This is the second salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Take it away Mike…
It is amazing what you can accomplish…
Harry S Truman did some pretty cool stuff. He took the wheel during WWII and ended that mess in less than 4 months. Old “Give ’em hell, Harry” checked the expansion of communism both at home and abroad and at the same time…championed the UN…helped rebuild Europe and the global economy… pulled off the Berlin Air Lift… racially integrated the U.S. military… started NATO… stopped the entire Chinese Army, in Asia, without WMDs (a cool trick in anybody’s book)…got General Douglas MacArthur under control (Almost as big a deal as that thing with the Chinese Army!) and he had a few other pots on the stove. Somewhere in and amongst all those little distractions, he had time to utter a saying that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”
Credit. Recognition. Acknowledgment. One of the sweetest nectars to be found in the garden of AFOL delights, as well as one of its most insidious toxins.
The Desire For Credit (DFC) is a classic motivator. The idea that our peers will acknowledge our efforts as exemplary. That some lasting accomplishment will be attributed specifically to us for a very long time. We long to see our name and our contribution carved into the marble of history next to other reputable guys and their great achievements: Euclid’s Elements, Newton’s Constant, the Van Allen Belt, the Pickard Picard Maneuver…
It’s an attractive notion that speaks directly to our self-worth. It taps directly into our narcissistic tendencies, a sirens call both irresistible and destructive. It might even be primal, this desire for the approval of the group.
And like most primitive urges, we often suppress and deny it, like our intense desire to stare at attractive people in public. Like our deep-seated need to establish dominance in social situations, or our intense need to eat food from Chick Fill’A. These are all very natural behaviors, and all suppressed (usually with only marginal levels of success). We get busted checking people out, we get pissed off when slighted in public and we eat the hell out of those damn chicken sandwiches…just like we all know a Cro-Magnon would! Many of us reject the notion that this desire exists at all, but this denial is of course false. We want credit for our effort, but WE THINK IT IS BASE to want the credit, so we SAY that we don’t. Only for a few, a very select few, is this rejection sincere. In fact, recent satellite images of the Earth suggest that there are precisely FIVE people alive on Earth today who don’t care at all about getting credit for their work. Oh shit… Mother Teresa is dead? Make that FOUR people. Then again, even the beloved Mother Theresa had her issues with credit.
This Desire For Credit (DFC) is a pervasive element of the AFOLs life. Isolating the DFC from everything else, for the purpose of discussion is largely artificial. Like ethics, safety, respect, faith, trust…and bunch of other stuff…The DFC is part of everything we do. Maybe a small part, maybe not so small, but it always OVERLAPS with a lot of other topics. A transition sentence is one that helps your reader move to the next concept smoothly (like my thesis for example), but I don’t have a good transition sentence, so…JUMP NOW!
THESIS: The desire for credit (DFC) can both motivate and prevent the artistic growth of AFOLs and the hobby, and acknowledging our DFC allows us to mitigate it’s destructive side.
We can see the impact of credit (or the Desire For Credit) in at least three areas of the hobby: Parts and Techniques, Building Efforts and Disputed Credit.
PARTS and TECHNIQUES. From time to time, one of us will use a part effectively in a MOC and receive the curt but salutary accolade: “NPU!” Ah yes…that use of the yellow minifig life jacket to capture the subtle curves of Hasselhoff’s ear lobe…that was quite clever wasn’t it? You KNEW they would dig it, “But soft! They speak!… NPU bro!” Ah yes, time to smile and sip the sweet nectar of credit. But once per era, one of us, usually the seventh son of a seventh son will use a part to devastating an affect and with such relentless frequency that the part becomes synonymous with that builder! Or a mind will conceive of and execute a technique… teachable, learnable, re-producible on demand and guaranteed to increase crop yield by thirty percent! Part and builder, part and technique… bonded forever in AFOL song and lore! It’s a real hallmark. No, really, it’s cool. And chicks dig it too! In fact, I hear it also reduces home mortgages by a quarter of a percent! Examples of this rare CREDITUS MAXIMUS include:
Nnenn, a beloved and departed AFOL who brought us this enduring design criteria. True, the Vic Viper is not called the Nnenn Viper, but the formal and recorded design criteria for the Vic Viper is synonymous with this artist. His design remains an enduring challenge to our entire community. Nnenns idea endures, an ongoing dialogue within the community about the tension that will always exist between conformity and creativity. The below image conveys two messages. First, Nnenns vital contribution to the greater Lego dialogue: conformity and creativity are NOT mutually exclusive. Second, all of these MOCs were built by different AFOLs and brought to Brickworld Chicago in 2010 in order to commemorate Nnenns passing.
