When we think of creative people, we often think of a genius who works alone, comes up with an earth-shatteringly new idea in an instantaneous eureka moment, and then sees that obviously valuable idea naturally become a well-known sensation.
My guest today argues that this picture is altogether wrong, and lays out a different image of what it really means not only to be creative, but to become a successful creative, and achieve one’s aims. His name is Allen Gannett and he’s the author of The Creative Curve.
We begin our conversation discussing what exactly creativity is and the myth of the creative genius that exists in the West. Allen shares why the best creative ideas actually aren’t completely novel and instead riff on what already exists. We discuss why the most creative people in history were the biggest consumers of other content and ideas, why creatives needs to promote their work, why timing is crucial in a creative idea taking off, and the 4 types of people a successful creative needs to have in their network.
Whether you need to be creative in traditional business or more artistic pursuits, this show has some good insights on how to make your ideas more successful.
- The myth of the creative genius that’s pervasive in our culture
- Why this belief hinders the creativity of most of us “normals”
- How this myth actually operates as an excuse
- How J. K. Rowling came to write Harry Potter
- The iterative nature of creative works
- The importance of combining novelty with value
- The evolutionary biology around human preference
- Why being too radically novel will hurt your idea
- How to find the sweetspot between novelty and familiarity
- Why Bruno Mars’ music is so catchy
- How creators actively consume content
- Imitation and creativity
- How great creators learned to be great creators
- 4 types of people creatives have in their community
- The importance of promotion (because of simultaneous invention)
- Why timing can make or break your idea
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Becoming a Creative Like Da Vinci
- Novelty vs Familiarity
- Kanye’s tweet on originality
- “Uptown Funk”
- Ted Sarandos
- Andrew Ross Sorkin
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- Want to Become a Better Writer? Copy the Work of Others!
- Inspiration Is for Amateurs
- The Case for Subservience
- Developing Talent in Young People
- Competition: The Fuel for Greatness
- Alfred Russel Wallace
- Simultaneous invention
- One Skill Every College Student Should Learn
- Apple Newton
- Why Campus Network lost out to Facebook
Connect With Allen
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
The Great Courses Plus. Better yourself this year by learning new things. I’m doing that by watching and listening to The Great Courses Plus. Get one month free by visiting thegreatcoursesplus.com/manliness.
Simple Contacts. Getting new contacts is a hassle. Instead, take an online, self-guided vision text, and get lenses shipped right to your door. Get $20 off your first order at simplecontacts.com/manliness20 or by entering code “manliness20” at checkout.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness. Now, when we think of creative people we often think of a genius who works alone, comes up with an earth-shatteringly new idea, an instantaneous eureka moment, and then sees that obviously valuable idea, and naturally become a well-known sensation.
My guest today argues that this picture is all together wrong, and lays out a different image of what it really means to, not only be creative, but to become a successful creative and achieve one’s aims.
His name is Allen Gannett, and he’s the author of the book The Creative Curve. We begin our conversation discussing what exactly creativity is, and the myth of the creative genius that exists in the West.
Allen shares why the best creative ideas actually aren’t completely novel, and, instead, riff off on what already exists. We discuss why the most creative people in history, the biggest consumers of other content ideas, why creatives need to promote their work, why timing is crucial in a creative idea taking off, and the four types of people a successful creative needs to have in their network.
Whether you need to be creative in traditional business or more artistic pursuits, this show has some good insights on how to make your ideas more successful. After the show’s over check out the show notes at aom.is/creativecurve. Allen joins me now via clearcast.io.
Allen Gannett, welcome to the show.
Allen Gannett: Thanks for having me, man.
Brett McKay: You’ve got a book out, The Creative Curve: How To Develop The Right Idea At The Right Time. Now, this idea that you can instantaneously, on demand, bring up good ideas. I don’t know, man, the idea out there is that genius inspiration and creativity, it just happens, thanks to the muses, thanks to inspiration.
What are the big myths that we have about … You think that’s a myth. Why do you think that’s a myth about creativity?
