George Lois was Mad Men before the show. Until I read a recent magazine profile about him, I'd probably guess he was once king of England. Even then, 44 Esquire covers, "I want my MTV", and a career that stretches five decades is worthy of a crown somewhere. Success such as this allows you to say whatever you want, which is exactly what he does in the profile. In it, Lois comes across as a creative contrarian. He withholds praise for all but his own work and offers enough criticism of modern day mad men and women to make you wonder if he slept the night before the interview. Despite the constant curmudgeonry and predictable nostalgia, his sweeping indictment of the contemporary creative process that emphasizes collaboration over originality has remained with me. Right now, everything we do at Downtown Church is creative. We don't have any tradition or institutional memory. Our identity is emerging but it is not established. We are Presbyterians with a distinct theological posture but we're searching for new ways to share it. So when Lois argues that creative work done in community usually stinks, I've got a choice to make: either write him off as a bombastic buffoon or argue otherwise.
"Community" is a widely accepted ideal, especially in church. Our charter demands that we gather people together. Ever been to a church with one member? Me neither. They don't exist because community is fundamental to church. But is collaboration the same thing as community? Furthermore, if we allowed our church folk to create things for the church without feeling it necessary to constantly collaborate, what would happen?
I do think collaboration is necessary for production, but as Lois argues, creativity and productivity are not the same thing. I've participated in and even led church meetings where 5 or more people attempted to make something new. It wasn't pretty. The relationship between the number of people involved and the originality of our work was always inverse. More people = less innovation.
Part two of this reflection coming soon.