Creativity and Discipline
In 1929 Alfred Butts was an architect.
In 1930 he was unemployed.
The Depression hit the entire world, many times bigger and worse than any subsequent recession.
Including this one.
Like a lot of unemployed creative people, Alfred Butts needed an outlet for his creativity.
Even if he didn’t have a job, he needed to be doing something.
He thought he’d like to invent a game.
But he didn’t just start creating on a whim, he knew he needed a brief.
And this is the part of the story that I admire most.
He did his own research and wrote his own brief.
He carefully analysed the games market.
So he listed all the existing games then divided them into three main categories:
1) Games that depended on chance and numbers, like bingo or dice.
2) Games that depended on skilful moves, like chess or draughts.
3) Word games, that depended on knowledge, like anagrams or crosswords.
Within this there were games with varying degrees of chance.
Backgammon for instance, featured a combination of chance and skill.
Butt saw the opportunity.
The gap in the market.
A competitive word game that was a combination of chance and skill.
Again he did the research himself.
He carefully studied the front page of the New York Times every day.
He added up how often every single letter was used.
And he gave the letters a value according to the frequency.
For instance, ‘e’ was the most common letter, therefore the easiest to use, so it should have the lowest score.
The letters ‘b’ and ‘h’ were less common, therefore they should have a higher score.
The letters ‘q’ and ‘z’ were hardly ever used.
So they must be the most difficult and should have the highest score.
And he called the game ‘Lexico’.
Butts tried to get the major games manufacturers interested but they all turned him down.
There was no precedent for this kind of game.
He sold a few games himself, but by 1934 he’d sold just 84 sets.
He changed the name to Criss Cross Words.
He began adding refinements to his initial idea.
He added a board, with different values on different squares.
And blank tiles that could be substituted for any letter.
But still, without advertising or distribution, hardly anyone knew about the game.
They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
That’s what happened to Alfred Butts.
In 1952, Jack Strauss, President of Macy’s Department Store, was on holiday nearby.
At the hotel he played the game, which was now called Scrabble.
When he got back to New York, he immediately placed a massive order.
With Macy’s involved the game had all the distribution and advertising it needed.
It began selling six thousand units a week.
Today, two million Scrabble sets are sold every year, in 29 languages.
Scrabble is sold in boxed sets, deluxe editions, pocket sets, magnetic travel sets.
For the visually handicapped, it’s sold in large format type or even Braille.
You can play Scrabble online, on Facebook, on video game console.
There’s a TV game show and even a World Scrabble Championship.
All because Alfred Butts knew the truth about creativity.
Discipline isn’t the enemy of creativity.
Discipline makes creativity happen.