Allen Gannett: Yeah, so I think it’s definitely not that you can bring it up within a minute, right? It’s not on demand, on demand. But we have this view of creativity in our culture, in Western culture, that’s wrong. The view of creativity in our culture is that some people have this prodigal talent, and they are zapped by the forces above with these moments of inspiration, that the rest of us, us normies, could only sort of quake in their presence.
We’re never gonna have those moments. We’re not gonna be JK Rowling, or Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs and all those things. I think that this is a very dangerous belief, because for a lot of people this is very discouraging, right? If you think for some people it’s super easy, and for the rest us it’s impossible, you’re never actually gonna try, you’re never, never gonna give it that best effort.
I got a little frustrated with this a few years ago, and I just was hearing this so much through this idea of, you know, “I’m not creative enough, blah, blah, blah.” And I went to dig into the question. What I found, and what resulted in the book was that when you actually look at the research, the science behind creativity, it’s actually very clear that creativity is a skill.
It’s a skill that you can nurture, a skill that you can develop, and a skill that you can get better at. The book, it’s basically taking this myth down, and then also prescribing things you can do to actually enhance it.
Brett McKay: What’s interesting, too, and you talk about, you actually find some of our biggest … some of the big creativity stories out there, right? And you dig into them and actually find out, well, no, it wasn’t just this single moment. It actually took years for them to-
Allen Gannett: Oh, yeah!
Brett McKay: Come up with that idea. Is there one that stands out to you in particular?
Allen Gannett: One of my favorite ones is, there’s this myth that JK Rowling was hit with the idea for Harry Potter on a train, and she started writing the book on a napkin. There’s just so many things not true with this. First of all, she didn’t have a napkin, she just came up with, like, the idea for the characters.
Then it took her five years to write the first book. Five years. She shows in an interview she did on TV once, she actually shows the box with all of the different versions of chapter one of book one. There was 15 different versions she wrote. This was a highly iterative, long, methodical thing she did. It wasn’t this, boom! You have an idea, and boom! You have a best-selling book. It took five years.
I think we have this romanticism around these creatives that we want to believe that it’s so easy. I almost wonder, I almost worry that it may be just be an excuse that we tell ourselves. Maybe it’s not that it’s discouraging, maybe it’s that, “Well, if it’s easy for them it’s impossible for me. I don’t actually have to try. I don’t have to put in five years of work.”
I wonder how people really internalize it?
Brett McKay: Yeah, all right, so … okay. Get rid of this idea that creativity just happens because of happenstance, or just luck, or whatever. There’s nothing we can do about it, it takes work.
This is an interesting point that you talk about in the book, that I think is important to talk about, as well, is what makes something creative, creative? Right?
Allen Gannett: Oh, yeah.
Brett McKay: You can come up with an original idea, but it could suck. Is that a creative idea? How do we figure out, like, this is actually a creative idea, this is great. How do we figure that out?
Allen Gannett: Yeah, it’s amazing, because creativity is actually subjective, right? It’s kind of like that famous Supreme Court case about porn. You know it when you see it. It’s like, if I painted a replica of the Mona Lisa it wouldn’t be creative, it would be technically skilled, but it’s already been done.
In creativity there’s actually two different concepts of creativity, and you have to understand the distinction between the two. There’s lowercase C creative, these are the real … these are what academics call it. Lowercase C creativity, which is basically just creating something new, creating something out of something else.
Then there’s capital C creativity, and this is what we actually mean when we’re talking about creativity. This is creating things that people actually want, things that people actually care about. And the definition that academics have come to for things that are capital C creativity, is the ability to make things that are both novel and valuable. Novel and valuable.
That’s actually really important, because I could throw a bunch of paint on a canvas, and it’s certainly novel, but it’s definitely not valuable, and it’s definitely not creative.
On the other hand, I recently learned how to do conditional color formatting in Excel, I’m very proud of myself. It’s definitely valuable, it’s certainly not novel, and it’s certainly not creative. Really, when we’re talking about creativity, what we’re really talking about is that ability to create things that are novel and valuable.
Brett McKay: All right, so creativity then is a social concept in a way?
