It Takes A Village

“It takes a village.”  That old saying that everyone uses for everything from the success of a child to a business project gone completely awry. In my experience, I would say that it’s a very true metaphor. Even in art that appears to be a solo endeavor. Painters need someone to loom canvas and manufacture acrylic paints. You could argue that a dancer doing a solo might qualify. But, that would be a naked dancer with no training, and we’ve all seen that before, usually being dragged (still dancing) into a police car. Entertaining? Yes. Art? Not really.

So, what do we really need to be creative? Collaborators seen and unseen. But before that we need to be motivated to create something.  Where does that come from? Somewhere in the soul is my guess.  The Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined it “flow” (and yeah, that’s really the guy’s name.)  Flow he discovered is that place we all have been, where we are so intently engaged in something that we lose track of time and reach a level of focus so deep it is almost trance like.  We forego sleep, don’t feel fatigued and can ignore hunger. Based on the feeling of personal connectedness and engagement, we tend to come back to those activities again and again.

That’s where the concept of ‘opensource’ comes in.  It is a neighborhood in the new village of art, entertainment and hopefully collaborations well beyond.  In his book “Drive –  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel H. Pink cites numerous studies that determine:  the intrinsic value of our flow activities (that is, how they make us feel) far out weighs any extrinsic rewards like money that we might get for doing the activity.  You can want or need to be paid for your creativity, but according to the science, money will never be able to motivate you enough to enter flow and ‘true’ creativity.  You are far more likely to create your best work with like minded people regardless of whether or not you get paid for it at all.  So, money is one thing, but not the only thing.  Here is a version of Pink’s philosophy:

What is really interesting to me is the descriptions of Wikipedia and Firefox and how they came about.  Code wonks donating their talents (which they get paid for during the work day) build something together that not only is bigger than any one of them, but provides a space for those creating to gain mastery over their craft. They work for free, but they are free to work how they like, when they like without deadlines or the constraints of work for hire.  And that is the recipe for flow.

So what does this science mean to an agent that depends on 10% of my artistically gifted clients making a living?  It means I need to encourage my clients to recognize the concept of flow.  It means I need to encourage mastery. To realize that it’s my job, to get the issue of money off the table by striking fair deals, so they do not have to think about it. I believe that is the way I participate as a collaborator in their art.

I’m not a filmmaker, nor do I want to be or pretend to be. I’m a manager, a partner that can focus on the bigger picture of the business and find myself in “flow” by ways of listening, advising and negotiating.  Sounds strange, but flow exists in any talent you can think of and that’s where it exists for me.  But, more so my job is encouraging artists to create even when they are not working for money.  To take some down time to keep working for mastery and to open source with other like minded artists on projects of their choosing.

The definitions of success are changing.  In the wake of so much pain at the hands of economic collapse,  and the realization that consumerism as a social ideal merely trades flow for a quick endorphin rush, the next phase of human progress is upon us.  It may be Utopian to suggest, but there has never been a better time in modern history to be in the arts.  People are hungry again for beauty, for experience and open to the understanding the human potential is far more than survival and unlimited cheap gasoline.

So, lets see what we can create.  As artistic collaborators we can show the world that collaboration is exponential and born of compassion and empathy.  No doubt financial gain is important to sustain art and the artist, the business and the businessman. But, flow is the true goal to fixate on.  It may be too early to tell, but even science seems to be saying that flow, and it’s resulting mastery takes a village.

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7 responses to “It Takes A Village

  1. Excellent post Steve!

  2. well done, steve! i took a class at wesleyan with a colleague of m.csikszentmihalyi, and she told us he goes by “mike” – also, she broke his name down phonetically for us (chick-sent-me-high). keep up your great writing, it’s a gift. xo p

  3. Definitely experience “flow” a lot, that’s the sign of doing what you love though right? Great read.

    • See, this is where it gets confusing I think. I think it’s not the activity we love so much as it is loving the feeling of “flow.” Flow makes us feel connected to other people, the activity and the all of creation. I think we can feel “flow” through activities we love AND we begin to love activities that put us in flow.

      You can look at meditation or prayer as flow activities also. Doing what we love is relative. I know a lot of people who search and search for a career they love, engage in that kind of work for a while and abandon it because the novelty wears off. where the real problem is they didn’t gain enough mastery yet to approach getting into flow with it.

      I have a feeling that you don’t reach flow until you reach competence, continued flow requires the yearning to turn competence into mastery regardless of the rewards. It becomes mastery for mastery’s sake. Does that make sense? I’m just really thinking out loud here.

  4. Of course it does. I’ve seen people do exactly what you’re talking about, and you’re right, I love the flow over the activity! Now if we could only bottle that and sell it, or maybe that’s what coffee is?

  5. Coffee? Maybe. Espresso? definitely.

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