Creative Challenge

This is as good a place as any to note a couple of short pieces that caught my eye recently and that seem to have something to do with one another, at least to my way of thinking.  Because, in a sense, they each resonate with my ways of thinking.

First is Jonah Lehrer’s “Groupthink,” from the Jan. 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.  The full article is subscription-only, but the preview is here.  In part because it resonates somewhat with the description of “emergent creativity” found in my work on fair use, the quotation that made the most sense to me right away is this:

According to [UC Berkeley psychologist Charlan Nemeth], dissent stimulates new ideas becuase it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. ‘There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is to stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. ‘Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.”

Professor Nemeth’s website is here.

Second is this post at the Chronicle of Higher Education by Geoff Pullum, about the challenges of working with and listening to colleagues who discomfort us.   A key quote:

The joy of working in a university, for me, has nothing to do with wearing gowns or drinking sherry in the faculty club or standing at oak-paneled podia in steeply banked lecture theaters imparting vapid maxims to the young the way professors in movies do. It’s about being in the company of people who are smarter than I am.

If I could understand everything I hear from colleagues and visitors, if I never experienced moments of panic about not being able to keep up, I would be working in the wrong place.

If I were to reach a bit and spend more time on the question, I might be able to connect both of these to the idea of creativity as “play,” as Julie Cohen develops that idea in Configuring the Networked Self.