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‘Up in the Air’ Takes Flight with Destructive Innovation

airplane wing towards clouds

Up in the Air” provides and example of creativity and innovation being applied in a destructive and dehumanizing way. CTC is contracted to go to other companies and fire people though they never use that term. The position is no longer available, or there is no longer a position for you at this company are phrases they would use, and they offer re-placement services in theory. Newly hired Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) proposes a way for CTC to save thousands of dollars by moving from an in-person firing process to a virtual firing process.

Her innovation would allow a person to sit at a computer in Omaha to fire someone anywhere else in the world. The person that would do the job would have a script that he or she could follow, which would make the job easier theoretically. Long-time downsizer Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) sees his whole lifestyle collapsing in front of him and confronts his boss, Craig Gregory, (Jason Bateman) and Keener.

Gregory instructs Bingham to take Keener on the road and show her the ropes. He does so reluctantly, but through their partnership, it becomes apparent that a human connection is important in both their work and in their lives.

Firing someone is a personal (for the one being fired) and destructive consequence of capitalism. In the United States, it’s a devastating blow to one’s identity and social network. To have it be done by someone who isn’t a part of the company is bad. To do it over a conference call akin to Skype is like breaking up using a text. It’s a cowardly act that causes psychological harm to both people involved in the transaction. The lack of respect in dealing with the elimination of an employee’s position and hence, his or her employment, in such a way is underscored by Keener’s and Bingham’s girlfriend’s reaction to Keener’s boyfriend dumping her via text. It is further underscored and remarked on by Gregory when Keener quits with a text and he says the act is because of the lack of respect in the younger generation.

Keener’s idea was innovative and would result in a windfall for CTC, but the human cost would’ve been too high. There are certain actions that should be done face-to-face because human empathy can help cushion the blow. Creative efforts don’t always result in something good. Be sure to find a way to make your creative efforts beneficial for as many people as possible.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories” for positive creativity. Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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The ABCs of Creativity: Ambiguity

Most people want an easy answer, and the simpler the explanation the better. Unfortunately, these answers and explanations leave much to be desired, and they stymie creativity. Creativity is the process that humans go through when they create something new. It involves not knowing where one is going as much as it involves having a goal. While the two may seem to be diametrically opposed, they are actually both appropriate for creativity.

Ambiguity is the idea that you don’t know the answer. If you knew the answer, you wouldn’t need creativity to solve the problem unless you were looking for a better answer. Trying to find a path to the goal, you look for solutions, you don’t know which one will work or what you’ll find, but you stay the course and keep moving forward. With each experiment you get closer to your goal, but you don’t know when you’ll get there.

Nike faced this issue of ambiguity in 1971 when, as head of Blue Ribbon Sports, Phil Knight realized the relationship he had with the Japanese shoe manufacturer that would become Asics was headed south according to Popular Mechanics. He needed an innovation to stay in the shoe game.

Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was facing a problem with his athletes in Eugene. A new urethane tack had been installed at the university and the athletes were having problems gaining traction on it. Metal spikes couldn’t be used because they destroyed the track. Bowerman looked at everything and anything that could help provide traction. He needed something that would work on multiple surfaces. He needed to be able to make a pattern on the soles of the shoes.

His wife decided to help him on a Sunday morning and made waffles. Bowerman looked at the waffle maker and thought it could work to make his soles. He ruined that waffle maker but was undeterred and went out to get more waffle makers. He had his sole, and Nike had its game changing innovation for athletic shoes.

Bowerman, and Nike, had to go through a period of ambiguity while he was searching for the answer to his problem. There was no guarantee that he would solve the problem and there was no template that showed him how to solve it. He had to keep looking in spite of earlier failures. He had to deal with ambiguity.

When you’re confronted with a problem that you don’t know how to solve, or even where to begin to solve it, you could walk away. Or you could look at it as a challenge and enter the ambiguous path that leads to creativity and innovation.

For more on creativity, check out these links and get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Become more Creative for a Better Life and World.”