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Who here thinks creativity is easy?

You’ve probably seen this ad in the past couple of days.  I really loved it, although I’m not sure who at Intel approved of it:

I know the guy who invented one of the most widely used anti-depressants in history.  The company that he worked for bought his patent for a buck and is reaping in billions every year- well, for the time being anyway.  And what did Morris get?  Well, other than a pretty nice bonus, he gets fan mail.  He get letters from people who thank him for saving them from the wreckage of their minds.  Now, some of you may scoff haughtily at the notion of an anti-depressant, assuming (wrongly) that most people who take them don’t need them.  I might agree that they are overprescribed but the thing is, if you are one of the people who can pull yourself together under their influence in a way you can’t do without them, you probably aren’t terribly interested in the superior minded folks who tell you that there’s nothing wrong with feeling that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  Ever.  For day after day, year after year.  Well, you get the picture.

Yeah, Morris gets fan mail.  I don’t know how these people tracked him down but they did.  He’s a rockstar.

Last week, Don Draper, the Creative Director of Mad Men’s Sterling-Cooper, told his protege that she wasn’t an artist, she solves problems.  Those of us who work in creative fields like processor design, drug design, even auto-mechanics, are problem solvers.

Those who work in the insurance industry and the finance industry are NOT problem solvers.  I think this point was lost on the folks at Planet Money recently.  Ya’know, back when the Financial Meltdown of 2008 was young, Planet Money was a great little podcast.  It explained how all of the moving pieces meshed together.  The few missteps in the beginning when Adam Davidson told us all not to get too mad at the bonus structure of the bailed out companies were naive but we could overlook them.  Then came that cringeworthy interview he had with Elizabeth Warren and it all started going rapidly downhill from there.  The latest stupidity has spread from Adam to Alex Blumberg.  God, I had such high hopes for him.  One of the recent podcasts extolling finance as the “geniuses” behind every new innovation that has made our lives better has really taken the shine off of him for me.

Oh, sure, the moneybags have financed a lot of good stuff but there have been plenty of things that never got off the ground or have been hopelessly stalled.  Take stem cell research for example.  I guess it depends on the religious mindset of who is actually holding the moneybags.  Or the fact that back in the 90’s, Apple nearly went out of business when all of the big corporations gave lifetime employment to the IT nazis when they bought PCs that ran nothing but Windows.  We are all going to be paying for that  non-diversification of the the desktop for a lifetime.  Or the fact that our financial wizards can not think beyond 3 months, which is forcing a lot of companies to merge, cut their workforces or get gobbled up by private equity.  Or the fact that so many small businesses can’t get loans because all of the bankers who Adam Davidson insists we just had to save are sitting on big piles of money because they refuse to divest themselves of their bad assets.  Yes! Let’s hear it for our financial braintrusts!

How frickin’ clueless can you get?  I’ll answer that: pretty clueless, especially if you’ve never seen real creation at work.  Some of our corporate overlords have this fantastic notion in their overblown egos that the companies they pilot would sink without their skills.  The R&D people make note of this all of the time.  Yes, we can be replaced by cheaper Ajay Bhatts in Hyderabad but real creativity doesn’t come by swapping out parts.  It takes a certain environment.  Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in his most recent book, Outliers, when he describes the characteristics of successful people.  Your native intelligence can only take you so far.  Other things have to come into play, like how effectively your family advocates for you at school, opportunity and location and something that most of us in America overlook- how hierarchically our society is structured.  It turns out that in highly hierarchical societies, creativity and problem solving is squelched, sometimes with disastrously fatal results.

The grumbling of the problem solvers is starting to make noise.  At least we, the R&D people are starting to hear it from each other.   A real resentment is starting to simmer about how the corporate people think their s%^& doesn’t smell because they don’t have to spend their days in the labs touching things with their hands.  Their salaries and bonuses match their egos.  The newest thing is a management development program where the trainer encourages the non-corporate types to use the same meaningless biz-speak jargon to communicate with the “people who have the money”.  See, if you use the latest trendy word combination, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.  You put it in a context they can understand, even if the rest of your presentation is completely over their heads.  Someone tried to convince me the other day that this was a good idea.  It’s not.  There are studies that show that the more jargon a business uses, the more poorly run it is, a prediction made by Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian in his book Less Than Words Can Say three decades ago.    I don’t think I have an obligation to contribute to my own demise.

