Making Creativity Come True

What does it take to turn a creative idea into reality? It seems like a simple question, but truly creative ideas are tricky critters: they don’t fit well with existing ways of doing things, they create conflicts between people, and they can even cause companies to go under. And the worst part is, truly creative ideas usually fail. After all, it’s their novelty and uniqueness that make them creative in the first place, so it’s no surprise that they don’t always work. Companies (and people) famously abhor change for exactly these reasons. Sure, that idea sounds great – why don’t YOU try it out and let me know how it goes?

So what makes a particular creative idea likely to be implemented, and when are you likely to be able to see your idea turn into reality? A new study by Markus Baer of Washington University in St. Louis asks exactly that. The motivation for his research, which appears in October’s Academy of Management Journal, is the observation that people and companies generate far more ideas than they actually implement, and that it isn’t the most creative or best ideas that usually filter to the top. After all, we all remember Windows ME and the KFC Doubledown (okay, maybe that one was pretty good).

Here’s the punchline: Baer finds that ideas are most likely to be implemented when the people pushing from them are motivated (i.e., they believe in the idea) and when they have strong networks of peers and supervisors. No surprise there. What’s interesting is how the variables all come together. When an idea is particularly creative, the person pushing it has to really believe in it in order to see it realized. On the other hand, if they have strong support from their peers and supervisors, personal motivation doesn’t matter too much: even far-out and risky ideas are likely to be implemented, even when the person who came up with it doesn’t see a ton of value in pushing it forward.

The upshot is that the value of the idea might not be as important as how everyone in the company perceives it. The best ideas might not see the light of day simply because they never found the right advocates, and mediocre ideas might make it all the way to the top just because they don’t rile too many feathers along the way. So next time you’re wondering how the Back-Up Bedside Gun Rack (“Reach your shotgun from the comfort of your bed!”) made it to market, just remember: they probably had other ideas too.

And ’cause it would be too good not to share, here’s the Huffington Post’s compendium of the Stupidest Products Ever. Enjoy.

Hackers, Hostels, and Floating Hotels

In the few months leading up to my wedding, a number of really fascinating articles and stories piled up that I wasn’t able to address. Digging back into the files, I came across one NYTimes article from July that definitely wants to be shared. It covers the Silicone Valley phenomenon of “Hacker Hostels.”

These hostels offer cheap lodging and nerdy community for the waves of would-be entrepreneurs who flock to tech-mecca each year. And with a spot on a bunk going for $40/night, they’re a pretty savvy piece of entrepreneurship themselves. Overhead is low (wifi and a roof), and the residents – typically techie men in their mid to late 20s – don’t want much more than to be left to their work.

Cramped living conditions aside, these hostels a pretty popular idea. After all, cramming into tiny spaces is a time-honored tradition in the hacking community: HP was famously founded in a 12′ x 18′ rented garage, and early coders at MIT slept in their offices while waiting for time on the mainframe. When it was acquired in 2012, Instagram was still shoveling pizza boxes out from under the employees in a cramped SF office.

Keeping things cozy does two things. Continue reading

Wedding Wonders

CRTVTY has been a bit quiet these past few weeks, but with good reason. On September 30th, five years after the day we met, I married my love and co-conspirator, Tien-Tien.

The wedding took place under a sunny sky in Palo Alto, California, and was followed by a beautiful celebration at the CuriOdyssey Museum in San Mateo. And although planning the wedding was far from easy, it turns out that the process involves a lot of creativity, and we actually had a fair amount of fun putting together some of the components. At the top of the list: wedding favors.

That project started when a friend bequeathed us a large supply of 12oz mason jars. The wedding had a bit of a DIY theme already, so we decided that each jar could contain a DIY “kit” for the guest to build and enjoy during the reception. I scoured the ‘tubes for ideas and ended up devising five kits, each with a very different flavor. Although I thought I had designed them with manufacturability (and affordability) in mind, we experienced some NASA-esque budget overruns and *may* have put the staff at the local art supply store through grad school. But with a few late nights and a few capable groomsmen, we got them done. And what a success they were!  Continue reading