This is turning into a very nice sort-of-conversation, and I believe we’re onto something. After answering Matt Moore’s piece with some musings, he’s gathered and answered several blog replies to his piece. This is interesting in more than one sense: for one thing, unlike in a forum thread (or a well-behaved list), we’re all happily talking about slightly different topics linked by a common idea. The blogger’s autonomy is nice.
But to the matter. My previous point was that, in a given set of circumstances, “creation” was social but only in a limited way, with most production condensed in a very small proportion of people (as these days’ statistics hint) spanning authors, co-authors, contributors, and catalysts. Implementators, consumers and spectators are a different story. Matt broadly agrees on that, pointing out that, however,
we tend to shift between roles depending on the specifics of the situation. Some people are happier being catalysts as opposed to authors, etc but we are dynamic – aren’t we?
Well… yes. Most often today’s collaborator is tomorrow’s author, and today’s catalyst is usually yesterday’s author. People exchange seats and evolve.
And yet (given a particular set of circumstances), most do not. Have a look at those statistics. Have a look around your life. Not just people in creative industries, not just freelancers, not just newsmakers. Look a bit further out of the limelight and you will see 90% of any human group, content to go their own way and not raise their hands. They can think and they do innovate, small scale. But they don’t share. Some write great stories but never attempt to publish. Some have great business ideas but never consider writing a business plan. Some do really interesting things that are simply not relevant to anybody else (when was the last time you heard someone praised as a “great conversationalist”?).
Statistics and observation tell us that most “creation” as we consider it is generated by a very small percentage of people, and that includes collaborators and even critics in the sum. Yet we know (and see) that almost every single human is able to do something new, leading and/or special. That leads to a couple of questions and observations:
- Training. Experience matters (it lowers the cost of creation and the risk of failure), even if it is second-hand.
- The limelight. Some things are considered newswortht and relevant. A Damien Hirsch extravaganza is newsworthy; a new way to hand clothing in a dry cleaners’ that improves times is not. Why?
- Expectations and ambition. People themselves limit the impact they allow their own creativity. Some limit each others’ impact (the famous saying that “behind every great man is a very surprised woman”, and viceversa… and let’s not speak about ex bosses), some limit it themselves (avoiding the problem with the classic “that’s not for me” argument).
- Returns. This hits even closer to home (for knowledge management). Being innovative and showing your new ideas is work, mostly. If the returns from your work are proportional and satisfactory, you may share and collaborate, and go on to invest work and risk failure again. If they aren’t, not even animals will.
- Mass offer. Yes, it happens. The person who doesn’t speak up because so many others are saying similar things first. Who gets her novel rejected because it’s too similar to a familiar doorstopper. Who arrives late to market with a new product idea. In a world that had mostly lost its niches to a connected economy, there are only so many places for the same type of creation. Or so it often seems, until conditions change and new advantages emerge (web, web 2.0, containers).
In short, the environment conditions strongly both the effort devoted to “creation” and the decision to “publish” (share). A favourable environment will produce a bubbling microinnovation effect and some nice surprises. An open, encouraging corporate culture will stifle less ideas (and it will still stifle most, since it will have to make choices to allocate resources). A rewarding attitude will beget efforts to contribute. A warm niche will host specialised businesses. Availability of training and education will do wonders for the proliferation of relevant creations.
In each of those iterative possible environments, most of the population will not be “creative”. But change the environment, and many will change roles.
It has been proven: participation in different CoPs is very different, and changes when policies (and leadership) are changed. Industry shakers come often from places where they were not heeded. Emigrants to the Americas built countries instead of following oxen around a field. Damien Hirsch keeps offering shocking-lite trash to lavish fans.
Yes, there are “natural” creators. And there are artistic temperaments. But economically relevant creation is social… in more ways than one.