Comedian and author Baratunde Thurston walks us through his own journey from lone standup comic to Director of Digital at The Onion. He shares his insights for pushing projects to completion and the lessons he learned while working with skeptical teammates. The key, he says, is to not confuse using tools with creativity.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative.
When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.
Some bits from Mónica López-gonzález introduction to her article for the Creativitypost.
While working with young jazz soloists, Miles Davis once said, “Play what you hear, not what you know.” Practice, experience, and sheer talent taught Davis that a personally and socially satisfying gig occurs when the ideas entering the musician’s imagination are developed through solo improvisations instead of ignored in favor of practiced patterns. Simply put, no one wants to pay for and hear a contrived performance. Both the fascination we have with the art of in-the-moment creation and the value we place on it continue to flourish.
A primary difference between our brains and those of other animals is our capacity to engage in cognitive abilities such as reasoning, representation, association, working memory, and self-reflection. During any creative act, from language production to marketing techniques selling the latest iPhone, ideas or past experiences are combined in novel and significant ways via the interaction of such cognitive capacities.
Humans appear to have a propensity for making complex new things that are not explicitly necessary for biological survival or reproduction. In comparison to other arts, such as design, photography, and sculpture, however, the universal abilities of musical creation and processing are generally accepted as some of the oldest and most fundamental of human socio-cognitive development. In fact, researchers have argued for music’s role in evolutionary biology. Scholar Ellen Dissanayake has further claimed from an ethnological stance that the creation and appreciation of art more generally are advanced adaptive behaviors that are key to social survival.
From Musical Creativity and the Brain at the Creativitypost.
The supremacy of work ethic and process over idleness. Just do – and the rest will follow.
Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art ida.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you didid today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.
I never had painter’s block in my whole life.
From Chuck Close on Creativity, Work Ethic, and Problem-Solving vs. Problem-Creating by Maria Popova
From the study abstract:
Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.
My daughter gives me a great deal of creative insight & inspiration.
Fostering Creativity, Imagination Play in Kids http://ow.ly/1855x
My daughter and I used to make music with found instruments. The walls, doors, pots, pans and utensils. A noisy house but fun. #creativity #music
Now her learning is more structured but we still make time for silly play (and unstructured time).
Creative ideas are often generated when one discards preconceived assumptions & attempts a new approach/method that might seem unthinkable
Children think the unthinkable.
Creativity by individuals and teams is a starting point for innovation; the 1st is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the 2nd.
A great deal of time and money is spent on inspiring creativity in business, design, or research teams.
Much of this time and money would be better spent sitting with your children and getting involved with their activities.
Learning from them and seeing the world through their eyes provides the greatest inspiration of all.
Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, muses on the nature of creativity. She suggests that it’s not a rare person that is a genius but rather that there is genius in all of us, waiting to be discovered. I don’t agree with all that she has to say but it is an interesting take on some of the issues surrounding fear and creativity.
You don’t need to be more creative, all of you are too creative.
Be a person that always ends up ‘shipping’. If you are proud of what you ‘ship’ and are on time, you will be successful and you will get to do it over and over again. What you do for a living is ‘ship’ and not ‘being creative’.
The resistance gets worse and worse the closer we get to ‘shipping’. Of course we come to the meeting before ship date as our ‘lizard brain’ says I need to speak up now. The genius part (in getting ideas realized) is to get the Lizard brain to shut up long enough to overcome resistance.
Via the swissmiss report on his speech at 99%.
Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. – Gustave Flaubert
The film Amadeus dramatizes and romanticizes the divine origins of creative genius. Antonio Salieri, representing the talented hack, is cursed to live in the time of Mozart, the gifted and undisciplined genius who writes as though touched by the hand of God … Of course this is hogwash. There are no ‘natural’ geniuses … No-one worked harder than Mozart. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose…
As Mozart himself wrote to a friend, “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”
From Twyla Tharp’s book ‘The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age: A New Model for the Workplace. Pixar University’s Randy Nelson explains what schools must do to prepare students for jobs in new media.
I don’t think the talk needs to be pidgeon holed to careers in new media but serves as a commentary for businesses, educators, and people in general. It’s an inspiring talk. Here are some somewhat key passages:
Make your partner look good … (which might be along the same train of thought as killing the devils advocate). Take a piece of work and don’t judge it … take the work and say, here is where I am starting, what can I do with this?
