It has become common parlance to throw around words without truly thinking about their meaning. The worst offenders in this scenario are words known as "buzzwords". It just so happens that three of these words, "technology", "creativity", and "startups" emblazon the front windows at Awesome Inc. As a co-founder, I owe it to you to break these buzzwords down into a clearer lexicon, explaining our intent in using them, as well as how they mesh with Awesome Inc's Core Values (Be Good, Be Excellent, Be a Friend, Be You). While my role as Director of Labs at Awesome Inc may lead you to believe that I'm only qualified to discuss technology and startups, I assure you that is only a matter of the common misconception of these words. In fact, if I do my job well in this explanation, you will come to realize that you (the reader) are equally qualified to discuss the true meaning of creativity.
My favorite discussion of Creativity comes from Tom Kelley, co-founder of design consulting firm IDEO. Tom, whose portrait hangs on our wall at Awesome Inc, is known to refer to a longitudinal study of creativity in primary school students. In this study, a class of students is polled each year as it progresses through school. They are asked the question, "Do you consider yourself to be an artist?" From the outset, nearly all 30 students in the class respond with a resounding "yes". It seems that Kindergarteners are inherently creative, and even have the finger-painted artwork to prove it! By the time this same group of students reaches 6th grade, there are but one or two individuals who are connected with their creative spirit enough to claim to be artists. What happened?
For me, creativity is the natural manifestation of one of our Core Values: Be You. Everyone is born with an inherent desire to be unique. Over time, societal forces (such as teenagers' strong desire to "fit in") can make us apprehensive to outwardly share our uniqueness. To conceal our unique selves, human beings often turn to consumption, seeking to create a definition of self through a series of consumption choices. We wear different clothes, listen to different music, drive a different car (or ride a bike!). While this is a start, I think this is a cop-out. Creativity is not produced through consumption. It comes from creating.
Longer than mono-term buzzwords, "adages" are frequently overutilized and under-understood phrases. One of such is, "It's better to give than to receive". When I was a kid, I used to think this solely in terms of gifts, which led me to mostly disagree with the statement. Any kid knows that it's awesome to receive presents! But now that I've been on this planet for a quarter century, I realize that this is not just some assertion to justify redistribution of wealth. It is a path to happiness, paved by our two Core Values: Be Good, and Be a Friend. To create means to give of one's self to improve the lives of others. And this will bring you a deeper, more lasting type of happiness than anything that you could possibly receive.
Artistic expressions are often recognized as the most pure form of creativity, synthesizing something tangible from what was once merely an idea. I agree with the lesson of Tom Kelley's story, that everyone is capable of creating art (while too few believe in their own abilities). Yet, I also believe that creativity transcends traditional artwork. Let's take food as an example.
For starters, food is a necessary requirement for sustaining human life. I live under the assumption that every human life is intrinsically valuable, and thus worth sustaining. Therefore, eating is a morally good thing to do (Core Value: Be Good). Eating tasty food also brings me pleasure, but this pleasure is limited, and fleeting. It's brainless consumption. There must be something more satisfying.
The next stage of enjoyment for me comes from creating a dish. The spectrum here has a wide range. It starts with simply combining or heating pre-packaged ingredients. I get measurably more satisfaction out of baking frozen pizza than from a delivery pie. Even better is creating something from a recipe. Like playing a cover song with your instrument of choice, or reproducing a famous artwork, baking from a recipe is a way to share in the original creator's creative experience. It involves the challenge of achieving mastery by properly performing the requisite steps. There is an awkward period when you're but a novice, and your reproductions are subpar. But if you persist through this struggle, you emerge on the other side with a few scarred tastebuds from a worthwhile creative battle. This is the moment when you embody another of our Core Values, Be Excellent.
As good as excellence feels, it's just not fully satisfying in solitude. Eating food with others, however, lifts me up onto another plateau of satisfaction. When sharing food (CV reference: Be a Friend), that assemblage of calories becomes something more. It becomes a meal. And the event of a meal is your creation (even if someone else cooked the dish).
The next echelon (but not the ultimate) is creating food from scratch. This involves making use of the lessons you earned through your unique voyage of imitation, and combining them into your own creation. This is where you share your personal essence and, uniquely, Be You (recognize that CV reference?).
The final stage of creativity (and you'll notice that I planned our arrival here), is to combine all four Core Values (Good, Excellent, Friend, You). This final plateau is best explained in reverse order of how our CV's are presented. Imagine this situation: you create an excellent, unique meal to share with other people. It sounds simple, but this example of an ultimate creative act captures the whole gamut of what we stand for at Awesome Inc. In creating a unique meal of your choice, you are Being You. By executing on your plans and producing a high-quality dish, you are Being Excellent. By sharing the event of this meal with others, you are Being a Friend. Finally, by ensuring that yourself and others are nourishing your bodies, you are Being Good.
With food as our specific example, let's go back to the general case of creativity. Creativity is the process of using some combination of our four Core Values to produce something that didn't exist before. This can be artwork, it can be food, it can be music, it can be events, it can be software. Creativity is Good (serves a purpose), Excellent (your goal necessitates a creative struggle), with/for a Friend (human connections yield meaning), and You (an expression of your uniqueness). But, while inherently intertwined, Consumption is not Creativity. In the same way that you cannot exhale by inhaling, you cannot create by consuming (Rule #2 – Luke Murray). With plenty of resources in the world to help you be a consumer, Awesome Inc stands as a beacon to help you unleash your creativity. While creativity was once a luxury, minority activity, it no longer has to be. Through technology (we'll talk more about that relationship in a future blog post), anyone, including you, can create. And you should.