Creativity and ‘the New’. A Recall. Some thoughts on creativity's relation to novelty. In the last decades, academic and practitioner-oriented organization and management discourses have seen a number of panaceas coming and going. After the hypes of ‘quality’, ‘culture’, ‘learning’ and ‘knowledge’, already for some time we witness an intensifying demand for creativity. Why creativity? Simplifying things a bit, one can say that capitalist logics of progess and growth operate with the formula ‘new and more is good’. In such a ‘neophilia’, creativity, often directly related to the idea of innovation, is regarded as direct requirement for the development of new technologies, products and services. Creativity is thereby inextricably connected with a moral evaluation of ‘new’ as ‘good’ and ‘old’ as ‘bad’. Upon closer observation, however, the ‘new’ turns out to be a concept in need of critical consideration when employing it as basic criterium for an understanding of creativity. Especially in its close link to the question of ownership, which is key for capitalist exploitation. In the following examples, I will further elucidate this idea and put important implications, as a sort of ‘recall’, up for discussion. Everything just stolen? Looking backward To begin with I question the very idea of the ‚new’, as it, upon closer inspection, disintegrates into its constituents. And these are usually not that new really. To this, a first fieldnote from my own research project around organizational creativity in the context of contemporary dance theatre productions: Buenos Aires, 13th of October 2011. It’s Sunday morning, 10 am, and for Argentinian standards I’m very early on my way to a rehearsal of the little dance company ‘KABRAS’. Arriving at Calle Murillo 680, I climb the 17 scuffed stairs up to KABRAS’ rehearsal space. It is part of Solange’s big studio-apartment, completely rebuilt and renovated with some friends’ help. Even before entering, I hear from inside the two, very loud voices of Gonzalo and Julian, both members of the company. I unlock the third door within my last 15 m and enter the tenderly renovated appartment with its 4 m high ceilings, the creaking floorboards and the coloured glass windows. Gonzalo and Julian have an argument, talking to each other on the top of their voices. “No, we don’t steal! We quote. It’s just the opposite, it’s evolution!” Gonzalo claims. “It’s stealing, but I don’t give a fuck!” Julian replies drily. “It’s all a remix” Gonzalo insists, yet Julian perseveres: “It is stealing but I don’t care. I steal and I don’t give a fuck!”. As so often, the laptop standing next to the two opponents plays some YouTube video. ‘It’s all a remix’ says Gonzalo, who, in the first phase of working at a ‘new piece’ spends at least an hour daily on ‘youtubing’, searching for concrete inspiration. Theft? The search for ingredients and inspiration is marked through Love and Theft, as Jonathan Lethem writes in regard to Bob Dylan’s eponymous album, thereby also refering to Dylan’s own ‚raids’. To this one could add that the repetitive has ever since served as pop culture’s central model. Already in their 1944 essay collection ‚Dialektik der Aufklärung, Theodor W. Adorno und Max Horkheimer diagnosed the repeating repetitions of mass culture as neurotic game. The resonant cultural pessimism however, was later by itself integrated into and interrogated by pop culture, e.g. 1972 with Roxy Music’s (self-)ironic song ‘Re-Make / Re-Model’. At the latest with the advent of HipHop in the late 1970s – marked by an open and extensive sampling of old sources - the dim view on ‘repetition’ was confidently rebutted. Remix became an art form by itself and one of its manifests starts with claiming that ‘culture always builds on the past!’. Contrary to Adorno and Horkheimer, this might possibly apply not only to mass culture, but to any kind of cultural product. A corresponding and compelling argument was made last year in the Basler Skulpturenhalle. <<Kopienkritik>> (‘copy critic’) was the name of Oliver Laric’s exhibition, illuminating the relation between ‘original’ and ‘copy’ among antic Greek statues and Walt Disney films. Here, as well as as anywhere else in cinema (YouTube features a number of clips worth seeing that unveil the heavy ‘quoting’ or even bland copying, e.g. in Kill Bill, Indiana Jones or The Matrix ), in music (see for example rip! A REMIX MANIFESTO from min 11:45 onwards), in literature (e.g. Burroug’ss ‘cut-up-method’) or in dance itself, it seems true that: Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not possibly have met. - Fran Liebowitz (via shauntaun) Did you know that even the seemingly gurus of creativity around Steve Jobs copied ruthlessly when devising their first Mac? Another creation myth! Creativity feeds on influence, and Isaac Newton expressed this by stating that: “If I have been able to see further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”. It is amusing that Newton, by this very saying – also granted to Bernard de Chartres - himself built on others (again). Paul Klee thus likened the artist with a tree; via its roots, the artist pulls up the minerals of her experience – things she observed, read, related and sensed – and then processes them into ‘new’ leaves. When ‘Die Prinzen’ sing ‘Alles nur geklaut’ (‘Everything just stolen’), then for me they point to creativity as phenomenon relying on many prerequisites, where it seems questionable whether ‘originality’ is still an adequate term: (via swiss-miss) Nothing is original, or nothing comes from nowhere and ‘Everything is a Remix’. The question of ‘novelty’ thus leads us to a special place, where