I had tea with my friend Joey the Cat today. He's the number one ranked skeeball player in the US and has a small skeeball empire of his own, refurbishing machines, and then renting them out or reselling them. He told me about a skeeball trailer he made-- two skeeball lanes that you can pull behind a car and bring anywhere you want.
On the surface, this isn't that big of a deal. It's a trailer and there are a couple skeeball machines on it. If it passed you on the highway you'd notice it and maybe comment on it, but it probably wouldn't have much significance to you. And really, the actual construction of the trailer wasn't that big of a deal. Some measuring, some screws, and some bolts, and you're done.
So why am I writing about it?
Well, it's not the execution or even the existence of the trailer that's interesting to me. I like the gumption behind it. Joey wanted a skeeball trailer, and so he created one. Before knowing if it would even work, he paid $1000 for a trailer. Then he attached the skeeball machines. Then he drove it across the Bay Bridge to see if it would actually hold up to the abuse of the road. He had no template for building something like this and no idea if it would work or not, but he took the risks and did it anyway.
Joey is a creator, which makes him a member of a rare breed. I'm a creator, too, so growing up I always assumed that everyone was the same way. Occasionally I'd be surprised when someone was presented with a good opportunity to create and didn't take it, but it never struck me as more than a fluke. Now that I have better perspective, I'd say that no more than one out of every hundred people is a creator. Maybe even one in a thousand or less-- it's hard to estimate.
What's the opposite of a creator? I'd say an assembler. Someone who executes, but only in ways that have been done before. Their life is built very similarly to other people's lives, their work resembles other people's work, and when confronted with a problem, they either use an existing solution or live with the problem.
If you're not a creator, this post isn't really for you. I mean, I think it would be good for the world if I could somehow convert you, but in my experience the dichotomy between being a creator and a assembler is so deep-rooted that a blog post probably won't make a dent. This post is for the creators.
If you're a creator and you have a normal non-creative job, that is a tragedy. Whether by nature or nurture, you have the rare gift and inclination of being able to create things. Most people don't have this. If you've taken a while to realize this, as I did, look around you and observe how people interact with the world. How many are creating now? How many have EVER created? As a creator, it's sort of shocking when you realize that most people have never made anything new in their entire lives. You have this gift, and you should use it.
Being able to transform something from a foggy speck of an idea into a concrete manifestation of vision is an awesome power. It's how the world grows and it's how individuals, both creators and assemblers, become enriched. Think of where the world would be if there were no creators. That's not to downplay the role of the assemblers, of course. In order to earn a living, they end up collaborating with the creators, and in the end result in creating a great deal of value. The world needs both.
The reason I write about creators, though, is because there are a lot of creators stuck in the role of assembler. Instead of embracing who they are at the core, creating, and taking the risks and the rewards that come with the territory, they take a job. Creators generally don't make the greatest employees, but they can get the job done, because, after all, they're adaptable. But this is a waste-- the supply of creators is very limited, and their talent is squandered when they aren't creating.
Interestingly, there has never been more pressure to NOT be a creator, nor has there been a better time to be one. Tools like 3D printing, programming, and platforms like kickstarter make it possible to be a creator on any scale, and yet society becomes more and more homogenized towards assembly and cookie-cutter jobs. So this is a call to creators-- if you are one, now is your time. Get creating.
Photo is from the Salcantay trail in Peru.
Heading to Mexico for cave diving on Wednesday. Going to try to go to Cuba, too!
I have read most of your posts. I agree with a lot of them, or find them entertaining, and on some of them I have no opinion, but in this case I think you are wrong.
First of all, your example of Joey the Skeeball guy. I don't dislike his creation, or want to lower its value, but the simple thing he did was combine the concept of a trailer with that of a skeeball lane. That idea could come up with anybody who has a skeeball lane and thinks "Hmm, tomorrow I would like my skeeball lane to be elsewhere. And after that perhaps even another location". And any guy with the tooling and enough reasons to make the combination can do it. It is not a completely new concept. This kind of creativity is all over the place and I see it happen daily. It's certainly not a 1-out-of-100 or 1-out-of-1000 thing.