Allen Gannett: Yeah, because value is completely subjective. For something to be valuable we all have to agree that it’s valuable. When you want to study creativity, one of the things you really have to dig into is, you also have to dig into what drives human preference? What drives trends, consumer behavior, all this stuff?
One of the things, if you don’t mind me geeking out for a second-
Brett McKay: Sure.
Allen Gannett: There’s actually some really fascinating evolutionary biology around human preference, and it comes down to these two things. It turns out that there’s actually pretty good reason and rationale on why we like certain things. It comes down to these two seeming contradictory urges.
On one side our brain has this urge to seek out things that are familiar. We like things that are familiar because they represent safety to us. When we go to our home we feel safe, when we go to a strangers home for the first time, we’re sort of looking around, we’re looking around. If you were a prehistoric cave dweller and you saw two caves, one cave that you’ve slept many nights in, and one cave you’ve never been in before, the cave you’ve never been in before feels a little bit dangerous.
But then we have this other urge. We also have this urge to seek out things that are novel, and the reason why is that we want the potential reward that they represent. For example, if you’re a hunter/gatherer, and you see a new berry on the field, you might go, “Oh, this is a potential source of food. I should eat this, I should try it.”
These two things are a seeming contradiction. The search for familiarity, and the search for novelty, but it turns out that this is our brains’ really elegant way of balancing risk and reward, right? If we’re in a field and we see a berry, that kind of looks like a weird strawberry, we’d eat it. We’d say, “Oh, this is interesting.” But if it was like a berry we’ve never seen ever before, so weird, so novel, we’d probably say, “Uh, that’s too new. That’s dangerous, maybe it’s poisonous.”
It turns out that we’re wired to like things that are familiar with a twist of novelty. The first Star Wars was a western in space. Right now there’s these sushi burritos that are taking over the coast of The Americas, the new food trend. It’s sushi, but it’s in a burrito form. We like these things that are familiar but novel.
We don’t actually like things that are radically new, or radically novel, that’s actually one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to creativity, it turns out, the ideas that people like, are the ideas that are in that sweet spot of familiarity and novelty.
Brett McKay: That’s what the creative curve is, is finding that sweet spot where you’re getting just the right amount of novelty, just the right amount of familiarity.
Allen Gannett: Yeah, so scientists have found this really, really cool phenomenon, and the scientific name for it is the inverted U-shape relationship between familiarity and preference. I’ve rebranded it the creative curve, I think it sounds much better.
Basically, what it is, is this upside down U shape where it turns out, when we first see something, or first experience something, like the first time you heard that new Drake song. You’re like, “Eh, I don’t really like it that much.” Then the more we hear it, because we like things that are familiar, we start to like it more, and more, and more.
But then it reaches a point where our drive for novelty-seeking starts winning out, it reaches this point of cliché. The more we experience it we like it less and less. We get sick of that Drake song, we don’t want to hear it anymore, and this forms an upside down U.
Your goal, as someone who wants to be creative, is to create things on that left side, that are gonna quickly take off from low preference to high preference with some additional exposure. That’s the job of a creative. It’s to create ideas that are at this sweet spot. This sweet spot where people actually will be interested, and they’ll actually define it as valuable.
Brett McKay: Right. I think besides … I think some of the great way where you can see this in action is music. Right?
Allen Gannett: Oh, yeah.
Brett McKay: For example, Bruno Mars.
Allen Gannett: Sampling.
Brett McKay: He’s the king at this. I remember when Uptown Funk first came out, like, the first time I heard it, like, “This is awesome.” And the reason why is it sounded familiar, it sounded kind of like ’80s, ’70s-type funk, but it was a new spin on it.
Allen Gannett: 100%. Kanye recently tweeted, I hate quoting Kanye, but, recently tweeted that, “Great artists steal and update,” and that’s so true. And music’s such a great example of this with all the sampling that goes on, and the remixes that go on.
