Creative Destruction

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Earlier today, it ocurred to me that I get bored with things pretty easily. Once I've mastered a skill, I move on to the next one. Once I've enjoyed a product or a brand for a year or two, I am ready for a change. Laptops, fashion, music, TV shows, authors, cars, camera lenses, websites, software, languages, restaurants, coffee shops... I eventually get bored (or curious about something else - however you want to look at it), and move on.

When I realized this, I kind of felt guilty about it. For maybe half a second, I wondered if that made me fickle. But then, I realized that it was perfectly normal.

Some things wear in. Like... a good SLR camera, a good pair of jeans, a pair of Ray Ban aviators, Campagnolo components, friendships, love, a hand-seeded lawn, handed-down recipes, good books, classic songs, a tweed hat, and even furniture - as long as it is at least three times older than you are. (It's just science.)

Most other things, on the other hand, wear out. Their utility diminishes over time. Case in point: I used to LOVE Starbucks. Really. I did. I was a Starbucks addict. I would go out of my way to go spend $3.50 on a coffee, even though I was never really much of a coffee drinker, just because Starbucks was... well, Starbucks. Fast forward two years, to the here and now: I don't really care about Starbucks. It's become the norm. The middle of the bell curve. The boring soft center of the coffee drink industry. It has lost its spark. Its appeal. Its relevance.

A few weeks ago, a Starbucks opened up less than a block away from where my laptop spends most of its day during the week, in arguably what might be the hottest retail space in Greenville, SC, and I haven't been in yet. It's within walking distance of where I spend most of my day, but I would rather walk the extra five blocks to get my coffee from the new French place that makes croissants and pains au chocolat that taste like the ones I grew up with. Their coffee isn't great, but I get to chat in French with the owners, its clientelle is a little more interesting, and the experience has a subtle but unique charm.

The experience at Starbucks, just like the experience at Best Buy or Target or The Gap is always the same. At best, predictably enjoyable, regardless of where I am. Predictably vanilla. Predictably safe. Predictably... uneventful. (Target still manages to stock its shelves with cool stuff, but I am seeing the writing on the wall.)

Suddenly, I find myself un-wowed by the very companies that, just five years ago, were rewriting the rules of their respective industries. When the rebels took over, they stopped being rebels. They became the soft, boring middle. They stopped innovating and started playing things safe. They turned into the exact opposite of what made them successes to begin with. That's sad.

What scares me a little is that a) these brands don't seem to be evolving, and b) they aren't really being replaced by anything better or smarter or cooler. It's like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone in which the protagonist (me) is stuck in an ecosystem of deja-vu brand experiences.


Come on, brand managers. Wow me. Surprise me. Give me something to talk about. Anything. Make me smile and nod my head and say, "yeah, that was pretty cool. That was pretty unique. I can't wait to tell my friends about this." The downtown L.A. Standard Hotel did it. The men's room at Bandera's (Chicago) did it. Sip in Greenville did it. The Encounter restaurant at LAX did it. The Hudson Hotel's bar in NYC did it. Believe me: So can you.

Here's a little something I found on Swamp Fox Insights (via orange yeti) that kind of sheds some light on the whole boredom, ephemeral nature of rebels, innovation, and the big unstoppable wheel of progress. Hopefully, it'll stir some creative juices... or at least inspire a little necessary mayhem.

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and what did that produce - the cuckoo clock!"

- Orson Welles, as Harry Lime in The Third Man.

"The intersection of diverse cultures sparks intense conflict and creativity. Innovation is a passionate, messy business, not for the faint hearted or the weak minded. (...) The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers, new goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization … that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in."

- Joseph Schumpeter

So there you go. I thought I was fickle, but it turns out that I'm just a capitalist. Eh. Who knew!

PS: If you think that this post echoes Tom Peters' assertion that Innovation comes from "pissed off people", you are't wrong.

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