The main problem with this article is that it makes a wrong division, and it is totally black-and-white. You seem to want to put a certain group of people (amongst which yourself) into some (elite?) group by saying they have a certain ability that other people do not have. I on the other hand think that "creativity" is something that comes in gradations, and you can put people on a continuous axis from "not creative" to "extremely creative". I myself perhaps will not fall in your 1-in-1000 criteria of "creators", but I absolutely create new things (be that original ideas at the work place, music with my band and also articles etc). I certainly agree with your message that there are probably a lot of people in the world not living up to their potential, stuck away in paper-shuffling jobs. But I don't think it is right to dismiss their numbers in the order of magnitude that you do.
A division that I might agree with by the way (but also in a nuanced way) is the division between dreamers and do-ers. It seems a bit like this is a division you might actually mean with this article: many people have lots of creative ideas, but only few people manage to take their ideas out of their imagination and putting it into existance into the real world. But still, in this division I think there is also no black and white, and a lot of shades of grey. What was your rationale for putting your article in such a black-and-white way?
David, I came over to the community side of this post to say something very similar to what you just said. I remember feeling the same way after some of Tynan's other articles as well, particularly one where he basically said working for anybody but yourself is dumb.
I think he's got some great points in these types of articles, but I definitely think he's got a skewed version of the reality of many people's lives. I'd argue that we're all creators, but that label is only applied to particular people in particular circumstances. If everybody was comfortable with taking a little more risk, exploring other options, etc., we'd have more 'creators' in the world (by Tynan's definition). Not everybody seeks to maximize their contributions to society through their work, for better or worse
It's really nice to get posts that disagree that are written constructively and compellingly. Thanks.
I agree that everything is a continuum / etc, but I think there's a real difference between people who strongly prefer not to create and people who strongly prefer TO create. I think that we all have the necessary equipment to create, but for whatever reason, many people prefer not to. I think that's a good thing, too. There are certain weaknesses the stereotypical creator has which can be balanced by strengths of an assembler. It's sort of like politics-- not everyone wants to or is inclined to be a governor/mayor/state rep/etc, but we all create society together.
Creation is two fold - part idea and part act the two rarely embodied wholly within one individual - though in some situations, especially those involving self-sufficiency, I can see how one might be tempted to compartmentalize these acts.
Perhaps your choice of the word "Creators and Assemblers" is a bit short-sighted. Perhaps there are Thinkers and Doers, Problem Solvers and Implementers, etc. But the act of "Creating" necessarily involves them all.
I think what you are really saying is that some people are not afraid to risk putting their own ideas out there, to explore the unknown, and those who would prefer to default to the known "conventional wisdoms". I think that is the bigger picture here my friends.
On a related note, the article assumes that we "are" or "are not" as opposed to that anyone "can" and only some "do."
I think that a more helpful and accurate view is that we are all "capable" of (in this case) creating. A good book on the topic is _Mindset_, by Carol Dweck. Effort, not talent.
I think the dichotomy is more of a "do" / "do not", or "are inclined to" / "are not inclined to". If someone's not inclined to create, I don't really think there's anything wrong with that. The world needs both. The point I was trying to make is that a lot of creators are stuck in paths that doesn't allow them to create, and I think that's a mistake. You don't really see the reverse problem often-- an assembler in a creator role.
I like the nuance in the "inclined to/not inclined to" wording. What would you see as the added value of an "assembler", to stay with your original wording? Is it to be the one that helps the creator to make the idea reality? I'm still not sure I understand/agree with the central idea here.
I think assemblers tend to have less ego and are often the ones that make the difference between a small group benefiting from a creation and a large group benefiting form a creation. A creator might have a lot of enthusiasm for building his first widget, but in many cases can't be counted on to build the second one. A smart team would be one where the assemblers can take over at that point.
We are all capable of creating but I think Tynan is perfectly right stating that only few people do.
To me the the dichotomy is very much related to dreamers vs doers. I write about the two types in this post if you're interested.
This was very thought-provoking for me. I really like the notion of "assemblers"; I hadn't heard that one before. I agree with David that there's a continuum here but I don't think there's anything wrong with discretizing that continuum for the purpose of making a good blog post like you did here. Everything's just a finger pointing at the moon, like they say, so I see nothing wrong with taking a little liberty like that.
