From left, Doreen Lorenzo, Jordan Brandt, Reid Genauer, Alex Ljung, John Maeda. (All photos by Asa Mathat)
Alex Ljung (l) and John Maeda.
From left, Jordan Brandt, David Gelernter, Reid Genauer.
From left, Reid Genauer, Alex Ljung, John Maeda.
Technology Futurist, Entrepreneur, Autodesk
Professor Computer Science, Yale University
Chief Marketing Officer, Magisto
Founder and CEO, SoundCloud
President, Rhode Island School of Design
Collaboration has never been easier. More people than ever can express their creativity and share the result, be it a product, information, or art. Will a new tech-tool-powered Renaissance drive innovation and benefit us all, or is digital collaboration a real threat to true inspiration that just drags us all closer to the mean? Where does co-creation work best? And from what should we protect it?
Read the full transcript below. (Transcript by Realtime Transcription.)
Lorenzo: Thanks everyone. Thanks for joining. Obviously, I love to talk about creativity. It’s kind of my favorite subject, and this particular subject, seriously I’m so excited about. It’s kind of near and dear to my heart. I just made a huge career change. I’m Doreen Lorenzo, I’m the president of Quirky, which really just kind of embodies this topic.
So we have a great panel, and from what I saw in the green room, we’ll have absolutely no problem having a discussion. But we do want to make it interactive, and so we’re going to really ask you to participate here. But I’m going to kick it off and introduce who we have here on the panel and kind of kick it off with a couple of questions and then really let you guys get involved in the discussion.
So, starting with Jordan Brandt. So Jordan is a technology futurist over at Autodesk. And although your educational background is in architectural design, you kind of trended your professional roles towards entrepreneurship and engineering. And he believes a design education is a great foundation and wishes that designers were as creative with their career paths as they are with their work. I like that, actually.
And then we have David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University; Reid Genauer, chief marketing officer at Magisto; Alex Ljung, founder and CEO of SoundCloud; and John Maeda, who is the president of RISD, and in full disclosure, kind of my boss because he’s on the board of Quirky.
Brandt: Can I make a comment, that if anyone evidently wants to participate in a creativity panel in the future, you better wear glasses. Is that a prerequisite?
Lorenzo: I think it was, yes.
Genauer: And nice ones at that.
Lorenzo: I’m going to start some questions. Jordan, I’ll start with you.
So, Autodesk is investing a lot in the collaborative platform. You told me that’s what brought you to Autodesk. What are you seeing as successes and failures? And do you think that collaboration tools are driving creativity or just exposing it, or really it has no play?
Brandt: I think they can help to accelerate it. The foundation or the inception of the creativity is still this ineffable thing, but when it’s right there, the right platform can help to accelerate that creativity.
In terms of determining the successes and failures, one metric that we use, and even as a startup in developing a cloud 3D collaboration platform, a metric that we used for success was the number of design iterations that the designers using the platform would go with their peers, with their colleagues.
We are focused on kind of architectural and building design, building big things. So you need a big team to do that. You have the architects, you have the structural engineers, you have the people worrying about the lighting and heating and air conditioning, all this stuff. And typically they would go through one to two designs every week and make those iterations, because it’s really challenging to keep everyone in the loop on those changes and make it collaborative.
What we found is that when they were successful in doing it, they went through not a few more or a dozen more; they went through a few hundred more, literally 100 to 200 iterations per week. So that tells me that if you give people the tools to do that, then they’ll take it and run.
Then you can accelerate the process. And ultimately, the goal is to have a finalized solution for whatever problem they’re trying to solve. And if you can achieve that solution more quickly, I would assume is a better thing.
Lorenzo: John, I’m going to jump over to you. How does it impact design education, like this whole concept of collaborative design and crowds; or does it?
Maeda: Well, it asks the question who the authority is, first of all.
But, secondly, as I was saying in the green room, if you think about it, RISD is a crowd. There’s a lot of people there, there’s 2,500 students. When I was at the Media Lab it was a crowd as well of 100 students. So I think when you have a good quality crowd, you get a good quality community. That’s the number one thing we’re looking for all the time.
Lorenzo: Reid, for you, I mean, I kind of love what you do. People think of music as being so creative. Is this hindering the creativity in music? Is it exposing it? Are your users less creative because of what you do?
What are you seeing?
Genauer: Right. So I should say I’m the CMO of Magisto, which is a video platform, and then I’m also a professional musician. So in the music community, I think really in terms of exposing creativity, technology has been amazing. Right?
Because when I started making records it cost $10,000, $20,000 just to get in and make a recording. And these days it costs nothing if you have an iPad or a MacBook. So there are all these people who have musical creativity, and I think the same is true across fields that can express themselves today that couldn’t.
And then, you know, the question comes around that is like, blogging. Well, what is the quality that’s coming out? And I think that’s a separate conversation. Because one is about like sort of the volume of output, and then the other is, well, how good are the tunes that are being made?
And you know, if somebody is exceptionally creative and would have been a successful musician anyhow, how is that impacting them? I think there’s a variety of ways to look at it.
And clearly something is lost, right. When I listen to the records of the 1970s, Van, you know Big Pink, James Taylor records, there is a sense of humanity, a sense of place, a warmth to them that is largely lost. And in part it’s because, you know, it’s a machine these days more than a person. You know, it’s not analog.
And with analog you had one shot or two shots or three shots. And if there were a flub in a drum fill but it was the best take, you kept it. And that gave it, you know, human charm.
Whereas, today, the snare is on the one for every hit, because if it’s not, the engineer fixes it. And then it winds up sounding mechanical.
But, having said that, I made a record a couple years ago with Richie Havens and Bela Fleck and David Grisman, sort of all these great musicians’ musicians, half of which I never met.
So we tracked the basic tracks, we sent them the files, and they did their recordings in some cases in hotel rooms. And this composition came back of many, many musicians across the United States. And for me, you know, like, I don’t know what the next 20 years holds. But if I die tomorrow, I would want to be buried with that album in my hand. And it wouldn’t have happened without technology.
Lorenzo: Great. Continuing.
So David, you know, we’ve been obsessed, right—we have, we talked about this—with creativity and gigantic energy and effort has been spent over the last 100 years. Insofar as we can isolate the source of creativity, it’s the invention of new analogies.
Should we be focused on software? Should software help us there? I know you talk a lot about this. It’s kind of near and dear to your heart, so—
Gelernter: Right. I think software could help us. I think ironically, it could only help us if it was a lot more creative than any software I know of today. And creative, not in the sense as explicitly forwarding creativity, was built in a more interesting way.
But when I think of creativity, I think fundamentally, as you were saying, it’s a matter of personality. To be creative is a personality quirk that some people have. At the university, at most universities, I find there is a fairly fixed proportion of people that I can expect to be creative.
