Why I’m Coming: Matt Matcuk

matt_muskegonWhy am I coming to the C2 conference?
I want to come to the C2 conference to explore answers to the four nagging questions below:  three theoretical, and one practical.

The Theoretical
1.  Can your creativity really weaken/get brittle/atrophy/get saggy if you don’t use it a lot?
We’ve heard creativity is like a muscle that atrophies with disuse.  But when you start using it—in a meeting, at a retreat, when you sit down to work on a project that isn’t fettered by the normal bonds of your work—your creative ability tends to snap back to life, even if it’s been a long time since you’ve given it a work out.  Sort of.  I think.  Maybe?

2.  Do we get less creative as we get older, and if so, dad-gum it, why?

We spend more time thinking about layoffs/hairlines/mortgages/college tuition/crawling into bed at night (to sleep), than we did when we were younger. This is a capacity metaphor:  that your mind is like a warehouse/hard drive/5-lb. sack that can only hold so much.  And when we crowd it full of the frustrating drivel of daily life, we just don’t have a lot of space left for creative thought. But we’re discovering that the mind is more plastic than we thought, aren’t we?  When the unmusical study the piano we can see, in their brain scans, neural pathways suddenly swelling, splitting, interconnecting, and redirecting the traffic flow from the familiar, clogged expressways to clear, open roads.  Is it inescapable that we ossify?

3.  How do you know whether you’re scoring high on the create-o-meter or not?

On a particularly good day I might experience that pleasurable sensation of flow—when one idea sparks the next, and people’s contributions begin to bounce off, or build upon, each other. It feels good. But how do we know how much of our creative potential we’re actually using? How do we know how creative we are being? Do we assess the process—how well things went, or the product—how good the resulting ideas are? It may not be quantifiable, but we need something more tangible than “That was fun,” or “We came up with some pretty cool ideas.” Don’t we?

The Practical
4.  How can I help my institution benefit from the creativity that lurks within?
The museum I work for is one of the largest and well-established natural history and anthropology museums in the world.  The problem is that, for better and for worse, our size and our history have made us into something like the Ford Motor Company.  We make very good products, within relatively tight schedules, by using proven processes, and with solid, predictable results.  We don’t frequently win awards for having cutting-edge approaches, but almost everything we create goes over well with our audiences.  To do this, however, we’ve become risk-averse.  And creativity is usually risky: it means doing a thing in a very different way than it has been done before.  The more creative the idea/action is, the bigger the difference.  The bigger the difference, the bigger the risk. All of this, of course, is not because the people producing the work are uncreative—they are exceptionally talented, inventive, passionate, and intelligent.  The problem runs much deeper into the bedrock of our institutional culture. So, to drive the metaphor into the ground, how can I help our institution become less of a Ford and more of a Toyota?

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