Feb 24, 2009

Is the crisis making us smarter and more creative?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: "The Obama Effect"| American life| mind and mood| nationalization

obamahopeSince the World As We Knew It morphed from Dalí painting to disaster movie last year, there has been a subdued but detectable undertone to the ever-present anxiety. Though many people contemplate the future with fear and dread, a few are feeling excited. The stress is stimulating them, and I don’t mean government stimulus, I mean creative.


A couple of days ago Peggy Noonan wrote a sober piece in the Wall Street Journal that concluded with an upbeat hunch about economic regeneration beginning “in someone’s garage, somebody’s kitchen. … The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. … In the future everything will be local. That’s where the magic will be.”


While admittedly I sometimes give in to my own sense of foreboding, I’m also feeling an encouraging twinge lately, ever since I logged back into the new media world after taking a hiatus from my cyberlife for a while. Now between my blog, my Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of other innovations, it feels almost like 1993 again for me, only this time I get to narrowcast, or curate my news as I want to see it. I stay up half the night reading and listening and bantering, and I’m reminded of when I first came to grips with the strange new world of online, back in the days when AOL CDs flooded my mailbox (and when physical mailboxes were still relevant). Once again I’m exploring new things, reaching out to people because their ideas provoke questions and suggest possibilities. I don’t want to get all nostalgic about learning and bonding, but I am really having so much fun with two Blackberries, texts, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Friend Feed, news aggregators, alerts, you name it, I am trying to utilize it and make it work for me.

It’s our embrace of innovation and exploration—not fear—that will get us over this hurdle. There’s something great at hope’s edge: lots of little sparks of energy just waiting to be grabbed and made into something interesting. I can feel a lot of creativity coming on.

An embrace of critical thinking will also carry us far. Frank Rich talked about America’s unfortunate history of blind faith and hard-headedness this week in his New York Times column. As we face a rising and surprising chorus of acceptance among leaders of the idea of nationalization of our banks, we need to be expanding our capacity to understand what that means. Last Friday night, I was joking with a friend that perhaps we should forget dinner and just get drunk since it might be our last weekend as capitalists. He wasn’t amused and told me to stop panicking. Then again, he doesn’t work in the business world.  On Sunday I was lecturing a Dutch friend that if they nationalize the bank, the shares disappear, get vaporized, like a Madoff investment. (See U.S. News’s Rick Newman for more on that.) Many Americans are only starting to get what nationalization would even mean, because, why would they have cared before?  The term has only recently crept into the national lexicon. This whole concept is a new big source of angst—a parallel path to unemployment numbers if you will. Let’s hope the lasting effects of the past few years have begun to condition all of us, as citizens, to get educated and ask questions.

  • StuartHarris
    Tough times do indeed spur resourceful and creative people.

    As regards the scare words ("nationalization" -- aaargh!!!) and other no-nos of American life, I'm planning a re-read of Joseph Heller's masterful Catch-22, which may well be the "meme" equivalent of the American genome. Among other gems of insight, Major Major Major's father receives a farm subsidy for every crop of alfalfa that he does not grow with his farmland and uses this money to buy more land to not grow alfalfa on. He believes that federal aid to anyone but farmers is "creeping socialism".

    The resourcefulness and creativity required now and going forward is not just for inventing gadgets and business models, it's for finding pragmatic new approaches to dealing with huge and complex issues. In these angstful times, there are big current risks (banks collapsing, civil unrest etc.) but even bigger risks in doing what we did before collectively - rushing full speed ahead but headless, relying on voodoo economics and/or ideology.
  • jsheets
    I totally agree. Hard times not only inspire creative thinking, but force people to ask themselves "What can I do with what I've got?" Let's watch as innovation takes shape in 2009 through online tools.
  • Lodengrun14
    There's just so much more time to be creative when you're not spending it posturing or pontificating. Since most of us now manifestly know absolutely nothing about what will happen next, we can just get on with whatever we enjoy/find cool/spiritually fulfilling/can sell off the back of the truck.
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