An ensemble has its own creativity, has its own personality. If I think of the Beatles or the Budapest Quartet or the New York Philharmonic, Better Moments, or Yale University, I’m thinking of the personality of the group, and I want to know in what way can I encourage the personality group of the group itself to express itself, because it may be more than the sum of the parts. It may be an emerging system, if I’m lucky.
On the other hand, people are scared to death of creativity. The role of a university is to stomp it out. When people hear a creative idea, they are, by definition, scared. Because they say, “This is not the way I’m used to doing things. I don’t know where the hell you’re coming from. Go away.”
Which is why, from my point of view, the most valuable of all personalities is creativity. Not the ones with creative ideas, but the ones who, despite not being creative themselves, are generous enough to want to foster creative ideas. Those are the people on whom the community depends. I wish I knew how to get more.
Lorenzo: We’ll go back to some of those. It’s great stuff.
Alex, so are good ideas being put on the back burner. Are people less creative or do they have the ability to be more creative, because now they’re getting instant feedback, right? Because it’s constant.
What you think? What are you seeing?
Ljung: I think right now we’re at the most exciting time that we’ve ever been in throughout history, if we think about creativity. And I think we’re heading to a place that’s even more interesting than it is today.
I think there’s a lot of different reasons for it. We touched on a couple of things here. I think of, you know, creativity in general is—I haven’t thought it through that much, but for me it’s a lot about, like, personal confidence.
Creativity is about being confident, about going out there with an idea of something being slightly different than before and taking a stand for it. So I would argue that all people have a fairly large degree of creativity, but different people have different levels of confidence and how they actually put it out there.
And putting that into the context of sort of music and what happens there, I like to think of the silly thing that a friend and I did back at university, where we spent a lot of time building strange things, and one of the things we built was a musical instrument that looked like a ping-pong table. And why we did that and the whole reason for it was that we felt that music and musical instruments in particular had gotten to a point where they were not encouraging people to use them.
The interfaces of an instrument are very hard. Like to pick up a guitar, it’s very threatening to a lot of people, and that inhibits people from getting into a place where they can make music.
A ping-pong table isn’t very threatening. So it was a very simple experiment of getting people into an environment where they felt more safe to be able to create. The point of that was when you do that, I haven’t seen a single person ever that hasn’t enjoyed being in that moment and creating something, and creating. In my case, mainly looking at people creating in music.
So the point of that is that, to your point, getting to somewhere in the world where the tools for creating in music or anything else are as simple as possible. That in itself, without even worrying about the output, the volume, the quality, the velocity, anything like that, is something that’s worth pursuing simply because there’s too few people in the world who have that feeling of how great it is to create in music.
That’s a very exciting thing. We’ve seen that with SoundCloud in just the amount of people who are creating stuff. It’s mind blowing how fast it’s going.
The second piece is then sort of what gets created. I think that the Web—so the Internet in general makes it easier for people to collaborate in many different ways. And collaborations and having groups like that can help people also get the confidence to create a share. And one of the beautiful things about the Web in general is that, in the same way that everybody who creates has a great experience around that, people who dare to share online tend to have a good experience out of that as well.
I don’t know how many people I know that created something that they didn’t think was that great, and they put it up, and all of a sudden there’s somebody on the other side of the world commenting on that saying something very meaningful to them and having a great experience around that. We see that at SoundCloud all the time as well.
So I think all of those things, making it easier to create, making more environments where people are encouraged to create, the scale of the Internet allowing people to feel like it’s meaningful, all of those are dramatically good things.
The last piece is, I do believe that the more people are involved in creation, the more interesting output we get. I don’t believe in sort of the idea of keeping creative tools only to the small set of people. I think it should be as broad as possible.
Gelernter: I hear from all sorts of people how great it is to encourage large numbers of people to be creative. I think it’s a double-edged sword at best. I think at worst you are doing them tremendous damage.
I would much rather learn how to value people who are completely and totally uncreative than to take somebody who is uncreative and give him the impression that by learning or trying or doing something or other, he can become creative.
I don’t know of anybody who has ever learned to be creative. I know people who have enhanced their creativity in some ways, but I think we need to be more realistic. We’re not going to get more creative output simply by increasing the number of people who have access to tools. And we do run the risk of having people who would learn to be technicians and thereby contribute enormously by way of the skills they master, and are, instead, using their time in exercises that they believe to be creative, that ultimately will not produce work of value.
Maeda: Just what Alex was saying about confidence. I was scribbling, because you made me think about how, when you have confidence, it comes from two places. It comes from either having courage or being audacious. And being audacious is a wonderful thing.
I thought about this a long time, for a long time being the president. I became president because I read “The Audacity of Hope.” I thought, “Ah, audaciousness.” And I read something about how Japanese samurai contextualize the idea of courage. And courage is knowing what you’re getting into. And so I think of courage as you know about it; audacity as you don’t know about it. Audacity usually comes from youth who—“I have no idea what the tradition is, but I don’t care.”
Whereas courage is, “I know exactly why I can’t do this, but I’m going to go in and do it.”
I wrote a piece with my colleague Becky Bermont on startups versus endups. So endups being developed corporations. Endups can’t do so many things; startups can. But startups become endups when they’re successful.
Lorenzo: I want to get back to you in a second, David, some of your comments. But I’m just kind of curious. How many people use community tools or are out there, put ideas out, or are involved at all? Yeah.
I would love to hear from some of you why, and what interests you, and why you’re solved in that. Do you want to talk about it?
Scott: I’m Tony Scott from VMware.
I think some things lend themselves to a group collaboration thing where you do get interesting ideas, and then there are other things that don’t.
So I used to work at General Motors, and one of the things that we discovered along the way was, if you ask a lot of people about what they want in a car, you’ll get a dull, bland thing that, you know, offends nobody but also excites no one, as well. You know. It’s not interesting, and you won’t sell many.
And so there’s a point at which you get the right number of people involved, and you get edgy and creative, to use the word, and it’s exciting. And it takes more than one person to do a good design of a vehicle, as an example. But, you know, 50,000 people, probably not. You know.
And so I think for any given task there’s a number or some critical point where you say a community of a certain number might do well at this. And then beyond that, there’s just, you know, the law of big numbers takes really all the fun out of it. That’s my experience.
Lorenzo: You know, I have this great viewpoint. I love the community because it brings lots of ideas. But I do believe after spending many, many years doing this, that design or creativity is actually—to get a finished product out the door, it’s not a democracy. So you actually have to have somebody as the final say.
So what you get is a lot of ideas and part of it is shifting through the ideas. And somebody is going to make a decision on what are good ideas or not good ideas, to get the final say. What it does give you is access to lots of ideas you might have not had. So there’s some ah-hah moments.
This is, again, just my opinion watching this. I think, you know, when they talk about the democratization of design, which kind of makes my stomach crawl, it just turns, makes me ill. Because you do, you get this bland nothing. Right.
