The following was originally submitted for the first issue (issue 0) of 48 hour Magazine but unfortunately did not make the cut. I thought I would share it with the world anyway.
Is hustling an essential part of creativity and innovation – an archetypal trait of an urban innovator?
For me the archetypal hustler is the risk-taker, the marginalised creative person on the edge of society; the type of person that has little to lose but something to gain from being creative and innovative. In its purest format in western societies, this could for instance be an illegal refugee or a person without a work permit.
Cities are the home for most of us – it is the place of resources, infrastructure, opportunities galore and the ideal playground for mass creativity and innovation. Cities are constantly growing, with more than half the world’s population now living in cities. To address this influx of people to the existing space cities will constantly need to innovate. This rapid growth will gives interesting challenges to the infrastructure like power grid and drainage pipes to support more people.
A number of people who will want to be creative and innovative for a plethora of different reasons, ranging from personal greed and gain to survival.
As Charlie Leadbeater writes in a paper from British Council’s Creative Cities conference in Warsaw 2008:
“And there are many other spaces – marginal, unlicensed, criminal – in which creativity thrives in cities, where people have to improvise because they have few resources or are outside traditional institutions.”
The question is whether hustling – not in the sense of cheating but more understood as challenging and bending conventional wisdom – is a prerequisite for successful innovation. But hustle on its own doesn’t do it – it needs to be matched by hard work and perseverance.
An example of this type of hustling is Reverse Graffiti. The technique consists of cleaning off dirt, leaving behind beautiful patterns or messages often with a strong community element. This is an innovative approach to an art form which is usual illegal – regular graffiti – while doing public good by cleaning the city. However, there is a stalemate because for political reasons local authorities do not want to endorse street art, probably because this could attract other forms of street art like ordinary graffiti. The British artist Moose, who has even been close to being arrested for his way of cleaning the city.
There is a wonderful YouTube clip from Aarhus, Denmark where Moose talks about his work and also shares some of his experiences of doing reverse graffiti. The technique uses stencils and high pressure water pumps to clean of algae off walls and leave only the pattern of stencils behind – in Aarhus it was a dog’s bone. Another technique is to cut into layers of posters and using the contrast between the colours in the posters in the different layers. Finally, there is a technique for cleaning off existing paint, a technique where credit cards suddenly come to a new good use.