Reigniting Innovation and Creativity

by Jeff Rubingh

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Here’s an interesting question. Why is it that, while artistic tools have become so advanced and provide artists with the opportunity to become so much more productive, the amount of art and the quality of art produced by artists has dropped so dramatically? What am I talking about?

Here are some fascinating statistics from the world of classical music*:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach, 300+ years ago, over 1100 known works, 4200+ albums, 71,000+ tracks
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven, 200+ years ago, over 650 known works, 3400+ albums, 34,000+ tracks
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff, 100+ years ago, over 200 known works, 1000+ albums, 7,000+ tracks
  • Aaron Copland, less than 100 years ago, over 100 known works, 300+ albums, 1,700+ tracks

How about from popular music: (approximated)

  • The Beatles, from the 60’s, 300+ songs recorded, ~109 albums
  • U2, from the 80’s, 250+ songs recorded, ~26 albums
  • REM, from the 90’s, 63 singles, 15 studio albums
  • Death Cab for Cutie, from the 2000’s, 15 singles, 9 studio albums

How about from the craft of writing:

  • Charles Hamilton (1876-1961); > 1200 books
  • Isaac Asimov (1920-1992); > 500 books
  • Nora Roberts (1950-present) > 200 books
  • Stephen King (1947-present); 58 books
  • Nicholas Sparks (1965-present); 22 books

On the flip side, it’s not that as creators we’re actually producing less content. We’re not. Twenty five years ago there were about 600 web pages. Today, 1.5 billion. There are over 500 million blogs. Social media including Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube is alive with millions of contributors.

So my question is this. Where’s the next Beethoven? Have you seen the next Monet? Who would you identify as the next Jane Austen? With all the tools we have, shouldn’t we be encountering these people in spades? Or do better tools actually make for worse creativity and less productivity? After all, while our tools keep improving, does it seem like we produce lower quality and less recognized excellence? Shouldn’t better tools improve our output? Instead, the opposite has occurred.

Are we too distracted? With the advent of social media, with the flood of entertainment options, are we simply just too distracted? Does the small and the simple pull us away from developing skills, ideas and creative flow?

Are our educational institutions simply inept? Do they merely teach us a broad range of perfunctory, homogenized, generic knowledge? As Peter Thiel mentions [1], schools are patterned in one way with uniform periods and class sizes and durations, as if the world’s knowledge could be parceled out piecemeal for everyone to master.

Have we forgotten what excellence really is? As they say, garbage in, garbage out. What do we spend our time observing? Facebook, Twitter? Is “Game of Thrones” a major source of what we see, the landscape of creativity that we view?

Are we addicted to the immediate? Do we not recognize that a daily commitment to a discipline over years leads to mastery and a skillset that produces excellence? Or are we simply pulled into that immediate, bite-size tidbit of cuteness on YouTube?

Has amusement replaced discipline? Is our cultural foundation on life support? As Neil Postman put it (in 1987 no less), “When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” [2]

The answers to these questions seem fleeting but with the amazing toolset we now have, we should be more creative, not less. With the access we have to the great works of the past, we should have a much more intimate connection to what it means to produce great works ourselves. Perhaps the key doesn’t lie in the tools or in the access; perhaps it lies in our heads and in our hearts. After all, access to greatness is worthless unless we use it. Appreciation and understanding of beauty and art won’t happen in our children unless we show them the way.

But, perhaps you say, look, appreciation for art is good, but it’s optional really. We all know the real value, the real future for our children, indeed for us, lies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). That’s where the money lies, that’s where the job security is. Well and good. Not! Not good enough! That’s only half of the pie and if that’s our focus, if we’re stuck completely or almost completely in that realm, we won’t produce the stunning value each of us has access to.

Don’t believe that? Let’s take the example of perhaps the greatest STEM influence of our time, Albert Einstein. He said “The greatest scientists are artists as well.” And that wasn’t just a pithy quote either. Whenever he felt he had reached a dead-end, whenever he got stuck, he would head to the piano. Inevitably, after a period of time he would get up saying, “There, now I’ve got it.” [3] And how exactly did he come up with perhaps the most stunning scientific discovery of our age? As he explained to Shinichi Suzuki, “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition.”

So, what’s the answer? How do we tap into this luxurious and rich source of scientific inspiration as well as reignite the world’s passion for beauty? Let’s equally push for CALM (Creativity, Art, Literature, Music). Let’s inspire our children, let’s inspire each other to delve into the overflowing wells of creative beauty available to us all. How? Here are some suggestions:

Make creativity a daily habit: Playing music, writing, drawing, singing. Find something that you like and give it a slice of time every day. It doesn’t have to be a big slice but over days, weeks and years, you’ll see your talent become substantive, you’ll see yourself become a qualified artist.

Find sources with substance: You have access to greatness, the entire oeuvre of the creative geniuses of past generations. Immerse yourself in these sources so that you can in some small way reflect their expressions with your own unique talents.

Listen, observe, discuss, write: This one is simple really. Allow yourself, allow your brain, the room to hear, to see, to comprehend. Then spend time with like-minded peers talking about the beauty, the passion, the excellence you’ve observed. How did it happen, what was special about it, how can you do the same? Finally, (don’t skip this step), write down your thoughts. As Thackeray said “There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.”

Explore: For example, do you love classical music? Not really you say? Actually, you really do but perhaps, just perhaps, you’ve never really tapped into its transformative power. Explore sources of creativity so that your brain can’t help but overflow with ideas that inspire you and inspire others.

Change your mind: I run into people all the time that say, “I’m not the creative type.” Not true. Your entire day is an act of creativity. When you have passion for what you do, you’re a “creative.” The next step is to accept this, embrace it, make it part of your daily life, channel it, and let time work its magic.

We live during one of the most exciting times in the history of civilization. There’s absolutely no reason, none, why our generation doesn’t produce a raft of geniuses, why our generation can’t be remembered as one of the most prolific in history when it comes to artistry, invention, creativity and innovation.

Will you be one of them?


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Jeff Rubingh is a technology innovation expert, consultant and analyst. Focused on the intersection between technology and business, Jeff helps clients identify ground-breaking solutions that maximize ROI across existing and emerging technology disciplines.


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