Having spent today thinking about this off and on, here's another formulation I came up with: the difference between a creator and an assembler is the creator does not ask permission, and the assembler does. Or another: the creator extrapolates while the assembler merely interpolates.
Here's what I mean: an assembler wants the instruction manual for something; if it does not exist, the assembler wants evidence of someone else having done the same thing beforehand. Neither of these is intrinsically wrong or bad. In fact, they're quite smart things to do, but the issue is that the assembler wants these things not to help him learn how to create, but rather to have an authority source to defer to. The assembler interpolates in the sense that he does not step outside the bounds of the shape defined by the authority sources he knows. He will only pick points within that shape and do those.
The creator may consult instruction manuals or google for evidence of people doing similar things, but it is to incorporate into his model for how the world works in his mind so that he may extrapolate, extending past the bounds of the existing shapes he knows.
Maybe a telling question to distinguish the assembler from the creator is, when someone is looking for references on how to do something, "If you don't find all the references you want, what will you do?"
I think those on the creator side of the fence will say "Well, then I'll just have to give it a shot and figure it out as I go," where assemblers will more likely say, "I'll keep looking - someone must have done something like this" or explain why, without reference, it's not safe to do.
That starts to get into risk assessment, and maybe there's a balance, as a creator, that you need to not fear risk irrationally but also not do stupid things that are likely to kill you. For example, if for some reason I couldn't find any reference information on welding I wouldn't just go ahead and try to figure it out on my own. I wouldn't change the brake pads on my RV without a service manual, no matter how much more I might learn by figuring it out the hard way, because the hard way is likely to kill me.
I think the distinction comes back to the authority thing, needing permission: a creator may hesitate to act for lack of instructional information because he feels he doesn't know enough to be safe; an assembler will hesitate to act given a lack of instructional information because he is afraid of being personally responsible for failure.
I'm a good example, here: I have always worked for larger videogame developers not because I have a burning desire to make the kinds of games I can only make with 300 other people around, but because it was a safe thing to do, and I'll admit at some level it's nice to know that I don't bear the singular responsibility for the success or failure of my project. That said, it's still highly creative work in that we're doing stuff nobody's done before, and I'm doing it with a team. I wonder how collaborators fit into your metaphor here. You focus a lot on the individual in this way that if I didn't know you better would feel a little Randian (let me know if it is actually Randian so I can stop being your friend) but even you aren't working alone on SETT. How does being a creator scale? What if you were to build a product that took a team of ten? Twenty? One hundred? Where do you start to lose that personal agency?
A lot of what dissuades me from jumping into entrepreneurship is, honestly, not really having a good idea of what I'd do, exactly. I guess that goes right back to the creator/assembler thing: the creator thing to do, when the time comes, is jump, since it's easy to have faith the net will appear, and rationally the risk of abject disaster is almost nonexistent.
Thanks for another good post.
I really like how you ended this:
"Interestingly, there has never been more pressure to NOT be a creator, nor has there been a better time to be one. Tools like 3D printing, programming, and platforms like kickstarter make it possible to be a creator on any scale"
Programming is a great example, because anyone can build something, release it to the world, and iterate rapidly. With improvements in digital fabrication we will soon be experiencing the same lower barriers for developing and mass-producing physical products. This is already starting to happen (for examples, just check out the "Hardware Startups - Solve Hard Problems" Sub-Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/hwstartups/)
Unfortunately I think many people who could potentially be creators might have become discouraged through education systems designed more for "assemblers," but luckily the Maker movement seems to be showing people that creating doesn't have to be intimidating.
Consider "creating" more expansively and we are all creators. We use terms like "create a family" and "create a healthy relationship" and those endeavors call for us to bring forth something that is within us and unique to us. Engaging, thoughtful conversations with others "creates" new neural pathways.
I agree, but I don't think that makes as interesting of a blog post. An analogy I'd use would be teachers-- we all teach each other and learn from each other, but very few of us have the inclination to make teaching our life's work.
