The Prompt What were your favorite toys as a kid?
The Paper: The Creative Imperative Model: A four Quadrant Approach to the Categorization of Industries and firms by Types of Creativity Demanded
Dr. Timothy Wise, Journal of Creative Behavior.
A Recipe for Stupid Shit: Rubber Shooter Gun.
Running through a mental inventory of the toys I played with as a kid, I’m finding yo-yos and legos, erector sets and etch-a-sketches. There’s a lot of dried up Play Dough and Silly Putty in little plastic eggs. Plastic Wham O Frisbees came into existence just four years before I did and were an improvement over the wooden boomerang that I never learned to throw very well. There were board games like parcheesi and Life. Monopoly, of course.
I demonstrated a preference for two categories of toys: creative toys and guns. The yin and yang of mid-century boyhood. I was such a gun enthusiast that had there been a child's membership to the NRA at the time I would have anxiously watched the mail for the magazine to arrive along with Highlights.
In those days the NRA was a club for hunters and target sportsmen, not so much paranoid libertarians. Nobody in my family hunted. Nobody we knew hunted. Hunting isn’t common amongst Jews, most likely because Jews are supposed to eat only kosher meat, and meat can only be kosher if the animal is killed by cutting the jugular vein. Most of the game preferred for hunting is also non-kosher for other reasons I won’t get into.
The only gun my parents owned was a weathered antique that hung above the fireplace in our wood paneled den. My mother had a good eye for putting a room together and loved interior decorating. The gun was a purely aesthetic choice she made with an assurance from the seller that it could never perform as originally intended. The closest thing my older sister had to a gun was her blow dryer.
There were stories of my grandfather carrying a gun when he went to collect rents in cash from the tenement apartments he owned. I have no reason to believe that story is untrue, but I’m pretty sure my dad never found that method of protection necessary. I was the sole bearer of arms in the family.
I had a revolver pistol with a leather holster that shot caps; rolls of red paper with little pimples of gunpowder. The hammer on the gun struck the powder and caused a tiny explosion, making a flash and leaving the smell of burning sulfur behind. Each shot advanced the paper so you could shoot continuously until the roll ran out and red curly qs of burned paper fell to the ground.
I also had a solid metal pistol that looked just like a real gun. (not like a cowboy relic) That one shot plastic caps that you loaded in the chambers. I had toy rifles, water guns and a bow and arrow too. My Jewish mother never let me have a BB gun. Too dangerous. I really, really wanted a BB gun.
We lived on a large wooded lot in a suburban neighborhood. The backyard had a creek at the back of the lot that bordered the neighbor’s yard. On the other side of the creek was a steep hill. The Burkhardt’s lived in the house on the top of the hill. They were a Catholic family with 10 kids, including a few boys who were a little older than I was. One weekend night I had a friend staying over and we camped out in the backyard. The Burkhardt boys found it very amusing to shoot down on us with their BB guns. Their mother didn't seem to have an issue with it. I still have both my eyes.
Gun culture was at its peak while I was playing cowboy and shooting bad guys with my holstered replica colt and heavy metal pistol. Just as I was aging out of simulated boy warfare, the gun control movement started and the toy guns became plaything non grata.
The Vietnam war was winding down, the hippies and anti-war activists winning the day with peace, love and rock-and-roll. Teaching your kids to be soldiers wasn't really cool any more. A new kind of sensitive, Phil Donahue parenting was taking shape. Corporal punishment was bad now and violent toys were a parent’s shame.
My GI Joe dolls transferred from the US army to the Salvation Army. The guns went away, but that was ok. The war was over, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, becoming an astronaut was cool, infantryman way uncool. We got a color TV.
During the dark ages of toy guns you could still find rifle games in dark arcades and soft, wimpy simulacrums, like nerf guns and foam shooters, came to market. Otherwise kids had to improvise by turning brooms into rifles and bananas into hand guns.
During the 70s and 80s sedentary nerds worked hard to revive youth gun culture, This time with bits instead of atoms. We are now in a golden renaissance. First-person-shooter games are a mega-industry for kids and adults. Games like Grand Theft Auto make my little cap guns seem almost sweet.
The NRA grew out of the limited hunter sportsman market into a huge second amendment lobby and now offers a junior membership for $15 a year and includes a monthly magazine. Now that there are more guns than people, it might actually be easier for a kid to buy a real gun than a toy. My mom worried about the kids on the hill shooting BB guns. Moms today worry about mass shooters coming into schools with assault rifles. I read the other day that one of the assault rifle manufacturers just came out with a smaller version of an AR 17 for kids. Fun.