creativity can no longer be located in the individual, yet needs to be understood as collective phenomenon. Cultural products thus appear as knots or assemblages, that, looking backward, at least temporarily interweave and condense diverse strands into a ‘thing’ (oldgerman: gathering place). Creativity feeds on existing things. The beginning of each creative process means at the same time perpetuating existing things that will bring other things to life. ‘New’ is hence relative and an implicit ‘topos of unfinalizability’ asks for only ever provisional completions. The famous choreographer Pina Bausch, in one of her rare interviews, once said that she only dared to go public with her performances because for her it were only provisional working versions. In software development this has become a basic principle: only versions and never finished products get published. Software development is anyway, next to dance, an interesting field where the collective dimension of creativity becomes revealed, rebutting conservative understandings of ownership. Yet for a capitalist exploitation logic, creativity needs to be unambigously located. Who owns the idea, the patent, the ‘new’ product? Creativity as collective phenomenon thus raises delicate questions regarding copyright, as for example seen in the current discussion around Open Source and new copyright laws. Creativity is unpredictable – Looking forward Looking backward one could thus say: ‘Yes’, it’s all stolen, as a main part of creative work is quoting and copying. Yet this does not mean that all things take a predictable course, as we don’t deal with 1:1 repetitions but with variations. Turning our gaze forward, I would hence state that what one makes out of things is essential, or, as Jean-Luc Godard says: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”. Or even better, ‘where things take you’; which is unforeseeable in any creative process (or it wouldn’t be creative). Collecting and assembling various ‘mis-copies’ and fragments leads to novel things that are never fully predictable. Here then creativity must be regarded as highly contingent. It’s effects could lead this or that way, and almost everything depends on the ‘right’ (re-)mix. Creative things take place or don’t. They can be enticed through hard work and enthusiasm, yet they cannot be forced. Serendipity and suprising events stay capital constituents of any creative process. Ever more so when compositional work is ‘live’ as a sort of performance itself. Nicely seen with ‘Girl Talk’, a famous ‘mash-up’ artist, whose musical genre ‘mash-up’ is all about using other’s samples. Or in dance practices such as contact improvisation, where from a few basic principles the interweaving movement repertoires continously bring forth novel movement fragments. This last example also evidences the frailty of process, where creativity appers as a risky endeavour, any time prone to break down and failure. Bottom line The collective and contingent aspects of any creative process are in danger of getting overseen in an economical encroachment of the concept of creativity. Linking creativity to a naïve notion of the ‘new’ hence seems to me not only analytically of little help, yet at the same time quite ‘uncreative’. As creativity, reduced to a success factor for the ‘new’, is severely restricted; this similarly applies to the call for originality as well. The inherent attempt to normalize creativity as deviation from norms must fail in light of creativity as collective and unforeseeable phenomenon. Rebutting this shortcoming, I hence suggest a reparation of the central cultural term ‘creativity’ and hence plea for a ‘recall’ of creativity. Overly emphasizing novelty and originality reduces the possibility of what creativity could mean or become (Rehn & De Cock, 2009). If the ‘new’ should at all define creativity, then I side with Hastrup’s (2007) definition of creativity as “a way in which perceived newness enters the world" (p. 200; italics in original). We process what catches our attention and what seems meaningful for us. The argument’s inversion applies equally to our own products: only in retrospective, with the other’s attention and appreciation, our work or our product is labelled as ‘creative’; or simply not! For my research I hence decided that the attempt to define creativity via the novelty or originality of its products is not really helpful and only a retrospective. To understand creativity (differently), we need to look forward, to the (creative) attempts to make something creative, the process of making as such. In the light of the all the different thoughts assembled here, I hence plea for an understanding of creativity beyond a contracting exploitation logic. For creativity research and its debate, I wish the focus would turn more to the collective and contingent processes instead of the products. And, notwithstanding all enthusiasm and passion related with the theme, a bit more humility regarding our confined capability to force creativity. Especially in times where creativity is more and more formulated as an imperative – be creative! More to this another time, or in a personal exchange. I’m looking forward to receive comments, inspiration or interested contacts. Literature Hastrup, K. (2007). Performing the World: Agency, Anticipation and Creativity. In E. Hallam & T. Ingold (Eds.), Creativity and Cultural Improvisation, ASA Monographs (Vol. 44, pp. 193–206). Oxford, UK: Berg. Rehn, A., & De Cock, C. (2009). Deconstructing Creativity. In T. Rickards, M. A. Runco, & S. Moger (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Creativity (pp. 222–231). Milton Park, UK: Routledge.