February 15, 2018, by The Ingenuity Lab
Ingenuity18 Blog – Top 10 Inspiring films by Dr. Chris Carter
If you have ever stopped by my office on the B floor of Business School South, you would have most likely been welcomed by Steve Jobs, Jeff Buckley or Etta James before receiving any greeting from me across the room. Punctuating my shelves, these book and record covers that stare back at my visitors reflect a broader, long-established fascination amongst creativity scholars with cultural icons and eminently creative people, amongst whom endless research and analysis has been conducted in order to understand just what it is that may make these individuals so special. After all, if we can understand what made a Marie Curie or a James Dyson so successfully innovative in their respective fields, perhaps we too could dream of capturing just a glimmer of that creative magic for ourselves?
There is a superb quote from author and scholar Sir Ken Robinson that neatly illustrates why such a perspective may underplay what is arguably the most fascinating aspect of creative thought. In a 2014 online interview with ‘Behind the Brand’, Robinson emphasises that “[creativity] is not an exotic power; we all have it. It’s no more exotic than languages but we don’t all develop it in the way that we could.” This view relays a vital point because it moves us away from ‘othering’ those individuals who we come to label creative geniuses and brings us back towards the notion that given the right set of circumstances and effective mentoring, we can all activate our capacity to think creatively and be innovative.
This perspective forms the bedrock of how we in the Haydn Green Institute educate our students on the act of entrepreneurial creativity, from undergraduates through to Executive MBAs. Indeed, it is precisely the message that I aim to bring to all of our Ingenuity18 attendees later this month! However, I know from speaking with both current and graduated NUBS students that the notion that you too have the capacity for radically innovative thought can be a difficult one to genuinely believe. Therefore, in preparation for our Ingenuity18 Ideas Summit I have put together a Top 10 list of films that I believe will inspire and challenge how you think about creativity and your own role in seeking to #FixTheWorld.
Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle, Dir.)
A key debate relating to entrepreneurial creativity centres around the respective roles of innate talent, personal drive, and environmental factors such as mentoring. Whiplash reflects arguably one of the most complex and dynamic expressions of musical creativity in the form of jazz, and deals with rigours of virtuoso solo performance and relentless, critical mentoring. In this sense, the film is an intense examination of how creative brilliance can be forged through the complex combination of skill, motivation, perseverance and need for recognition.
Key point: Creativity as requiring mentoring and perseverance.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (2012, Jesse Vile, Dir.) & My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014, Sophie Robinson/Lotje Sodderland, Dirs.)
Technically I am cheating here, as I’m including two documentaries for the price of one! However, there is a reason: both cover similar topics and are utterly inspirational. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is a moving film that documents the incredible achievements of a talented guitarist diagnosed with ALS in young adulthood and subsequently how he continued to create music despite his extreme physical disabilities. My Beautiful Broken Brain is an equally inspirational documentary about Lotje Sodderland, who experienced a severe stroke in young adulthood. Both films stand as testaments to not only the fragility and strength of the human body, but to the incredible resilience of creative thought and expression in amongst such dramatic challenges.
Key point: Creativity as an adaptive process rooted in our psychology and senses.
PressPausePlay (2011, David Dworksy/Victor Kohler, Dirs.)
I have used various clips of PressPausePlay in my Creative Problem Solving MSc module for a couple of years now in an attempt to illustrate some of the core areas of concern and debate around the role of digital technologies in creative expression. The documentary portrays how on the one hand we may argue that the web has democratised the use of digital tools to support creativity and share its products, while on the other it continues to pose serious questions about how to sift meaningful, valuable creativity from the mundane. Although it is only hinted at in the film, this poses questions for entrepreneurs who are provided with innovative avenues for funding and reaching markets directly, but who may not be fully prepared for the potential perils of social media. A great aspect of this documentary is that it is also available to stream for free online given its subject matter!
Key point: Creativity in combination with technology.
Tim’s Vermeer (2013, Penn Jillette/Teller, Dirs.)
This curious documentary follows entrepreneur Tim Jenison, who is consumed with unpacking the riddle of how the great Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer managed to paint such photo realistic works in the 17th century. What follows in Tim’s Vermeer is a film that addresses the role of technology in creativity and ultimately, whether it might be possible to achieve creative brilliance without innate talent, extensive knowledge or sustained practice of the craft. In this respect, the film makes an intriguing companion piece to PressPausePlay by indicating that the relationship between technological innovation and creativity is not just a topic of debate within the modern day digital economy but an issue that perhaps spans centuries.
Key point: Creativity, technology and the debate around the importance of knowledge, skill and craft.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010, Banksy, Dir.)