I don’t know, anybody—
Brandt: Well, a thousand good ideas put together doesn’t make a better idea.
Lorenzo: Right. That’s my point of view.
I know you had a comment, too.
Lewin: I’m Dan’l Lewin. I’m with Microsoft now. I did a lot of startup-y things a long time ago.
In my experience a lot of the framework for creativity that really wins is to have a set of constraints, as perhaps you were suggesting. It’s nice to get a lot of ideas, but someone has to build the framework within which there are the constraints of how you operate, whether it’s time or money or materials or things of that ilk.
So there is an important point in the process to take ideas in, for sure. But then there’s moments in time along the timeline where you have to impose those constraints.
And, for example, I spent time working on the team that built the Macintosh and things like that. So there’s always a timeline and a process that you have to adhere to, and it’s often time and money; it’s not just great ideas.
Lorenzo: I agree. Comment?
Ljung: They don’t have to go against each other. You can have a widespread community. You can have democratization of the tools. Many more people can use the tools and know how to use them. That doesn’t mean that you need to have a vacuum of direction in any given project.
I would love for everybody in this room to be able to create music. If I’m going to go and produce an album, I’m not going to invite you to have a part in that.
But there’s almost one set, which on a macro level is about people learning the tools. Learning the tools is a lot about them learning the trade, which I think is good, generally. And there is a second piece, which is about, you know, work practices and getting things done.
And, there, a large community with no direction, I think, is extremely inefficient. And you can go on being very naive about all the openness and the free flow of ideas and all this beautiful stuff. But generally it tends to be very slow and doesn’t function that well if it doesn’t have clear direction.
And then the last part is the output of it. And there I just find it interesting that people sometimes are scared of the fact of having more people create output. That’s something challenging to sort of the good quality stuff out there.
Gelernter: I think that if you are a creative person—I’m not disagreeing, but I think if you are a creative person, the obstacles you face are some of the most valuable things in your life.
I think the Web idea of making it easier to put your work before the public is going to increase gross creativity in the world is a delusion. Those who have something to say and want to say it badly enough will always get out there. And if they don’t have the discipline to do it, I’m not sure that they really care enough.
Ljung: But this is the thing. Those people will do it anyway. I think a lot of people are creative. I will enjoy the creative output of a smaller amount of people, but there’s value in people being engaged in the creative activity.
So, as an example, 1,000 people creating remixes doesn’t challenge the greatness of the Beatles. They are still as great, and they will find their way out anyway. But there’s a lot of other people that could find enjoyment in the work and that may actually create something great there as well.
So I feel like there’s no tension between the two. There’s no challenge between the two.
Brandt: We don’t need to form an artificial dichotomy. It’s not an “us and them.” It’s a scale that people fall along. Just like any talent. And you have more creative people and you have less creative people.
What we find, and obviously we cater and provide technology for those creative types historically, and now we’re getting into this world of the consumer market where maybe people have this latent creativity, but they weren’t the person who came and said, “I want to be an architect or I want to be a painter.”
They decided to be a banker, and now we want to unleash what they can do, whatever is still floating around in their head.
So there are types that can do the blank canvas problem. You give them a blank sheet of paper, and they can go to town with it. That is the creative person’s best tool in the world. So you try to create a technology that will enable them to do that and make the technology disappear.
And then there’s others that we find need a starting point. They are not the fundamental creative type, and they wouldn’t know what to do with a blank sheet of paper, other than, I don’t know, write a note on it.
So you have to realize that there’s both sides. Some people need a start, a spark, and I like the idea of them participating. This is a good thing that they’re going to create and potentially make something out of it. So we should encourage it. People aren’t necessarily one or the other.
Lorenzo: I’m going to get to the audience. I want to throw out something to you, David, because I actually believe everyone is creative in different ways. I’m certainly not an architect. I’m not creative in that. My creativity—what I’m creative in is I figured out how art and commerce intersect and you can actually make money out of it. That’s my creative streak.
But I can’t do other things. I’m a terrible cook and I’m really a lousy artist. But there are other people that are really good at that. So I think we are all creative. That is just my premise.
Maeda: John Gardner wrote this book called “Excellence.” I love how he framed it. He was talking about America, but how he framed it. He said in America we love this idea of equality, and we love the idea of excellence. But those two concepts work against each other.
So is a RISD designer better than a non-trained one? Yes, but they are both still creative. It just matters where you place the axis of excellence.
Gelernter: I think you’re absolutely right about there being a spectrum. I think we see too few spectra in the world. And unquestionably there’s a spectrum that reaches from zero creativity to Beethoven and Einstein, and there are very few people stuck at absolute zero. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a threshold beyond which, me, with my limited lifetime, with the number of seconds I have in my life, if you’re not more creative than X, creativity may be fine as a hobby for you. But it’s not going to make a contribution to my environment.
And there is a dichotomy of sorts in education in the sense that we can teach people technique, which increasingly they don’t want to learn; or we can teach them to maximize their individuality, which is what they always want to learn. And the fact is, the best way for them to maximize their individuality if they are one of 10,000 that really are creative, is to learn technique. To learn music theory, to learn how to play the piano, to learn what counterpoint is, to learn how to write Java code or how a computer works, or learn how to mix paints or learn how to draw.
I worry that by emphasizing the fundamental sanctity of creativity at the expense of mere skill, hard work, engineering, and technique, we are depriving people of learning how to do things that can be immensely rewarding, immensely important, immensely deep in the contribution they make, in exchange for something they’re never going to have enough horsepower to get anything out of.
And people always want—our students, being human beings, want to make things easy for themselves. They don’t want to learn how to do hard things. But if we don’t learn to do the hard things, we aren’t fulfilling our obligation to them; not only ours as educators, but the generation of students who we’re giving ideas to. I think we’re apt to hit on the creativity side of things too strongly, and technique not enough.
Genauer: So what you’re saying is what’s dangerous is the ethos that being productive or being creative should be easy; and that you shouldn’t take the time to learn your art, whether it’s coding or music.
And I think it comes down to context. I don’t disagree that that notion is somewhat destructive. But, again, to Alex’s point, I think that people who are born to be exceptionally creative and who are going to show up in MoMA and who are going to have hit singles are born that way, and they almost don’t have a choice. Right?
Like a lot of the great musicians I know are more or less incompetent in the rest of their lives, and it’s all they can do is to be creative. So to me, that is what they are going to do, whether they don’t make a dime.
And then there’s the rest of us, though, right, or … the rest of you. Ha ha.
But there’s the other set, right. And my buddy who’s a banker, he doesn’t aspire to be in MoMA and doesn’t aspire to be a rock star, but he wants to share his trip to New Orleans with his friends.