The core skill of innovators is error recovery, not failure avoidance.
Proof of Portfolio vs. promise of a resume.
Collaboration is amplification. The amplification you get by connecting a bunch of human beings .. who are listening to each other, interested in each other, bring separate depths to the problem, bring breadth that gives them interest in the entire solution, allows them to communicate on multiple different levels (in writing, in acting, in pictures/imagery) … in all those ways you get a high fidelity notion across a broad range of people.
Be interested, not interesting
Notes: Graham Wallas in his book the Art of Thought details what is one of the first models of the creative process. In his model creativity may be explained with the following 5 stages (or 4 depending on which literature you agree with):
1) preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual’s mind on the problem and explores the problem’s dimensions),
2) incubation (where the problem is internalized into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening),
3) intimation (the creative person gets a ‘feeling’ that a solution is on its way),
4) illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness); and
5) verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied).
The implied theory behind Wallas’ model — that creative thinking is a subconscious process that cannot be directed, and that creative and analytical thinking are complementary — is reflected to varying degrees in other models of creativity.
The ‘spark’ is always surrounded by heavy bouts of dry analytical work and though it seems next to impossible to convince those whose lively hood includes applying for IP, it’s all in the latter. An idea has little value unless released to the world and executed upon.
There are many models proposed in the creativity literature for the process of creative thinking. Arieti (1976) cataloged eight such models that were proposed during the period 1908 to 1964. There have been several additional models proposed since. Analysis of these various models reveals some consistent patterns.
- The creative process involves purposeful analysis, imaginative idea generation, and critical evaluation — the total creative process is a balance of imagination and analysis.
- Older models tend to imply that creative ideas result from subconscious processes, largely outside the control of the thinker. Modern models tend to imply purposeful generation of new ideas, under the direct control of the thinker.
- The total creative process requires a drive to action and the implementation of ideas. We must do more than simply imagine new things, we must work to make them concrete realities.
These insights from a review of the many models of creative thinking should be encouraging to us. Serious business people often have strong skills in practical, scientific, concrete, and analytical thinking. Contrary to popular belief, the modern theory of creativity does not require that we discard these skills. What we do need to do, however, is to supplement these with some new thinking skills to support the generation of novel insights and ideas.
From The Directed Creativity Cycle by Paul E. Plsek.
He has a full review, which I linked to 5 years ago (!), where he explores ‘the various models for creative thinking that have been suggested in the literature over the past 80 years. We will extract common themes from these various models and present a composite model that integrates these themes’. Good stuff.
Something to enjoy with Catriona. “Focusing on building actual models with real bricks, The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide comes with complete instructions to build several cool models but also encourages you to use your imagination to create your own fantastic creations.” Catriona and I love building things with Lego’s, things she promptly destroys soon afterward only to begin the process anew. We might find some inspiration from this book. It’s a good example of being creative within constraints too!
The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide by Allan Bedford.
“They can receive calls and texts during lessons without teachers having the faintest idea what is going on”
Creative thinking! “Teen geeks have retro-fitted a sound called the Mosquito alarm — normally only heard by people under the age of 20 and developed as an irritant to drive teens away from hangout spots at malls — and made it a ringtone. Now all the kids in class can hear cell phones, which have been banned in most classrooms, but the teachers can’t. The ring tone is called Teen Buzz, and it’s spreading like wildfire via SMS and Bluetooth.” Via Rawfeed.
These are some Catriona’s first attempts at painting with a brush (she’s 2). She picks and mixes the colours, I clean up the mess.
I like to try different things with her. This time we would make sounds to accompany certain brush strokes. It’s fun and silly. Higher res. here.
When coming up with ideas for the smenms project the team used methods somewhat like this. We had specific constraints in the project which we either defined or were defined for us. Within these constraints we set-out to come up with as many concepts as possible – I think our goal was 100 in an hour. It was exhilarating, fun, and quite fruitful.
It’s been said that art, creativity, and innovation are about the recognition and mastery of constraints.