Perhaps one of the more subversive films on this list (what else would you expect from Banksy?), this documentary/mockumentary-of-sorts keeps you guessing throughout as to whether it is dealing with the real or surreal. Exit Through the Gift Shop is the tale of a filmmaker (Thierry Guetta) who starts out following Banksy’s work and then ends up becoming an acclaimed artist himself. Its relevance to creativity theory and entrepreneurship really lies in the role of recognition in definitions of creativity (i.e. does something have to be recognised as being creative in order for it to be so?) and the distinction between incremental and radical innovation. In particular, the film forces the viewer to consider whether the work of Guetta is really as radical as his newfound celebrity fans appear to suggest, or whether it is just superficial, derivative nonsense that simply rips off more influential, talented artists.
Key point: Creativity as involving recognition and judgments of value.
Why Man Creates (1968, Saul Bass and Mayo Simon, Dirs.)
If Exit Through the Gift Shop is the most subversive film to appear on this list, then Why Man Creates has to be the most surreal. This Oscar-winning animated short is almost the perfect embodiment of how we imagine the trippy 1960s to have been, complete with endearingly hand-drawn Python-esque animation and wacky live action shots of bouncing ping pong balls and rearranged foam blocks. However, stick with it and it is 24-minutes well spent. The key reason is that it deals with the creative process and its many complexities at an abstract level that many creativity scholars have taken far more space and time to consider in words – and often with less precision. Yes, it is a little kooky and odd by today’s standards, but unconventional thinking is a key part of creativity after all!
Key point: Creativity as a process.
Chef’s Table (2016 – Episode 3 of Season 2, Andrew Fried, Dir.)
We sometimes have a tendency to think of entrepreneurs and their creativity in terms of start-ups, incubators, labs, and investment panels. What Netflix’s brilliant Chef’s Table illustrates is that we see entrepreneurial behaviour in all sorts of contexts and industries, including food and hospitality. It would be possible to draw pretty much any episode from any season of this programme and still be able to reflect meaningfully on creative thinking and expression, but I highlight the Dominique Crenn episode in particular as it forces the viewer to consider various factors such as gender, knowledge, motivation, culture and the various gatekeepers within the food industry (e.g. peers, critics, customers) who all play a role in determining who has their innovative work recognised – and who doesn’t.
Key point: Creativity as a system involving knowledge, gatekeepers and persuasion.
Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller, Dir.)
Based on the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team (and 2003 book of the same title by Michael Lewis), Moneyball follows the incredible story of how Billy Beane and Peter Brand transformed an underperforming team into a successful franchise through the use of statistical analysis. The most relevant aspect of the film to innovation and creative thought is how the central protagonists achieve this: working within very tight financial restrictions, they draft players not on the basis of their reputation or public appeal but on the basis of their statistics alone – a highly irregular and radically different approach. As such, the film nicely portrays some of the strong pushback associated with radical innovation but also how, with the persistence and belief of its architects, it can create the types of “gales of creative destruction” that Joseph Schumpeter wrote about in the early 20th century.
Key point: Radical creativity within tight restrictions that requires unconventional, innovative thinking.
Patti Cake$ (2017, Geremy Jasper, Dir.)
A gritty, coming-of-age film about a female rap artist seeking fame and glory may not strike you as an obvious candidate for a position on this list, but there are some great lessons to be learned about the social basis of creativity from Patti Cake$. Another common fallacy about entrepreneurship is that it is typically a solo pursuit, despite it usually involving many actors within a network. The film reflects this reality nicely, illustrating how Patti’s process of creating her innovative (and catchy!) songs is heavily inspired by the input of an unlikely group of collaborators, each with their own unique set of skills and personalities. In many ways, this is a film that underlines the importance of diversity in knowledge and ideas; doing so in an engaging, interesting and often funny way.
Key point: Creativity as a social process, requiring diversity of thought and skills.
Samsara (2011, Ron Fricke, Dir.)
I place this film last in my list partly because it defies any kind of meaningful explanation, but mostly because it is absolutely essential viewing. Samsara is a stunningly beautiful film that is as innovative in its design and structure as are the people and the world that it captures. It is a film that has no spoken narrative but instead revolves around themes, showcasing the incredible creativity of humans throughout history and across the globe.
Visually stunning, this film is a perfect reminder of just how intrinsic the act of creativity and creative expression is to us as humans; reminding us once again of Ken Robinson’s observation that creativity is not an exotic power, but something that we all possess.
Key point: Creativity as an intrinsic characteristic of humanity on a global scale.
Dr. Chris Carter will be speaking at the Ingenuity18 Ideas Summit. This will be taking place on the 24th and 25th February and will be a weekend packed with inspirational and thought provoking talks led by industry professionals as well as Academic members of staff. Be prepared to unlock your potential.