The example I keep coming to is Instagram, which I know is contentious, particularly around photographers. But you have to admit, it’s more enjoyable to look at an Instagram photo that’s been altered and enhanced that is more aesthetically pleasing than a snapshot of Rob in New Orleans.
Milani: Nic Milani with Herman Miller. I think it’s a little bit of a side discussion, whether people should or shouldn’t be creative based on their capacity. I think it’s more beneficial to talk about enabling the tools to allow people’s creativity to come out.
So I think of it as two spectrums: One is an inability to be creative at all, and want to be Beethoven, David, as you argue. But on the other side, on the other axis, is the ability to have no tools. Whether that’s a physical impairment that I can’t manifest what is in my mind, to full capability where I have the ability to pick up any instrument and play it instantly.
What I think is interesting is, as we give people tools to enhance their ability, does it actually allow that creativity to come out in ways we’ve never seen it before?
I also think a lot in the next frontier of people that suffer from mental and physical illness. As we start to remove those barriers, through technology and otherwise, can we actually start to accentuate natural creativity we’ve never seen before? Food for thought.
Lorenzo: Any comments on that from the panel here?
Gelernter: We’ve had great tools for a thousand years. If you have to exercise your creativity, we have pencil and paper, which are really good. We have a wide variety of musical instruments that vary in difficulty of playing. We have the ability to speak to other value.
Tools are great, but the issue is learning how to use them.
Milani: Provided you have the physical ability to do those things. You think the pencil and paper is the simplest way, but if I can’t operate the pencil and paper to get my ideas out. What bothers me is we should be—
Gelernter: We should be teaching children, absolutely, how to use pencil and paper.
Milani: We confuse the ability to execute the creativity with being creative. There’s a difference there.
Brandt: So you’re saying there’s people out there with this thing that they just need to do, but they don’t know how to do that thing.
Brandt: We see a lot of this. And this is part of, you know, when it’s talking to—Connie, are you in here. Sorry, Caroline.
Actually, I talked to Connie after that about a similar thing. She was talking about this great example about these plates that you have, and you wanted some bowls. And you have the idea for what they need to be, since you actually put them in your dishwasher. And they don’t exist.
You’re sitting there saying, “Where are the tools? I have the idea. I can see it in my head.”
I don’t know if you’re a good sketcher or not, or if you’re adept with CAD tools. But that might be an example of someone who has an idea and needs the means to get it out. Maybe in your vernacular they need the technique to actually realize that idea.
And I think there are, that’s pretty common out there. How many people here have an idea that, if they could push “go” and the idea would come out the other side, would you do it?
Gelernter: That’s part of what we accomplish in the world of creativity. When you think of the painter who—some painters are gifted with extraordinary technique. You think of Leonardo, you think of Picasso. Some painters struggle their whole lives. You think of Van Gogh, you think of Cezanne. They lack the eye, you think of John Cametti, they lack the eye. But it’s good that nobody ever made it easy for them, because their struggle to express what they’ve got in their head, part of their art. We don’t want to make it go away. It’s part of their personality.
It’s absolutely true, some people have more techniques and creativity. Some people have it the other way. Some have a perfect balance. But human personality works out well that way. And I don’t see that we’re in need of doing anything new, except making sure that people get to work and study the tools around them. So that if they do have something, they can learn how to do them, rather than relying on software to do it for them.
Genauer: Here is an example where I think about this a lot in the context of Magisto. We’re a social app for enhancing video and sharing it with people you know and care about.
And so, you know, we’ve created this efficiency in communications, right, Facebook, and SMS and all this stuff. So we’re managing these larger networks of people, and I know you think a lot about emotion and the impact of emotion on technology and on creativity. And so what we’ve done is we’ve created these really shallow interactions. We’ve used technology to enable ourselves to manage, you know, big communities of shallow interactions.
And what interests me in the context of what I’m doing at work is how do we use technology to add depth to those same relationships without having to, you know, contract them. Because the reality is they exist, right. They’re out there. So how would you respond to that?
Gelernter: That’s a great question, and it was a deep question. If you look at the way younger students, graduate students, undergraduates, high school students, students use the Web nowadays. I mean, the Web was always a tool to shorten attention spans. The whole point of the Web was the very microsecond you get bored, push a button and you’re somewhere else.
So you couldn’t design a better way to reduce people’s ability to do any kind of deep thinking, because you’re encouraging them. There’s always a more beautiful, fascinating, wonderful, funny, exciting something, interesting interchange on the next page. So just keep going.
It’s a very good question. I think it’s the central question of the Web. How do we take this enormously powerful technology and use it in such a way that, instead of increasing superficiality—so I have undergraduates at Yale who I think are as smart as any undergraduates at any college in the country, who never read a book and whose ignorance is absolutely staggering. And they know about it.
I mean, the sad thing is, they worked very hard at getting educated, and their parents worked on them, and often their parents have spent a billion dollars, and they’ve learned nothing. And they know it.
So growing up in this wonderful Internet age, we’ve succeeded in producing the most ignorant generation of young people I think in modern history. And the question is, how can we turn this superficiality engine, this international gossip machine, into something that increases depth instead of superficiality? Deep question.
Lorenzo: John, you had a comment.
Maeda: I wish I were David. What is your name, the person that asked the question from Herman Miller?
Milani: Nic Milani.
Maeda: Nic Milani.
When you said, “Being creative versus executing creativity,” I thought that kind of nailed the frame. I want to note that. That’s all.
Lorenzo: Let’s get one more question then we’ll go back. David, that was great stuff.
Callagy: Louise Callagy from Net Power & Light. I wonder if the context for the conversation should be more around the creativity process as an ecosystem. Because while skills/talent is remarkably noticeable in any creative endeavor, especially in the outputs that we see in life and society every day, the burgeoning of people being able to contribute in various ways also helps the creative process, even which people who are super talented out there.
So the point about being open to ideas, so 90 ideas together don’t make a good idea. But out of 90 or 150 ideas could come a spark that could make one idea so much better.
So I just wonder if people look at the ecosystem at all and this vast open world where according to creativity theorists, creativity is about being more open and looking at more and the world of inspiration.
So you know, it seems like there’s almost an impression that there’s a divide, like we the talented slash we the creative versus all you mignons out there who really aren’t creative. I totally agree that some people are creative and some people aren’t. But you just don’t know where the spark is going to come from. I just wondered if anyone had anything to say.
Lorenzo: Comments about that?
Brandt: I think everyone has the ability to ask a question that can spark creativity and define a problem. Let’s hypothesize, this actually kind of works back into adding depth and can technology potentially provide depth.
Let’s say there is a problem that you’re trying to solve, and you wouldn’t be considered a creative person, and maybe you don’t have the techniques or tools available to you. But let’s say you can define a problem and define it well enough to give to a machine that can start to give you options of solutions.
