Friday, August 14, 2009 at 11:41AM
If you insist on an explanation beforehand, you will lose the opportunity for [some kinds] of serendipitous discovery, which is so much a part of the creative process.
Good friend and consulting peer Dan Markovitz sent me an utterly fascinating transcription of a lecture Malcolm Gladwell  gave in 2006 at Columbia . The gist is based on work by David Galenson (see Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity), which argues there are two clearly identifiable modes of creativity: experimentalists (Cezanne) and conceptualists (Picasso).
Let me summarize the differences between these two modes as I understood them, then interpret this work from three perspectives: Productivity, my consulting and this blog, and our Think, Try, Learn work. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Differences between modes: Experimentalists vs. Conceptualists
This list ought to make you think :-)
- Exemplars: Cezanne vs. Picasso; Fleetwood Mac vs. the Eagles; Mark Twain vs. Melville; Alfred Hitchcock vs. Orson Welles; Apple vs. Dell; Detroit vs. Toyota hybrid; Tylenol vs. Gleevec.
- Range: Broad (all over the place) vs. specific
- Time to develop: Slow vs. fast. (Good news for us late bloomers!)
- Process: Trial and error vs. directed/focused/clear.
- Comfort: Low vs. high (my biased view)
- Goals: Badly understood vs. clear.
- Planning in advance: Little vs. much.
- Redoing work: Much vs. little.
- Staring point: Process vs. theory.
- Terminal illness: Out of ideas vs. __ (?)
- Explanations of work: Convention vs. technical (?)
- Could outsource production: No vs. yes.
- Current cultural preference: Low vs. high.
- Repeatability: Low vs. high (see Liza's Success through Non-Repeatable Process)
Productivity: Efficient vs. Effective?
- Could you outsource your essential work processes? Could you train someone else to do it? What does that say about your business, if anything? (Me: Yes for some of the more mechanical aspects. No for the hard stuff: Customization, the analytical understanding your work, and identifying the big opportunities for improvement.)
- Could someone else repeat your process to get where you are?
- What is the impact on the importance of having a personal workflow system? I'd argue that it's high. Just because you don't know your direction doesn't mean you have to flail while getting there, no? Also, just because you're (essentially) a scientist of your work doesn't mean the rest of your life stops; why not deal with it efficiently, leaving the most time for the good stuff? Finally, I'm a firm believer of "Empty head = Room for breakthroughs."
- How much trial and error do you or your organization do? Why?
- How comfortable are you when your work doesn't yet have direction? What percentage of your work is like this? How has that changed over your career?
What other questions can we ask around productivity?
The IdeaMatt: So THAT explains it!
Reading Gladwell's lecture gave me relief and validation. From the start in 2005 I've said I'm driven to do my consulting , and at the same time I don't know where it will go, but I have to know how the story will play out. I wrote a few years ago that I like learning it the hard way - reading, studying many competing systems, applying it to different domains, teaching, and getting to know people. The overall strategy: Pour ideas into head, try out, wait for synthesis to create something new. Then share and repeat.
I bring this up because I struggle regularly with craving the end result over the process - against all advice on being happy, of course. Any insights into this path (I hate the word) of creating something new are helpful. One that I especially like is Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. Do you have any inspirational favorites?
Finally, this explains why my blog is all over the place - I'm still exploring. It hit me a while back that if David Allen had a blog 20 years ago, it might look like this. (Do I have a big ego? Hmmm. Ask my wife. Question: Can you be audacious without one?) I think this is good - it's what my partner calls "non-repeatable processes" (see link above), and includes GTD and arguably most success stories. The latter explains why there are so many books on the topic. Here's the template: Perform a non-repeatable process (Tim Ferriss, anyone?), document it, generalize principles, and write a book. Question: Any examples of someone who has written more than one substantially different book? Makes me wonder who can (or has) birthed more than one repeatable process, i.e., more than one "purpose on the planet." Examples?
Finally, this writing demonstrates the value of the experimental viewpoint. It also begs the question (which I believe Galenson address in his book), are we predisposed to one pole, and can we shift back and forth? Could Cezanne have done Picasso? I'd argue yes. In Sometimes Laser, Sometimes Blind: How Natural Converge/diverge Cycles Explain Progress I described the pattern of branching out and closing in. Is this another way to to say we can cycle between?
This is a question I want to answer with TTL: Is this perspective of treating everything in life as an experiment something that many of us can adopt to slide us to the left? Gladwell finishes his lecture saying both modes of creativity are important, so having a philosophy to do so seems valuable.
(An aside: We're cleaning up our Think, Try, Learn web site, and we (ta-da!) have v0.2 of Edison, The TTL Experimenter's Workbook up. Feel free to check it out. It's basic, but that's because we're applying TTL to our work (meta!) - create a tool that's as simple as possible to give us maximum information to inform our next steps. "Exploring the theoretical frontier" my scientist friend calls it. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Improvements forthcoming.)
-  Author of Outliers: The Story of Success, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
-  I could only find the PDF in the Wayback Machine. I hope it's legit. From the transcript:
[On February 21st, Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk about the phenomenon of prodigies and late bloomers in art. The event was part of the New Yorker Nights, a series hosted by the Columbia University Arts Initiative and The New Yorker.] Transcribed by John Lennox from audio file posted on Feb 27, 2006 at Audio: Age Before Beauty : The New Yorker.
-  My personal transformation due to GTD can't be understated; I quit my job, submitted myself for a radical careerectomy, and started my own consultancy - all based on a $12 book. It's why I deeply believe in this work, and why I love doing it.