I worry about a country that had a cornucopia of innovation in the past is now facing its biggest creative crisis.  This country is becoming more hierarchical all of the time while it is also becoming less able to cope with the demands of new technology and how to solve problems with it.  It doesn’t help that our nation’s teachers blame everyone but themselves for their poor preparation.  Yes, if we would only pay them better, they would learn this stuff like every other advanced industrialized nation’s teachers that use standardized testing.  Well, not to worry.  At the rate things are going, there will soon be a glut of highly educated future teachers on the market who will be fluent in advanced mathematics and science.  When the creative types finally lose their jobs because they can’t convince the “people who have the money” that solving problems is worth a damn, they can take a crack at the classroom for a little less money but summers off.

They might not have fan mail, but at least they’ll have a union.

Catch more on the battle of the creatives vs the hierarchy on Mad Men tonight at 10PM EST on AMC.

PS.  Thank someone who solves a problem for you tomorrow.  We need to start a movement.

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49 Responses

  1. if it’s lexapro, thank him for me or prozac for that matter. Depression runs rampant among the irish women in my family ( My mother atha jean, grandmother atha maria, aunt elizabeth maria) After my grandmother took to the sofa (now resident in my front parlor) and never got off, they tried everything including shock treatment. Once they got my mom on antidepressants she apologized for fucking up my entire life. I’m on them prophalactically because I don’t want even a chance of being there ever again … why on earth doesn’t he get a portion of the patents?

    Even in public Universities, we get a portion.

    What a friggin shame. W/B from Hawaii !!! I’m so happy to put the links on this one 🙂

    • oh and FUCK tom cruise!!!

      • Agree, what a dweeb. Really, there’s no such thing as mental illness. Is that what he was selling. Scientologists don’t just have a bizarre alien based cult, they’re fricken dangerous.

      • It’s hilarious because he is on a high octane drug himself. It’s called ” egozac”. It’s a drug manufactured internally when the world says you’re the shit. But when the world stops saying you’re the shit and you can’t get your fixes….there be trouble ahead . I perdict in years time he’ll be head of the NRA ( where older Hollywoord stars go to die) in order to keep his fixes coming.

      • It’s hilarious because Tom is a heavy user of egozac . As it gets header and harder for him to get his fixes of egozac , then we will see some mental illness from Tom. What was that sofa jumping on Oprah’s but craziness? Huge success, lots of money and everyone saying ” how high” when he barks ” jump” is barely keeping him together . Who would believe in mental illness in that cocoon? But what happens when all that stops? I would subject he dismisses mental illness, cause it’s to close to home.

    • Not lexapro. I’d rather not give too much away. Let’s just say that he’s made a lot of people very happy.

      We give up our patent rights because it costs so much money for the company to shepherd a potential drug through the development process and clinical trials. In return, we get the warm fuzzies of knowing that we’ve brought someone back to sanity or cured cancer. I think it’s a fair trade. My pay is good, though I don’t make nearly as much as someone with an MBA.

      • I can believe that. Unfortunately, if i wanted to be really rich, I could go to Goldman Sachs and get all I wanted. Unfortunately, to me, it’s not about money. It’s about right livelihood. Boddhisattva vows, you know.

      • and I know all about the warm fuzzies … hard to eat them, don’t pay the rent or the university tuition on children … like the eldest who is finally out of med school and the youngest who is on her first degree and is already talking about the next one … THEN, there are my student loans for the Phd. You think i’d sell out at that rate.

