• Competition, the Blues and Salamander Pink Suits

    I was struck by the parallels between two outrageously different articles this week. Each is unique, compelling and passionate in its tribute to the value of creativity and individuality.

    The first, “The Creative Monopoly,” by David Brooks is a fascinating analysis of a course Peter Thiel, PayPal founder, teaches in Stanford University’s Computer Science Department. Thiel believes we “tend to think that whoever competes best comes out ahead. In the race to be more competitive, we sometimes confuse what is hard with what is valuable.”

    With dazzling insight Thiel raises “a provocative possibility: that the competitive spirit capitalism engenders can sometimes inhibit the creativity it requires.  Think about the traits that creative people possess. Creative people don’t follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map. Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream. Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wildernesses nobody knows.”

    Brooks acknowledges how we “live in a culture that nurtures competitive skills. And they are necessary: discipline, rigor and reliability. But it’s probably a good idea to try to supplement them with the skills of the creative monopolist: alertness, independence and the ability to reclaim forgotten traditions.”

    Brooks’ last words, “reclaim forgotten traditions,” resonate in so many ways, especially for me when I found Whitney Boyd’s beautiful photo essay, “A Right to Sing the Blues.”

    Boyd describes how photographer, Jimmy Williams, traveled throughout the South and photographed artists like Boo Hanks, 84, a singer and guitar player, James “Bubba” Norwood, 70, a drummer who played with Ike and Tina Turner, and Whistlin’ Britches, the blues singer known for clicking his tongue. When he met Bishop Dready Manning and his wife, Marie, at their church in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., they were wearing matching salamander pink suits. Talk about photogenic!

    “These blues musicians,” Williams said, “are the very threads of American music.”

    Don’t miss a single photo.

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