Just as I don't think everyone should become a teacher (in the sense of it being their career), I don't think that everyone should be a creator (in the sense of it being a fundamental core of their life). In both cases, the world needs both, and in both cases the ideal balance is probably for that category to be a minority.
I didn't mean for the article to come across as negative towards assemblers-- only towards people who have that drive to create, but aren't doing it for some reason or another.
This post shows up weird on my setup. Mac Pro with 30" cinema monitor. Snow Leopard, Firefox 16.
Wow....for those of you who find any shred of usefulness of Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicators there sure seem to be a lot of _ _ _ J's in here. It seems to me the most creative of the creative are often _ _ _P's, though without _ _ _ J's we probably would never see many of our ideas brought to fruition. Thank God (the Universe...The Sock Monkey...???) for diversity.
I'm an ENTP - the personality type known as "The Inventor". Funny that should be - I am always inventing, a composer by training - yet I find that I need assemblers. Once I build a prototype, if I get that far, I don't like fumbling with the screws, performing the maintenance, etc. Nor do I particularly care to perform my own compositions - I'd rather leave that to those incredible Assemblers (performing musicians) who are perfectly happy to sit, hour after hour, practicing and honing the necessary rudimentary skills needed to "assemble" my music into a performance. Ah symbiotic relationships (though I generally avoided singers and violinists in music school - such prima donas)
I'm a problem solver. And I love nay-sayers....Tynan is right, I have a big ego, and nothing satisfies it more than proving that most yakking people don't know what the hell they're talking about. That's because they spend a lot of time yakking and very little time doing. They are the types who typically make comments to "Creators" such as "You think too much...you over analyze things....blah blah blah). I have little use or time for such individuals...they rarely understand the concept of symbiosis.
Being a creator you have to embrace risk and failure - for the best ideas often come out of the serendipitous or "creative accident". You also have to have tough skin. Quite frankly I don't give a damned if you agree with me or not and more often I use mass opinion as a gauge - when I am in opposition to popular opinion I am much more likely to be on the cutting edge of creativity.
Just my take - your post spoke loudly to my soul. Oddly I knew nothing about you or your book or blog, until I ran into your video on the VW Rialta Owners Page. Then a few days later a friend pointed me towards you blog. Speaking of serendipity. How cool is that?
On the quest towards more minimal living and greater self sufficiency.
This post completely speaks to me Tynan. I just quit my job working at a call center. I consider myself a creator - photographer, minimalist, world traveler, artist. Havent had the balls to pursue my passion until I saved up a bunch of money from my job, quit, and am now pursuing my passions full-time. I had someone else explain this same situation in slightly different words - a grinder versus a creator.
grinders can work for hours and hours per day, day after day, doing the same task over and over and over.
creators are flighty, hate being chained to desks, are filled with ideas, and make new wonderful things.
which one are you?
The reason I write about creators, though, is because there are a lot of creators stuck in the role of assembler. Instead of embracing who they are at the core, creating, and taking the risks and the rewards that come with the territory, they take a job.
Heh alright given I'm guilty of this I should give insight to my decision to join the masses. I've always been the creative type - when I was younger I was enthralled with the personal computer/programming glitz of being able to create and not just take what was given. In high school and early college I continually released a rash of simple game concept custom based minigames onto the unsuspecting masses of the Starcraft/Warcraft 3 communities over many years. I always liked walking to the beat of my own drum - breaking expectations. People always told me 'oh you're so creative...' etc... and stroked my ego with it and as much as I tried to put it in perspective and play it off I kind of absorbed it.
By the time College came and went - looking back at my life - I realized I lived in sort of a haze for those 4 years. So much time spent doing "trivia and memorization" work while partying and gaming away the minuscule 10% of free time I had left didn't exactly make me the most developed kid coming out of college. Thus I was 'educated' but was not 'learned' in the ways of life. Normal jobs came in and offered a sort of stepping stone to really train one on how life really works. I find it very sad that internships and apprenticeships are not emphasized much if at all in college - colleges are just moneymaking mills that spit out sub-par education - not knowledge. I won't go on about this since this place already has a couple posts in the backlog regarding why college sucks :D. I always knew in the back of my mind though growing up that I didn't want to get trapped in a 'job' forevermore but before reaching the point of actualization I needed to have working monetary capital and health insurance and all that life foundation stuff down. While working at a job and seeing the world for how it truly was I started to undergo a sort of 're-education' process in which I observed how and what make things work which in turn gave me the knowledge and confidence to better make my move once I'm ready. I really think if I tried to strike it out on my own straight out of college I'd fail miserably. Some people are naturally streetwise and good with the practical aspect of life. I tend to think and live more out of the higher ungrounded aspect of life (dark side of creativity?) so for people like me we need to ground ourselves in jobs to get a solid idea of 'how the game works'.
