Play, explore, converse

Was the dominance of morality usurped by responsibility at the beginning of the industrial era? (Nine Shift: Part 1Part 2Part 3).

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 mastery (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.

humans are better at imagination creativity empathy curiosity

6 thoughts on “Play, explore, converse”

  1. This is an intriguing point. I’m interested to know, though, how responsibility and creativity are linked in this instance. Would not it be possible for responsibility to be linked to some other human behavior? These two do not seem to follow on the face of it. It has been a while since I have watched your blog, and I’m curious if perhaps I have missed prior entries where you have covered the link between these concepts.

    Thanks for this morning’s food for thought!

    • I’m not saying they are directly linked, though of course all behaviours are in linked in some way. What I am saying is that creativity is becoming a more important attribute for effective work than responsibility is. However, most workplaces tend to recruit and retain people based on exhibited responsible behaviours. This may not be best for the organization.

  2. What I interpret(ed) from this post ..

    I have been watching “creativity” and “innovation” become sought-after attributes / characteristics / results, and in a world where much is fashionable or marketed as such, I believe I have also been witnessing responsibility-taking diminish and / or dissolve into avoidance or apology-after-the-fact, etc.

    I would like to see, or believe, that creativity and innovation can be twinned with responsibility and constructive purpose, instead of aimed at making more money or creating a higher profiles for somethings / someones.

    • I think that responsibility shirking is a result of people working in dysfunctional organizations, where responsibility is touted, but not practiced by management. It’s the death throes of industrial era management meeting with disengaged workers who know what is wrong but feel they have few options available to get out of the system. To be successful in a start-up, for example, it’s better to come up with something creative and innovative than just show up and do your work. Here it is less important to be on time for the daily grind and more important to create something that works.

      While there is still a need for responsibility, as there is a need for morality, it is no longer the dominant work paradigm. The Nine Shift posts show that “driving and working and shopping on Sunday” were considered immoral behaviours 100 years ago. As Bill & Julie conclude, “So ‘teaching responsibility,’ at least in terms of obsolete factory behavior, is as obsolete today as saying ‘Gee’ is offensive immoral language.”

  3. I understand and agree with what you write above.

    We may be using the term ‘responsibility’ a little bit differently in our respective heads. I don’t think I mean responsibility as anything subservient or deferent to a higher / greater level of authority. I mean it as in to self and to others in one’s ecosystem(s).

    I’m probably niggling. I get your point, clearly.

  4. I think a lot of what is being seen has much to do with our now increasingly 24/7/365 world. Very few of us early adopters are ever truly on vacation even when we say we are. We all still check the inbox and shoot quick emails right before turning the night stand light off because if there’s a chance something could get done more quickly for having done so, then that is sort of the new “responsible” behavior. Creativity and dynamism are the new expectations, but I think there’s still that notion of responsibility to ensure one converts on time.


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