The man had IMPACT on AFOLs and the Art of Lego. He created and shared an idea that resulted in an explosion of creative effort, AFOL improvement, and vigorous dialogue. I never saw or heard of him chasing credit… but we all know he earned it, and I for one will say without hesitation, that it is a good thing to recognize his contribution (by name). Not base, not crude, but unambiguously inspiring. Oh, and his influence is seen at the highest level an AFOL can achieve: Lego product design, as documented so excellently by TBB. And of course… just to nail down the trifecta in a supernova of CREDITUS MAXIMUS, we all still call this part the Nnenn:
Other examples of CREDIT in the realm of Parts and Techniques include:
The Travis brick: Named for a remarkable AFOL who passed away too soon.
The Lowell sphere: Invented by a man questing for the perfect round cap on the end of the engine thingy on his Y-Wing…
The Bram sphere: As hydrogen warheads followed on the heels of atomic warheads, so the Bram sphere followed on the heels of the Lowell sphere…marvel at the vast and cool intellect of one of our greatest builders.
Reality check: I Can’t KNOW how or even IF the DFC effected the cognitive processes of these esteemed colleagues and I make no such claim. What I do say is this: most of us would really dig achieving this level of notoriety. STOP! Yes you would! Don’t deny! Don’t succumb to the notion of what you THINK is more civilized and ignore the savage TRUTH! Instead, I urge you to make peace with this base motive, acknowledge it and then having befriended it you must learn to tame it and always strive to keep it in check. Again, I do NOT claim that the DFC motivated these builders. Creative impulse. The need to invent the technique in order to achieve some higher level effort. Accident! I declare that Keith should interview each of these cats and get their take on the whole business! (Do it Keith… Do it!) I’m just saying, it’s pretty cool that they have parts or techniques named after them and if I was ever able to achieve the same, I would be pretty jazzed about it. Because I’m base, crude and think like a Neanderthal? Maybe. Or maybe just because I have a rather pedestrian world view.
Building Efforts. The hobby encompasses a broad swath of activities. From table scraps, to MOCs, to Collections of MOCs, to contests, copnventions and other operations. Sometimes, the DFC is manifest in these broader efforts. Did the visionaries behind these efforts feel the DFC? I don’t know. Yes, yes…of course I suspect…but then that is pretty much my thing isn’t it? Suspicion and derision. Oh, the horror… Any ways, I feel that whether the DFC was a motivator or not, none can dispute that these cats deserve a dose of our favorite deadly nectar… CREDIT! In these cases, CREDIT EARNED BEYOND THE PART, TECHNIQUE, or MOC LEVEL. Let’s look at some laudable EFFORTS.
Nannan Zhangs Creations for Charity. I remember when I first saw young Mr. Zhang (now Dr. Zhang right?) posting on MOCpages. Black Fantasy (great builds!) and long quotes inspired by Lovecraft (Not so great literature!). He displayed a new and in my opinion emotionally evocative style. Black monsters with orange eyes… in their multitudes… really, the stuff of nightmares. Cool. This guy was always pretty quiet, and fairly prolific. He has published some VERY INTERESTING stuff about how to buy Lego, sell Minifigs, and come out ahead. Nannan even wrote an informative essay about how YOU can use his techniques to build your LEGO collection using his proven process. Although those particular thoughts are slighty outside the scope of this article, they always struck me as supremely practical, and again, totally in the best interests of Lego as Art. But the effort I want to draw your attention to (as if it needed that) is his annual fund-raiser for various charities: Creations for Charity.
Look, I haven’t done my research here, the first iteration, the growth rate of his events annual earnings, the number of contributors, the number of nations involved now (Simon… you’re the guy for CfC Canada right?). But the big picture is self-evident. The event is massive, many of our hobby’s best builders contribute and the event began as a vision in the imagination of Chairman Zhang, and he plans it and he runs it… year after year. The total benefits generated to date are probably GALACTIC in scale! My point is that this effort is a credit to Dr. Zhang. And again, as a focal point for the larger Lego dialogue… IT IMPROVES THE STATE OF LEGO AS ART. For some legitimate history regarding this remarkable event, I direct you to our favorite Cherub and Half Orc team, Joshua Hanlon and Matthew Kay for their excellent Beyond the Brick interview with the man himself.
