Pondering creativity Mike | January 21st, 2009

The opposite of creativity is cynicism. — Esa Saarinen

Everybody’s got it right? Plumbers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and office clerks – creativity surrounds us. But there is the everyday creativity of folks like those I just listed, and the extraordinary creativity of the great artists, thinkers, and inventors. In his book “Creativity,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains the difference between “Big-C and small-c” creativity: “To some degree, we all are creative in the small-c way, doing things that enrich our own lives but do not receive recognition from the outside world. Big-C creativity is different — it produces ideas that push our species ahead.” This doesn’t mean that small-c creativity doesn’t have the power to impact lives, but not on the societal level that true Big-C does.

Mozart was Big-C. Einstein was Big-C. I suppose that I am a good example of small-c. I spent 20+ years enabling and supporting directors, writers, designers, and cinematographers, and in the process marveled at their art, learned from them the ways of artists, and appreciated everyday what they did. As a manager, I found solutions to many problems and helped devise ways of doing things more efficiently. I have saved my employers countless man-hours of effort and boat-loads of money.  But this did not make me “creative” in the same sense that the artists I worked with are creative.

The Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner developed the theory of “multiple intelligences” and his work identifies seven core intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Each of the intelligences has small-c creativity as a key element and for one to have a high “IQ” in any of the seven, one must have a creative facility with it. For instance, when a manager finds a new solution to a problem or a more efficient workflow, we celebrate their logical-mathematical “creativity.” When a child discovers for themselves how to draw lines to represent a house, we smile at their spatial “creativity.” What Gardner has provided is a framework for understanding how our own creativity and strengths fit into the world, and where we can be most effective in utilizing our own creativity.

When I think of creativity I usually think of artists and musicians. Big-C examples such as Leonardo DaVinci come to my mind as does Thelonius Monk. These are individuals who forever changed the way we look at their domain and had a significant impact on the culture at large. But what about the countless artists, designers, musicians, and photographers whose stock-in-trade is their creativity, but who can not claim a Big-C accomplishment ala DaVinci or Monk? Why can’t there be a “middle-c?” To lump these folks who drive the creative industries in with the likes of me is a disservice to them and disrespectful of their work. I sometimes wish there were a different word to describe the creativity of the artist to differentiate it from the everyday creativity of the rest of us.

As entrepreneurs Ross and I have been effective at raising funds, defining goals, and devising strategies to bring our idea to life. We have a vision and we act to support our vision. But it is the crowdSPRING creatives who are the real force on our site. Because it is their artistic ability that brings the “real” creativity to our undertaking. Because, I believe, creativity (in the “middle c” sense, not the “small c” sense) is inextricably tied to artistic production. Writers, musicians, graphic designers, choreographers – the people who produce actual artistic work – are the real creative force in the world. What I mean is this: does the everyday small-c of the plumber who figures out a better solution to routing my drain pipe have the same impact on the world around him as does a visual artist? Not for nothing, but a painter or a designer has an impact on the world – like their work or not, it changes in ways large and (often) small the world context of all who view it.

In his book “The World is Flat” Thomas Friedman describes how technology (for instance the undersea cables which enable the global internet) has broken down borders and provided so many people around the world the opportunity to compete as equals. Friedman’s insights, in part, helped us to understand that there are creative folk all over the world who do not have access to an audience, access to potential clients, and access to other creatives like them. crowdSPRING’s mission, in large part, is to provide a community for buyers and artists to connect with one another to work and compete on a level playing field. We believe that the creativity in the world needs a platform to allow a huge outpouring of inspiration. Middle-c people are at the core of crowdSPRING and they prove every day that their ideas and their work, while perhaps not Big-C in terms of impact, still serve to enrich lives other than their own.

Which brings us to gatekeepers. One of the negative aspects of the creative industries has been the desire to keep others out. This tradition of closed industries has done a disservice to them, in that the free flow of ideas is effectively strangled, and many creative people who could contribute so much have been kept on the outside. To use my own industry as an example, the film-craft guilds have for decades prevented non-members from working in the industry in any meaningful way. The barriers erected have limited the talent pool and the industry is poorer for it. Other creative industries have their own gatekeepers: In the music industry the big labels have made it difficult for  independent artists to find an audience; in publishing many writers go begging for readers because they cannot get their books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble or Borders. But, as Friedman envisioned, the internet is disassembling the barriers and disrupting entire industries. The music industry has seen artists use the internet to distribute their own work via everything from Facebook and MySpace to iTunes. The publishing industry is just seeing the first wave of e-books and self-distribution, plus will have to contend with micro-publishers who can do tiny runs of books in a cost-effective model. crowdSPRING, too, has the potential to disrupt the ad agencies and creative shops by allowing buyers to go directly to the talent pool for creative ideas and final execution.


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  • fredK

    “Reach for the stars … you might get to Paris”. It’s a joke that my dad used to crack, one of the few I remember anyway, but I think on some level it’s true when it comes to creativity. If you have an idea, reach for the stars with it. If it gets you to Paris (or Hollywood if that sits better), then so be it. But if you don’t reach, how will you know how far you’ll extend? Meaning that it’s not bad to be a little-c or even a middle-c (c? ;)) but so few big-Cs are actually big by birth. Lots don’t even get there until they’re dead.

    “To the moon!”
    (That’s from the movie.)

  • ArtbyAudree


    Much of this brings me back to the “Beware of the Underdog” presentation you and Ross gave. I think many of the people who spend hours creating and posting on internet sights are doing it because it is the nature of the middle C type creatives to create. We do it because we have to. It is a release. If I wasn’t creating here, I’d be doing what I’ve done in the past… going to pottery class, making scenic quilts, creating greeting cards, painting, etc.

    And if I’m correct… the middle c’s were always a bit different than the other kids in school. They didn’t quite conform. Perhaps if teachers (and society) took notice at an early stage, and fostered that creativity – we might have more big C’s in the world.


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