Collective Creativty and the Courage to Think

About a year ago, I became fascinated with brain research that might explain the vast creative output that is being facilitated by the Web. YouTube and social networking sites only scratch the surface. My contacts in the venture capital world tell me more content creation interfaces are under development.

My theory is that our social and ecological conditions have triggered the need for problem solving on a grand scale. That means “many minds” will need to be engaged to create new ways of doing things.

Here is my premise: similar to Jung’s theory of collective unconcsious, it is possible to experience a collective creativity. That is, when large numbers of people begin to create in an intentional way, it stimulates a cognitive medium that makes a renaissance possible.

I am just learning about this. And I never have enough time to read the research and plumb the depths of the data. So, I do what I always do. I use my travel time as fieldwork and just start asking people if they see what I see. Sometimes, I’m met with puzzled looks, other times dismissed. Better yet, I am disputed by someone who really knows something, which I consider a blessing since it refines my thinking.

Last week I hit pay dirt. At the breakfast table of a B&B in Columbia Missouri, I was sitting across the table from Neal Cohen, PhD. He is an accomplished brain researcher from the University of Illinois. I chatted about a couple theories I’m working on. He dismissed or contested them based on his own work. He was a tough sell. But when I posed my theory on Collective Creativity, he paused, brightened, and got very animated. Indeed, there was merit to it, he told me. And in fact, he listed several pieces of evidence to support it.

I won’t list all his support points here. Perhaps in a later post. But here is what I learned from Neal Cohen:
1. Intellectual courage is powerful all by itself. We should never be afraid to conjure and test a theory. So what if it’s a crock? It may lead you somewhere else. That somewhere else could be very valuable.
2. Remain open to one another. Every idea I put before Cohen was considered very thoughtfully. His rebuttals were fair and qualified. Best of all, he enjoyed the banter. His attitude created the energy of permission. Permission to fail, permission to imagine, permission to laugh at yourself.
3. Colleagues can be found anywhere. If a renaissance is marked by cross-disciplinary mash-ups, it is then possible to broaden our definition of a colleague. Innovation can happen lots of places, under lots of circumstances. In other words, the conditions of the lab (breakfast table) are far less important than the people in the lab.

Finally, I just want to say there are days when I am putting my belongings in the gray bins or being wanded by security or eating a dubious-looking hotdog, that I wonder if my life is just a schlep. But on days when I encounter the Neal Cohen’s of the world, I am the queen of all I survey!

So, what’s your latest theory?