There are very few combinations of people in one place at one period of times that have changed the world as much as a group of hippie nerds in California in the 1970’s. This group of people changed how we live our lives in ways that might have seen imaginable even half a century ago. To me it is simply amazing. This series of events are some of the most innovative, creative and original feats in the history of humanity. But what is most impressive about it is how fragmented, complex, and collaborative they really were. No one single event seems to be significantly more important than any other and the individuals who took a primary role in this revolution seem to be a few dozen.
The reason I point out all this is to question the nature of creativity. I think people see creativeness as one single characteristic which translates into many realms. But I think there are many types of creativity which are very different and in the present day no single person can be creative in all ways. We all have very different types of creativity applicable to many different types of things. To illustrate my point I will go back to the revolution of Silicon Valley and take the example of its most famous character(at least right now), Steve Jobs.
The other day I was reading a very interesting article about Steve Jobs1. The article described Jobs, as not an inventor, but as a “tweaker”. Jobs and Apple have never invented anything, or at least anything extraordinary. They didn’t invent the computer, they didn’t invent the smartphone, they didn’t invent the mouse, they didn’t make any big breakthroughs in programming, they didn’t invent the tablet… But they were still highly innovative. The article argues that Jobs’ genius was in his ability to “tweak”. Through this tweaking he made sure that his products were usable, that consumers would use them. He also changed the contexts of some products to give them new uses. This is not the creativity that Edison, Tesla or the Gutenberg had. Jobs could have never done anything like that (at least alone). He was still creative, but he was not an inventor.
I think it is sometimes unfortunate that his man gets so much credit when so many people have made so many other contributions (possibly more important) to this field. I guess charisma and his public appearances have an impact at some point. But it is true that through these appropriations of others’ inventions that many of his innovations were felt.
Creativity has many sides to it and in a world of increasing complexity it becomes more important to ask “Am I creative?” but “In what ways am I creative?”. Maybe you are the inventor, maybe you are the visionary, or maybe you are just the tweaker.
1· Malcom Gladwell. The Tweaker. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/11/14/111114fa_fact_gladwell
Malcom Gladwell.Creation Myth. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/16/110516fa_fact_gladwell.