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Monday, October 14, 2013

Creativity and the Billionaire

I don't usually discuss article that I like, but here's one: by Thomas Frank, previously published in Harpers.  It picks up on a theme that I had just hit upon myself while listening to William Poundstone's "Are You Smart Enough To Work at Google?"

I think it's the same basic theme, anyway.

Frank's point is that all of the books we see on creativity nowadays are not the least bit creative.  They simply repeat the same old stories about post-its, jazz, Bob Dylan, Picasso, Einstein, and the Swiffer.  They don't really teach us anything, but they insist -- and have done so for a long time -- that the creative class will eventually rule the world.  Another book I happen to be listening to -- Daniel Pink's 2005 "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future" is in the same vein.

The thought I had recently (in reaction to Poundstone) was that a lot of the people who are deemed "creative" nowadays don't really seem to have been all that creative.  He points to gmail as a great success of Google's "spend twenty percent of your time working on your own projects" policy.  Successful, yes, but creative??   It's just email, which had been around for a long time.  I think he also points to Facebook as some kind of triumph of creativity.  Really?  Just another example of a person being at the right place at the right time, and doing something that a lot of other people were already doing.

And Frank's final point is just that these books help reaffirm the sense of "creativity" among the people who have made it big in this economy.   Which I think is where I was going, but I hadn't gotten around to articulating that yet.  Here's how Frank says it in the end: "Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world."

Frank's latest book is "Pity the Poor Billionaire:  The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right" which sounds like a painful read.  But he's a pretty good writer, so I might give it a try.

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