And we will call you the best out of a billion, and you interact with this and say these are the options that I like. Those options then go and mate and breed and create progeny that are improving, just the way that nature works.
Would this possibly add depth and also give access to people who traditionally don’t use those kind of tools or use design tools?
Maeda: I think your point is good. And also when David said earlier and he said again, “Real innovation is a personality disorder,” the reason why that’s an important comment is you said “ecosystem.” And unless you have an ecosystem that enables people to have audacity and courage, the ability to fail, the personality disorder is squelched and killed.
So I think that that ecosystem comment you made is so critical. And this tolerance to this disorder is part of why America is such a cool country.
Lorenzo: Alex, I know you had a comment. We will get back to—
Ljung: It’s simple. I’m a big fan of pen and paper. I especially like the battery life of both, really great.
The other ridiculous comments. Like, just in context, why—it’s an old argument—but why is it that every old generation always thinks that the new generation is ignorant, stupid, can’t do anything right?
So I sort of keep that in mind.
Also, the same thing goes with pop culture and music. Like, every new defining musical creature is never seen as being good quality at the time. Take Beethoven, take anybody. They are always seen as being crazy and not very talented, at the time. So I would kind of keep that in mind when we’re saying there is no depth in what is happening out there. I think depth is important.
What is not less important is scale. One of the most amazing, beautiful things about what is going on with the Web today is that we can do things of tremendous scale that we couldn’t even imagine before. We reach over a quarter of a billion people every single month, and we are a company of about 200 people. It’s incredible leverage. And that is impactful for all of those people, every single month.
So scale is important. It’s not just about depth. Depth is important as well. We haven’t necessarily figured out everything there, but bashing scale in order to try and get to depth is not making things progress faster; it’s making things progress slower.
Genauer: I would agree with you. To me, it’s not a question about scale or depth. Because the scale is there, you know. It’s out of the box.
So the question is how do you add depth back into the conversation, given that you have scale. And I think there’s a variety of ways that we, you know, that we answer that question. One is by providing people tools. So the fact that, you know, your platform is allowing musicians to distribute music that, in many cases has some artistic value into the conversation, into the social web, adds a layer of depth.
Now, is it the layer of depth that Beethoven provided? No. But it adds a layer of depth. I think Instagram provides a layer of depth.
From a functionality point of view, I agree with what David said. Because I think modern education does tend to squelch creativity. How are you going to make a living being a poet? You’re not. You’re going to starve.
The fact that there were conversations earlier in the week about MOOCs and there were tools out there that were accessible to everybody like Pro Tools, and the fact that we can discover our own creativity, you know, on our own, in the face of an ecosystem that’s sort of deters it, is another way that we add depth.
So for me, right, the reason I am the CMO of a technology company is because I was afraid of being an artist, and I just felt exposed, and this was a way of managing risk. I gravitated towards something that had creativity, you know, that had elements of what I liked about being a musician. But it’s through technology that I’ve been able to, you know, feed that creative self and to maintain an audience over two decades, right?
It’s just because—it’s only because of technology that that’s happened.
Gelernter: I think it’s interesting you should mention the environment in which we encourage versus discourage young artists or potential artists to pursue art as opposed to something else.
Speaking from what I can see at Yale, we’re the most mercenary generation in a very long time. What we tell our students is that we want them to start and run technology companies and make lots and lots of money right away.
There is no spiritual subtext at Yale. Art has lost its significance because religion has lost its significance, because spiritual values in general are missing. They are not there. So what are our gods supposed to do? They’re supposed to be powerful and rich. That’s what we tell them, explicitly.
You couldn’t ask for a better environment for suppressing creativity.
Genauer: Right. But that’s a reality, though, right.
One option is change the system. It doesn’t have to be that. I agree, it’s difficult to change an entire ethos or archetype. The other is to accept the reality and say, “Given that this is the reality, how do we allow people to explore their creativity while going out to be moguls or whatever?”
Maeda: I want to go with the ecosystem comment over here, because the thing you said just now was like picking up a car and throwing it upside down. I really appreciate that. It was done in a very subtle way, so it was nice.
This notion that whatever generation you want to call it values depth because that’s a thing, and the notion that millennials, et cetera, the generation, values breadth is a real powerful one. Because the breadth wasn’t a palpable material medium to create and work with.
Lorenzo: We didn’t have breadth.
Maeda: But your generation can use scale as a medium. And in that scale you’re finding something that’s as deep as anything else out there. So I appreciate that.
Ljung: And I think a very practical example of what that leads to, going back to the world of music, you look at the kind of music that’s being created today, and one thing that defines it more than anything else I think is the cross-blending of influences, artists collaboration and cross-blending of genres, remixing, mash-ups, all of the stuff.
And that comes partly from the immediacy of lots of different influences and the breadth and being able to pull that into something completely new.
Maeda: But you’re showing us that the ecosystem has changed. I thought that was really cool.
Lorenzo: Also, this generalization, and I’ve heard this now, going through several generations, and they always talk about this entitlement. Maybe those of us who grew up years ago maybe we felt entitled, too. I know my father was always screaming about my brother’s long hair in the ’60s, or whatever.
That’s part of this. I have worked for years, and today currently everybody at Quirky is pretty much a millennial. They are the most passionate, dedicated group of people. I don’t think anybody—you know, they’re not there for money. They are there to do something great. They’re there because they really, you know, it’s not driven—it’s not like everybody is paid exceptionally well and there’s all these perks. They work really hard, and they want—the biggest excitement they get is when something is great. They get a great product out in the marketplace and they see the fruits of their success. That’s what drives them. It’s about creating something really terrific. So in defense a little bit—
Gelernter: The people we’ve given them for heroes are all billionaires.
Lorenzo: I don’t think so. They are sometimes artists or creative people. I don’t think it’s all about money.
I’ve seen a lot of them, they don’t go in there asking for big amounts of money. They don’t know anything about stock options. They are not—they’re there because they have an optimism of wanting to change the world, and I don’t think—
Brandt: I guess you’re not getting the Yale grads, then.
Gelernter: I think we have to look at the kind of environment we’ve created for young people today. You have to—it’s true, it’s hard to change the entire environment, the entire society or ecosystem.
But you mentioned poetry. Poetry in the United States is dead today. When John Kennedy was inaugurated, Robert Frost read a poem. Frost was famous throughout the English speaking world. Every school child knew his poems, knew some of them by heart.
Every school child had heard of a living painter. Everyone knew who Picasso was, and many people knew who Chagall and Matisse were. Everybody had heard of a classical musician. Leonard Bernstein was—now, they’ve heard of different people today. It’s not that their brains are occupied with a vacuous emptiness. But we have to take responsibility for the people we’ve set up as heroes.
I think we’ve done a lousy job. When I see millennials today, it’s certainly not that I don’t see bright, talented, dedicated, talented people who want to work hard. It’s just that they have no goals—we haven’t taught them goals that are in line with their skills.
