – counter-factual by definition, since they don’t currently exist – and examine them in our mind, size them and add shape and structure and color. We can connect and integrate our imagined possibilities with others, or with existing structures and institutions and contexts, and ascertain how the interface and interconnections might work. We can build a new machine in our imaginations and rotate it and view it from different angles and under different conditions. If we decide it’s better than what we’ve got now, then we are protesting the present, saying it’s not good enough, it won’t do.
In business, this is innovation. In research, it’s discovery. In the arts, it’s expression. Creativity is exciting and energizing. Creativity is the way forward.
But in politics and government, it’s unacceptable protest. The revelation that there can be a better way is not permitted. Creative people are to be suspected. They may even be terrorists, unleashing the terror of novelty and expanded boundaries and new frontiers. In politics, creativity is terrible knowledge: the knowledge that the current state of things is inadequate, moving in the wrong direction and condemned to inevitable ongoing decay.
What is bitcoin? Pure creativity – ex nihilo – and a protest against the institutional abuse of money and against central bank policies of continuous debasement of fiat currencies. What is e-commerce? Creativity – and a protest against inefficient brick-and-mortar retailing, poor in-store service, out of stocks, and mis-sizing. What is free entrepreneurial software? Creativity, and a protest against expensive, uncustomized, enterprise technology. What is cloud computing? Creativity, and a protest against inflexible server tech. Creativity is always a protest.
When we are faced with the rigidity of bureaucracy and government regulation, the answer is creativity. Not rioting in the street or burning down buildings or invading the Capitol. Not even voting – that doesn’t change anything. The right approach is creativity – asking what could be different, exploring how things can be different, trying out new ideas locally or in your community or in your church or your YouTube discussion group. Look at parallels in other industries and institutions. What rigidities did people face and what were the creative ideas that got around them? How did they grow and flourish? What did it take? What experiments were conducted?
A beautiful aspect of protest in the form of creativity is that it’s not a lonely fight against the majority. Because every creative protest is an exchange. Bitcoin is an exchange, otherwise it’s not an alternative money. E-commerce is exchange, otherwise it dies or never takes off. Free software is a valid alternative only if someone produces and someone else uses. Cloud computing needs a server bank in place and someone with a device to interact with it. Exchange requires two mutually aligned parties, the willing seller and the willing buyer. If you view your own creativity as protest, you’ll test your own validity and the validity of your ideas through exchange – who agrees, who understands, who supports, who adds new value by building more upon your foundation?
Please be creative. Make the world better. Protest what’s unacceptable by imagining what’s better. Share with others. When you find some that agree, you have a movement. Let’s get to it.