Recently I spent an afternoon at a local Panera Bread restaurant creating a Christmas cardÂ for my wife. I brought several old trade glossy, colorful catalogs and cut out numerous colorful shapes â€“ some were simple geometric shapes, others were abstract shapes, and some were meant to be animals but ended up looking like giant amoebas. I arranged the colorful pieces on a white paper and glued them according to my whimsy. Itâ€™s not much to look at but my wife liked itâ€¦more for the gesture than the art I think. This common kindergarten arts and craft activity was unexpectedly enjoyable. Perhaps because it was such a simple, yet rare creative activity.
I asked myself â€śhow many times during the course of a typical day do I engage in creative activities in which I am creating rather than consuming other peopleâ€™s creativity?â€ťÂ I wondered what my creativity index might be like for a typical day, where the creativity index is simply:
Acts of creativityÂ /Â Acts of consuming other peopleâ€™s creativity
Well, as soon as I start my day in the morning I find myself using an alarm clock, a toothbrush, toothpaste, shaver, comb, toilet, toilet paper, electric lighting, a mirror, shirt, pants, indoor plumbing, wallpaper, ceramic floor tileâ€¦thatâ€™s at least 12 acts of consuming other peopleâ€™s creativity within the first 3 minutes of waking up! It gets worse very quickly. Just add up all the things we typically use and do in a typical day and weâ€™ll likely see our acts of consuming other peopleâ€™s creativity (whether itâ€™s a designed product or service or experience) quickly blossom exponentially while our acts of creativity inch up at a languid pace. Do the math and youâ€™ll likely see that our creativity index hovers close to zero all day.
So whatâ€™s the problem?
Shouldnâ€™t we be delighted to live in an age filled with smorgasbords of other peopleâ€™s creativity for us to gorge upon? Isnâ€™t that progress and the promise of a good life? Who wants to be go back to the days when there were only 3 major TV channels and if you missed your favorite TV show, you were out of luck? Who wants to build their own kitchen appliances when you can order from hundreds of choices on-line?
Of course, having access to products and services conceived and produced by others is essential to modern life. But we lose something of our humanity when the amount of creativity we consume is completely disproportionate to the amount creativity we generate.
Biologists have long considered the act of creating things of practical or artistic value as one of the most defining characteristics of human beings. It seems that we humans are built for constant creation. So what happens to us when we consume ever more the creativity of others and at the expense of exercising our own individual creativity? What do you think we lose?
As of today, I have a goal of generating at least three substantial acts of creativity each day. For the purpose of my goal, I define substantial creative acts to be those in which I generate a non-obvious, non-trivial, novel and useful or artistic object, service or idea.Â Flipping my morning pancake with my eyes closed (not part of my usual routine) does not qualify. Practicing Chinese calligraphy by spraying pancake batter from a can of Batter BlasterÂ® onto a hot griddle to form Chinese word-shaped pancakes would.
My Creative Index will still hover around zero most days, but over time I hope to increase the numerator and at the same time decrease the denominator. So rather than watch yet another Youtube video of a table tennis match from the Olympics (part of my usual routine), I might invent a new game using my table tennis table.
My two sons inspired me recently by creating their own version of the Angry Birds game on our table tennis table using wooden blocks and mini plastic bulls. They called the game Angry Bullritos. Valentineâ€™s Day is just around the corner. Maybe Iâ€™ll create a card for my wife using roasted seaweed sheets and orphaned buttons collected from our washing machine.
What is your Creative Index for a typical day? What acts of creativity generated by you this past week are you most pleased with?