Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.
I’ve always been fascinated by ways we can enhance and better understand our creativity. Corporate or group brainstorming sessions were the rage when I taught classes on creativity. It seemed like an enjoyable feel-good way to make employees more productive but after rigorous examination scientists concluded that it’s ineffectual and really doesn’t work. Research shows that brainstorming groups have a smaller number of ideas than the same number of people who work alone and collaborate afterwards. Criticism isn’t allowed in brainstorming sessions and that turns out to be a counterproductive strategy. It’s the pushback and debate that stimulates the brain and gets the creative juices flowing.
Entrepreneurs are a favorite topic for those studying the creative process. Many entrepreneurs fit the “solitary genius” model and their brilliance and hard work culminates in success. They are somewhat isolated and rely on a small number of close friends. The vast majority of people have between four and seven close friends. Sociologists label these relationships as strong ties. This small number of strong ties is somewhat universal in all cultures and implies that we are inherently limited when it comes to cultivating deep relationships.
Another model for entrepreneurs might be called the “weak tie” model. The number of weak ties (people seen or communicated with only on occasion) varies significantly from person to person. Kathy loves to network and help others. Consequently she has a large number of weak ties. A lot of people owe her a favor. Malcolm Gladwell defines these well connected people as hubs. They have a very big rolodex, carry a lot of business cards and love schmoozing on the internet. So the question is why should the number of weak ties matter. And the answer is good news for those who spend large chunks of time on the internet (reading blogs, leaving comments, writing tweets etc.). Weak ties turn out to be an essential ingredient of creativity. People with a large number of weak ties turn out to be three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends.
To me, this is consistent with the problem we have when we spend too much time with our close friends. We run the risk of the relationships becoming stale because nothing new has really transpired since the last time we visited and the conversation might default into a rehash of earlier conversations.
Most internet relationships probably have to be defined as weak ties because you don’t have access to real time interactive conversation and all the wonderful clues of body language. Having a large number of weak ties might be a good thing but you still need to have real people (strong ties) in your life. I do think however that enhancing creativity is a big plus for social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and might lessen the guilt you feel when spending hours reading blogs, writing comments and sending tweets. Having the opportunity to develop relationships with people spanning the globe is so stimulating. It’s the basis for unlimited possibilities.