A couple of weeks ago I finished up a collection of essays by Malcolm Gladwell entitled, What the Dog Saw. I've read all three of Gladwell's previous books, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. I have never failed to be amazed by his ability to bring insight and perspective to seemingly obscure and unrelated topics. Maybe it's the amateur psychologist in me that Gladwell appeals to, or maybe it's the part of me that believes that sometimes it's the little things that are significant, and that everything really is related.
Either way, the most compelling (because it felt personally relevant) piece in the book was called "Late Bloomers". The essay endeavored to take on the cultural truism that genius is generally considered the exclusive province of youth, particularly in creative enterprises like art and poetry. For examples, we were presented with the very different stories of the artists Picasso and Cezannes, interwoven (as Gladwell does so well) with the story of an author named Ben Fountain who quit his day job as a lawyer to stay at home with his young son and write.
That there are geniuses who start young and burn brightly for a time before diminishing is true. That there are also geniuses who start young, and toil away for years in relative obscurity before ever achieving any kind of success is also true. Gladwell writes to say both are brilliant, just in different ways. To say this, he draws on the research of a University of Chicago economist named Davd Galenson, who theorized that there were two kinds of creativity: conceptual and experimental. The conceptual creatives are the ones who burst on the scene, while the experimental creatives are the ones who bloom later. This is more than just a matter of the same kinds of creativity under different circumstances, but rather a fundamental difference in the way some people create. So he writes, "late bloomers bloom late because they simply aren't much good until late in their careers."
The experimental creatives blooom late because it takes them a long time to hone their craft, to find what they are seeking in their creative efforts. They are the ones who rip up canvases, burn the first drafts of their books, and then start over. They seek understanding through the creative process, and eventually come to the place where their expressions are finally able to be realized – what they see in their mind is able to come out on the canvas, the page, or, in my case, the church community.
The reason I was so compelled by the essay is that I found myself identifying with the experimental creative. I can't preach the same sermon twice, and I seem to have trouble even teaching the same class twice because I have this insatiable desire to change what I did the last time. I tweak. I adapt. I edit. I am relentless in my commitment to never do the same thing the same way twice. Even as I lead the church, I often feel that I am experimenting with ideas, with concepts and even with practices in order to get to a closer approximation of what I feel the church is supposed to be.
This essay was a motivation for me to continue my pursuit of the church that I believe could be and should be in Wakefield, Rhode Island. At the beginning of the year I confessed my desire to spend the next 30 years of my life here, and with God's grace I will do that. Throughout that time, I imagine I will be experimenting with creating ways to connect people into a genuine, meaningful relationship with God, and with creating paths for people to grow spiritually. I hope that with every passing experiment we'll get closer to what I see in my heart that I still can't fully express in words.
But my creative process doesn't mean there aren't others out there who are the conceptual creatives, the ones who have these flashes of brilliance that burn brightly for a while. They're out there, doing great things for God's Kingdom. In fact, they're the ones you've probably heard of before. I'll never be them, and it's good to know that God doesn't intend for me to be them.
What about you? Are you the conceptual creative or an experimental one?