Creativity is what we do, who we are, and why we exist. We do it because we like it; it feels good. The more we like it, the less money we need for it. Like it enough, we do it regardless.
Ideas are cheap and plentiful and offered like opinions at a political rally. Talent is everywhere, making us indignant that those with it aren’t better off. Yet companies aren’t looking for talent so much as marketable talent nor ideas so much as marketable solutions. Marketable mediocrity is preferred over unmarketable brilliance or extraordinary talent with low ROI. So should we be appalled when creativity is harvested like feed corn as soon as the network bandwidth (see “The Long Tail”) is wide enough to sift it as though panning for gold?
Challenge the internet communities, lead with token carrots, set a time limit, and wait for mediocrity to cascade forth. In a harsh contrast to the concepts found in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” where 10,000 hours is the threshold for accomplishment, mediocrity is our most reliable exchange.
In the coming economic landscape, we harvest talent as a commodity. Network bandwidth has atomized the marketing of ideas and this has shifted economic scarcity away from ideas toward either unpredictable brilliance and what Umair Haque describes as “Awesomeness”, or to fast and cheaply produced mediocrity.
America’s Got Talent. Is that all we got? Hardly, but if a casting call is posted for the general public with rewards of ego + little else, that’s all you get. The miraculous stuff isn’t that plentiful, cheap or safe. Yet, the threshold for our ability or willingness to afford brilliance has moved – often times – out of reach or apathetically out of mind.
Additionally, we are harvesting ideas so fast that there is less time for refinement. Ideas return in crude form since they are short lived prior to their destruction by the next society stalling innovation. One result is a fueling of skittishness by investors for anything other than the most financially reliable idea. ROI needs months or a year, not two or ten.
The market is most robust for what’s good enough and good enough is less than it was. Once there were professional type houses but now desktop publishing – good enough. Once there were staffed million dollar music production studios, now we have a garage and Pro-tools on a PC – good enough. Once there were journalists, now there are bloggers – good enough. No time or money for more than good enough unlike there once was.
Spend 10,000 hours on proficiency and the world will have moved on to something else. Don’t look now but your expertise is obsolete. One might be better off learning a little about a lot, settling for good enough and cashing the check: the DIY culture.
Miraculous brilliance is evident in high stake games like iPods, electric cars and human genomes, or in low stake games like musical virtuosity and the arts. Henceforth, existing in the middle driving individual quality to the top of the heap is rising to pipe dream status. It’s now thorny to leverage the middle while refining talent to the top.
What adjustment is needed? The answer is unclear, but I’m confident of what isn’t an answer: The Hope Economy. Hoping that the business world wakes up with a higher sense of value for cultivating creative communities to their rich potential isn’t much different than waiting for Hip Hop stardom.
For more try these:
Umair Haque, “Is Your Innovation Really Unnovation?”
Robert Capps for Wired Magazine, “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine”