I am constantly thinking about what factors enhance the capacity for innovation. Space and environment seem like a huge part of the equation, but there doesn’t seem to be any empirical evidence to support this. There even seems to be visible paradox that is commonly seen—people rising out of slums or otherwise unspectacular environments to do great things, and others who inherit every opportunity available and squander it. Currently, I live in my childhood home and spend the days networking and searching for jobs full-time. It’s not exactly an innovative activity, but living, eating, breathing, and sleeping for the only purpose of searching for jobs is growing to be a somewhat mundane routine, so it has brought the issue to my mind again. I have only been home for a few weeks, but the walls and aura of my childhood room make me feel complacent, and eager to get started. I have rotated through each neighborhood Starbucks in an attempt to get out of the house, and know each Barista by name. I have even ventured 40 minutes away to Catalina Coffee, which I mention only to plug the fact that they are the best coffee shop in Houston, and you should visit immediately or whenever you are in the area. But, even these places are beginning to feel like confining environments. In large part, it seems to be a question of tools more than physical space. For example, regardless of where I am at, I have a computer and phone—the necessary tools to job search. Whereas, if I were an industrial engineer with only a computer and phone, and no materials to prototype with, things might be more difficult. So, it seems that the proper tools are a given and necessary component—but what about the way a space simply makes you feel? How does that impact innovation? In a writer’s case, the only tools necessary are a pen, paper, and one’s own mind. Because these simple essentials are easily obtained, I think a writer’s point of view provides a compelling insight on the question. Charles Bukowski addresses the topic in Air and Light and Time and Space:
“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses for.”
© Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press
Bukowski’s poem is interesting to me, because, in many ways, I am starting out with so much more than him. My parents paid for my education, and now I have a stable place to live while finding the next step. What really grabs me is how this poem is obviously written from the perspective of a man with few resources, but overwhelming talent.
People often say that it’s all about “who you know,” and I always grimace when I hear these words, because I hope they are never true about me. If you want a means to an end, then they are right– it’s all about who you know. But, if you want satisfaction out of what you create, it can only come through internal competency and desire. And while Bukowski’s words are written from an obviously decrepit situation, I don’t believe he is advocating that creating from nothing is better than utilizing priveledges. He is saying that environment is meaningless—you either have developed the ability and desire, or you haven’t. You’ve got it, or you don’t. For many that were born with economic priveledges, it very well may be all about “who you know,” because many of these people know only how to coordinate relationships, and never learn to create.
How much do you depend on environment? Are you a relationship builder or a creator? Do you depend on people more than you should? Would you know if you did?