If William Shakespeare had been born a generation earlier, he would have been a glover like his father.
Instead, he (and subsequently we), benefited by his being born during a creative boom under Queen Elizabeth I. He had easy access to books thanks to a culture of literacy formed out of the Reformation. Thanks to new laws and scholarships encouraging sons of tradesmen to attend universities (perchance to learn to write verse) he was able to get an education unlike his father. And thanks to a slackening of censorship rules, he was able to write just about anything he wanted. Moreover, he was surrounded by other talented playwrights whom he could learn and borrow from. It was a perfect storm for unleashing his talent.
Here’s the question that haunts me.
How many Shakespeares haven’t happened because their culture didn’t support, foster, and evoke their particular genius? How many of the 7 billion inhabitants of our planet have the requisite materials to live up to their creative potential?
Designed for Mediocrity
Those of us living in democracies enjoy incredible freedoms. Yet, even in our relatively prosperous, free world, there’s too much latent, wasted brilliance. Typical schools and workplaces seem engineered to stifle brilliance.
In Imagine, How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer describes research from West and Bettencourt, who discovered that unlike cities, where creative output per capita increases as the city grows, companies become less profitable per employee as they grow.
Synthesizing their findings, Lehrer writes that as corporations grow, they put less emphasis on innovation. Instead,
“they erect walls and establish hierarchies. They keep people from relaxing and having insights. They stifle conversations, discourage dissent, and suffocate social networks. Rather than maximizing employee creativity, they become obsessed with minor efficiencies.”
I was reminded of why I left my job at Oracle in 1999 when it was merely a $6 Billion Company with 25,000 employees. My Vice President asked why I was leaving and if she could do anything to change my mind. I explained that I liked working for her and loved our team. I also loved my job, the perks, and even the cafes and view from my office. I was leaving because I felt as though I couldn’t get anything done. The company felt so siloed, so focused on reorganization and red tape, that I was being paid mostly to sit in my office and dream up things that I couldn’t create. And it was soul draining. I wanted to create.
She got it. That leader, Liz Wiseman would eventually create her own consulting firm and write the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.
I suspect you can relate too.
What’s Your Story?
- When have you been most creative? When have you had the space to come up with great ideas and the support and resources to make the ideas real. When have you been able to best express your talents fully? What were the conditions that made it so?
- When have you been most stifled? Where you felt tired, bored, and frustrated by a lack of progress?
- What about now? Where are you on a scale of 1-10—with “1” indicating boredom and/or a lack of engagement, zest, and productivity and “10” being “in the zone,” eager to begin each day early and satisfied at the end of the day that you spent your time well?
“The great ages did not perhaps produce much more talent than ours. But less talent was wasted.”
~T.S. Elliot, via Jonah Lehrer in Imagine: How Creativity Works
As we saw with Elizabethan England, some leaders and cultures deliberately create conditions that foster creativity and brilliant works.
As Lehrer reports, one modern example is Pixar, the movie studio that consistently churns out Oscar-winning and crowd-delighting gems. You might be surprised to know that even the placement of the bathrooms is designed to evoke brilliance.
Want to Share Author Credits in Our Next Book?
The best stories will be candidates for our next book, Conversations for Brilliance Volume 2, which we’ll publish on Kindle and Amazon.com this Fall! Send your stories to Denise@BrillianceInc.com!
Want More Inspiration?
This post was also inspired by this Pam Slim blog with an incredible video featuring LL Cool J talking about how to cure America’s problems. Check it out! (LL’s Twitter profile reads: “EVERYONE DESERVES A SHOT AT GREATNESS”
If unharnessed brilliance has a sound, this could be it: Fiona Apple’s Idler Wheel.
Note: this post contains affiliate links to Kindle books I admire and recommend.