Artists, Incorporated: The New Creative Class

The New Yorker: “‘Creative’ sits right above ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ in the glossary of terms that have been co-opted by corporate America and retooled to signify an increasingly nebulous set of qualities. Consultants are now creative consultants; advertising agencies are now creative agencies. ‘Creative’ was among the top ten most used words in LinkedIn profiles last year, and, these days, ‘creative’ is a noun that can be used for anyone in the workforce who doesn’t engage in doctoring, lawyering, writing code, or doing hard labor.”

“Affixing the word ‘creative’ to something is the quickest way to make it sound virtuous, and creativity has almost become a moral imperative. And yet today the ‘creative class’ no longer calls to mind a generation of struggling artists, but a group of college graduates with soft skills and Internet-based jobs they have difficulty explaining to their parents.”

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The Rolling Stones, Incorporated

“For the past 50-plus years,” The Rolling Stones have “been among the most dynamic, profitable and durable corporations in the world.” Writing in The New York Times, Rich Cohen, author of The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones, says they have used “strategies that any CEO or entrepreneur should keep in mind while playing the long game.” Among them: “Choose the right name. The band was originally called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys … Know what the market wants from you. Rather than trying to become new Beatles, as many other bands did, the Stones became their opposite.”

“Beg, borrow, steal. At a time when the British pop charts were filled with bubble gum, Brian, Keith and Mick Jagger turned to Chicago blues. Cut the anchor before it drags you down. The Stones were the creation of Brian Jones … But by the late 1960s, Jones was in trouble … He didn’t turn up for sessions, vanished on the road … Mick, Keith and Charlie Watts drove to Brian’s country home and fired him.”

“Never stop reinventing. The Stones have gone through at least five stylistic iterations: cover band, ’60s pop, ’60s acid, ’70s groove, ’80s New Wave. At some point, they lost that elasticity and ability to reinvent—they got old—but the fact that they did it so well for so long explains their inexhaustible relevance.”

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John Irving: A Study in Grit vs. Ability

The Wall Street Journal: “Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith … But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer? Angela Duckworth (author of Grit) argues that the answer is ‘grit,’ which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal.”

“Though verbal fluency did not come easily to (John Irving) as a young man, what he lacked in aptitude he made up for in effort. In school, if his peers allotted one hour to an assignment, he devoted two or three. As a writer, he works very slowly, constantly revising drafts of his novels. ‘In doing something over and over again,’ he has said, ‘something that was never natural becomes almost second nature’.”

“It’s a similar story among the other groups that Ms. Duckworth writes about … including spelling-bee champions and sales associates: Grit predicts their success more robustly than innate ability. And there is no positive correlation between ability and grit. A study of Ivy League undergraduates even showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less gritty they were … To be gritty, an individual doesn’t need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show ‘consistency over time. The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. ‘Enthusiasm is common,’ she writes. ‘Endurance is rare’.”

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The Future is Platforms, Not Products

Quartz: “A trait shared by the fastest growing and most disruptive companies in history—Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnb, and eBay—is that they aren’t focused on selling products, they are building platforms … A platform isn’t a new concept, it is simply a way of building something that is open, inclusive, and has a strategic focus.”

“Think of the difference between a roadside store and a shopping center. The mall has many advantages in size and scale and every store benefits from the marketing and promotion done by others. They share infrastructure and costs. The mall owner could have tried to have it all by building one big store, but it would have missed out on the opportunities to collect rent from everyone and benefit from the diverse crowds that the tenants attract.”

“What has changed is that technology has reduced the need to own infrastructure and assets and made it significantly cheaper to build and scale digital platforms … Companies such as Walmart, Nike, John Deere, and GE are working towards building platforms in their industries. John Deere, for example wants to be a hub for agricultural products … Building platforms requires a vision, but does not require predicting the future. What you need is to understand the opportunity to build the mall instead of the store and be flexible in how you get there.”

