An Unusually Creative Place

How do we unlock our creative potential within our own communities? Commentary by Pamela Hulse Andrews

Interactions are a key component of creativity and productivity. The exchange of ideas and inventiveness has proven time and again to excel on a super scale.

Why are there more patents generated in San Jose (Silicon Valley) than any other place in the country? Why do urban environments create more new ideas and offer a springboard in innovative thinking? How could the website bring forth resolutions to problems that scientists and inventors previously could not figure out?

Apple, not only the most valued company in the world, but certainly the most innovative, has designed a workplace environment for creativity. Unlike Microsoft (which has fallen flat since Bill Gates left) that pits computer geeks against each other for ideas and perpetuates political in-fighting, Apple encourages collaboration among its creatives. Microsoft has depended on maintaining the status quo, while Apple is in a constant battle to one-up itself and create something new (iPods, iPhones, iPads).

In his book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer talks about how he thinks creativity works. He tells a quick antidote that sits close to home of how Dan Wieden might not have come up with Just Do It if he hadn’t had interaction with fellow creatives:
“Dan Wieden was searching for a tag line to unify a series of ads his agency was making for Nike. Late one night he suddenly thought about the convicted murderer Gary Gil­more, whose last words before his execution were “Let’s do it.” Sitting at his desk Wieden turned that phrase over in his mind until it became Just do it. Accolades ensued.

“Reflecting later, Wieden realized he’d thought of Gilmore because someone at work had mentioned Norman Mailer recently and Wieden knew that Mailer had written a book about Gilmore. Without that serendipitous chain of associations, Nike might have wound up with a different slogan: “A sneaker is forever?” “Got kicks?”

In Imagine Lehrer gives claim to several examples of how famous musicians and poets, obscure scientists, even large corporations like 3M (third most inventive company in the world following Apple and Google) and Eli Lilly have been successfully creative. He illustrates the science of creativity and derives from that science some tips for readers to become more creative and for society to promote innovative thinking.

Here, however, is a sad sidebar about just how creative Lehrer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, was. Evidently he acknowledged inventing quotes by Bob Dylan for his book and in July resigned and the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, pulled every copy of Imagine it could find from bookstore shelves and e-book sites. (Yikes, if you have one, now it’s a collectors’ item.)  

I am still in the process of completing the Imagine book and wanted this commentary to be about creativity, actually solely about creativity. Unfortunately the writer was a little too creative and his fabrications have cost him plenty.

However ill-fated the Imagine writer was, the idea that collaboration enhances a creative environment is noteworthy.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will open a regional office in the San Jose area of Silicon Valley, California, in a state where the most patents in the country originated last year. Silicon Valley was chosen because of it geographical diversity, regional economic impact, ability to recruit and retain employees and engage the intellectual property community. It’s a center for innovative and collaborative thinking.

The newest socioeconomic class, the Creative Class, now includes more than 40 million people—from scientists and engineers to architects and designers from writers and publishers to artists and entertainers. But it’s reported that the Creative Class is not spread evenly across America. They tend to combine their talents and ideas in ways that generate new technologies and new companies in certain areas of the country.

Recently ranked cities (June 2012) include, at number one, Boulder, Colorado, home of the University of Colorado and impressive numbers of high-tech startups, followed by San Francisco and Boston, both of which are notable for high-tech, higher education and culture. Seattle, home to Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Cray and San Diego, home of the Salk Institute and countless high-tech and biotech businesses and the university town of Ann Arbor, Michigan are next. The seventh and eighth cities on the list, Corvallis, Oregon and Durham, North Carolina, are university towns as well. Washington, D.C. and Trenton, New Jersey (home to Princeton and countless pharmaceutical companies) round out the list.

All of these places are urban settings where people gather to exchange ideas and make interaction a burgeoning lifestyle. Bend, though not considered urban, is a bubbling microseism of these larger cities, where our creative juices are just beginning to be discovered.

In reinventing Apple, Steve Jobs eliminated passive aggressiveness and encouraged debate when new ideas were forming. When you are thinking about difficult problems together with exceptionally bright people, there are going to be disagreements, he maintained. But it is through the tension of that creative conflict that new ideas get born, new angles get explored and risks get mitigated. Thinking together means you deal with conflict up front, rather than have to counter passive aggressiveness on the back end, Jobs said.

InnoCentive is the open innovation, crowdsourcing and prize competition pioneer that enables organizations to solve their key problems by connecting them to diverse sources of innovation including employees, customers, partners and the world’s largest problem solving marketplace.

Think about taking a problem and giving it to a network of millions of problem solvers (there’s 260,000 from nearly 200 countries on this site), they are awarded $500 to $1+ million based on the complexity of the problem and nature of the challenge). By unleashing human creativity, passion and diversity, InnoCentive can solve problems that matter to business and society. Once you untether the search for solutions amazing things happen. Problems are said to be solved in this way better, faster and at a lower cost than ever before.

How do we unlock our creative potential within our own communities? I recently attended a “conversation” with a small group of arts enthusiasts about exploring the idea of establishing a creative arts center in Bend. The people in attendance largely were artists, gallery owners, arts organization directors, writers and art philanthropists. The discussion was led by the very creative Renee Mitchell of tbd advertising. The idea had been voted as an accelerator project to explore at an Accelerate Bend Creative and Cultural Learning work session.

I encourage everyone involved in this endeavor to spread the interaction. We’ve been presented with a creative idea that will take a village to forge the most innovative and enduring project. It is just the kind of thing that is happening in large cities where collaboration is an integral part of creativity.

Steve Jobs said that innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.

We live in the perfect place for just this kind of collaboration!

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