Critical review of Seth Godin’s essay on “Art and Science and Making Things”

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Steve Jobs

I have played violin since the age of five.   In my youth, music helped build up my sense of worth, helped me enjoy making art with others, and encouraged me to appreciate making.    I have to confess that I hated the discipline of practicing and found it a chore.

As an adult, I reflect upon this time of my life with appreciation for my parents.   I cherish my talent as a musician.   It’s a source of creative thinking for my craft of writing software and leading teams.   When I learn a hard piece of music, I look at the page of dots and start to break the pieces of music into digestible phrases.   I attempt to slowly master each phrase of the music and incrementally integrate the parts into a total expressive form.   This same creative process occurs during software design.  In music and software, one breaks the experience into parts, masters each element, and puts the parts together.

As a musician and a technologist, I tend to pay attention to media discussing the intersection of art, technology and creativity.   Seth Godin recently gave an amazing and inspiring talk at the 2012 World Maker Faire.     His lecture challenged us to recognize how creative thinking and “making” are under attack by industrialization.  As a culture, why do we not value art and creativity?


I appreciated many aspects of Seth’s talk:

  • Just start and share:  Seth challenges us to start creating.   In many cases, our culture has taught us to seek and create perfection.   Many feel that we will never become perfect at making and creating.   So, why should we start?  Mr. Godin loudly challenges us to just start creating and share your work.  As Jon Acuff would say, “Murder perfection.”
  • Where do we teach experimentation and continuous improvement?  In school or the work place, how do we encourage innovation and creative thinking?   How do we create space for experimentation and the inevitable failed trials and experiments?
  • The internet is the platform to connect:  Mr. Godin argues that we are attracted to other makers and creative people.   The internet is a huge opportunity for people to connect with other creative people and inspire each other.

I do have a few challenges with Seth Godin’s talk though.

1)      There is no science lab that actually teaches science: During his talk, he claims that we do not really teach science in labs in schools.   Why?  Students are not discovering new knowledge.   They are just reproducing results and following scripted processes.    I would argue that the discipline of teaching science labs through scripted procedures is important.

  1. Any new scientific discovery must be peer reviewed and reproduced by peers in the community.
  2. In music, learning scales, theory, and imitating classics is important to learning the techniques of music making.   Likewise, scientists need the opportunity to pass along their craft of knowledge discovery to the next generation by teaching tools, processes, techniques and concepts.
  3. In the world of art, apprentices often learn the craft of their masters through imitation and modeling the behavior of a master.

2)      Industrialization stands in conflict with creative and independent thinking: Mr. Godin defines industrialization as the craft of incrementally making stuff better by a small degree.   In Mr. Godin’s view, true art favors the radical introduction of new ideas and expression.   I felt that Seth Godin put industrialization and art in stark opposition to each other.   Can the world use more art and creativity? Yes.  I, however, do not believe that every act of making should be an artistic experience.   Makers define the balance between the radical exploration of ideas (art) and incremental innovation. (industrialization)     Makers define themselves by the purpose of their creative act.  Does the piece exist to say something?  Does the piece exist for a functional reason? Perhaps the true conflict in our culture is pragmatism versus the opportunity for pure expression.

I value Seth Godin’s challenge to create space for true innovation and creative thinking.    This style of thinking needs a place in our educational system.   If we do not teach our students to be creative, how do we expect humanity to survive in a future filled with largely unknown challenges!?

How would you foster creativity in your classes or places of work?

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