The massive increase in the availability of "comforting" technologies has taken its toll on our perception of the environment, specifically our relation to context generally. "We have become used", says Montreal's Space for Life Executive Director Charles-Mathieu Brunelle, "to operate in an environment strictly converging towards twenty-one degrees Celsius".
Values at the centre
More importantly, this habit is slowly turning into an obsession, one that, according to Brunelle, is perverting existence and corrupting our art, our aesthetics. All of life has come to evolve within a narrowing spectrum. As we slowly shed our desire to be provoked, to be exposed and to voluntarily plunge into spaces outside the narrow spectrum of political acceptability, we find ourselves restricted to a set of emotions that respect this new ethos of "comfortability". Twenty-one degrees, no more, no less.
It is an unfortunate turn of events indeed, which suggests - contrary to EHESS Pr. Michel Menger's formula that "art is becoming an essential fermenting principle of capitalism" - that it is the risk-averse behaviour of markets that is pervading our individual and collective willingness to escape. In this spirit, some have built self-sufficient problem-solving techniques, which are then imposed as silver bullets to all activities regardless of their nature. These ex post facto rationalizations implicitly strive to bring all creation within a reduced number of parameters. Concept, knowledge. Flying boats. et caetera.
The power of "why"
Fortunately, this trend can be reversed. The same mass-produced technologies that make us run idle also have the potential to provoke divergence. "New technologies force us to be creative and innovative" says Radio-Canada Specialized Channels' Director General Marie Côté. They can make us proactive and delay our intuitively reactive reflexes.
In the spirit of the "ethos of comfort" depicted above, Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools are, for many, just that: tools. "Why"-type reactions dominate those held by the proponents of the "why not, please try", while the former are nothing but what De Bono calls "black hats", depicted as professional skeptics. Such attitudes are destructive. Quite fortunately, they may be receding in strength and in relevance. They are increasingly combined, as antipodal positions become integrated into innovation models.
Fail with confidence
Côté believes our refusal to feature failure is an explanatory factor of this lack of adventurism. "When we take risks and it doesn't work out, we don't showcase those false steps", she says. Since most innovations come from a series of hidden failures, one may think we would naturally strive to focus on and feature them. Yet we don't. Even in representing successes, we omit to show the actual path. The avenues not chosen, the dead-ending ideas. Even those who think of innovation in terms of stage gates do so by disregarding a vast part of what actually happens from point A to point B. They rely on a formalized, espoused account of what they do.
Maxime Morin, aka DJ Champion, tells of voluntarily heading into a concert with no preparation but a general idea of things to be done, of sounds to be heard, and of likely failure resulting from such an unscripted experiment. Much like success, failure lies in the eye of the beholder. But in this case, the tension between ego and social construction is voluntarily, almost artificially, maintained and inflated.
In this spirit, artists like DJ Champion, or costume-designer Liz Vandal explore the fine line between the affective and the logical; between the feeling and the thinking. Knowing that ego will eventually bring them back to a constant level of emotion, they jump outside, raise the thermostat. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they attempt to escape the regulated state of affairs. They explore the paths not taken. And thus run the risk of hurting their egos.
If, as Menger would have it, art is to become the essential fermenting principle of capitalism, then this relationship must evolve in this precise direction. Artists must inspire capitalists and entrepreneurs to take risks. To put their ego in the balance. Rather than handing out air conditioners to painters, filmmakers and electronic music composers, we should listen to them. Online and offline, we can learn from them, and increase the amplitude of our creative oscillations.
Francis Gosselin is co-founder of f. & co, a collaboratively-oriented consulting partnership focused on strategy, training and animation of creative and innovative units.