Monday, July 4, 2011

Rating Creativity - the Coffee Shop Index

I've recently been invited as a panelist for local creativity conference in Tulsa, OK, home of Fab Lab Tulsa.  The conference is spearheaded by former Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle, now a professor at OU-Tulsa and director of the Center for Studies in Democracy and Culture.  The conference is July 27 and is intended to help describe, recognize and rate creativity in a civic setting.  My part is to help rate Tulsa's creativity.

So I've started thinking about how to rate an area's creativity and was inspired by this TED Talk by Steven Johnson.  In this video clip, he makes the point that creativity is slow and messy...his quote is that, with regard to creativity, "chance favors the connected mind."  He uses a quip about the first coffee house in London to make his point, coffee shops being generally "the 3rd space" in which people congregate and share ideas.  The other two spaces being home and work.  I don't drink coffee but my wife does and I've been to a number of coffee shops.

So how does this relate to creativity?  Are coffee shops a predictor of creativity?  I thought it might be neat to develop a coffee shop index, a simple quantitative study of the number of coffee shops per capita in a given metropolitan statistical area.  You could then rank metro areas, those with more coffee shops regarded as more creative.  Of course this is totally unscientific and really just for fun but I believe the essence holds true...the more spaces where people can interact, the more ideas can be exchanged and the more connections people can make.

Steven Johnson did a pretty thorough historical study to draw his conclusions.  My reading, including that on Alexander Graham Bell and telephone, plus this article here, lead me to similar conclusions.  Mr. Johnson says that chance favors the connected mind.  I suggest that there are really no totally original ideas; there are too many people on the planet and it's almost guaranteed that someone has your idea why not collaborate rather than compete.  If Bell had collaborated with the 1/2 dozen or so others who claim to have invented the phone at about the same time then we might have had iPhones 25 years ago!

OK, so here's the Coffee Shop Index ratings for Tulsa, OK USA:

City [People per Coffee Shop]
  1. San Francisco, CA [134]
  2. Seattle, WA [298]
  3. Portland, OR [299]
  4. Boston, MA [313]
  5. Denver, CO [374]
  6. Austin, TX [383]
  7. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN [719]
  8. Kansas City, MO [742]
  9. Tulsa, OK [858]
  10. Oklahoma City, OK [921]
  11. Wichita, KS [965]
  12. Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX [1,137]
  13. Little Rock, AR [1,284]
My methods were pretty simple and, again, unscientific.  I used wikipedia to find the population of the given metro areas.  I used Google Maps to find the location then search for "coffee shop" on the map.  Any web listing which would've said coffee probably showed up.  For all I know, some tatoo parlor sold Starbuck's iced mocha from a vending machine and it appeared on my search for "coffee shop".  See, it wasn't scientific.  I did make sure that the map scales and zoom were roughly equivalent between metro areas so that similar land areas would show up in the search.  I did the best I could.

In the end, are you really surprised by the results?  I'm not.  With a little more precision, this index could be made a lot more robust.  BTW, the DFW and San Fran MSA's report almost equivalent populations of about 6.5 million.

Coffee anyone?

Whether or not you drink coffee, come to Fab Lab Tulsa...the newest and coolest place to collaborate, design, invent and have fun!

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