As a technology pioneer at MIT and as the leader of three successful start-ups, Kevin Ashton experienced firsthand the all-consuming challenge of creating something new. Now, in How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, a tour-de-force narrative twenty years in the making, Ashton leads us on a journey through humanity’s greatest creations to uncover the surprising truth behind who creates and how they do it.
Why does Woody Allen avoid the ceremony of the Oscars?
In March 2002, Woody Allen did something he had never done. He flew from New York to Los Angeles, put on a bow tie, and attended the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual Awards and received seventeen other nominations, including more screenwriting nominations than any other writer, yet he had never attended a ceremony. In 2002, his movie The Curse of the Jade Scorpion was nominated for nothing. He went anyway.
Why does Allen avoid the ceremony?
He gives several tongue-in-cheeks excuses–the two most common being that there is nearly always a good basketball game on that night and that he has to play clarinet every Monday with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band.
Neither reason is real. The real reason, which he explains occasionally, is that he believes the Oscars will diminish the quality of his work. “If you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t.”
Whatever motivates Woody Allen, it is not awards. Prize are not always carrots of creation. Sometimes they can inhibit and impair.
The connection between motivation and creation
Motives are never simple. We are motivated by a soup of things, some we are aware of and some we are not.
Psychologist R.A. Ochse lists eight motivations for creating:
- The desire for mastery,
- The desire to create beauty,
- To prove oneself, and
- To discover underlying order.
Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile studies the connection between motivation and creation. Early in her research, she had a suspicion that internal motivation improves creation but external motivation makes it worse.
The external motivator Woody Allen avoids is the evaluation of others. Poet Sylvia Plath admitted to craving what she called ‘the world’s praise’, even though she found it made creating harder: “I want to feel my work good and well taken, which ironically freezes me at my work, corrupts my nunnish labor of work-for-itself-as-its-own-reward.”
In one of her studies, Amabile asked ninety-five people to make collages. In order to test the role of outside evaluation on the process of creation, some participant were told, ‘We have five graduate artists from the Stanford Art Department working with us. They will make a detailed evaluation of your design, noting the good points and criticizing the weaknesses. Work by people expecting evaluation was significantly less creative than work done by people making collages for their own sake.
Amabile’s research validates Woody Allen’s reasons for avoiding the Oscars.
Complement How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery with How will you measure your life? It’s a book of lucid observations and penetrating insights designed to help any reader—student or teacher, mid-career professional or retiree, parent or child—forge their own paths to fulfillment.