It’s even interesting when you think about the people who are really great songwriters. Max Martin comes to mind, he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all-time. He’s the third most number-one singles after Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
His technique is all about taking elements of the chorus, but introducing them much earlier in the songs. By the time it actually reaches the chorus it’s already catchy, it’s already familiar, you’re already interested in it. So over and over again, you start to see it, you start of realize that creativity is not about novelty, it’s not about newness. It’s about the blend of the familiar and the new.
Brett McKay: Right. But going back to that creative curve, there’s a point where it becomes too familiar and you get sick of it. Whenever Uptown Funk comes on now I’m just … instantly change the channel, because I’ve heard it so much I’m tired of it.
Allen Gannett: Yeah, 100%. They’ve actually done studies with music specifically where they just make people listen to music over and over again, and it follows this U shape. Like, we have this very predictable way in which our preferences change, and what’s interesting, is that effect happens both at the individual level, the group level, and the population level.
Obviously, within a population people are experiencing things at different times and different rates, but at all three of these levels the same thing happens. One of the key jobs for a creator is to understand how familiar and novel something is.
What I did in the book is I interviewed all of the leading academics who studied creativity across neuroscience psychology, anthropology, but I also interviewed 25 living creative geniuses. These are people like Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer of Netflix, billionaires like David Rubenstein, Pasek and Paul, the songwriting duo who did most of the music for La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Greatest Showman.
What is so interesting from these interviews is because familiarity is so important, one of the things that these creatives do, that seems unexpected, is they actually are some of the biggest consumers of culture. Not just creators, but consumers of culture. Because they realize that to know what’s gonna have the right amount of familiarity, they have to know what their audiences experience, they have to be out there, they have to be consuming.
Ted Sarandos told me a story about how as a kid he was the clerk at the local video rental store, and he literally watched every single movie in the store. Like, granted, this was the ’80s, so there was less movies, but he watched every single movie in the store. And he says this is a big way in which he developed his taste, because so much of taste, so much of creativity is knowing what’s already out there, and how what you’re creating will relate to past creative products.
Brett McKay: Okay, so this idea of consuming content. You can have this stuff that you can remix, right? And figure out what’s familiar, what’s novel. We all consume, we’re all on our smartphones looking at Reddit, or Instagram, or watching Netflix, so why is it that some people are able to take that stuff they consume and create something new with it?
Allen Gannett: Yeah, so what’s interesting is that how these creators consume is different than how probably you or I consume. Like, we’ll watch a movie and sort of sit back and relax, or we just read a book, and we want to suspend disbelief. What’s interesting is these great creators, they touch, and they feel it, and they interact with it, and they imitate it.
You actually find that imitation is a huge part of the creative process, and the consumption process for these creatives. I talk in the book about … I interviewed Andrew Ross Sorkin, who … Editor of DealBook at the New York Times, anchor at Squawk Box, wrote the book Too Big To Fail, co-creator of the show Billions. Someone who knows how to learn, he’s learned how to learn.
What’s so interesting, he told me that when he first wanted to become a journalist, what he did was he would take front-page articles from the New York Times business section, and he literally outlined how are they structured. Do they start with a quote? Did they start with a story? Do they start with a supporting detail? By learning that structure of a great creative work, that’s how you actually learn, what is that familiar baseline that your audience likes, that they enjoy?
You don’t have to go recreate the wheel, since familiarity is important, and imitation actually allows you to learn how to do that. Ben Franklin writes in his autobiography that he did something literally the same things that Andrew Ross Sorkin did.
We think of Ben Franklin as this amazing writer, but when he was 18 he was actually scolded by his father for being such a terrible writer. He was sort of in a shame spiral, and he decided he was gonna become a great writer, and to do this he literally took copies of The Spectator, which was a magazine at the time, and he went and outlined how they built their arguments. That’s how he learned how to write, it was by imitating this structure of a great successful work.
In the book I call it The Franklin Method, and you see it over and over again with these creators, who, novelists will go and they’ll outline books, and see how they’re built, how they’re structured, and that’s how they learn story arcs.
Kurt Vonnegut actually did that for his master’s thesis. His entire master’s thesis was about mapping out the story arcs of great novels. Imitation is actually one of the keys to creativity.
