I used to be a “creative dilettante”: someone who spends part of their free time dabbling in various creative projects. I always had 3-4 projects going on at one time. These included painting, creative writing, sewing, making jewelry from silver components (http://tinyurl.com/m6nxyz), taking classes, studying French and ideating – inventing and innovating products, services, businesses, charities, movements, brands, urls, websites, logos, solutions to world problems, etc.
Since I have a demanding career and a lot of other interests (including sports, reading, watching movies and TV, socializing, cooking and eating, napping, etc.) my creative projects were squeezed into my busy schedule. Frankly, it’s embarrassing how little time I actually did devote to my creative endeavors over the years. My inventing was for my amusement so the time I devoted was scattered, haphazard and entirely driven by my whims (in a typical jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none Gemini fashion). Given my lazy approach, it’s a wonder that I was able to invent anything at all.
drivers of creative dilettantism
Until recently, there was a trifecta of motivations driving my lazy, creative dilettante behavior:
- mind rot Work alone sometimes didn’t fulfill me creatively. As a strategist, my job can be very left-brain (analytical) and intellectually challenging. However, it doesn’t always fulfill me spiritually or emotionally. So I cultivated creative outlets to exercise my right-brain and my soul as an antidote to work.
- social currency I like attention and my creative projects and inventions were often a way to get attention and meet new people. I found my extra-curricular interests to be great conversation starters or dinner-party entertainment.
- identity I struggle with self-definition beyond work, especially since I work hard and long hours. As an overachiever, I’ve been too focused on accomplishment. After spending some time soul-searching in a Monastery a few years ago I vowed to focus on my life beyond work. So I turned to my imagination to become a more well-rounded and multi-dimensional person.
related trend: valid@tion – Sigmund Freud said there were only two cornerstones of our humanness: love and work. “Work and love, love and work”, he said that’s all there is. So what happens to us when work (and our work-self, our work-ego) disappears? And what if we’re also not fulfilled by love? America (home to the hardest workers in the world, where the average American works 50 hours/week) is now seeing the effects of throngs of unemployed citizens experiencing identity crises. We are turning into a nation of fragile paper-dolls, as being without a job and going on unemployment reduces people to me-too, faceless numbers with crushed self-esteem. Hungry to carve out a role in society, to fill the void that work once filled, Americans are seeking purposefulness in new ways.
While it’s obvious that the Internet is key in networking to find a new job, the Internet is also a critical enabler in the quest to find and rebuild lost-identity; it’s a tool to create new personas (think: avitars, Facebook profiles, Video resumes) and contribute something (think: Twitter, blogs, Amazon book reviews) and to search for organizations to join as we seek belonging (think: LinkedIn, Meet-Ups). No wonder volunteering is estimated to be up by +175% from 2008 – interesting given that church attendance is flat.
catalyst: “creative dilettante” to “innovationeer”
What were once only art projects and back-of-the-coaster ideas for inventions are today ideas that I’m pursuing with zeal. I’m approaching my ideas with a mindset of developing proprietary intellectual property that I can build equity in. The time I used spend napping and playing is devoted to my IP development. My new approach is both rigorous and urgent. “Personal passions” that I was fooling around with have evolved into ideas with “professional potential”. I’ve gone from a “creative dilettante” to an “innovationeer” where I’m focused on the output – bringing my ideas to fruition. What’s changed?
- I have more free time. I work from home now and I’m physically at home more.
- I’m entertaining more at home, where my “toys” are around me, reminding me… beckoning me.
- Our culture has placed such a stigma on laziness that I feel pressure to fill my free time with productive pursuits.
- I feel a burning need to build proprietary IP for my long-term financial stability and sustainability, given that our culture has lost it’s ability to plan long-term.
- I’ve lost faith in social safetynets so I feel a need to be financially independent, especially given the instability and disloyalty of the corporate world.
- I want to control what I can control in a world out of control: my self and my own ingenuity.
- We’re in a new era of heightened competitiveness; today’s uber-Darwinism rewards differentiation, and new skills and assets are differentiating.
consequence: home as thinkubator
As a consequence, my home is no longer a “cocoon” where I “nest”, a calm sanctuary where I retreat to after the long day. My once tidy spartan “designer” living space today resembles a laboratory, workshop or an art studio – with art supplies, tools and even machines strewn about… amidst technology.
I’m totally connected technologically, which means I have access to online instruction and creative tools, like software, that enable me to produce professional-grade work. Technology has leveled the playing field (e.g., I can publish a book or wire a lamp like a pro). Technology is used to research ideas and to test-out ideas fast and inexpensively.
Today, my home is a “thinkcubator”, which is a place where I hatch new ideas, research, invent (literally build stuff), create and test ideas. It’s a place where I’m learning new skills (watching FoodNetwork, taking online classes, playing Wii tennis, studying with Rosetta Stone). But not everyone has the space and resources to turn their homes into thinkubators…
Isn’t the backbone of America’s economy America’s entrepreurialism? Don’t we want to be a nation of pioneers and innovators? I believe everyone is capable of creativity and innovation. It may be latent and just needs to be found, cultivated, exercised and guided. Most people have the potential to invent (i.e., problem solve) and almost anybody can produce good ideas in an encouraging environment. So, what if we built such environments to jumpstart innovation at the grass-roots level? What if thinkubators were created nationwide (in neighborhoods with the highest unemployment)?
Apple used to have an advertising campaign called “think different” (Apple are you listening?). Imagine innovation resource centers, or studio-labs, that are completely wired, filled with reference materials, kitted with tools and most importantly staffed with experienced innovationeers. Perhaps in partnership with the United Inventor’s Association (http://www.uiausa.org) . Often ideators lack the experience, know-how and fortitude to assemble, organize and coordinate all the elements required to actually produce innovation.
Just like Apple’s Genius Bars, these thinkubators would be places where novice inventors could come for guidance on all the steps of innovation: exploration, ideation, collaboration, investigation, presentation, simulation, confirmation, negotiation, commercialization, communication, etc. These thinkubator operations could even be franchised. It would be ideal if they were funded by government, and run like Charter Schools with success goals predicating funding. There’s a danger that the private sector might limit or stunt innovation if it didn’t comply with their business objectives; however, this could be mitigated if the parent company did not invest in the innovation, but purely facilitated the innovation.
So, Apple, sign me up as the first “innovationeer” to build and run a public “thinkubator”…located in the South Bronx!