Clay Shirky on the relationship between physical space and creativity

I really liked Clay Shirky's essay on the relationship between physical space and creativity. It's one of those classic, Shirkian riffs that includes a bunch of seemingly glib and merely clever ideas and culminates with a thing that ties it all together and makes you realize that a bunch of stuff you've been taking for granted is REALLY important and a bit weird.

In this video of his talk at PSFK CONFERENCE NYC, Clay Shirky talks about the work of Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. After working there as an assistant professor for almost ten years, Shirky describes five student projects that he thinks are pushing the creative boundaries - from interface design to how people cluster to build new work. At the end of the talk, the technology thought-leader compares creatives as members of a philharmonic orchestra and wonders if any rules can be drawn from looking at such an ensemble.

Clay Shirky: What I Learned About Creativity By Watching Creatives (Thanks, Avi!)



  1. He’s been an assistant professor for almost ten years? At many universities, someone who doesn’t manage to get tenure by that time is out (and I know of a number of brilliant academics who were denied tenure, often for being a bit too unconventional).

    1. Tenure? Universities are moving to mostly a la carte professors and have been doing so for the last decade.

        1. I applied to work at the lab of a professor who held the Distinguished Chair in Something Something, but who wasn’t expecting tenure any time soon. 

          He called it a folding chair. I thought that was a good ‘un.

  2. Shirky is literally decades behind the curve on this. I thought he worshipped wikipedia?

    He assumes that because he observed something, therefore it is new. And lots of creative studios have talked about musical ensembles as the way to think about collaboration (though usually improvisational, small groups, like jazz combos or rock bands, not rigidly structured orchestras with an autocratic conductor).

    1. 1) At what point in the presentation did he claim that anything he discussed was a novel discovery? What’s wrong with highlighting ideas that have particular relevancy in a given context?

      2) Musical ensembles were a single example he used in passing while getting to his main point — that many models of creativity can yield results, depending on the particular kind of creativity you want.

      Sometimes I wonder if there really was a golden era of BoingBoing comment threads in which most of the comments were something other than contemptuous nitpicks, or if I’m deluding myself with false nostalgia.

  3. Typical ivory tower BS artist.  Verbose, buzzword laden, and pretentious.  Just listen to the last 5 min. the rest is overblown yapping.  They bet the farm on CDROM authoring, and now  smart phones and social media, anyone see the pattern here?

  4. @boingboing-ca460332316d6da84b08b9bcf39b687b:disqus is correct, though Antinous is as well. They are talking about two different but related phenomena. If you are actually FT with a title as Assistant Professor, you will have generally moved on through the tenure process to Associate Professor by about year 7 (or you will have asked to leave/shoved out the door).  Shirky is actually an Associate Professor — here, LMGTFY – 

    Antinous is right in pointing out, that this SORT of job is quite rare, with over 60% of the entire US professoriate NOT being in any sort of tenure track position. Feel free to google that stat on your own, as it rises to 75% depending on what you are counting as FT. Here is a neat, though already dated survey — 

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