Lots of creativity comes from

using old forms for new purposes.  

After World War II, on the campus of the University of British Columbia, people took the quonset huts that had housed soliders and turned them into classrooms.

Old form, new purpose.

But there is nothing really all that creative about the quonset hut conversion.  In both cases, old and new, the hut serves as shelter.

What’s more interesting is when we find a new application for something old.  

Exhibit 1

I am corresponding with a woman called Barbara Monteiro.  Barbara has this amazing email style.  She starts her message in the subject heading and then at some point leaps into the text.  It gives her emails pace and a certain breathless excitement.  And in what 10 years of email it’s the first time, I’ve seen email “reinvented” in this way.

Exhibit 2

This morning I came upon a Pinterest site by Ryan Zeigler that uses the 9 picture grid to compose a single photo.  Very clear. http://pinterest.com/ryanjz/

Exhibit 3

In Culturematic, I describe the case of Fantasy football which found a way to repurpose the statistical data pouring out of the NFL to a new and very lucrative purpose. 

More on this theme later.  The client is waiting for me!

5 thoughts on “Lots of creativity comes from

  1. Alex

    Apologies for commenting before you have a chance to come back to this theme… but I couldn’t help it.

    I re-happened on one of Sir Ken Robinson’s many talks about creativity, and I wondered about your take on his definition of creativity. He defines it as: “The process of having original ideas that have value” [1].

    On the surface his definition makes sense, and if I take it and then look at your three examples in this post, I wonder how much value the first two are offering. But then, I start to think the first two are very valuable in the sense that they demonstrate individuals acting upon the technology they are presented with, and starting to craft a unique identity with it.

    What’s your take?

    [1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtnRaa7AgLs (around the 3:25 mark)

  2. Grant Post author

    Alex, Yes, I think the first two are valuable because they operate on our assumptions, help make these visible, and make us more able to rework them. So much of culture is submerged that anything that surfaced assumptions gives us new degrees of freedom and creativity. Thanks! Grant

  3. Dylan

    old form, new purpose.

    I like to analogize creative re-purposing of “old” techs/ideas/things to the evolutionary process. It’s obviously not a very firm analogy, and I don’t care to focus too much on whether the analgoy works in all aspects. But mostly, I like the comparison between the incremental pace pace of evolutionary change and human creativity. Certainly there are bursts of change, radical shifts in success of an idea, etc… But so much of both evolutionary and human creative “progress” is, well, incremental. Small. Maximized value is not readily apparent.

    Exhibit one… I do that same thing sometimes, too, depending on nature/recipient of the email. It seems like a tiny, almost valueless stylistic anomaly, but who knows what path that little difference might take.

    I was just talking with a friend about old email archives. We noticed that, looking back to 2004 and beyond (into the past), email was much more sparse, and more formal. In appearance, they are more like snail mail letters. Personal emails from 2003-2004 recount what’s happened over the last month, or several months, incorporate small talk, express hopes of corresponding again soon. It’s very interesting to see how the medium has changed over the last decade.

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