In the Industrial Age of the 20th century, you didn’t have to be of good moral character to work in the factory. But you did have to be responsible. And so teachers in the 20th century schoolhouse and college taught (still teach) responsibility. And by that teachers mean specific behaviors.
Those behaviors are now obsolete. They made sense in the factory … But not in the virtual office.
As we moved from morality to responsibility one hundred years ago, are we now shifting from responsibility to creativity in the network era? Just last week a creative teenager sold his mobile start-up to Yahoo! for $30 million. If creativity, and especially any resulting innovation, is what is valued and profitable in this era, then why are we teaching and reinforcing responsibility to its exclusion?
If creativity has made responsibility obsolete, then most of our organizational tools and measurements about work and productivity may have to get thrown out. Our own notions about what is important in life and work may need to be rethought as well. We may need to give our collective cognitive trees a good shaking.
Perhaps we can learn from the edges of the economy and society, where creativity seems to be in higher supply. Take for instance the hacker, defined as “one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations”. Here is more from The Hacker Manifesto (1986):
We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.
Richard Stallman says hackers are much more than ‘crackers’ [security system breakers] as they are often typified in mainstream media.
It is hard to write a simple definition of something as varied as hacking, but I think what these activities have in common is playfulness, cleverness, and exploration. Thus, hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. Activities that display playful cleverness have “hack value”.
Playfulness, cleverness, and exploration constitute essential parts of creativity as well. Like hacking, creativity requires an ongoing commitment. We cannot merely take creative time; it has to be part of our working flow. David Williamson Shaffer says that we need to make space for conversations in order to be creative.
Creativity is a conversation – a tension – between individuals working on individual problems and the professional communities they belong to.
Practices like personal knowledge management (PKM), and its potential for enhanced serendipity can give us the underlying structure to become better hackers and more creative. Behaviour change comes through small, but consistent, changes in practice. So how do you move from responsibility, to creativity, and potentially to innovation? Play, explore and converse. But first you need to build a space to practice. PKM can be your cognitive sandbox.