Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Anonymity breeds creativity

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist 

Have you ever wondered why our superheroes wear masks? 
Apart from hiding their identity, and the corresponding ability to lead a double life, one normal and another fantasy, one of the big reasons for them donning a mask is to allow them to do things beyond the realm of everyday life, and even fail, while nobody identifies them. Do you think that they might well have done similar feats with their identities revealed? Perhaps not. 
Let me propose here that anonymity breeds creativity, and the very fact that the superheroes wear masks, lets them be more creative and audacious in their deeds. What can ordinary mortals learn from here? Here is my take.
Let us start with identifying the key tenets of creativity. I believe that creativity is about putting the existing in a new configuration or form. We are really not looking at new-to-the-world offerings or solutions, but those which were existing, hitherto disconnected, and are now put into a perspective and context which is new. 
Of all the things that this ability of re-configuring requires, I think that the biggest is the risk taking ability. The tenacity to leave behind the secured and the comfortable, and chart into unknown territories, often at the risk of loss of reputation and even life. It is the same risk taking ability that makes the rare entrepreneurial types, and then the pure inventors that frankly give a damn!
I can’t think of any creative outcome without the commensurate risk associated with it, even though almost all the other ingredients are present. Either an individual is motivated enough to find a solution, or desperate enough; but in any case, the risk is always to overcome. 
What is the present day equivalent of superhero style anonymity? How can one become anonymous without essentially resorting to wearing a mask? I believe that the context has an answer here. 
Look at our cities. With massive urbanization, repatriation, and coming up of newer business opportunities, cities have become the pockets of largely disconnected masses. The so called ‘collectivism’ of Indians is severely challenged in cities. 
While there is a significant social cost of breaking social ties and the resulting loneliness, there is however a great upside. Now people, unknown to others around, can pretty much do anything they desire. They can take chances, fail and try over and over again. 
How much of that was possible in tradition, tightly connected societies, where a patriarchal system was ingrained, and where any radical behavior was met with a heavy social sanctioning.  
Little doubt then that some of the most radical ideas are by immigrant and not native; invaders and not aboriginals. 
When I look around in the city of Mumbai or Bangalore, there are several hundred businesses, which weren’t essentially started by those whose forefathers lived at the respective cities. These flourishing upstarts are by first generation, or at best second generation, immigrants, and eventual entrepreneurs. The very fact that they pretty much had no social tries to start with, they could chose their ties, mark their territories, and take the necessary risk while still being relatively strangers. 
The dual benefits of ‘not being famous yet‘, and ‘not belonging here’ help people challenges their own assumptions and those held sacrosanct by the societies, and create something adorable and inspirational. The whole Silicon Valley Story is scripted on anonymity and the feats of technology superheroes; and Bangalore is no different. 
To sum up, I can propose that let’s not cling on to our past glory and social bondages, for these very core-capabilities and assets turn out to be core-rigidities, the moment we attempt something new. And worst still, over a period of time, our very risk taking appetite fades away while maintaining those assets (read liabilities). 
So – why so serious? 
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