No one knows for sure why some societies are more innovative than others. The United States is a highly inventive society, the source of a host of technologies -- the airplane, the atomic bomb, the Internet -- that have transformed the world. Modern China, by contrast, is frequently criticized for its widespread copying of foreign inventions and creative works. Once the home of gunpowder, printing, and other transformational inventions, China is today better known for its knockoffs of almost every imaginable product: cars, clothes, computers, fast food, movies, pharmaceuticals, even entire European villages. The United States gave the world the iPhone; China gave it the HiPhone -- a cheap facsimile of a groundbreaking American gadget. ... Some see deep cultural roots to the pervasiveness of copying in China. But a more common view is that China fails to innovate because it lacks strong and stable protections for intellectual property. ... But American anxiety and anger over Chinese piracy are misplaced. Copying is not the plague that American business leaders and politicians often make it out to be. In fact, far from always being an enemy of innovation, copying is often a critical part of creativity. Although copying has a destructive side, it also has a productive side. Nearly all creations rest on prior work, and the ability to freely copy and refine existing designs fuels fields as varied as fashion, finance, and software. Copying can also foster stronger competition, grow markets, and build brands.
They delved deeply into Catmull’s rules for embracing the messiness that often accompanies great creative output, sending subtle signals, taking smart risks, experimenting to stay ahead of uncertainty, counteracting fear, and taking charge in a new environment—as Catmull did when he became the president of Disney Animation Studios. ... The fundamental tension is that people want clear leadership, but what we’re doing is inherently messy. We know, intellectually, that if we want to do something new, there will be some unpredictable problems. But if it gets too messy, it actually does fall apart. And adhering to the pure, original plan falls apart, too, because it doesn’t represent reality. So you are always in this balance between clear leadership and chaos; in fact that’s where you’re supposed to be. Rather than thinking, “OK, my job is to prevent or avoid all the messes,” I just try to say, “well, let’s make sure it doesn’t get too messy.” ... Most of our people have learned that it isn’t helpful to ask for absolute clarity. They know absolute clarity is damaging because it means that we aren’t responding to problems and that we will stop short of excellence. They also don’t want chaos; if it gets too messy, they can’t do their jobs. If we pull the plug on a film that isn’t working, it causes a great deal of angst and pain. But it also sends a major signal to the organization—that we’re not going to let something bad out. And they really value that. The rule is, we can’t produce a crappy film.
For the past 20 years, the most widely spread and hummed tunes in the world have been written by a Swede, Max Martin, the recipient of the 2016 Polar Music Prize. It’s his melodies that bottle up our times and preserve it for the future. ... ”Most of the time, I tend to listen to my own stuff, whatever I happen to be working on at the moment.” What he listens for is details that could be improved. Is the bass too loud? Is the intro too long? ... Until now, Max Martin has refused every extensive magazine interview proposal. He did agree to do an interview for Time Magazine back in 2001. Since then: No thanks. Every newspaper, magazine and TV-channel in the world has asked him over and over again: No thanks.
Consider Einstein’s impact on physics. With no tools at his disposal other than the force of his own thoughts, he predicted in his general theory of relativity that massive accelerating objects—like black holes orbiting each other—would create ripples in the fabric of space-time. It took one hundred years, enormous computational power, and massively sophisticated technology to definitively prove him right, with the physical detection of such gravitational waves less than two years ago. ... Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the very laws of the universe. But our understanding of how a mind like his works remains stubbornly earthbound. What set his brainpower, his thought processes, apart from those of his merely brilliant peers? What makes a genius? ... Genius is too elusive, too subjective, too wedded to the verdict of history to be easily identified. And it requires the ultimate expression of too many traits to be simplified into the highest point on one human scale. Instead we can try to understand it by unraveling the complex and tangled qualities—intelligence, creativity, perseverance, and simple good fortune, to name a few—that entwine to create a person capable of changing the world.
To save time and money, Blum does a lot of his work as a producer — making calls to actors, directors and studio heads — in the back of a gray Ford cargo van that he has equipped with wide plush captain’s seats, two large video displays and window blinds that are nearly always drawn shut. Often, in the middle of a call, the van will stop, the automatic sliding door will open, the aggressively bright Los Angeles daylight will pour in and there Blum will be: at some suburban theater for a test screening of one of his movies ... Horror movies occupy a special place in the hearts of producers. They are cheap, their fans don’t demand well-known actors and the ratio of risk to reward can be astonishing. “Night of the Living Dead” cost $114,000 to produce in 1968 and has since grossed at least $30 million; “The Blair Witch Project” cost $60,000 to produce in 1999 and has since grossed $249 million. Blumhouse’s own “Paranormal Activity,” shot in one house with two unknown actors and almost no crew, cost just $15,000, yet its box-office return since its 2009 release has been $193 million, a return on investment of about 1.3 million percent. ... Because the production cost is low, he can consider other options for movies that don’t seem likely to break big — ones that don’t require an additional multimillion-dollar marketing commitment but could still recoup the initial investment with maybe a little extra as well. Some Blumhouse productions appear on a few hundred screens, often targeted at narrow fan niches.