Rather than asking “what is creativity?”, Eric Weiner asks the question“where is creativity?” as he seeks the underlying conditions, often unexpected, that make a golden age shine. In a word, in his book Geography of Genius, he explores the question of whether a specific area or region can be an incubator for a culture of creativity and a place for genius to emerge.
This book suggests that geniuses do not pop up randomly, but in groupings. Certain places, at certain times, have historically produced a bumper crop of brilliant minds and good ideas. So, the natural question for someone who aspires to be a creative genius is, “where are those places, and what are those conditions?”
Is it that easy? Could we actually recognize a creative area, move there, and find ourselves more inspired toward creativity and innovation? Well, relocating is never easy, but apparently location matters not only in real estate, but also in terms of where genius can be found.
In his study Weiner investigated seven cities or areas that possessed a clear culture of creativity at one point in their history. Those areas include Vienna, Florence, Athens, Calcutta, Hangzhou, Edinburgh, and Silicon Valley. Choral musicians will particularly recognize and relate to Vienna in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries by simply considering the Viennese composers active at that time: Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert.
Here are some of Weiner’s observations regarding the geography of geniuses:
- Geniuses are more likely to emerge in independent, democratic environments;
- Geniuses are more likely to emerge in cities;
- There is a link between walking and creativity, even if the walking is on a treadmill;
- The expectation of a reward or evaluation, even positive, squelches creativity;
- Creativity is a response to one’s environment.
Weiner concludes that while we can examine discrete parts of a golden age of creativity, this doesn’t enable us to predict where and when one will appear. With this in mind, I don’t plan on packing my bags anytime soon, but rather, walking more regularly.