This is why, Lerner continues, young people can be so innovative and disruptive in their fields.
They are “natural outsiders”.
A study done by Adolphe Quetelet in the 19th century shows that creativity doesn’t increase with experience. By studying the bodies of work of various playwrights, he found the so-called “inverted U curve” of creative output: creativity appears to peak, then level out, then start to fall as the individual moves into middle age.
Dean Simonton, a psychologist at UC-Davis, expanded on this, demonstrating that physicists usually make their most important discoveries before the age of thirty. (The only field that peaks before physics seems to be poetry.) Simonton argues that the innocence and ignorance of these young whippersnappers “makes them more willing to embrace radical new ideas”.
Meanwhile, the more experienced creators “start to repeat themselves, so that it becomes more of the same-old same-old.”
The move from outsider to insider status, then, seems to equal creative death.
Our thoughts get trapped by the familiar. The brain is a lazy beast. It’s constantly tracking patterns and looking for shortcuts. It’s constantly learning what it can get away with: what it doesn’t have to bother to notice. The more expert you become, the more settled in routine thinking-grooves, the more the brain blocks out all the stuff that’s not relevant.
The problem is, creativity happens when the brain is forced to make connections and find relationships between things that, on the surface anyway, don’t appear to have any relevance to each other.
Which means that creativity gets exchanged for efficiency.
But it doesn’t have to be this way…
(Also: “Instead of being a pack of well-paid liars, ad agencies would act more like consultants, helping companies figure out how to fix their businesses and improve their brand reputation based on actual accomplishments.”)
Here’s the business pitch: Buy our razor because it’s really cheap. If you spend hundreds of dollars a year on brand-name razors, you’re not paying for the razor. You’re paying for what the razor represents.
And here’s the thing: The dude is right! Making razors is really cheap. Even quadruple-bladed, triple-aloe-stripped monstrosities don’t cost Gillette anything close to the retail price. So when you buy one of these fancy razors, most of your money isn’t going to production costs or shipping costs. It’s going to marketing costs. It really is going to Roger Federer and an ad agency and a communications team and all trappings of marketing that exist to distinguish the Gillette brand.
Across the economy, even as the price of items like razors, toasters, clothes, and food have fallen compared to wages, the share of their price that goes to marketing has increased. The stuff that’s getting cheap is actually getting even cheaper than we think it is, because we’re paying for the costs of distinguishing similar products.
But along comes a company that says: Let’s limit our ad costs to a bear suit, an American flag, and props for this guy who looks like Tony Goldwyn. Let’s market ourselves with virality instead of celebrity. Then let’s pass along the savings to customers.
…the world is currently run by a generation whose upbringing has left them intellectually unable to be deal with modernity.
This isn’t their fault. For someone to be in charge today, they’re more than likely to be in their 50s or 60s. Which means that when the Berlin Wall fell they were most likely already steeped in an intellectual tradition that had bedded in quite far.
But what happened after 1989 was, as we all know, devastating to that tradition. The end of the bipolar world – the end of history as Fukuyama had it – and the end of the relevance of 50 years of political and military planning.
Instead, things got weird. Germany was reunited in 1990, and a few weeks later, on Christmas Day, the first web server was turned on. Nearly 21 years later, and the internet has destroyed and rebuilt everything it has touched. Hierarchies have been under attack from networks for 20 years now. History certainly didn’t end, much to everyone’s disappointment.