For all creators stuck in assembly jobs - I can't speak for everyone but if situations and life choices between people are similar then I reckon many of them are just training up to become real contributors to society. You mention risks and rewards of being a creator. There are risks and rewards and many of these risks are of a much more 'tangible' sort than the risks of lets say asking someone out on a date. Asking for someone's number is considered child's play on the risk scale compared to quitting your job and starting your own business and taking all of the nuances that come with that path. Nothing worse than striking it out and failing; to dig yourself a hole you will spend the next 30 years trying to get out of. Student loans, medical emergencies without insurance, living expenses, etc... - all of these risks have to be managed. To make a move into living creatively on your own terms you need to have a sort of self-assurance that you have enough intestinal fortitude to follow that path through. If not, assembler jobs make for a very effective 'gym' of sorts while giving you a stipend every 2 weeks. Imagine if you got paid to work out at the gym! Wow.
Anyway that's my take on it. When I have kids one day they're going to learn the game early like that one post where a mother was having her kids create their own value contributing businesses at a young age. Thus they won't need college and won't need to get trapped into the assembly mill since they'll be strong enough to break it's pull. And if my kids aren't of that sort at least they'll know early so that they can play the system and reap the biggest advantage as master assemblers :D.
Closing Note: I have the non-completion attribute too - I have a lot of great ideas but I want other people to implement them so I can spend the rest of my time thinking of more crazy ideas. I'll complete prototypes and working samples but I won't run through them to 110% completion (nor do I want to spend the rest of my days providing support for such things). Need to somehow integrate that into a survival self-employment plan somehow...
Excellent post! A political problem is implicit here, because the 99% of assemblers have the political power and often do not heed the all-important creators. We see this in socialist governments around the world.
BTW, do you usually do things like the cave diving traveling alone - or do you go with someone from the USA? I assume you have a guide waiting for you in Mexico (unlike your Peruvian adventure).
If you paid me fifty times what I make now to work at a regular job, I wouldn't do it.
Over the past few weeks I've informally asked some of my other entrepreneur friends how much they'd have to be paid to work a normal job in their industry. None of them quoted any reasonable figure. Some of them didn't want to answer the question because it was so uncomfortable to think about.
When Justin Frankel, creator of Winamp, quit AOL, he was offered a job by Microsoft. They asked what he needed to work there, and he responded with a written offer. In his list of necessities were things like a private jet, the ability to work remotely 100% of the time, and all boat rental fees to be reimbursed. It was a joke, but he sent it to them anyway. That's how abhorrent the idea of a real job was to him.
ok I had a nightmare. A while back I woke up in cold sweat, because I felt insignificant and useless after an encounter with Tynan and his friends. In this dream, I came to a hangout looking to meet interesting people. I thought that I inherently belonged in such a crowd and figured that it would be easy to jump right in. When I got there, however, Tynan asked me for vitamins. Weird right?
This stopped me cold. In dream logic, he was asking me if I had anything new to contribute. I either brought fresh ideas and energy into the group, or I was just another dead-weight groupie. I panicked. Up until that point, I was confident in myself even in my dreams. I woke up wondering if I have anything original or interesting to add to a conversation in a group of creators and innovators. Many of the things that come to mind are derivatives of the ideas I read from books and blogs of those same people.
Luckily, I snapped out of it when the fears and insecurities of dream-brain seeped away. I remembered the many personal breakthroughs and interesting experiences that I've had in my life. This is when I realized that it is important to me to be a creator and not a mere consumer. I am a peer, not a fan. It seems that my dream of inadequacy was spurring me to catch up.
Next time: the first original thought that I recalled after my dream.