        • It’s a fiduciary arrangement. It’s simpatico. The company pays me to sit and wonder until an idea smacks me in the face. It gives me the resources to do this. In return, I give them the rights to my patents. The problem starts when the idiots in charge think that the idea just magically appears without human intervention. The products they sell just appear out of the ether, fully formed. There’s a profound disconnect with these people. I’d like to know what the color of the sky is in their world. It’s not that easy to think this stuff up. I work with the cream of the crop from around the world. It takes a long time, collaboration, seeing connections, more hard work and a lot of failure. But all the MBA sees is one blockbuster that will make his or her job so much more lucrative. Where it came from? Not their problem.

          • nah, i understand, it’s like it would’ve never occurred to you without their equipment, their lousy buildings and staff, their lousy coffee machines, their lousy vending machines …

            that wonderful environment they create makes you brilliant, right?

            i want one of those Renaissance patrons to fund my research, even if he asks for things other than hints on how to tell when a CEO is about to lie to you and steal your money. I’d rather have an honest commercial exchange of money for sex than one that involves my heartmind (which is buddhist for brain and soul since we don’t buy the soul concept)

          • Nope, I can’t complain about the building, equipment or the coffee. The espresso machine is delightful. 😉

            No, I have a problem with the idea that the MBAs can continue to short staff their R&D departments while reaping in the big bucks for themselves. Things like proposing a department to perform a certain badly needed research function, one that would have sped up the discovery process. But they need 70 people to do it and that’s just not going to happen. Ever. It happens at every pharma company I’ve ever heard of.
            And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s very common to be short staffed and have to postpone or cancel projects because of it.

      • The software industry is about the same. We do patents and get our name on them which is way cool. But the company owns the patent. If it’s a good company you’ll get a very nice bonus for it. If it’s a great company, you’ll get a share of the profit of that product.

        If a company isn’t so cool about it, people quickly learn to keep their best ideas to themselves. Then they go off later and get vulture capital and launch their own business with their friends. It’s fun. I’ve done it a few times. Sometimes the business makes it, sometimes you get acquired, sometimes you fall flat on your face.

        I love solving problems. Thanks for the post.

      • “… he’s made a lot of people very happy.”

        And that has unfortunately lead to antidepressants, in my country, being called “happiness-pills”! People for whom those pills are vital to have close to a normal life – or rather their relatives – have for years fought to get the media to drop that expression as it is very hurtful to them. But it’s an uphill battle – and only goes to show once again, how manipulative the media is/can be.

        Interesting post RD!

  2. Wow, the lightening around here is incredible. It’s knocking out my internet like crazy.

    • however, Futurama tonight is kicking ass!!! There are Eco-feministas and snoop dog’s head is the chief SCOTUS and all the guys are wearing tin foil hats. My kind’ve reality!

      • With insanity running amok in the blogosphere why bother watching television?

        • lightening knocking out the insanity

        • More insanity than usual? I’ve seen a bit of cup o’crazy in re the news story of the week, which I won’t elaborate on to avoid opening up cup o’worms, but it was just the kind of garden variety insanity I’ve come to expect from Hufflepuff Obamacrats…

  3. “Yes, if we would only pay them better, they would learn this stuff like every other advanced industrialized nation’s teachers that use standardized testing.”

    Our school district has failed to meet the standards for the second year in a row, so now we’re on probation. Anyway, the problem is obvious to me, 3 yrs ago we purchased a new math curriculum. Test scores took a nose dive. My goodness, if it isn’t the biggest bunch of gobblygook curriculum nonsense, I don’t know what is! I’ve been actively campaigning against this rubbish since we purchased it. It’s kind of funny, people try to say we just don’t understand the curriculum or we don’t understand the language of educators or maybe we’re just too stupid to really get math.

    Or maybe the curriculum they mandated just sucks eggs. And maybe we invested so much money in it nobody wants to admit it’s a failure.

    Riverdaughter’s post reminded of the way economists, politicians, teachers, over intellectualize things instead of solving problems. It’s kind of like there is the idea in America that if something doesn’t make sense, we must just be too stupid to understand the issue. Like people looking at Obama and trying to claim he’s just so smart, he’s playing 11 dimensional chess that none of us understand. We’re living in society that listened to the explanation of why we needed to put the same people who got us into this economic mess, in charge of cleaning it up, and we swallowed the explanation! It still amazes me that people were willing to accept this.

