Rodney Mullen on open creative communities

by Andreas Koller

I’ve gotten into the habit of watching one inspirational talk almost every day. Most of the recommendations come through twitter or through conversations at the RCA. Now I’d like to start a series of posts with a few selected talks I wouldn’t want to miss. First in this series is Rodney Mullen’s talk on community, creativity and innovation.

„The beauty of skateboarding is that no one guy is the best.“
Rodney Mullen (11:00 into the talk)

Not only is Mullen one of the greatest skateboarders who continuously redefined the sport since the late seventies, he also stunned me with his TEDx talk he gave in June last year.

Humble, grateful, honest and ingenious, he points out that competition is not part of skateboarding at all – it’s about individuality, innovation, inspiration and respect. Individuality is built by contributing to the community, the fluid exchange of ideas is key to an ongoing innovative process, where nobody is competing against each other but everybody is pushing the whole movement forward. He also talks about fame: it is transient and can block creativity. Well, he must know.

„Real respect is given by how much we take what other guys do, […] we take that, we make it our own, and then we contribute back to the community the inner way that edifies the community itself. The greater the contribution, the more we express and form our individuality.“ (11:40)

Mullen compares the skateboarding community to the hacking and open source community, which are similar in their principles.

„The basic ethos of the open source community is: take what other people do, make it better, give it back so we all rise further.“ (13:25)

Sharing knowledge among others and not holding back ideas is fundamental to the process of innovation. This is true for sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing or any other non-competitive sports (in its real spirit these sports are not about being better than anyone else, there are no rules, there is no winner and therefore no loser), but also for a design community. Innovation only comes out of an open discourse.

„There is this beauty in dropping it into a community of your own making, and seeing it dispersed, and seeing younger, more talented, just different talent, take it to levels you can never imagine, because that lives on.“ (16:48)

I’d really encourage you to watch the whole talk, and if you don’t know Mullen, watch this.

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