Polychromos on Strathmore paper.
I’ve finished that book some time ago already (four years, to be exact) and here is what I noted:
Knowledge is the stuff from which new ideas are made. Nonetheless, knowledge alone won’t make a person creative.
The real key to being creative lies in what we do with our knowledge.
We have a situation where people know more and more about less and less.
Innovation is usually the result of connections of past experience. But if you have the same experiences as everybody else, you’re unlikely to look in a different direction.
The truth contained in those short four sentences above is already widely known, but worth repeating over and over again. It is highly unlikely, especially now, that one person alone will make a groundbreaking innovation. At any rate, it is very difficult. Easier is to build on each other’s ideas. For that, you need to keep an open mind and respect experience of others. This, in part, is also what the below quote says:
Luciano de Crescenzo: “We are all angels with just one wing – we can only fly while embracing one another.”
Recently I have witnessed again how our service (especially after-sales service or repair services) don’t work. In one case installing cooling capabilities to already existing heating system was beyond technician’s knowledge or possibilities. In another, broken circuit board costing in Radio Shack in range of 10 dollars was not possible to replace in one of the house-hold appliances, customer was advised to buy new device.
This happens now everywhere. Harvard Business Review had a cartoon depicting technical support technician giving the following advice to some customer calling him: “If it is broken, buy new one”. This is not a joke. It is reality.
I have already written about Apple practices of simply replacing its broken devices either free of charge when those are under warranty or for a fee if those are not. Old, broken devices are then what? Thrown away? Recycled? (whatever that means).
Why is that? I think that great part of explanation of this “throw away” phenomenon (or charging for parts and repair sums close to the value of a new appliance) is in the book I have read recently: “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” by J. Rifkin. In it Mr. Rifkin stipulates that cost of manufacturing nears zero. More and more of stuff we use is made by companies which have managed to (one of the principles of capitalism) drive their costs down as much as possible through cheaper labour, better processes, use of robotics, etc. Capitalism in itself (a paradox) drives costs of goods down. Workers – representing still the biggest chunk of the cost – are being laid off and replaced with automation wherever possible or cheaper workers. The truth is that those savings on the side of manufacture of goods is not being passed on to customers, especially in case of products with fashion or social status attached to them. The prices are left the same or are relatively higher. On the other end in developed countries technicians and other skilled workers are more and more expensive due to social and worker laws. It does not take a genius to see that it makes much more sense to force people to buy more instead of employing someone with enough knowledge to actually repair that thing.
Where in all this comes creativity? On one side creative service technician should be able to suggest ways to repair a device, even using parts offered by other vendors. That cannot be done by someone employed by single specific vendor, obviously. Those vendors limit such creativeness with their procedures – technicians have clear rules what can be done and what not. Mostly ensuing discussions end with “buy a new one”. Or other one. From us, of course. On the other hand, creativity may cause others to make products replacing those with obvious problems. Or someone may figure out how to make spare parts cheaper – that happens slowly already in 3D printing or in household or car industries. Much too slowly, if you ask me.
I think that you already figured out how all this influences job market. Since machines (or automation) replace people, goods are cheap to make, and no one wants to repair them, who needs people? Not everyone can be super-creative, intelligent, expensively educated… Group of people without hopes for any job grows and it will grow even more.
Do I have a solution? No. In competitive – not collaborative – society there is no such solution. You care only for yourself and your family. If you are lucky enough to have a job and belong to group of people with jobs which are still too expensive (or not possible) to be replaced by machines, then you are OK for a time. But if not, you have almost no chance of getting out. Unless you get together and create. Rifkin states in his book that many observe rise of collaborative commons – people pull together and work together to sustain their own group, but that requires cultural change from competition to collaboration on our side, from our own initiative. Interesting where this all will take us… Why? Think – if cost of goods (at least making them) will near zero and people are the biggest cost factor, then people will go. Who will then buy those goods and for what?
I started reading “The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited” by Richard Florida and right at the beginning I found an interesting thought exercise leading me to the question I used as title of this post:
Imagine two men, one which travelled over time from 1900 to 1950 and one which travelled from 1950 to 2000. What differences would they see around them?
The author tells us that the first man would see mostly technological differences: cars, refrigerators, TV, radio, airplanes, telephone etc. The other would see better cars, refrigerators, TVs, radio, airplanes, telephones etc. The only additions would be the computer and internet – but the majority of changes would be of social nature. Gender and race mix in the workplace would be much richer than in 1950, acceptance of diversities would be higher, in short – he would see great social change in terms of embracing diversity.
Mr. FLorida says that this has led to even greater creativity, to creation of “creative class”. And here comes my question: if that is really so, then why are we still drive cars, fly airplanes, use refrigerators, phones, etc? If we are more creative, where did that creativity go? Right now it seems that we have improved on everything what already was, which is (at least in my opinion) much easier than coming up with original idea. Did we invest all that newly won creativity only into social changes? If yes, then this was not really a major achievement of human race, as changes in this area were organic, we would reach the same point anyway, sooner or later.
So where did that creativity go? I hope that the book will answer my question…
Yesterday evening I had my product idea shot down by a group of influential people in my organisation. The arguments were good and it was apparent that I didn’t do my homework and didn’t properly thought the idea through. A lesson in humility for me.
But the experience was not all bad. It was good to be able to actually discuss the idea, not be handed a note saying no. It was good to see people trying to make something out of it, add something on top of it, instead of ridiculing it. They had every opportunity to do so, but they didn’t. For that I am grateful.
I got my lesson and I hope that I will learn from it for the future. One more thing is important – the experience (although not easy) did not leave me angry or mad or anything. In short, it will not stop me from trying to come up with more. I hope that it will help me to do it better.
Secondly, I think it is almost impossible to come up with something good today on your merry own. The ideas need to be built from other ideas. Thinking fuels thinking (or maybe I should say, creativity fuels creativity). No matter – on your own, it is very difficult to get through the maze of possible scenarios, your own relation to your idea makes you blind to some twists and turns. I liked the team play, I think that it can work wonders.