Newness and value

September 16th, 2011

I do a lot of my thinking when I’m doing nothing, like driving recently from Tucson to Corpus Christi in one day. Fifteen nonstop hours and one thousand miles. That’s a lot of thinking.

And of course much of my thinking dwelt on my recent obsession – creativity.

Somewhere between Willcox and Lordsburg, I came up with two basic criteria for determining whether something is creative or not

First, the thing has to be new.

Second, the thing has to have value.

Last week, I decided to open up the book, Mega Creativity by Dr. Andre Aleinikov that’s been lying on my bookshelf for the past year.

I had never heard of Aleinikov until I saw the book at a secondhand bookstore last year. I was so impressed by his chapter on how to define the essence of things that I purchased it immediately. But like the other two thousand books on my bookshelf, I had decided to save it for future reading and future reading turned out to be last weekend.

Imagine my complete surprise and delight when I found he had arrived at a similar definition of creativity, but with one slight difference – he omitted my second criteria.

Putting it through his rigorous steps of defining the essence of things, he concluded that the essence of creativity is newness, that’s it.

To me, there’s just one problem with this.

Not everything new is creative.

For instance, you can simply draw a bunch of random lines on a sheet of paper and it will be a new creation, but is it creative?

To take it to a more ludicrous level, going by that definition, every time you go to the bathroom, it’s a creative event too.

No, to me, value is an essential element of creativity.

Value can be anything you like. It’s totally subjective of course — what’s of value to me may be totally valueless to another — but that’s besides the point.

As long as it has value to someone, it’s passed that creativity threshold for that somebody.

It reminds me of an argument I had with a colleague many years ago about whether rap can be considered music. My colleague was adamant that rap is not music to which I responded that millions of young people would probably disagree.

The problem lies in how he perceived value in music. To him, rap music possessed zero value so it was not music. But millions of rap music fans obviously feel otherwise, because their perception of what is value in music is different.

So let’s apply that newness and value criteria to various creative pursuits.

(A word of caution: this is totally subjective and reflects my very personal bias.)

When someone produces a painting and it’s just a reproduction of another painting, it hasn’t passed the newness criteria so it’s not creative.

When a musician simply copies another musician, it’ not creative either, because it’s failed the newness factor.

When someone writes a poem filled with random words that have no meaning (and consequently no value), it’s not creative because it’s failed the value test.

When someone writes a few instructions to a performer to open a piano lid and sit there silently for 4 minutes 33 seconds, it’s not creative because it has failed the value criteria. (Someone looking for a philosophical statement and musical theater will probably disagree with me here.)

Newness and value – for me, these are the two essential criteria to determine whether something is creative or not.

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