The Art and Science of Sock Monkeys

Sock Monkey ApprovesIs creativity an art or a science?  Is the difference between creativity and innovation about being non-commercially versus commercially driven?  Is it enough to say that creativity produces uniqueness over sameness?  Does any of this matter?

Let’s look at something as simple and mundane as socks as an example.  Did you know that the evolution of socks has been influenced both by commercial and non-commercial forces of creativity and innovation over time?

Over 140 years ago, the sock-knitting machine was first patented by a man named, John Nelson.  Twenty years later, his company, based in Rockford, Illinois began manufacturing work socks.  Eventually the invention of a loom, which could mass-produce seamless-heeled work socks, followed.

As imitators copied this popular seamless-heeled work sock, the founding company, Nelson Knitting Company, responded by trademarking a distinguishably unique red-heeled sock design.  Consumers could then easily identify these as the original “Rockford Red Heel Socks” as opposed to the fakes.

Then several decades later, as the Great Depression hit, old worn-out Rockford Red Heel work socks took on a new use as they were made into toys for kids.  And, that is how the now famous red-lipped sock monkey was born.

Today, sock monkeys are still a traditional, nostalgic, recognizable entity.  There even exists a sock monkey humanitarian group called  Operation Sock Monkey. There is Sock Monkey art therapy.  And, there are Sock Monkey Festivals.

The evolution of sock monkeys was driven by societal needs where both art and science played a role.

Just like the creation of the assembly line was creative (an innovation), as like artificial intelligence, it has it’s limits and can not manufacture creativity.

The closest a business can come to manufacturing “innovation” is through controlled customization / personalization.  Scaleablity and profitability are its immediate constraints.  Predictability of outcome is another.

Life is not a predictable or static state.  Similarly, a stock market analyst can look at past performance and make infernces about the future but can’t consistently predict it.  Communism, unlike capitalism, assumes likeness and sameness.

One of Google’s very definitions of “Creativity”  is: “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality.”

Creativity involves a sort of evolution not just differentiation.

Creativity is a place where possibilities and unknowns surpass logic, proof, and predictability.  To know if you’ve reached creativity (an art), you need to known where you evolved from (a science).  Thus, creativity is not totally independent (or mutually exclusive) from science but instead has a unique relationship to it.


Photo Credit: “Sock Monkey Approves” by Slackslider, on Flickr.

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