Some ideas about creativity from LEGO and Vermeer

May 26, 2014 — 12 Comments

Vermeer

I just had one of those serendipitous moments on a trip back from London to San Francisco (see my recent post). Instead of working, I took the chance to catch up on some recent movies. Unexpectedly two of them ended up offering some powerful lessons about creativity.

 

The first was the The LEGO Movie. As several of my fellow IDEO’ers had already mentioned to me, it does a wonderful job of underscoring the importance of improvisation and play. Playing by the rules and following instructions achieves predictable results. They might be high quality (as is the case with many of the LEGO kits) but there is little creativity. Ignore the instructions and build your own stuff is the main message.  I love the way LEGO as a company challenges its own previous orthodoxy with this story. Perhaps that willingness to challenge and reinvent is what makes LEGO a trully great company.

 

There is also another lesson for the aspiring creative leader; the danger of group conformity. Teams can be powerful things but when everyone agrees and no one stands out then, again, creativity suffers. The Lego Movie shows quite beautifully how bringing the right team of creative individuals together with the permission to challenge the status quo can achieve more interesting results. This is a movie that creative leaders should check out.

 

Tim’s Vermeer is an astounding documentary that challenges our assumptions about the relationship between art and technology. Made by Teller, of Penn and Teller fame, it tells the story of inventor and entrepreneur Tim Jenison’s quest to paint a perfect Vermeer picture. 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer is famous for creating visually stunning, intricately detailed paintings that look real enough to be still frames from a movie. Inspired by David Hockney’s book on how historical artists used optical devices, Jenison set out to discover how Vermeer made his paintings and then recreate one himself. I won’t describe the story here but instead encourage you to watch the film. What the story challenges however, is our received wisdom about the role science and technology plays in artistic breakthroughs. Our culture has determined that somehow art is a wholly human act and that is transcends technology or science. We are educated to see them as two distinct worlds. Yet Jenison’s story shows how art can be the result of technology and that artistic innovation can rely on technological innovation. Just as Steve Jobs stated that he was interested in combining technology and liberal arts to create great products, so Vermeer may have used technology to create some of our most treasured paintings. What this implies is that we need to put more effort in bringing the worlds of art and science together in order to achieve our true human potential. We need to ensure that we educate our kids in the sciences and the arts, rather than encourage them to select one or the other.

 

What movies have you seen that provide lessons in creative leadership?

Tim Brown

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12 responses to Some ideas about creativity from LEGO and Vermeer

  1. Olimpia Mazza May 27, 2014 at 2:40 am

    Hello Tim, I have been following IDEO, and learning about Design Thinking, and I would love to work in this space. I live in Sydney, Australia and am wondering if you have any plans to expand into this territory as I would love to head up such an operation, or at least have a big part in it. I would love to connect with you and hear more on what may be possible.
    Warm Regards
    Olimpia Mazza

  2. David Robertson June 6, 2014 at 8:10 am

    A few thoughts on this post can be seen here:
    http://www.robertsoninnovation.com/the-lego-movie-as-an-example-of-creative-leadership/

    My basic reaction: yes, and…

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