  4. RD, thanks for bringing up one of my pet peeves–business jargon. There is certain business terminology that is necessary to learn in order to communicate effectively–accounting terminology is one example–but much of the terminology is just silly slang designed, IMO, to be used like passwords in some private club.

    By the way, I obtained my MBA almost 30 years ago. At my school, Business Ethics was a required course. I was also taught that the customer is paramount. Have no idea what they’re teaching today in those programs, although it seems, based on results, that they might want to consider re-designing their courses.

  5. I love your rant, even though I disagree with you that the specific example (finance) that you use is somehow an example of folks who are not creative or into problem solving. But one can not expect everyone to be expert in everything or even up to speed as to discussion, so you are forgiven! 🙂 . My sister and her husband were into developing new goodies (software systems including hardware architecture) that helped teach/train adults (and children) in highly skilled diverse occupations, including our military types, and had a world wide company that went away when Microsoft stole the ideas/concepts/innovations (interactive video and graphics in the early 70’s!) they had developed. I agree it is hard for the creative science person to find appreciation. But the math grads that went into data mining and actuarial work and invented asset back securities, actually did stop the melt down of our system as capital for home purchases would have been inadequate for growth in our economy post the Carter years if they had not done so, inventing securitization of assets. Likewise techniques to mitigate accounting eating up capital because it could not deal with the speed of the US expansion and the new type of companies coming on line saved us from that black hole for growth. Of course the actuaries got near zero for what they did, except for a few who were blessed as managers of other actuaries, while CEOs hired based on family and connections patted themselves on the back and began the post Carter “no CEO IS BELOW AVERAGE” salary review process. Today those Goldman folks get their average $1 million annual earnings because they can connect with other folks that have money – not because they are creative or deep thinkers. The thinkers making money are those finding ways to stay within the law (lawyers) while getting risk management skills from the creative staff that is under the control of some MBA that had the skill to be born to the right set or who like the Goldman folks, has the skill to “relate” to the current CEO and the friends he has surrounded himself with (all the while understanding little of what the staff is doing). But the bottom line is that there are very smart creative folks in finance who do provide a vital function to the growth of the companies in the world and the growth of our economy, and like creative folks everywhere who do not have there own company, they get little of the prize money. The rating agencies being willing to rate AAA bonds based on “C” loans is the source of the banking problem because the banks refused to hire the math types that could do the risk management analysis that said AAA on a set of C bonds is nuts. It became a game for the MBA folks that were tasked with packaging those bonds to see how much crap they could put in the package and still get that AAA rating, as they ignored the science presented to management about how slight changes in default rates would crash the projections. The term “Business Ethics” is an oxymoron – we need tight regulation that is funded so those creative math types are hired in numbers that allow actual review of what is presented to our financial system.

  6. Great post RD. Most of it went over my head, but as Daki said above, you can thank your buddy for me. If he invented a widely prescribed anti-depressant, than I can gaurantee you that possibly every woman in my family currently living, with the exception of me and my older sister (though she should be getting on it soon) is or has been on it and it has improved their lives drastically.
    On another note, when I read the title of your post, the first thing that entered my dirty little mind was, “Not me, but I think you’re easy.”
    That is how naughty I am. Tee hee!

  7. Amen. Our nation was built on innovation and hard work. Today, the recession is squeezing commercial innovation. If it’s not externally crowdsourcing creativity to save money (both in and out of country), it’s business consultants strictly formalizing both the process and structure of innovation. Neither is smart or sustainable. You cannot package or bottle imagination. We need to keep nurturing the right environments for innovation and ensure that the innovators are well rewarded for their inventiveness. Originality has always been America’s brand.

