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Creativity and the Rise of Optimism | Memory of the Future Project
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Creativity and the Rise of Optimism


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by Paul Bennett, IDEO

C&binet (Creativity & Business International Network) blog comment

15 Dec 2008

http://www.cabinetforum.org/index.php/blog/41/

I have this crazy theory that when we die, heaven looks like YouTube.

By which I mean that heaven is made up of lots and lots of our collective dreams and hopes and memories, deeply personal ones, a multitude of tiny stories floating on a bright white background. Made by the people that are starring in them, with one collective goal. To be seen. And to be heard and to listen to each other. To share.

Creativity, in its purest form, is also about sharing. It is vast, expansive. It is generative and regenerative, personal, emotive, and above all, optimistic. The majority of people putting themselves out there on YouTube and the like are not looking for the one thing that many business people think (or perhaps hope) they are looking for, which is money. They are looking for something much more powerful - to contribute.

I’m also going to say this: I am so bored with cynicism. Designers (and I mean that in the loosest possible sense, not just people like me who went to college to learn design) are fundamentally optimistic creatures, always looking to turn something over, to examine it from another angle, to get excited by making something new, something real, something personal, something positive. Design today is not about the lone genius in the atelier either; it is highly collaborative, a team sport. In tough times, which no-one would argue we are in right now, designing our way out requires two fundamental things – the collective sense of optimism that we can, and the need to do it together.

Bringing the “C” and the “B” of c&binet together, the question we need to ask ourselves today is this: what can business learn from this kind of creativity? I have the sense that many companies are approaching this backwards, saying to themselves: “How do we make our slice of the pie bigger?“ or the usual: “How do we protect ourselves from people stealing our stuff?“ when actually much better questions to ask are: “How do we enable people to contribute?“ and “How do we make the pie bigger for everyone?“

One thing that the YouTubes and Facebooks of the world are showing us is that people want to collect together under whatever banner that they can, share ideas and dreams, and above all, help. What business needs to do is to give them the tools to create and the forums to share. Putting something out there and not knowing what you’re going to get back is the new way forward.

Take Google for example – they keep on giving stuff away from free (mapping, healthcare, services, mail, who knows what next) when they could definitely charge heaps for it, but their generosity pays back in spades when people adapt, share and ultimately pay for their product through other means. Not having an expectation of an exchange engenders one happening, or put more simply, doing good begets doing good. The emotional payback is huge, and their bank balance isn’t bad either.

So here’s my call to action, and the reason why I joined this whole discussion in the first place. I dare you all out there to do the thing that seems most difficult to do right now. Not to panic, tighten, restrain or, worse, look for the magic silver bullet that is going to make you loads of money and solve all your problems in one fell swoop. But to allow collective wisdom to prevail, give something away, and see what you get in return. Assume you do not have to be the sole person answering your problem. Ask everyone, see what you get back. They want to help, to create, to contribute. Make the pie bigger, and your slice will follow.

And above all, be optimistic. I am.