Brett McKay: Yeah, we wrote an article a long time ago about copy work, which is basically you take someone’s thing that they’ve written, and you just copy it verbatim. Either type it out, or write it. Like, Jack London, the writer, he did this, he took Robert Lewis Stevenson’s books and just wrote it.
Allen Gannett: Oh, wow. I didn’t know that. That’s awesome.
Brett McKay: Ah! What’s the guy? He’s another writer. I can’t remember the name. I think he wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Allen Gannett: Oh, Hunter S. Thompson.
Brett McKay: Hunter S. Thompson. He typed out The Great Gatsby-
Allen Gannett: Wow! That’s a great story-
Brett McKay: He wanted to know what it felt like to write a great novel.
Allen Gannett: I love that. Yeah, and you see this, it’s such a common experience with these great creators. They’re not afraid of imitation, and I think a lot of times aspiring creators view that, view the word imitation as this dirty, dirty word, but the great artists know that creativity is a social construct.
Everything that’s come before you is part of how people internalize creativity, so you have to know what’s out there, and you have to know how it’s structured.
Brett McKay: Right. All right, so consume a lot of content, but it’s an active consumption, right? You’re fiddling with it-
Allen Gannett: Yeah.
Brett McKay: You’re imitating it, you’re actually doing something with it. Okay, besides that, you argue that great creators aren’t just these lone geniuses. They actually are embedded in a deep community of other creatives. How does that work?
For example, let’s take JK Rowling, right? That seems like it was sort of like a solo thing, but did she have a group of community … creative community that she was going to, to help her out?
Allen Gannett: Yeah, this is such a great example. We have this notion of these creators as they go to a cabin, they write a book, they hit The End, they’re done. But the reality is you can sort of start to think about, and you quickly … quickly that image quickly falls apart, right?
JK Rowling had an agent, she had a publisher. I actually interviewed her first agent, interviewed her publisher, her first publisher. She had a marketing team, she had all these people, and all these people were helping her take her work, and actually get it out to the masses, right?
Her first agent had a whole idea around how to build buzz for the books, that it actually would catapult. And there’s all these things that went into taking this great product and making a true creative success, making it a true creative success.
What you see with these great creatives is that there’s typically four types of people they have in their creative communities, is what I call it. And so the one that I think is probably most interesting is that of a prominent promoter.
Typically, what you see is that since creativity is about having people see you, and see that you’re creative, you typically have someone more experienced with a bigger reputation who lends you their reputation if you are younger and starting out.
You see this obviously in music with the idea of opening acts for a band, you see this in academics, with junior researchers whose names are put up on papers even if they just contributed a small amount. You see this in every industry, this idea of sort of passing on down the reputation, and that’s an incredibly important part of the process. Even startups, you have your board of advisors.
The other one that’s interesting is a master teacher. You find that these great creatives typically had someone that they learned from, who is an expert. There was one study done for this book called Developing Talent In Young People. They looked at 120 people who were world-class across this wide variety of talents.
What they found was that of the 120, 120 had a teacher who themselves was world-class. You need someone that you’re actually gonna learn from, to actually learn sort of the nuances of your creative craft.
The third type of person you need in your creative community is what I call modern muse. This is someone who helps inspire you to go through positive emotions, like giving you a pep talk, but, also, through friendly competition.
What you find with these great creators … You know, I interviewed Connor Franta, who’s a popular YouTube creator, and he talked to me about how … He has all these friends who are YouTube creators. A lot of us have friends from college, and high school, and past experiences, but these really successful creatives tend to surround themselves with other really successful creatives, because it motivates them.
These people understand it, they know that creativity is this up and down battle, and they’re willing to give you that pep talk, and they serve as an example of something you can also achieve.
I think that’s just like one of these really, really critical, critical elements.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I thought the section about having a promoter, or just being able to promote yourself even, to promote a creative idea. Because often times we think, “Oh, you know, creative ideal will just stand on itself.” If you create something that’s creative people will just inherently recognize that it’s creative, but that’s not necessarily the case, right?