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Innovation: The Green Eggs & Ham Theory

Pacific Standard: “‘Constraints may turn out to be liberating,’ Rider University psychologist Catrinel Haught-Tromp writes in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. In two studies, she found students produced more creative writing samples when they were forced to abide by certain arbitrary rules.”

“What’s more, students continued to work at that higher level of imagination even after the restrictions were lifted. Once the challenge of working around certain restrictions has sparked one’s creativity, it appears to stay stimulated, at least for a time.”

“Haught-Tromp refers to this as the Green Eggs and Ham hypothesis .. Writer/illustrator Theodore Geisel was given a challenge by his publisher: Write a book small children will love using no more than 50 words (which could be repeated as often as needed). The result became a classic.”

“Why is this approach effective? Working with constraints ‘allows a deeper exploration of fewer alternatives,’ Haught-Tromp explains. They ‘limit the overwhelming number of available choices to a manageable subset,’ allowing us to ‘explore less familiar paths, to diverge in previously unknown directions.’

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Is Innovation Overvalued?

Aeon: “As the pursuit of innovation has inspired technologists and capitalists, it has also provoked critics who suspect that the peddlers of innovation radically overvalue innovation. What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important. Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.”

“First, it is crucial to understand that technology is not innovation. Innovation is only a small piece of what happens with technology. This preoccupation with novelty is unfortunate because it fails to account for technologies in widespread use, and it obscures how many of the things around us are quite old … common objects, like the electric fan and many parts of the automobile, have been virtually unchanged for a century or more. Yes, novel objects preoccupy the privileged, and can generate huge profits. But the most remarkable tales of cunning, effort, and care that people direct toward technologies exist far beyond the same old anecdotes about invention and innovation.”

“Second, by dropping innovation, we can recognise the essential role of basic infrastructures … Third, focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going … most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation. Inventors and innovators are a small slice … The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago.”

“Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there?”

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How Walking Influences Thinking

Quartz: “The precise physiology is unknown, but professors and therapists are turning what was once an unquestioned instinct into a certainty: Walking influences our thinking, and somehow improves creativity. Last year, researchers at Stanford found that people perform better on creative divergent thinking tests during and immediately after walking. The effect was similar regardless of whether participants took a stroll inside or stayed inside, walking on a treadmill and staring at a wall. The act of walking itself, rather than the sights encountered on a saunter, was key to improving creativity, they found.”

“It’s not exactly clear why walking is helpful to so many thinkers, but ‘it could be that the brain is focusing on doing a task it’s quite good at’ … which then allows it to free up and relax. Exercise is known to improve mood, and so it’s likely that the aerobic activity has an effect. But it’s not clear whether more intense forms of exercise has exactly the same effect as walking.”

“Barbara Oakley, engineering professor at Oakland University who wrote a book about learning effectively which includes the benefit of walking, says in an interview that we make a mistake of thinking that we’re only learning when we’re focused. In fact, walking allows us subconsciously process and think in a different way … Meanwhile, several therapists have embraced the benefits of walking, by only conducting sessions outside. Clay Cockrell, who runs a walking therapy practice in New York, says he believes the motion, as opposed to sitting on a couch, allows for more free form thinking.”

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Steve Case: The Internet’s Third Wave Is Here

The “third wave” of the Internet is upon us, writes AOL co-founder Steve Case in The Wall Street Journal. “The First Wave was about building the Internet,” he writes. “This phase peaked around 2000, setting the stage for the Second Wave, which has been about building apps and services on top of the Internet.”

“Now the Third Wave has begun. Over the next decade and beyond, the Internet will rapidly become ubiquitous, integrated into our everyday lives, often in invisible ways. This will challenge industries such as health care, education, financial services, energy and transportation.”

“Take education … entrepreneurs are revolutionizing how instructors teach and students learn … Or look at health care … the real action to improve America’s medical system is coming from entrepreneurs. They are inventing better ways to keep us healthy, and smarter ways to treat us when we get sick.”

“The world is changing for all of us, and a new playbook is required.”

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