Was reading the transcript of a talk that Malcom Gladwell made in November. (I'm going to include the part that I'm interested below the 'continue reading' break line with a link also to the whole talk)
He made some really interesting observations about how neighbourhoods foster creativity.
I realise that what I so enjoyed and appreciated about the RCA was being surrounded by other people who were also exploring and developing creative ideas, and the casual interactions that happened the cafe, bar and stairwells, how what they sometimes led to.
His observations make me excited about getting back into a communal studio, and make me wonder if the reason that Vaux lost its creative energy was that we simply didn't live close enough to eachother.
I've been trying to imaging where I'm going to live in coming years. I've always said that I want to live in London, in London proper, not a dead end suburb/green and pleasant royal london borough. In recent months, I started to wonder if having shed loads of space somewhere *else* might make me happier. Reading through Gladwell's talk I'm thinking that perhaps it wouldn't. Today as we went for a drive down to Brighton and then on to Bexhill and Hastings via Cooden and Pevensey, where I saw ramshackled houses which were right on the beach and with separate garages at the end of each garden. There would be space to live and the garages couls be a workshop and there's light and the beach as a garden, and the sound of waves and all that and it's affordable. But I'm wondering that if I had all that space, but no creative friends to throw ideas around with or to knock about with, what would happen? So I think it's back to roaming around dodgy parts of the inner city that I love, and hopefully we'll get lucky. We'll be the ones that find the pub that's died or the warehouse that the pigeons love.
When you look at that history of creativity and innovation, what you see is it is always invariably clustered in tightly connected physical spaces. The historian Raymond Tallis once wrote this enormous exhausted study in intellectual movements over the last 2,000 years. And he was able to find only three intellectual movements in the last 2,000 years that took place in a network that was founded and sustained by one person working alone. And that was a Dallas metaphysician in the first century, an Arabic philosopher in the 14th century, a Zen philosopher in the 15th century. That’s it! Everybody else was part of a movement.
And by movement he didn’t mean a loose collection of people who wrote each other letters and got together once a year at conventions. He meant people who lived in the exact same community, who had dinner together a couple nights a week, who bumped into each other on the sidewalk. There are so many examples it’s almost pointless to try and go over them.
You know, we always think about Freud as being the father of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis was actually born in the meetings that Freud would have in the early 1800s in his waiting room in his offices in Vienna. And he would get together with Wilhelm Stockel, Max Kahane, Alfred Adler, Rudolph Reitler. He had a little room ‐ not much larger than some little corner of this stage ‐ and they would talk, and they would drink coffee or whatever they drank in Vienna, and that’s where psychoanalysis was born, in that interaction of a group of likeminded people in close physical proximity.
Think of the birth of French impressionism at the turn of the last century. You know, Pizarro and Degas meet in art school, and then Pizarro meets Monet and Cezanne at the Suisse Academy, and Manet meets Degas at the Louvre, and Monet befriends Renoir at a studio. And then Renoir meets Pizarro and Cezanne at some other thing, and then they would all get together at a café and drink every afternoon. Every single famous name from that era in impressionist painting were friends. And not just friends ‐ friends who hung out everyday at the same bar.
A couple years ago, I read that book about the history of Saturday Night Live. I realize it’s almost blasphemous to talk about Saturday Night Live in the same breath as psychoanalysis and French impressionism. But I mean, here was a kind of pivotal moment in the history of modern comedy and popular culture.
And what do you realize when you read the history of Saturday Night Live? Exactly the same thing. Right? Exactly the same phenomenon. A group of people living on top of each other. In fact Lorne Michaels who creates the show, was married to a woman named Rosie Shuster. Rosie Shuster, while she was married to Lorne Michaels, was having an affair with Dan Aykroyd, who was simultaneously going out with Laraine Newman. Remember all these names from Saturday Night Live? And had previously gone out with Gilda Radner, who he met at Second City at the same time as he met John Belushi who started the National Lampoon Radio Hour along with Bill Murray, who also dated Gilda Radner. And why were they so interconnected? Because they all were living on top of each other. Belushi spent almost all of his entire time at Saturday Night Live sleeping on all of those people’s couches. Gilda Radner slept on the couch of Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman lived at Radner’s house. Everybody hung out during the day at the Saturday Night Live offices in Rockefeller center on the17th floor ‐ which is this little cramped space they would all crowd into ‐ and they got there on Monday morning and they would work until 2 a.m. every night. And then they would do the show on Saturday night and then they would all go to the Blues Bar in Downtown Manhattan. And they would basically do drugs and drink all night and then they would close it up at around 10 or 11 in the morning on Sunday. And then the next Monday, the next day they would start over again.
They didn’t hang out together because they were creative. They were creative because they hung out together. That’s a really important distinction. You might say, well it’s different today. Today we have the internet; we have all kinds of tools that would allow us to interact remotely. We’ve got Twitter right? We don’t need to have this same kind of physical proximity
I don’t know how many of you saw the story in the New York Times a couple weeks ago, it was about an office building in San Francisco, a somewhat nondescript office building, and it’s the hottest office building in the entire city.
Every software social media startup wants to rent space there. Why? Because Twitter’s in it. And all of the people who are in social media want to be in physical proximity with Twitter. They want to bump into the Twitter guys in the elevator, they want to go and chat with them over lunch in the cafeteria, they want to walk down the street and get off the bus with them and be able to share with them, and brainstorm with them, and partake of that same kind of magic.
Can you see the irony in this? That people who spend their lives working on tools to connect people remotely are obsessed with the need to connect with people intimately. Well there’s a paradox here.
What happens to those startups that really want to be in the same building as Twitter? Well when they make it, when they make it big, they leave that building and they go and they build their own building off somewhere all by themselves. And why do they do that? Because they forget about the magic of that proximity and they fall back on this illusion that creativity is all something that happens up in their heads. They forget that creativity has to have a physical dimension to be real."