The Case For Originality
I don’t remember when I first fell in love with the goddess. Like most emotional attachments, it probably started somewhere in the womb. But what I feel for the Citroën DS transcends reason.
So far, I’ve owned three, and like most love affairs it has costed me way too much money.
When the DS was introduced in 1955, it didn’t look anything like anything else on the road. In fact, in 1955 cars were quite square. But here, at the Paris Motorshow, Citroën showed the world something so unique that in the first 15 minutes after its unveiling it sold 743 cars. When the sun set on that historic day the total orders stood at 12'000. At the end of the show the DS order book totalled a whopping 80'000 cars.
Like the French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote, upon laying his eyes on her unspeakable curves:
It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object .. We must not forget that an object is the best messenger of a world above that of nature: one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter is much more magical than life), and in a word a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
There are many things I personally love about these cars. The shape, I mean look at the shape. Then there’s the ergonomic and smooth ride. The spacious and lounge-like interior. The single-spoke steering wheel. The hydro-pneumatic suspension. But what I love the most? You can’t feel neutral about this car. You either love it. Or you hate it. And that’s more than ok.
Nobody could have predicted its runaway success. Behind it was a team of people that felt something in their gut, pushed it through every round of development until they had something the world had never dreamt of, and made a huge commercial success.
Every expression of creativity has an example of such outlier success. Take cinema. The Godfather, probably the world’s most acclaimed film ever, almost never came to be. Francis Ford Coppola, who directed it, was the studio’s 12th choice to helm it. Coppola himself found the Mario Puzo’s book on which the movie’s based “vulgar.” Al Pacino, who played Michael Corleone was a struggling theatre actor — also nobody’s first choice for the lead. Here was a film, who nobody really expected anything of that simply rocketed to the stars — against anyone’s better judgement.
I was recently at a conference where I learned of a company in Antwerpen that has developed an artificial intelligence that will analyse movie scripts, make box office projections and then make recommendations on how to edit the script to make it more commercial. It uses historical data to make these recommendations.
I for one don’t want to live in a world where creative products are shaped by historical data. Because if you want to know what that world will look like, take a look at this picture I took of a magazine rack in an airport bookshop in Hamburg.
In that world, the Citroën DS would never make it past a concept drawing. The Godfather would be a synopsis on a hard-drive in a basement. Seinfeld, probably the world’s biggest sitcom in the history of television, would be Jerry and Larry’s biggest what if.
Great, original ideas that change their industries, can not be predicted by data. They are conceived in the minds of creatives who can synthesise lots of different experiences, match them with the internal tension of human experience we all feel inside to produce massive commercial successes.
Artificial intelligences, for the next few years at least, will be great for performing boring and repetitive tasks to scale, that will bore humans to tears. Until a computer can feel that inexplicable void when looking at the stars, or that sense of wonder when the sun disappears behind the horizon, we need humans to experiment with new ideas, free from the shackles of what has gone before.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on July 14, 2017.