Vancouver Special is a store on Main St. But it's more than a simple store. In fact, it may just be the most amazing, magical, wondrous store in all the land that is Vancouver.
A couple of Thursdays ago, it hosted “Party for Architects”, a forum/networking event for architects, designers and groupies. Ian Ross MacDonald from Bruce Carscadden Architect gave a lecture on Thrift (but not necessary on “being cheap”) and discussed some of his most recent work. There is little doubt that his work is fascinating—but it was his discussion of his love of spreadsheets and lists that really got me thinking. Like myself, Ian comes from a starkly different background than what is thought of as the typical route into the profession. In fact, it's clear that his “uncreative” past of statistics helped him become such a highly successful architect.
This brings me to my blog focus today: the limiting nature of creativity. To someone looking out, Ian may not exactly possess the traits of a “stereotypical” architect. There aren't any black turtlenecks or thick-rimed glasses, no over the top flamboyance, no struggling artist complexes; and yet behind his calm demeanor, there is tremendous creativity and, I would imagine, fervent passion for the profession.
All too often, we box in the idea of creativity; we limit it to areas such as the visual arts, architecture and music, and we delegate it to a small group of elite few. But creativity is far greater. Teresa Amabile from the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School mentions that everyone with normal intelligence is capable of some degree of creative thought. Among many things, she says, creativity is dependent on experience, talent and above all, intrinsic motivation. So, if in theory, most people are capable of creativity, why does the world seem to lack creative thought, especially now, when creative problem solving is so desperately needed? And, how does this void translate into the fields of architecture, development and real estate?
1. Experience Problem: It starts early on...
Sir Ken Robinson is a recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation and apart from having a kick-ass TED talk(s), he is an advocate for fostering creativity in early childhood education. According to him and to many scholars in the field, creativity is not highly valued in standard industrial society and therefore is not “taught” in the public education system. And even if it was, it's not straightforward like math or languages to teach. I would add here that creativity requires constant upkeep, positive social interaction to keep new ideas flowing, and thus collaboration between the education system and parents. Creating an environment with all these necessary factors is far from easy and cheap—and for families hovering around the poverty line, it's nearly impossible.
2. Talent Problem: Specialization, specialization, specialization
One of the most important developments to come from the industrial revolution has been that of specialization. Today, specialization can occur within a country (people taking up jobs and relying on money earned to buy what they cannot produce) and even between Nations (as countries strive to become world-wide leaders in industries such as technology and llama-herding). Specialization has not only left us with increasing job dissatisfaction, but also with a belief that creativity is meant for a selected few.
This rupture between “creatives” and “non-creatives” achieves two things: first, responsibility for certain parts of a process is broken up according to whether it’s “creative” or not, and second, design is relegated to only a specific part of the process. On a project, architects are no longer seen as “master builders” * but rather a means to an end, and other non-creative fields such as engineering cannot take chances at creative thinking (despite the fact that creative approaches to engineering are so important). Despite this all, idea such as integrative design are becoming more and more popular and I can only hope that the recent trend in design thinking as it applied to “non-creative” fields will help improve this Talent Problem.
3. Motivation Problem: Not part of the whole process
So when our experience and teaching does not foster creativity, we then make a terrifying mistake of thinking that creativity is only for a selected few, thus leaving creativity to be boxed in to one part of a process, demotivating both the “creatives” and those who think they are not.
Intrinsic motivation, I believe, drives most successful people and organizations. And creativity is linked to this motivation. Speaking with many older professionals, you get a sense that it’s the variety of tasks—the times when creativity is needed, that fuels their passions. Even accountants prefer instances where novelty is introduced, requiring them to think creatively about something (although at this point I would not recommend too much creative accounting lest you want to run into trouble with the CRA).
So the Experience Problem creates the Talent Problem and the Talent Problem creates the Motivation Problem. But it doesn’t have to be this way and if Ian’s success is any indication, it’s better to realize now that creativity is not about drawing or painting or dancing well. Rather, it’s about the art of creating—and that’s something everyone can do.
*Apologies for the excessive quotation marks. I am realizing I may have a problem.
(That awesome picture comes from the article, “Is the traditional business world at war with creativity?” It’s a great little read and you should check it out.)
Ekaterina is currently trying to balance all the amazing things her city has to offer while working and trying to sound coherent (please comment below telling her she is , in fact, still coherent). Stay tuned as the next couple of weeks call for more lectures and events. Right now, Vancouver is undergoing a strange stretch of days on end without a drop of rain whatsoever—clearly proof of the impending apocalypse.
Vancouver, the City of Glass. It’s a city of shinning skyscrapers and cardboard homes: a city of spectacular natural beauty, crushing rain, award winning livability and a frightening income gap. It’s a city of contradiction—and it’s growing. This blog will follow Vancouver through its coming of age. It will highlight the city’s search for new forms, its attempts at new urbanism, and its struggles and moments of success within the world of architecture, planning and design.