Allen Gannett: 100%. This is why it’s so important if you’re in a creative field to be in the epicenter, to be in the cities where that is, right? It’s so hard to break into fashion if you’re not in New York. Because creativity has this huge human element to it.
You might think, “Oh, this is changing with the internet, and Skype calls, and all this stuff,” but, still, what you find is the people who achieve the biggest success in their creative fields are typically physically there, because that’s where the people are. That’s so important to the creative process.
Brett McKay: Right. One example of failing to promote yourself, or your creative idea, that I like from the book was the theory of evolution. When we think theory of evolution we think Charles Darwin, right? But as you pointed out in the book there’s another guy named Alfred Russell Wallace that came up with the idea of evolution at the same time that Darwin did.
Darwin got this letter from him saying, “Hey, I’ve come up with this idea,” and Darwin was like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been walking on Origin of the Species, and this guys’ already got … What am I gonna do?.” They kind of did it together, but Darwin got most of the credit for it, because he put himself out there a little bit more than Wallace.
Allen Gannett: Yeah, and you see this over and over again, this idea of what academics call simultaneous invention, where two people will invent something, like, the light bulb, for example. Two people tried to patent it the same year. One, is Thomas Edison, who we all know and we talk about. The other person, I don’t even remember the name right now, right? Because in our society there’s this whole other element to creativity and recognition, and knowingness.
Darwin, after he published his book, went around, promoted it, talked to all these people about it. Alfred Wallace literally went back out to sea to do more research. He was, you could say in some ways, the more of a real scientist in that way, but it was Darwin who promoted it.
In fact, when later Alfred Wallace wrote a book about it, at that point it was so clearly associated with Darwin that he actually in his book title called it Darwinism. He literally ceded it to him, because it was so obvious that he had lost.
I think you see this really fascinating thing in history where we think we know a lot about creativity, and whose created what, but really what we know is who sort of won this sort of public opinion battle of creativity? Who got their ideas distributed? Who actually got the reach and the exposure? That’s such a huge and undervalued part of it.
Brett McKay: Right. Think of all the great creatives. We did a podcast about Da Vinci. Da Vinci was this creative genius. He had this community, right? He consumed tons of content, but he, also, … he promoted himself. I remember the way he got his job in one of the king’s court that he did, he said, “I am the greatest inventor. I’ll create amazing military machines.” He never did that. He hadn’t done that yet, but he was willing to put himself out there and kind of puff himself up to get the job. Because of that we’re talking about … DaVinci’s like the prototypical genius.
Allen Gannett: 100%. There’s this really fascinating study that followed art students from the time they were in school to … I think it was 15 years after they left art school. What they found was that in art school the students who did the best, in terms of grades and perception by the other students, were the ones who most represented the archetype of an artist. Like, they were sort of like dark, and a little weird, and all this stuff. But 10 years later the successful artist … Actually, none of those kids were successful. The successful artists were the ones who were best at salesmanship, they were the best marketers, the best PR people.
In fact, they found that these successful artists, they all happened to rent a loft in New York after they graduated, and the idea is that the loft actually represented this sort of extroversion to their work. This ability to invite people over for parties, for people to see their work, to talk about them, for people to come by. They had this very public space which their art was represented.
Even though it seems silly, there’s actually this whole importance of actually having people see you, experiencing you, and you being able to sell yourself.
Brett McKay: This whole idea of the creative curve, this intersection of familiarity and novelty. An interesting insight that comes from this is that timing of your idea can make or break whether it’s considered creative or just crazy or stupid.
Allen Gannett: Totally. I mean, think about if JK Rowling had written her book a hundred years earlier, or if you painted Andy Warhol in 1920s, or if I painted an Andy Warhol as painted today, it wouldn’t be creative, it would just be sort of something you sell at IKEA, right?
Timing has this huge element, like, everything is compared to what’s come before it. If you don’t understand that you’re at this huge disadvantage, which is why the consumption’s important. Because then you know what’s been out there.
Brett McKay: Right, and you know what people are familiar with, and so you’re able to iterate to that new thing that you want to get to eventually, but do it slowly so people are, like, “Okay, that’s cool.”