I think there are a few areas that are slightly different. I think of all the arts, architecture is the only one that’s thriving today. But I think on the whole we are seeing these wonderful millennials who will work hard—for what? Because we’re embarrassed. We’re embarrassed to talk about spiritual things. We are embarrassed to talk about truth and beauty and goodness and depth. Certainly Yale doesn’t want to utter such things.
Brandt: You know, I can’t speak to the ethical component of what is driving them and is there substance to what they are doing, but I can say again back to an idea of technology as accelerator, whatever it is they are doing, they can do it faster now.
You think about kids and Minecraft, which I think is beautiful. There’s no goal in the game other than to build shit. How cool is that? Every kid now has an infinite set of Lego blocks.
Like back when I was making the track for the Hot Wheels and I needed the robot and he had a third arm and I ran out of those Lego blocks, they don’t have that problem anymore.
You see them jumping into this without fear, which is cool. They don’t have that feat impediment. This maybe goes back to the courage our audaciousness. Have you guys been to Maker Faire before? Is everyone familiar with Maker Faire? Maker Faire New York, we had a booth and we had like four iPads set up with a digital clay application. So you start off with a block of clay or you start off with an animal, and you can shape it and everything else.
And I love Maker Faire because it’s like “come out of the closet nerd day.” You know, all the parents come out and they’ve got their Star Trek shirts on and stuff, with their kids there. And they come up and approach us, and the kids just run to it and start going to town.
The parents are like touching—they are afraid.
Lorenzo: The parents are more hesitant. They’re a little more scared.
Brandt: They are totally afraid they’re going to break it. By the time the kid has done three iterations, the parent has made their first line, so there, that’s telling.
I can’t speak to what they’re doing is good. I think it is just because they’re doing. But they’re definitely doing it faster and with more audacity.
Lorenzo: I’m just going to take it back out. I know there’s somebody back there that had a comment.
Devanney: John Devanney from Moment.
I think, you know, we have a lot of young kids coming out of school, joining us to design digital things, and we don’t—I don’t worry at all about them not having goals or not having heroes in design or in art or creativity. It’s like you said before. If they have the need to get it out there, they will get it out there and find ways to do it. What I think is cool today about the Internet and the level of discovery and the breadth and different places, they can go and start applying it.
Also back to the issue of tools. For every tool there is a new technique or new thing that can come out. You talked about pen and paper. But these things would have been really hard to design with just pen and paper.
But what the guys at Herman Miller, and I believe you did with 3D and with modeling and if you come up with some really cool stuff, that’s adding depth in that way, and sort of generation of one chair to a next, old design problem with new ideas.
So I think that’s an issue to look at with the tools. Like where can we go that we couldn’t go before?
Brandt: And the ability for people to make their own tools. You think about da Vinci, making his own paint and mixing his own pigments. They should be able to design their own tool set. Maybe they take something to start with, they hack it, they tear it apart, they recombine it, reprogram it, so that you can take stuff that’s offered in the market and you say, “You know what? I need to tweak this thing to make it work the way I want to.”
Lorenzo: Alex, that’s kind of what you’re doing in your business, too. It was a very linear process, right. You record in instruments, very linear, that’s what you described, John.
In terms of Reid, you went in and recorded the albums in analog days. Now it’s different. Now we can mash it up. That technology didn’t exist before. It’s our opinion whether we like it or not, or it’s our opinion whether Beethoven or Jay Z—
Lorenzo: I was talking to one of the kids at Quirky the other day, and I said, “Who is your musical hero?” And it was Jay Z. Now, is that a bad thing?
I mean, Jay Z is a genius in terms of what he’s doing.
Gelernter: Compared to what?
Lorenzo: We’re comparing him to Beethoven. In 50 years will we look back and say Jay Z is a hero, as we look back and say Beethoven is a hero? It’s just an opinion on what we feel.
Gelernter: All of art is only an opinion. All of subjective reality is subjective. It’s no less real for being purely subjective.
Coughlin: Bill Coughlin from Ford. You’ve talked about tools enabling people to be creative, bring that out of them. The education system, is it helping or hurting? And the ecosystem needs to be supportive.
Most of us work in teams, and frankly, I could care less if Sally or Bob, on an individual basis, is the most creative they can be. I want the team to be creative to bring a result that we can, you know, produce and consumers will appreciate.
And I was just curious if the panel has any advice for, you know, people like us who might want to create a process that will enable the creativity in a group that’s trying to solve a problem.
Lorenzo: I’m happy to jump on that one first and talk about that.
I think what you can do with team-based approaches, that’s where you’re going to generate the ideas. But at the end of the day, it comes back to what I said. There needs to be someone that is going to take that and drive it. Team-based creativity, it’s what we’re talking about from a collaboration standpoint, it’s very good about driving ideas. It’s very good about seeing where people feel things are moving. So when you get a lot of team-based people together, you begin to see patterns, which is important.
Because that’s the insights you’re going to get to make that final decision on where the idea is going to take you. But you’ve got to choose the one idea. And I’ve seen more companies in my previous life—I ran a pretty large consultancy for a long time, and so I was able to go into lots of organizations, and I’ve seen lots of organizations crash because they try to do—democratize this. And it’s just not.
My two cents. I don’t know if you guys have any …
Gelernter: Team-based creativity is a fascinating, challenging question, because experimental psychology doesn’t know terribly many things. But one of the things it does know is that creativity in the intellectual are conceptual, as opposed to visual and musical sense.
Originates in the invention of new analogies, “restructuring,” psychologists call it. When you’re the first person to compare those two things that nobody has ever compared before, you have the basis for creative thought. And we know that a free association, albeit largely unconscious, is what stands behind the process that supports human creativity.
I would love to know whether I could get a team of people free associating as if it were an individual in a sense, so that I make an entirely fresh set of associations and X possibilities available because a spark here lights a spark there. I think that would be fascinating.
Whenever I think about it, I also have to concede, though, that in a sense, breadth will always be the enemy of depth. And the more connected I am, the more superficial I am. Because the less time I have to think about myself or one problem or the thing right in front of me or the person right in front of me. So we need a balance.
I see what team education has done to primary school education, which is—
Brandt: Where is team education happening? Because this is the one critique that I would have, at least from my own experience. In architecture school, their metric for success is how many rock stars can they get out of this class. And if you go to Harvard Design School, if they get one or two rock stars per class, they succeeded. What about the other 299 unemployed architects they brought out of there.
I haven’t seen that, and that was my past. Where is collaborative team education happening, is it happening?
Genauer: I’m scared to say this, but I think it happens in business school. I went to business school. I knew I was setting myself up.
But they actually throw you into a team, right, from day one. I came out of a tour bus into business school, literally like rolled out, guitar in hand. They kind of kicked me out, and I did a duck and roll.
