Directed by Saul Bass, Why Man Creates is an animated short documentary film that won the 1968 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. Being evaluated as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The Academy Award winning director Saul Bass is a very famous American graphic designer who is also best known for his design of motion picture title sequences, film posters and corporate logos such as AT&T, United, Hunt Wesson, Frontier and Continental Airlines. Why Man Creates is about the nature of creativity, and it especially focuses on the creative process and the different approaches taken to it. The Edifice, Fooling Around, The Process, Judgment, A Parable, Digression, The Search and The Mark are the eight sections in this short documentary, and the film is really worth watching.
These eight sections are about human creativity, and they can be useful lessons for learning more about it. Nowadays, it is known that creativity is a very important leadership competence, and it is the most crucial factor for future success. Consequently, it is time to learn more about it because innovation happens only when people apply their creativity. The eight sections in Why Man Creates can be inspirational lessons that will help leaders to learn about human creativity and develop their leadership competence in order to inspire, support and nurture the creativity of others.
The Edifice is the first section in Why Man Creates. It begins with early people hunting, and then, there is a cave painting, upon which a building begins to be built. The building grows taller and taller throughout the rest of the first section of the film. Early humans invent the lever, wheel and fire. Later, they build the Great Pyramids at Giza, and they create the writing. Achievements in the Classical period are illustrated as Greek columns are built, and around them people discuss different topics such as state, religion, justice and happiness. Next, ancient Rome is depicted. Black soldiers cover the screen with darkness symbolizing the Dark Ages. After that, the scene brightens with a glass window. Many scientists open glass doors and say: “The Earth is round.”, “The blood circulates.”, and “There are worlds smaller than ours.” Finally, a big black arm slams the door shut, and the glass window is broken. The new Enlightenment period starts, and it is illustrated with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Later, the steam engine is invented. Gears and belts begin to cover the screen. Other inventions such as the light bulb, steam locomotive and telegraph are illustrated. Great inventors, scientists, psychologists and musicians are also depicted. Next, the documentary shows the American Revolution. The building stops being built. Wright brothers’ plane lands on top of it, and then it is quickly covered in more advanced planes, cars, televisions, and finally early computers. The first section of the documentary ends with a radioactive atom which envelops a man yelling “Help”.
In the Edifice, great achievements are illustrated, so the first lesson is that all human beings were creative in the past and are creative today, and creativity is a very special human feature. Throughout history people have been creative in all areas of life such as engineering, art, science, production and so on. The best prove for this is the millions of examples in the human history, and they are so well depicted in the first section of the documentary. There is this misconception that creativity is only associated with arts, music and literature. In fact, people can be creative in any field. All human beings are creative because they possess this special ability called creativity that is the ability by which a person or a group of people make something new, useful or valuable.
The second section titled Fooling Around displays a random series of perspectives and the creative ideas which come from them. Eggs are being cracked, and a yolk, black tar and a butterfly are emerging from each one of them. The image of a man walking down the street is frozen as his head is divided into some parts. A group of people waiting to cross the street begin to do jumping jacks because that is what the sign begins flashing. Then, there is interesting criticism on thoughtlessness illustrated by a young hippie and a middle-aged woman. The second section of Why Man Creates ends with Saul Bass’ words which actually describe his own creative process that he uses to create this film. He says: “Where do ideas come from? From looking at one thing and seeing another. From fooling around, playing with possibilities. Speculating, and changing, pushing, pulling, transforming. And if you are lucky, you come up with something maybe worth saving and using and counting on. That is where the game stops, and the work begins.”
The lesson here is that creativity is a very complex cognitive process that is very chaotic in its first stages. This chaotic process may start with an inspiration that can come from analogy. The creative mental process is very dynamic, and it requires being very persistent to work on it. It will be useful for leaders to know that sometimes creative people should have the freedom to play with ideas, and only through this, creative ideas may emerge and result in innovative products or services.
The Process displays an artist who is struggling for inspiration and clarity, and who is making artwork by using a variety of large and oddly shaped boxes. Each time he attempts to keep them in place, they move and rearrange themselves, so he tries many different approaches. In between the photographs of Thomas Edison, Ernest Hemingway and Albert Einstein are shown. Also, they talk about their own creative experience and what one has to do to solve problems.
The third lesson is that the creative process is long and difficult and during which creative people use some special traits such as: sensitivity to problems (the ability to see deficiencies in products, social institutions, theories, and pretty much anything in life and to determine that goals have not been met); tolerance to ambiguity (the ability to accept uncertainty without feeling stress or tension); fluency of thinking (the ability to think well and without effort); risk taking (the willigness to take chances which makes it easier for a person to be original); flexibility of thinking(the ability to easily move beyond traditional ways of thinking and come up with new ones). Leaders should be familiar with these traits, and even they should support people to develop the traits of creativity.
