Creativity Bootcamps — the modern αγωγη

December 17, 2011

Ancient Sparta mandated a rigorous physical and mental training called agoge for its would-be citizens. This fourteen-year ordeal transformed boys into warriors and cultivated moral courage and physical fitness.

In today’s capitalist technological world, thei creative class battles complexity and apathy to create art, startups, music, etc. I believe that creative people can reclaim the spirit of agoge by congregating in what I’d like to call “creativity bootcamps.”

Here is how a bootcamp works. Rent space in a warehouse and divide it in half. Fill one side with chairs, long tables, and blackboards. Leave the other side mostly empty but with a stash of low-tech exercise gear like jump ropes, medicine balls, and chin-up bars. Hang a large countdown timer on the wall. Supply a fast wifi connection. All this forms “the arena.”

The wall timer counts down pomodoros: 25 minutes then 5 minutes, repeated four times. During each 25 minute stretch, people in the arena work without interruption (in groups or singly) on their various projects. When the 25 minutes run out, people stop whatever they were doing and rush over to the other side of the room and do a high intensity workout for 5 minutes, letting their minds temporarily relax from their projects. This is repeated four times, and then a 30 minute break begins which can be used for more exercise, surfing the web, having a snack, or socializing.

Everyone in the arena is on the same clock. They feed off each other’s intensity and camaraderie. And more literally they feed from the Syssitia, an austere shared meal. Rather than the disgustingblack soup of old, the meal might contain black bread, water, and fruit.

Finally, the bootcamp can have an off-the-clock vestibule by the door where people meet before entering the arena. This is an area where new people can watch the action to learn how the system works. The vestibule might also have a reception desk, lockers, and a pile of clean towels.