Ljung: I did the same thing.
Genauer: I would have failed miserably without my team, who supported me. There are certainly things that you can critique about business school, but that’s one where they teach a lot about team dynamics.
Gelernter: I can say something even more unpopular than that. Team education used to be done in this country in the military, in the draft. They were thrown together and at least in a simulated case, their lives depended on one another. They had to work together or they died, or they were hurt.
We have divorced military and anything military like from our society, but that was the kind of training that built teams.
Ljung: We’ve kind of like—we’re kind of at this place, right, where all we’ve known, sort of historically, where we’ve had knowledge around how to work together, has been in this more military style, very top-down kind of organizational structure, or societal structure, any kind of group structure.
We’ve sort of gone on the journey of saying, “Well, that’s not necessarily what we want anymore. We don’t think that that necessarily always provides the best result.” Yet we haven’t learned how to collaborate as groups in a less structured way.
I think that comes down to the point of where is that happening today. I think a lot of people are trying to figure that out. We’re definitely trying to figure that out within our startup, how do we get that? What is the best sort of mode of collaboration where we keep the creative innovation that’s there from the start, but to have some structure around it as well? To be honest, I don’t think any of us know how to do that at scale yet.
Milani: Maybe just a different perspective on this. Nic Milani again, Herman Miller. Not talk about it not as an elitist group of folks that are highly educated in this room. Let’s think about it as the world and the 6 billion people that live here. Let’s presuppose that there is a certain number of people that are either creative or not. Then isn’t the goal of the tools of scale to find as many of the creators in the world and bring them up through the system so we can exercise their talents.
I think about each of the panelists and I think about scale. So I think about the folks that represent a university, you may have the ability to touch thousands or tens of thousands of people. Autodesk, provided you have a PC and a nice license to that software, you may be touching hundreds of thousands of people.
Brandt: 130 million.
Milani: Okay, 130 million. But we think about Internet-based software, and we think about collaborative tools that are based on the Web, all the sudden that starts to go up another order of magnitude.
I just wonder what impact that has and if you guys are thinking about that in your businesses. Having traveled every continent in the world and seeing how the other folks live, how do we get the creatives out of those areas, as well?
Brandt: Actually, this is a great point.
The case of Autodesk is a good one. So Autodesk is 30 years old or so, and there’s some people in the audience—if I get my facts wrong, just yell at me. We have about 15 million professional users who pay us license fees to use it. Architects, engineers, designers.
A few years ago we launched the consumer team, which is offering the free apps, you know, things like Tinker CAD and 123D Sketch and the sculpt tools that are free to use.
We’re now at 130 to 150 million, in that short a period of time. Now of course, not all of those people are paying, so that’s a challenge, how do you monetize that as a business?
But it does speak to the fact that if you make it available, they will come.
Lorenzo: They will come to it, yeah.
Let’s go right out there, and then John, we’ll get to you.
Batson: I’m Paula Batson from Magisto, I work with Reid. And I have a question, going back to what David said about spirituality.
I wonder about, you know, the aspect of teaching people about the generosity that’s needed in creativity. And when I think of artists, you know, creating in the past, you know, they created for God. You know, those are the cathedrals, those are the symphonies.
So how does one, you know, teach or demonstrate that part of creativity is this higher order and a generosity. Because if creativity is something that, so you can get a record on the charts, does that mean as much as somebody who is making something for eternity?
Lorenzo: Is it making something for eternity, or is it doing good?
I know in the design world, the majority of people—and John, you can probably talk to this, too. The majority of these people want to do good. Inherent is they want to help.
You know, I’ve been working with a young designer who has the most incredible disaster housing system. It was borne out of living in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina. Now he’s trying to get that into the market.
It’s not about making money as much as it really can help. When you look at what happened in the Philippines, I got a phone call at six o’clock this morning where he said, “You know, 50,000 of those should be on a plane right now and be out there.”
There are so many. I sat in yesterday with the design team at Quirky, and the first question—I was going to introduce myself, because I’m fairly new there—and the first question was, “What are we going to do about doing good?”
So I think people are driven by that, and part of this is giving them the tools and the ability to go out. And now we have a broader swath to be able to do that through some of these collaboration tools. And seeing where—what we need most in the world and where to go help.
I don’t know. John?
Maeda: I have thoughts to add. One thought was how when I was in Japan in the late ’80s, and software was going everywhere, and everyone could code. I remember there was always a thing about how Japanese people aren’t creative; therefore they can’t write good code. That was a thing. And I noticed that the best Japanese programmers could all read English really well. Because programming is in English.
Print App, all these things are in English. That’s one thing I’ve always come back to from decades ago now.
The other one is one that David said. Software can help us get more creative if it gets more creative than it is today.
Software is limitation. The social media systems that have been built by primarily technologists who don’t do the job of community building, and how easy it is to make instance or GitHub and get your own version and build on top it. Those are all pieces of culture that we tend to think solve so many problems. But they’re primarily from a techno-centric, Western-centric view. That always concerns me in this dialogue around creativity and tools, because it’s deep in the plumbing, and we have to start to see it.
Gelernter: That’s a tremendously important point. Look who builds the software. There are people who are technically gifted, for the most part, and from my experience are spectacularly uncurious about the broader world of the arts and humanities. Of course, that doesn’t go for 100 percent of the cases.
But by and large, engineers are not the group program developers, software designers. There’re whole—there are whole huge areas of experience, they know nothing of it.
Tools are great, but they don’t replace intellectual discipline, mental discipline. This is a deep point, but in the West, great art exists because of religion, and to some extent, in explicit opposition to religion.
We would have no art without Judaism and Christianity. And it’s an open question whether art can continue to exist in a post Judeo-Christian environment. It certainly hasn’t shown that it can. I don’t know. The results are not in yet.
But I wish that we could get a different group of people in computer science departments and technology programs designing software, thinking about software, designing interfaces. Something I’ve talked at the university and other places about a lot. I wish we could get people to whom mathematics doesn’t come easily, to whom engineering doesn’t necessarily come easily, but who understand human beings better than the average engineer.
Brandt: Why isn’t that happening?
Gelernter: It’s the mathematics and engineering. They don’t want to get C minuses in their undergraduate scores.
Ljung: I would say if you look at the startup world now, even compared to five years ago or 10 years ago, you look at sort of Internet to tech startups, and it’s dramatic how the shift has gone from being pure CS focused to now, it’s like designers are much more in demand than anything else.
And it’s kind of interesting, because I always saw—and we felt like—we were in Sweden. We were about to start our company. We were like, “Do we go back to San Francisco?”
We were like, “No. We’re going to be using technology, but we’re primarily for sort of creative people. So we’re going to move to Berlin, because that feels more culturally relevant, and we want to be in that context. That’s more important for us.”