I’m also glad to have grown up during a time when kids spent most of their playtime manipulating objects in physical space. The creative toys I enjoyed tended to fall into the building toys category. I liked playing with Legos, erector sets, and tinker-toys, but I was just as happy to play with random debris in the street, sticks, stones, helicopter seeds or pinecones.
Before smart phones and video games, kids used to get bored. Boredom is the optimum condition for creativity and an under appreciated tool for driving innovation. In the past, boredom was part of the natural human condition; an uncomfortable state driving human thought and action. In the same way HVAC technology eliminated the discomfort of heat and cold, digital tech is driving boredom toward extinction. To harnessed the power of boredom now requires deliberate intention.
Children’s toys and games both influence and reflect the different ways creativity is expressed. Some kids like complex puzzles with correct solutions, others prefer freeform creative activities without rules and defined objectives, like Play Dough. These differences in creativity follow us into our work lives as adults and form our creative behavior at work.
We learn as children how to navigate the adult world through play. Or, perhaps it’s childhood play that informs how kids will influence the future world they take over.
The Paper: The Creative Imperative Model: A four Quadrant Approach to the Categorization of Industries and firms by Types of Creativity Demanded.
Dr. Timothy Wise’s 2003 paper from the Journal of Creative Behavior, constructs a model he calls the Creative Imperative Model:
"The approach taken in the current study is to categorize firms by the types of creativity/innovation demanded by the industry and/or market in which a firm competes. This will be referred to as creative imperative. The study will distinguish between firms that compete in creativity-centered industries in which organizations must constantly develop new products to survive and creativity-enhanced industries in which firms adapt or utilize the creative products of others."
Creativity Centered and Creativity Enhanced are two combined with Aesthetic Creativity Centered and Aesthetic Creativity Enhanced form a four-quadrant model that describes four types of firms. He calls them: Technical Artists, Artists, Inventors and Distributors.
The 2x2 looks something like this: The X is labeled technical creativity. One end is centered, the other end is enhanced. The Y axis is labeled aesthetic creativity, with one end centered the other end enhanced. This is all a very academic and complicated way of talking about four types of creative approaches:
Technical Artists compete in industries that depend on technical and aesthetic creativity. A video game company is the example used.
Artists compete in industries requiring a lot of aesthetic creativity, but get the technology they use from other sources, think graphic designers, photographers, street mimes.
Inventors compete in industries that require a lot of technical creativity. They may need some aesthetic creativity for marketing or branding, packaging and such, but the major deal for them is the techy stuff. Think pharmaceutical company or reinsurance.
Distributors are businesses that distribute the creative outputs of other firms or adapt relatively non aesthetic or technical products. Often referred to as middlemen, uncharitably as parasites. These include retailers, wholesales, resellers and bankers.
Let’s illustrate these four models with children's toys:
Artists: Play dough, silly putty. Silly string,
Technical artists: Erector sets, chemistry sets, Legos
Inventors: Rubiks cubes
Distributors: Play money.
If your child prefers Play Dough over Legos he might be more of an artist than a technical artist. If he most likes playing with money, you very well might be raising a future banker.
Wise constructed his model primarily to establish a framework for further research on creativity. I’m seeing it as a somewhat useful guide to evaluate creative needs for different organizations. Putting a company in one of the imperatives clarifies how a business might invest in creative talent and make better decisions around what resources stay in house and what’s outsourced.
Start-ups and new initiatives can look to this model to ideate around business models and map competitors. One could use the model to map employee talents or HR investments to see how they align with the business objectives. Sales and marketing could categorize prospects and customers on the quadrants to observe patterns in their product/market fit.
A service business, mapping their customers on this model, might find some interesting correlations. For example, an accounting firm could map their clients on the quadrants and find that their most profitable clients fall into the technical artist category and their most difficult to manage, and therefore less profitable clients, fall into the distributor category. Thus, they might choose to focus their prospecting and marketing on technical artists or charge higher fees for distributors. Maybe they see a pattern where the businesses they enjoy most are inventors, but the easiest to acquire are artists.
Then again, this could be an utterly useless exercise filled with noise and no signal. Maybe it’s worth a look?
Play with the toys that fit you. Be careful with the guns.
A Recipe for Stupid Shit: Rubber Shooter Gun
2. Rubber bands
3. Other stuff
Using your imagination, or copying ideas from the internet, make a rubber band gun with a spring loaded clothes pin.
The clothes pin holds the stretched rubber band in place. When the clothespin is opened, the tension on the band is released and it exerts a forward force. The force can propel the band or be used to propel some other object. The operational mechanism is simple. The rest of the gun is mostly for the handle. There is both technical and aesthetic opportunities in this stupid shit and you are free to allocate your creativity any way you want.