  8. You really have touched upon a significant change in our society. Years ago, it wasn’t sexy to work in finance but those of us who did, understood that it was not the nature of finance. When accountants and finance people start getting creative, there’s danger ahead. I recall, many years ago, being a little envious of the bonuses and extras being given to the creative departments but I understood that they were the revenue generators, it was our job to count and manage the revenue they generated. These days, the real money is made in the financical sector, rewarding people for the inovative ideas that have brought us this financial meltdown.

    You really make an excellent point. There has been a shift from incenting the creative types for making money to incenting the finance types for being creative. Welcome back.

  9. It’s this difference that makes your colleague a “rock star.”

  10. RD< great post. Speaking of advertising, perhaps you can help me out as a chemist. Why would Dow extoll the virtues of the human factor and show Hu with an atomic number of 8? Is that not an inert gas? Does this make any sense?

    • Um, let’s see, 1s2, 2s2, 2p4. That’s Oxygen.
      I think the angle is “the Human Element”. From a chemical standpoint, oxygen is combustible. It readily reacts with other elements. It kinda makes sense, in a geeky way.

      Actually, I prefer this kind of geekiness to the faux claims that certain cosmetics have never been tested on animals. ALL ingredients in cosmetics have been tested in animals at one point or another. It’s just the new combinations that are risky. And we test on animals because human test subjects generally don’t appreciate losing their eyesight to mascara. Stuff like that. I understand why it bothers people but the sentimentality is getting to be ridiculous when one considers what’s at stake. And there are no models that can adequately substitute. I know I’m off on a tangent but I was just reading the stupid statement on the back of a Lush bag and it got me thinking that if I were the typical American, I’d be impressed by this claim of no animal testing. But since I’m a chemist working for a pharma company, I’m thinking they are either trying to pull a fast one or I must be nuts to wash my body with their products.

      • True enough. One of the strange jobs I have held was testing products and doing drug studies. It’s hard to believe that there has been no animal testing. If not them, then what? Plankton?

  11. RD, I loved Outliers. Especially the idea of the “self-made man”

  12. Finance and corporate overlords taking credit for creativity/research/results — This would be aking to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church taking credit for Copernicus, Galelio, and Michaelangelo…. If the corporate types want to be rated on their success in fomenting and supporting the creativity that yields new breakthroughs, let’s look at their entire investment portfolio. How many failures vs successes? How many good choices vs a few select good winners that you push upfront?

    • Indeed. The thing is they can’t even compute an idea that someone else hasn’t created and already proven a success. They know only exploiting the proven success…so how can they innovate anything new ?….and really what makes the success they adore is the newness someone created. While they seem to think it’s their marketing / packaging nonsense doing it . The problem today is these people, who can only take known and think innovation is blowing the known up bigger, have taken the lead.

      Coupled with a corporate world that is the tightest drum its ever been , and you have the current culture … jaded , bored , where nothing new is allowed in to invigorate it .

  13. terrific post Rd

    The latest stupidity has spread from Adam to Alex Blumberg. God, I had such high hopes for him. One of the recent podcasts extolling finance as the “geniuses” behind every new innovation that has made our lives better has really taken the shine off of him for me.

    I’m guessing with some success, and it’s often surprising how little it takes, comes the compromise and it’s really too bad .

  14. Great to hear from you RD.

  15. MYIQ, it’s good to see you back. You’ve been inactive for awhile, haven’t you? And I’m very glad to see that you’ve read Richard Mitchell. Ages ago, I interviewed him for my school paper. Amazing guy. Very funny. Also quite the expert on Mahler.

    • Whoops: I read to hastily. I thought MYIQ wrote the original post. Well, at least he showed up.

      Apologies, riverdaughter. And if you never got a chance to meet Richard Mitchell, you really missed something.

  16. Effective “cartoon” making case for universal, socialized, government, call-it-what-you-want health insurance —

    I LOVE the reference to 100 page Fire Insurance policy….

  17. Hey RD, just a side note since the thunder and lightening keep getting my internet access last night.

    I find creativity very easy. It’s the mundane I find difficult.

    The biggest problem for me is that creativity means poverty, and the mundane means you pay your bills.

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