Gelernter: That’s very interesting. Because Berlin is a better place for a startup than San Francisco. More cultural depth.
Ljung: We’re closer to something that’s more relevant to influence us at that point. Now we have an office in San Francisco, as well, and the evolution has kind of been that there was so much technology innovation that made it possible to get this tremendous leverage where you would reach so many people all over the world, and that starts becoming distributed among more people and slightly more commoditized, and it gets more interesting.
How do you situate that technology? What do you do on top of it, to actually make it relevant for people? And I’ve seen way more in startups now how it’s just getting much more connected to these sort of centers in the world where people are at the forefront of culture, as well. And that tends to be really an important influence, which is kind of neat.
I guess it kind of swings back and forth. I’m sure there will be another wave of technology innovation, which will sort of up the game there, as well. But it doesn’t stay static, which is cool.
Lorenzo: Take it out to the audience here.
Hirschfeld: Actually, I was about to say something very similar. I have a startup also called Paperless Post that’s in New York. And we decided not to go to San Francisco for the same reason. And the funny thing is, at one time we were being, like, evaluated by another company. The way that they valued our company was, “How many Ivy League engineers do you have here?”
I was like, “Well, none.” I don’t know. I will go back to the drawing board. Maybe like a half of one? I don’t know. And really the answer was none.
And the funny thing is that most of the engineers, they went to art school and maybe like programmed their way through art school. So they like us because what we do is self-expression and graphic design.
And these people that work at Paperless Post, none of them, as I said, went to Ivy League schools. Nor do most of them have computer science degrees at all. But to bring it back to the earlier conversation, they are all open source software contributors. And I don’t think that you can undervalue the incredible power that, like, remixing and taking other people’s programs and updating them, like the incredible things that have come out of sort of the bottoms-up creative structure. Open-source software and GitHub is a very good example of, I think.
Genauer: I wanted to react to something David said, which is one of the things that is clear in this evolution of industry is that data is everywhere, right. And so we—I know, as a natively sort of creative and less mathematical person, that I had to learn how to incorporate data into my thought process and into my workflow.
And what I think is interesting when—having listened to several of these panels, is that everybody agrees that scale is there. Whether you’re talking about creativity or you’re talking about productivity, everybody agrees the data is there. Right?
And then the question, there is a theme at this conference about where—how that data is used and how it is juxtaposed to our humanity. Right?
So there was a comment made by a gentleman yesterday, and forgive me, I forget his name. He said, “I’m going to make a prediction that those who understand people’s emotion are the ones who are going to succeed in the future.” That was one.
There was a panel yesterday on data mining. And again, I don’t remember the name, but the individual said companies can use data for good or evil. It depends on the point of view. And where does that point of view come from? It comes from the leadership, from the people.
And David talks about that we have this sort of—this guideline. I think you said like sailors had longitude back in the day, but they were missing latitude. And that latitude is spirituality and humanism. So, I don’t know, that’s an interesting theme. Mainly I only know that because I was afraid you were going to force me up here.
Lorenzo: We have the whole spirituality, I mean, that’s another panel we could go off on. Very interesting.
We’re getting close to the end. So I thought maybe you could each make kind of a closing statement, around collaboration, community, creativity, and end it up that way. I don’t know.
Jordan, do you want to start?
Brandt: I’ll say the discussion about the spirituality and what is driving this is a good one to have. So I’m going to be the neutral party there and say I don’t know what that means yet.
I know what it means for me, and I think that’s a highly individual thing. So that whereas we don’t have the church, per se, to drive the design, why can’t creativity just be for the individual? Why can’t people just create for themselves?
I don’t expect you to enjoy my drawing or expect you to even enjoy anything that I might make. It’s for me.
So I think that that personalization of the creativity is the focus. And if the new generation gets gratification, benefit from that, so be it. That’s great. And I believe that technology will continue to accelerate that push. Again, if a misdirection, it will just accelerate it faster in the wrong direction.
But I think if people are empowered to create and build and they have the access to it, then that should lead to good things.
Gelernter: I think ultimately any activity done only by and for one’s self is not going to be gratifying over the long run, as much as it might be over the short term.
Deeper point. There are a lot of deeper points. Very interesting topic, I think many people said it’s interesting. I think ultimately, if you want to encourage creative people to do better and less creative people to be more creative, you need to rear them in a society that values art—art, music, and literature; the arts, generally speaking—far more than we do.
I was lucky to be a child in the 1960s in New York, which was the art center of the world in which people were actively excited about what was happening in what was then called high culture. The word has been banned. That was a wonderful environment. It wasn’t that long ago.
We have mercenaried ourselves out of that world. Until we decide that we value artistic and spiritual things more, all the tools—I work on tools, too. I think the best tools in the world are not really going to achieve anything.
Genauer: A lot of what David says resonates with me. Where I diverge from his line of thinking is that I believe that we can apply technology to solve for that human aspect. And I mean, it’s self-serving, but we talk a lot about it at Magisto, where we’re enabling people to share media that they capture.
They can take the time to create, because it’s important to them, and they don’t share it with the people it’s intended to meet. So we talk a lot about enabling that and adding some humanity back into the breadth of our relationships.
So I’m a believer that technology can help solve for the abyss that David points to. And I see it happening in a variety of ways.
Ljung: I think two things. I think one thing which is important is to think about that there’s—I feel there’s two clear kind of purposes when thinking about creativity. And one is, what do we as a collective kind of like—what is the output that we create? Can we create great art? I think that’s sort of one challenge.
The second challenge is it’s not about productivity; it’s how we feel. Does that creativity make us enjoy life more? I think that’s where we start looking at broad, broader scale and people enjoying it. And it goes to what is art without religion. I think part of that comes from people being able to do it for themselves, and I think we’re learning that at this point.
So I think both of those are worthwhile pursuits and worthwhile to understand. And the second piece is just this thing of like when we create something new and something great and something that enables whole new things, like it’s—then we should celebrate the amazing things of that. Figure out, okay, where can it be better, and not be too scared? It’s mind-blowingly cool what is going on.
Maeda: I’m in a good mood. I’m so moved by David’s profound comments on humanism and technology, which I resonate with.
If you haven’t read the work by the Alain De Botton on “Religion for Atheists,” it addresses some of these questions of spirituality in this day and age.
I’m struck how we’re in this age where Moore’s law enabled everything to happen better and better and better and better, and we were always able to counter things getting better where better meant “more powerful.”
People ask me, “What is this design bubble right now?”
I tell them, “There is no design bubble. There is a design bowling ball.”
“What do you mean?”
There was a bowling ball in your closet. It was always there. Now technology is less interesting to us, and the bowling ball humans valued is now coming back into the foreground. That’s all.
Lorenzo: I want to thank everyone. This has certainly been fun for me. Very exciting. So thank you all. We have to continue. Thank you.