Category Archives: creativity

Alignment and Distancing

Embracing creativity — something we are exhorted to do these days — means embracing a process. This cuts against the grain because we would like to think that embracing creativity is embracing a spontaneous act of just doing it. Just splashing the paint on the wall or madly scribbling about characters and plot. That just isn’t how it works for us.

But what about artists like Mozart? Even with a person like Mozart, process came first. He lived with music for years before he could claim that he had mastered the process of creating it.

So what does this process look like? There are two aspects worth considering. One is something called a “hunger for psychic alignment”. The hunger creates a certain type of pose — one of the intensely receptive mind. The second is distance – distancing oneself form the ego of creation in order to assess the quality of the product. There is, of course, much more more to it. And Zadie Smith has a lot to say about the process of creative writing. Check it out!

Consuming v. creating

It is an interesting contrast. The 20th century brought us the “consumer society” and consumption became synonymous for the “good life”.  But the 21st century may see a change. Here is what that change will look like

In the information saturated world of today we spend way too much time consuming and nowhere near enough time creating. This is because the consumption of products, services, information and media is near effortless.

Prizing 2ease” is a way of expressing the value of efficiency, a great 20th century value. But the author is right. It is harder to create than to consume. And moving forward, we are likely to value that challenge more.

Just how Good Are you?

If we were standing on a tennis court, rackets in hand, the meaning of the question would be obvious. But in life, we are not standing on a tennis court. So what does this question mean?

Hmm … it is a question that would have different meanings in different times and contexts. Being good in the 17th century might immediately trigger religious thoughts. Are you good in the eyes of the Lord? In the 20th century, it might refer to a personal skill level (more like the tennis idea). And in the 21st century?

Consider one of the more controversial collaboration issues of the day. Which collaboration system works better – an “open” system or a “closed” system? We come from a closed system era. Business secrets were and still are jealously protected. But some argue that open systems innovate more quickly.

So if you are a network architect, which do you build? Consider this thought

you can “innovate” and win without an open ecosystem, if you are good enough at design. If you are really good, you can even beat the “open” crowd most of the time. You just have to understand the fundamental principles of great design. Fight for simplicity and elegance. Value both form and function and understand their essential synthesis. Build a team that “gets it” for all the above and delivers it every day with every product and service. Apply these principles to everything you do, not just the products you make. Drive endlessly for perfection, even though you probably won’t ever get there. Learn from your mistakes, but never apologize for trying. Rinse and repeat.

Notice that the above is talking about design within a closed system. Teams in a closed system can perform at high levels of efficiency. Apple under Jobs has proved that. But notice as well that we have not yet given much thought about open system design. That is something new. We might revisit the above idea in 50 years.

Creativity Deconstructed

One of the more interesting areas of learning is about building creativity.

The interest is, at least in part,  a matter of timing. The 20th century put a premium on building efficiency. But the push towards greater efficiency tended toward “one size fits all” solutions. And it limited the flexibility of productive institutions to adapt to new ideas and challenges. These limitations have become frustrating for people who now take the efficiency gains for granted. These folks want something more. And they are searching for ways to realize what that more could offer. They put a premium on creativity over efficiency.

The conventional wisdom has been that one is either creative or not. A wrinkle was thrown into this line of thought some time ago, when some argued that education can enhance or retard our natural creativity. In other words, we are all born with a gift of creativity that must be nurtured in order to be a useful cognitive resource..

So how does one nurture creativity? This is where things get a bit complicated. On the one hand, we do it via an internal process. We master skills ourselves. On the other hand, it seems that we cannot just do it alone. We also need the right types of connections with people that unleash creative energy. Creativity, therefore, appears to be both an individual and a social phenomenon.

On the individual level, we become more creative when we “connect” with a passion that gives meaning to us. That might be writing songs or mastering accounting. There is no one size fits all solution here. But we know that this type of connection produces a cycle of creative challenges. And that cycle looks like this

  • discovery – we see something that is valuable that is outside of ourselves and start thinking how to take it over
  • emulation – we copy techniques for doing what we are passionate about hoping to upgrade our skills to a level of expertise that allows us to add value with what we do
  • divergence – we transcend the mechanical copying and add our original ideas to the process – now we are demonstrating results of creative application
  • crisis – we perceive that we are no longer taking risks, but just treading water in what we do and and we start looking to move on

The idea of “competence” plays an odd role here. The more we assess our competence as a fixed thing (I am or am not competent), the less open we are to getting through the discovery phase (where we are beginners and NOT YET competent). And the less open we are to taking risks that take us beyond emulation. In other words, “competence” is not a goal here – it is simply a measure of prefab standards. The more we need competence now, the less likely we will grow.