Section four is Judgment, and it is a series of reactions to the creative output from The Process. The artist is facing public scrutiny. Judgement displays people’s criticisms of the art form. Most of the comments are negative, and only a very few support it. The analogy Bass uses is: the artist is dressed as a cowboy, and he tries to shoot back at the crowd, but their criticism prove too much ultimately killing him.
It is so easy to judge others. It is so common to hear negative comments. However, negative comments stop people from being creative and generating new and original ideas. Judgement is the sole and biggest enemy of creativity, so the lesson here is that leaders should be very careful with negative feedback. They should not judge negatively, and moreover they should stop team members from judging each other. Especially during team work and brainstorming judgement should be defered. Since judgement is so negative for creativity, it is the leaders’ role to defer judgement.
Why Man Creates continues with the section titled A Parable which begins at a ping-pong ball factory. Balls are manufactured in exactly the same way, and machines measure them. As the balls are being tested for their bounce levels, one of them bounces higher than the rest. It is placed in a chute which leads to a garbage can outside the factory. This ball continues to bounce across town to a park where many ping-pong balls gather around it. It keeps bouncing higher and higher until it doesn’t come back. A Parable finishes with the comments:“There are some who say he’s coming back and we have only to wait …There are some who say he burst up there because ball was not meant to fly …And there are some who maintain he landed safely in a place where balls bounce high …”
Creative people are different. They think, feel, behave and work differently. Sometimes they do not fit, and they are not accepted by the leader, team, department, organization or society. Actually, people are different, and each person is unique. It is useless to standardize people and try to make them similar. On the contrary, the most important lesson that leaders should keep in mind is that human diversity is so important for solving complex problems and generating innovation.
Digression is a very short section in which two snails are talking to each other. One snail asks the other: “Have you ever thought that radical ideas threaten institutions, then become institutions, and in turn reject radical ideas which threaten institutions?”The other snail answers “No.” As a result, the first one says: “Gee, for a minute I thought I had something.”
The lesson here is that sometimes new ideas may threaten organizations. Status quo requires stability and conformity. In the past, there was no need for new ideas. However, nowadays in the VUCA world everything is in a constant flux, so radical new ideas are required to cope with rapid change, so leaders should be the advocates of radical and original ideas. Leaders should nurture a corporate culture that can tolarate and generate creative ideas needed for innovation.
The Search shows scientists namely James F. Bonner, who has been working for years on projects such as solving world hunger, Renato Dulbecco, who has been developing a cure for cancer and Jesse Greenstein, who has been questioning the origin of the universe. Then another scientist is shown. He has worked on a project for seven years, and which did not work out. He is asked what he will do next, and his answer is that he does not know. Each one of these scientists was working on a problem which has not been solved yet, although each one expected positive results in only a short period of time.
The seventh lesson is the contrast of the two creativity terms “Big C” and “Little c”. “Big C” refers to “creativity considered great in the given field”. The scientists in the Search can be a very good example for “Big C”. Besides, all great and well-known scientists, artists, composers etc. in human history are considered as exeptionally creative people. However, there is also the “Little c” that refers to “everyday problem solving and creative expression”. This is the kind of creativity which leaders should be aware of and work hard to nurture it in their teams and organizations. Every human being is extraordinary because he/she can solve problems and express his/her uniqueness. Actually, leaders should nurture the “Little c” because only it can lead to innovation. I think the 21st Century is going to be the Century of “Collective C”, and this collective creativity will lead to breakthrough innovations and discoveries in every facet of life.
The eight and the last section in this documentary film is The Mark. It asks the question: “Why does man create?” Among all the variety of human expression, a common mark can be seen. There is the human urge to look into oneself and say “I am unique, I am here, I am.” The film ends by displaying “I Am” written on a brick wall. The answer of the question “Why does man create?” is so short and simple. A man creates to simply state, “I AM.” When a human being has the courage to say “I AM.”, he/she can express his/her creativity and uniqueness.
Creativity is actually a high order human need. It is part of the last need in Maslow’s Needs Pyramid. According to Maslow, people have physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and finally self-actualization needs. In the self-actualization needs there are the needs for acceptance of facts, lack of prejudice, problem solving, spontaneity, creativity and morality. Leaders should learn that people have the need to self-actualize by solving problems and expressing their creativity. That is why people are creative, and they want to create. They create in order to express their individuality and uniqueness. Every human being has the right to create in order to say “I AM”.
In conclusion, Bass’ Why Man Creates provides powerful lessons that can be used for learning about human creativity. Leaders should keep in mind the eight lessons about human creativity, and they should try to understand their own creativity and the creativity of others. Leaders should also develop their own creativity and the creativity of others because as any other skill or competence, it can be developed.
(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)