Well, that went longer than I though. Sorry Simon, but now you get squeezed… it’s this blog… the editor doesn’t enforce any standards! Yea, Simon Liu. One of the fastest moving AFOLs in the population. I don’t mean in terms of skill or development. No, I mean physically. His rate of travel, his personal velocity is simply astounding. This guy is ALL OVER the place. I can only name a single guy who hits more AFOL events… Abner Finley, and he can move fast because he never brings any models. But Liu? Buckets of action! He has about eight irons in the fire at any given moment. But the effort I want to draw your attention to is his annual contest: SHIPtember. The annual contest focuses on 100+ stud long spaceships and the building thereof. We talked about it in the comments from last week’s rant about critique yea? Two faces of the DFC here. First, Simon, I rely on you to set us straight here…but I am guessing that at least in part you feel some DFC. You organize the thing, publish the rules, judge, and distribute the trophies at the end of the annual contest. It’s your baby and you want it to rock. When it does rock you crack a cold one and wink at yourself in a mirror right? No? No to the cold one, or no to the mirror? Second face of the DFC: Participants! When you join a contest, you want to SLAY your competitors with your awesome MOC right? RIGHT? I mean, how can you enter a contest and say “well… for me, it’s all about the build” What? ASSERTION REJECTED! Competition incentivizes performance and in the process, improves the state of Lego Art. That is why SHIPtember is such a laudable effort. Good on you Liu and good on all the competitors! Tooth and nail!
Look at the results of this effort on the community in 2014… this is IMPACT on builders and Lego Art!
Disputed Credit. This is the other side of the DFC coin. Many AFOLs proffer the notion that seeking credit is low, base and often they state, hand tucked majestically into coat (you know, like the classic Napoleon pose) that the DFC does not affect them. But… let somebody steal their shit…or let them witness the act of Credit-Theft and suddenly its GO TIME BABY! It is true, to chastise one person for falsely claiming the credit for the work of another is not the same as denying their own DFC, but I say the difference is too fine to be operationally or statistically relevant. More often thatn not, this vigorous defense of another’s credit only betrays our own love for THE CRED (or as they say in Germany: Das Kred!). It’s looking at the same force, the DFC, but from another direction. If it is important for that guy to get credit for THEIR work, how can it be totally unimportant for you to get credit for YOUR OWN work? How does that scale balance? (Yes… I am poking fun at people who deny their own DFC here, I stand guilty of defamation before the AFOLs of Rome!). Look at the link below the photo. It’s old, and that is good! Because the specifics don’t matter. It’s about the time that guy, stole credit for that thing, that old boy built, for that contest… screw all the details! What matters is that this is a REAL SPECIMEN taken from the wild. It’s unedited public rhetoric on this exact topic. What I want you to consider as you review this thread is the ANGER of those who speak. It’s real. It goes on and on, and it becomes white-hot. Respect, restraint, the Laws of Land Warfare… they all get thrown out the window! In the end… heat fused sand, twisted metal, and intolerable levels of ambient radiation.
Alternate versions can be found all across the internet. But this is an excellent, old and mostly harmless example:
Again, this is not a new take on this topic. There are lots of discussions out there. Reading the older stuff is a great to get caught up on a topic in a big hurry. TBB posted this excellent discussion back in 2010. Here we can see the intrusion of what I consider a red herring: The notion of copyrights and patent infringement. While these concepts are absurdly litigious for this context, they do arise again and again. I want to remain focused on the human, moral and ethical dynamic of these questions. Right and wrong. The schism between law and morals is also evident in the rich comments that follow the article.
So, credit, and the DFC are not new, or esoteric topics for the AFOL. They are old friends. Parts of the landscape. My point here has been to drive home the fact that although the notion of DFC gets a bat rap, it can be more than an annoying distractor or a dangerous stimulant. It is often a constructive motivator (and it is, as Rush would put it: Closer to the Heart).
Credit for ideas is a good thing, but the highest credit we can hope to achieve is in sharing. Great ideas held back in the name of proprietary control simply remain unknown and unvalued. We can’t allow our ideas to become our Dragons Gold, treasures that crush all good will and leaves us each alone in our own creative dungeon. Isolated by our self-importance and kept company by our own good ideas. In order to gain the chalice of credit, you must share, inspire and lead. The cats I mentioned in this article have done just that (except for Keith… who is of course a vile usurper).
One other thought. There are limits to this whole DFC notion! Some people simply need to be slapped. I refer here to the “Plz give credit” crowd.
In the words of an AFOL whose name escapes me: “Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.”