Being Useful

Innovation is a combination of the new (novelty, new ideas, new thinking) and the useful (value, application, adaptation, fit for purpose) – applied creativity. In our culture we tend to value novelty over usefulness – we are impressed by the flash of genius rather than the slow burn of incremental change. ‘Being useful’ is an oblique route into innovation.

For a creative technologist in residence, there’s a risk of being sucked into routine tasks, at the expense of defined projects. On the other hands, the everyday interactions of ‘usefulness’ can accumulate into insight and become a catalyst for change. Such an approach requires a certain humility – in the words of one technologist, “this isn’t about my ego, my career, I just want to be useful – to the organisation, to the project, to the community”.

It’s also risky – how do you explain after five weeks that all you’ve done is fix some stuff? Where’s the output? Where are your credentials as a creative technologist? Well, at this stage it’s a matter of trust – Happenstance assumes that if you put brilliant people into an organisation, brilliant things will happen. These arts organisations seem happy to let the process follow its own pace – don’t panic, let it happen. And being useful might in the end be the best route to being innovative.

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