Notice how complex and fragile this is. One does not just wake up with a creative capacity. Instead, one nurtures the process of doing in order to become more creative. This fragility is a problem when we start thinking about optimal social connections to facilitate higher levels of creativity. Why? Because that social dimension needs a certain amount of conflict in order to stimulate movement. But the conflict should not be destructive.

Conflict and Cretivity

These days, we are obsessed with the concept of creativity. Persons who are labeled as “creative” are valued highly, while people without that label are just average.

But where does creativity come from? Is it a genetic attribute? Is it a learned skill? Research suggests that we all are born with more than enough inherent creativity. It also suggests that our education tends to dampen our creative instincts. Sir Ken Robinson has a lot so say about this in his book “The element”.

In other words, we can be trained to be less creative. Conversely, we can become more crea5tive if we understand where our creativity comes from. So where does it come from?

One thing is clear. Creativity arises from doing. Not the other way around. If you paint every day, for example, your painting will become more creative the more you do. Sitting there waiting for inspiration to paint will not generate creativity.

Another thing is also clear. Creativity arises in certain types of social settings. There is a social dimension to it. And that social dimension often has an element of conflict in it. So John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated at a high creative level. That did not mean that they approached writing music the same way – they did not. In fact, one would often write a response song to a creative effort from the other. There was a certain creative tension that “upped their games”.

So it is not surprising that research shows conflict situations can make people more creative.  Or put another way, achieving harmony will not necessarily produce genius.

Kurzweil wants to Get Smarter

Ray Kurzweil is making a big splash over his prediction that humans will have a direct neural link to the web within 15 years or so.

The idea, I suppose, is to make connectivity even faster than it is now. And I can see the benefit in my kitchen, where I would not have to look up recipes and cooking techniques. Shopping could be pretty cool if I could assess what is desirable and available while driving to the store.

But is that getting smarter? Well, I think not. It is simply organizing and transmitting data for our consideration. I think getting smarter is about leading a more meaningful life And this occurs through engagement — in other words, at least in part via emotion.

Simple is Not Easy

Simplicity is beautiful. But what goes into it? What makes something simple? At least part of it is “ease of use”. But that already brings out that to make something easy to use itself is not necessarily easy.

Right. So if we want to create simplicity, we may need some help. For example, what are we delivering? TNW offers some components

In his TED Talk Towards a science of simplicity, Harvard professor George Whitesides breaks ‘simple’ down into three characteristics:

  • They are predictable
  • They are accessible
  • They serve as building blocks

So to offer simplicity, we need to get better at making things predictable, making them accessible, and more modular. Got that? Got it!


More on Creativity: Freeing Mental Space

We know some things about creativity that are worth committing to memory

  • we are all born with more than enough creativity
  • most of us are not taught how to use it
  • we can re-learn this
  • we should re-learn this in order to live better

It is not that difficult. All you need to do is to step outside your routine and ask your mind a question. Then give it time to generate answers. If you want stories that illustrate this, here is a link. Enjoy!

Curation and Creativity

Modern man is obsessed with creativity.  The obsession is understandable, given how much we rely upon creating new value by refining our understanding of the world around us.

But where does our creativity come from? How do we nurture it? On one level, it just happens when we ask ourselves questions. Like, “Where did I put my keys?” The brain is hard wired to answer questions using the data that it has stored in memory. We can also learn how to reach higher levels 9of creative thinking. This learning takes time and effort and it focuses on how to get better at questioning.

As we improve our skills, a funny thing happens. We start to see things in a different light. Our enhanced creativity arises from this ability to use this data in new ways.

In other words, we do not create new things. We use what others already created in new ways. This is not a new thought. Michel de Montaigne wrote about it many hundreds of years ago. From Brain Pikcings

I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.

Nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.

… what makes Montaigne’s meditation so incisive — and such an urgently necessary fine-tuning of how we think of “curation” today — is precisely the emphasis on the thread. This assemblage of existing ideas, he argues, is nothing without the critical thinking of the assembler — the essential faculty examining those ideas to sieve the meaningful from the meaningless, assimilating them into one’s existing system of knowledge, and metabolizing them to nurture a richer understanding of the world.

This is true in problem solving and it is true in art and story telling.