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The Creative Long Game

You may need to get creative about creativity

My friends all know I write about creativity. The blessing and the curse of this is that they send me all kinds of articles on creativity. Mostly, this is a curse because 90 percent of these articles continue to reinforce the wrong ideas about creativity. Most of the time I start reading them and when I get to the “…and so creativity needs freedom” or “creativity happens when random people meet…” I go “DELETE.”

But not this time.

My friend Chris sends me lots of different articles and these vary in topic and quality. One of the more amusing incidents happened when he sent me one of my own blog posts and asked if I thought it was garbage. Apparently he didn’t catch that I was the author. I suppose he looked at my picture at the top of the blog and though some kind of gorilla wrote it.

In any case, this time Chris sent me this article:

Air Jordan III: The Shocking Story of the Greatest Shoe Jordan Never Wanted

He says it reminds him of my work. “Ok,” I think, “let me give it a read.”

At paragraph four I think “Ahh here we go, some story of a young novice who breaks the rules because he doesn’t know them and, like the proverbial typing monkey, creates Hamlet.” I want to bag off, but instead, I read on. Chris has always had a weird way of making me do things I don’t want to. Apparently this works at a distance as well.

Yet, as I read on I became transfixed. Foster Kamer, the author, lays out the transformation of the creator of the third iteration Air Jordan, Tinker Hatfield Jr., from a pole vaulting architect into a famous sneaker designer that ultimately produced one of the most significant inventions in the sneaker industry. Kamer is fabulous in his recounting of historical details, and what captures me is the craft in this story of creativity. Sure, there are unexpected twists and turns. But there is also a sustained focus and determination that helps Hatfield channel his passions and experiences as he navigates the creation of the Air Jordan. There is also the meticulous attention that Hatfield pays - to Michael Jordan, to the nature of Nike at the time, to his own intuition, and to his education in architecture. It is a wonderful story that details the creative long game and the way different aspects of craft and creativity have to work together.

Then I read this:

“None of this would have happened had Hatfield followed convention. Instead, he went rogue in the simple, revolutionary way that is shrugging off common wisdom.”

GAAAAHHHH!!!! I wanted to tear my hair out. After all the beautiful and careful work to detail the process Hatfield used and the way it unfolded over time, the punchline is “novice breaks the rules.” No! Novice develops new rules by incorporating old rules (his training and experience, broadly speaking) and paying attention to other’s (Jordan’s) rules! This was like reading an amazing review of the film Gone With the Wind that then concludes the movie was groundbreaking simply because Clark Gable said “Damn.” Or, to use a different analogy for the younger readers, it was like reading a detailed history of Minecraft that concluded that the game was significant only because it showed that people can tolerate low-resolution graphics.

Then it hit me like a diamond bullet. This was a teachable moment. It shows how strong the inclination to reduce creativity to a single choice, action, or moment is. Even when you have the data right in front of you, old ideas distort what you see. Proust said that creativity was not about seeking new landscapes but seeing with new eyes. Time to be more creative about creativity.

More from Jeffrey Loewenstein Ph.D. and Matthew A. Cronin Ph.D.
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