Allen Gannett: One probably that creators run into is that they have to have this deep amount of consumption, but you can sometimes become a super-consumer where your knowledge or your familiarity is slightly different than your audience.
One thing you also find, which is interesting, is that these creators are highly iterative, and highly feedback-driven. The most successful creators aren’t going off to the woods and writing their book and then coming back. The most successful creators are actually listening to their audiences early and often.
I found this across food sciences, across novel writing, across movies, is that even if it’s sort of a low-tech way of doing it, constantly these creative geniuses are constantly getting feedback, because they understand that their job is to triangulate their creative product to be at that right blend of familiarity and novelty. That is really an audience reaction.
If your job is to get a specific audience reaction, well, you better listen to them. And so that was really surprising to me, was how … just how iterative these processes were.
Brett McKay: Yeah, great example of a product that was too early for its time was the Apple Newton.
Allen Gannett: Oh, yeah!
Brett McKay: It was basically … It was like the iPhone back in the ’90s, but everyone’s like, “This is dumb.” And it was a complete flop.
Allen Gannett: Well, then think about when the iPhone came about, at that point it was much more familiar, right? It was basically combining a phone and an iPod. And we’d all had iPods at that point, and we understood the foreign factor. Like, this had no longer become this … It wasn’t radically new, right? So it was much more comfortable. We knew the idea of a PDA, there was the idea of a touch screen that was out there.
Yeah, the Newton was too new.
Brett McKay: Right.
Allen Gannett: I talk in the book about the story of Campus Network. Campus Network was a social network that started at Columbia University a month before Facebook at Harvard, another Ivy League school. They started, and they went viral at Columbia, but when they went up to compete with Facebook it was so interesting, because Campus Network actually had the more advanced product.
They had features that Facebook didn’t have yet, like the newsfeed, the activity feed, groups, photos, all these things, but it actually turned out that, how simple the original Facebook was. It was basically just a directory with photos, and the ability to add friends and stuff.
How simple it was, was actually important, because when people saw Campus Network they were actually kind of intimidated. At that point they were just getting used to the idea of using their real name on the internet. Like, this was 2004, 2005, and so now I’m gonna share all my activity to people? It was too early for that.
You see over and over again, that it’s not just about, is this feature useful? Is this product useful? But, is it in the right time and place for people to want to even use it?
Brett McKay: Right. You have to kind of boil frogs, right?
Allen Gannett: Yeah.
Brett McKay: The frog doesn’t even know it’s being boiled, because when you put it in there you start cranking up the heat.
Well, okay, let’s recap this. Creativity, it’s social, like, it’s not just … You can’t just come up with crazy ideas, that’s not creativity. Other people have to recognize that it’s creative. There’s an intersection between familiarity and novelty, right? If it’s too radically new people are just gonna be like, “That’s stupid, that’s crazy.” They’re not gonna latch on, so there needs to be a little bit of familiarity.
You can do that, figure out that sweet spot by consuming lots of content, but in an active way. Being embedded in a community of other creative types who are gonna help promote you, or maybe give you feedback or bounce ideas off of, and then you’re constantly iterating those ideas from your … The people you’re creating for.
Allen Gannett: Yeah, if you follow those steps you’re well on your way to capital C creativity. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but you’re on your way.
Brett McKay: Right. No, yeah, I mean, I can see that taking a lot of work. Especially the consumption and being active with it, I can see that being crazy.
Look, we literally scraped the surface. There’s so many case studies that you get into that are really fascinating. Where can people go to learn more about the book?
Allen Gannett: Yeah, so it’s thecreativecurve.com.
Brett McKay: The creativecurve.com. Well, Allen Gannett, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Allen Gannett: Thanks, man.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Allen Gannett, he’s the author of the book The Creative Curve. It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about the book at thecreativecurve.com.
Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/creativecurve where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another addition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com, and if you enjoy the podcast I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot.
If you’ve done that already, thank you so much. I’d appreciate if you’d also share the show with a friend or family member who might get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.