Is the City Mouse a Creative Mouse?

city mouse

City mouse

Have you ever gotten a great new idea through randomly running into someone and having an unexpected conversation? Do you think crowded cities where people bump into each other breed creativity?

In his recent book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer points to studies showing that patents more often build on the ideas from inventors that live nearby. He also discusses the idea that in cities people walk through multi-use and crowded places like Hudson Street in Greenwich Village and literally bump into each other and share ideas.

This seems to be only part of the story. I’ve unscientifically walked down Hudson Street many times and have been bumped into plenty! Although words are sometimes exchanged, for me it hasn’t been the start of any fruitful exchange of ideas. For some reason while walking around the streets in Asia, it seems I was bumped into even more frequently. My only creative result was defensive. To avoid bumps, I started to wear bright “caution” orange shirts to become more visible and it worked – a little. With all the narrow spaces and crowded cities in Asia and all those collisions, I wonder why they haven’t developed a reputation for creativity? (With the obvious exception of Japan)

test It seems when it’s too crowded, people don’t talk with their neighbors, with people in elevators or subway cars and this gives a sense of privacy. On the other hand, with too much space, it becomes out-of-the-way to walk down a long driveway to causally say hello to your neighbors. Have you noticed there is seems to be some magically in between distance that sparks conversation?

Perhaps, it’s not the physical space as much as the people who are drawn to the cities. From my experience, people who are interested in using their creativity are open to change and new experiences and they move to cities in search of opportunities for whatever their specialty. Masses of people in cities support masses of creativity that fill every niche.

If you’re a city mouse, have you noticed the real estate brokers are musicians and actors, and the babysitters are culinary chefs and choreographers? Everyone you bump into is a conductor, actor, artist, or has at least one degree of separation away from the arts. In cities, the only people who don’t call themselves artists are the people we find in our art and music classes since most of them are busy being doctors and accountants.

Of course creative ideas are randomly shared in cities, but not as efficiently and relevantly as they are shared electronically. Maybe it’s like when you find an interesting article while flipping through a magazine that you didn’t know you were looking for. Do you think it’s the layout of the city or the people who are drawn to cities that contribute to creativity? Or do you think the best ideas come from the country mouse?



  1. I would think the countless opportunities and cultural experiences a city offers would spur creativity. That is until I watched “It Might Get Loud” which interviews three of the greatest guitarists of all times. I was blown away by Jack White, who makes a guitar out of a piece of wood and some string and plays it. He says “Who says you need to buy a guitar?” Growing up Amish, he said technology and cities distract him from his imagination and creativity, and he still lives very simply. So I think both the city and country areas offer their own unique opportunities for sparking creativity.
    Melinda recently posted..Imaginary SmilesMy Profile

    • I can see how all the stimulation of cities can prevent people from generating their own original creative thought – Great point Melinda thanks for commenting.

      • Hi David! I also notice the stimulation of the character in the city. Mostly people will surely have different reactions about this.

  2. I think it has more to do with creating that creative space and choosing to surround oneself with creative people than with being a country mouse or a city mouse. It’s the choices we make. Maybe we’re creative by nature, but we still have to nurture that creativity – sometimes by visiting the city and sometimes by visiting the country.
    Erin Feldman recently posted..Finding Joy; Creating ValueMy Profile

  3. Thanks for your insights Erin. I agree for any individual, it’s finding the right balance for what works for them. Nice site your have at Write Right – sounds like you do interesting work!
    David Goldstein recently posted..Is the City Mouse a Creative Mouse? My Profile

  4. jennifer says:

    Great insight, not all can think like this… Hope you can share some more imaginary thoughts that you have gather…

  5. Very good post to consider! I am a big fan of Mickey Mouse! I know that everyone does!

  6. Good thoughts.. I enjoyed reading the whole article… It really caught my interest, Thanks for sharing, looking forward for more post like this… 🙂

  7. Since we touched on twitter last week, David, I wanted to stop by your blog…this read was well worth it. With my time living in China, I can relate to what you were saying with the crowds. I also agree, that, especially from a business standpoint, creativity can flow once you surround yourself with skyscrapers, commerce and masses of humanity.

    I enjoy getting out of whatever city I live in and going to another place, not only for travel, but it helps to open the capillaries of thought and seeing “what’s out there”. That same principle can also be applied to “small-town wherever” but, nothing is like going to the big city.

  8. Shane Curtis says:

    Nice inputs! I wonder if I could consider myself a creative mouse.
    Maybe I am a creative mouse but in a different way.

  9. All sights, sounds and smells aren’t created equal. Compare a big city’s bright lights, big crowds, honking horns, pollution and bumper-to-bumper traffic with a smaller town’s hiking trails, chirping birds, ocean waves and scents of freshly cut grass.