Creativity: Combining and Recombining

Richard Florida in a talk he gave at the RSA brought up an idea that peaked my interest. He observes that creativity, the process of combining and recombining different parts in order to create something new, is taking place in cities all around the world, and this process of combining and recombining will continue to grow as more of the worlds population begins to live in cities. He claims, and I agree, that cities are the most important human creation because it paves the way for people to creatively work together.

He provides the example of people taking different pieces of technology or music and creatively making new technology and new music. While listening to his talk, I realized that people can also combine and recombine the different relationships they have with other people in order to leverage their skills in creative ways. He observes that the boom of tech startups around the world in major metropolitan areas is a result of the rise of the creative class. However, he doesn't delve into why the creative class is rising and what has created them, and I think it may have to do with the ease at which talented people can communicate. Communication for the purpose of bringing people together requires knowing people's occupations and talents. For example, Linkedin has made accessible people's professional skills, which then allows for entrepreneurs to easily find and combine and recombine people of different skills, talents, and ideas into a startup. 

The other factor that Florida doesn't talk about are transaction costs of creatively bringing people together. In other words, there exists an inherent social barrier that prevents people from communicating when they don't yet know each other. In other words, they don't yet trust each other. This is a topic that is deeply discussed in The Rainforest by Horowitt and Hwang. They observe that "human systems become more productive the faster that the key ingredients of innovation - talent, ideas, and capital - are allowed to flow through the system" and combine together in various ways. They also argue that human nature tends to get in the way of creatively bringing talent, ideas, and capital together. Specifically, trust is given to those that are closer and distrust exists between those that are further. Trust and distrust does not refer to geographic separation, but cultural separation. For individuals to "rise above short-term selfishness and focus on long-term mutual gain" is the behavior that humans do not naturally have, which leads to what Hwang and Horowitt call a transaction cost when people are creatively brought together.

I would argue that the creative class has risen out of combining and recombining people of various talents, ideas, and capital for the benefit of a human community. I don't think creatively bringing people together always has to take the form of a startup, because people sometimes come together for a cause and form a charity. I think the reason the term creative class has become prominent in our vocabulary in the past few years is the pace of creatively organizing people has increased due to an increased number of people living in  major metropolitan areas. Sharing the common city space then allows for people share experiences together, eventually leading to talented individuals trusting each other.

Update: I just saw this great Ted Talk by Rachel Botsman talking about trust being built on reputation and credibility within a community, whether that community is airbnb, ebay, or taskrabbit. Allowing for people's trust within a community to be accessible and known may lead to lower transactions costs between people that do not yet know each other.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, thanks for the mention! This is a very thoughtful article you have written. The process of combining and recombining is what we call "creative reassembly", which is a counterpoint to the more popular term "creative destruction." The main driver of creative economies is how humans organize themselves. We are the most social creatures on Earth, and how we organize ourselves varies so much from place to place. Those organizational patterns are a form of culture. Culture, therefore, drives the evolutionary strength/survival of human social groups. Culture with low transaction costs for self-organizing, like America in general and Silicon Valley in particular, tend to generate extraordinary economic output over time.