“Man built most nobly when limitations were at their greatest.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
One of the best ways to be truly creative–breakthrough creative–is to be forced to go fast. Really, really, really fast. From the brain’s perspective, it makes sense that extreme speed can unlock creativity. When forced to come up with something under extreme time constraints, we’re forced to rely on the more intuitive, subconscious parts of our brain. The time pressure can help suppress the logical/rational/critical parts of your brain. It helps you EQ up subconscious creativity (so-called “right brain”) and EQ down conscious thought (“left brain”).”
Embrace your constraints and use them to your advantage.
Read:Creativity on speed
To create creative groups of people don’t rely exclusively on cohesion – bring in new people with new ideas and different ways of doing things.
“We found that teams that achieved success — by producing musicals on Broadway or publishing academic papers in good journals — were fundamentally assembled in the same way, by bringing in some experienced people who had not worked together before. The unsuccessful teams repeated the same collaborations over and over again.”
“We discovered that assembling a successful team depends on choosing the right balance of diversity and cohesion — achieving the bliss point intersection of the two.” Diversity represents new collaborations while cohesion comes from repeat collaborations.
Dream teams thrive on mix of old and new blood
Creative Think: “Columbus challenged the Spanish courtiers to stand an egg on its end. They tried but failed. He then hard-boiled one and stood it on its end. ‘That’s not fair,’ they protested, ‘you broke the rules.’ ‘Don’t be silly,’ he replied, ‘you just assumed more than you needed to.’ What can you let go of? What unnecessary assumptions can you eliminate? How would that change the way you view your issue?”
From Roger von Oech’s Creative Think consultancy. There are a number of other ideas to promote creativity and spur yourself into action on his site. I like how he sets up his company site, immediately giving valuable advice to your potential customers as a way to start a relationship. It’s fun and useful and a great way to start a conversation.
“Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they’re no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere – artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent.
Beneath the nervous clatter of our half-completed decade stirs a slow but seismic shift. The Information Age we all prepared for is ending. Rising in its place is what I call the Conceptual Age, an era in which mastery of abilities that we’ve often overlooked and undervalued marks the fault line between who gets ahead and who falls behind.
To some of you, this shift – from an economy built on the logical, sequential abilities of the Information Age to an economy built on the inventive, empathic abilities of the Conceptual Age – sounds delightful. “You had me at hello!” I can hear the painters and nurses exulting.”
Revenge of the Right Brain
“Amabile and her team are still combing through the results. But this groundbreaking study is already overturning some long-held beliefs about innovation in the workplace. In an interview with Fast Company , she busted six cherished myths about creativity. (If you want to quash creativity in your organization, just continue to embrace them.) Here they are, in her own words.”
Read the article
The concept of value, as bestowed by authenticity is only inherent when a work is unique and (mostly) irreproducible in it’s native medium. Think of a famous painting: only the original canvas can demand such high prices.
In a new, digital medium, the final work is generally not valued in the same way. A stretch of video art can be copied infinitely  – how can one place a value onto it? Instead, the process becomes valued. We consider the process of creation and creativity to be valued in the place of authenticity.
We might consider net.art to be valuable, only because we can appreciate the value of the process that went into making it.
So it would be a logical conclusion that the complexity or “authenticity” of the process bestows value upon the resulting work. The process must be artistically rigorous and intricate.
How I Drew One Of My Pictures
Technovelgy is a great resource where you explore the wide variety of inventions and ideas of science fiction writers. The site currently has 650 available online. Hat tip sensory impact
It was Matt Owens who first helped me realise through his interviews and in a speech in Hong Kong a number of years ago the importance of persuing personal creative work. When I was a musician much of the “great work” that gave me the most satisfaction was unpaid and of limited appeal to many. I remember having a recital program that was full of music that gave me great challenge and interest being axed because “you will cause people to leave the recital hall”. Most of the music that I loved playing the most rarely was performed in public and certainly was never a part of a for pay engagment. It took Matt Owens to remind of this at a time years ago when I was busy with unfullfilling corporate work. Since then my personal projects are what have given me the most joy and the ability to apply new ideas and techinque to client work. The added benefit that we have as designers is that this medium allows us to share our work cheaply and easily.
For the past few years I have not spent the time on personal projects as I would like. Trying to complete a Masters degree while working can suck up alot of your energy and in a sense alot of what I did (do) at Chiao Tung was personal. Unfortunately that work hasn’t really honed my design skill. Conceptual. theoretical, research, and leadership skills have been learned but not as much hands on work as I would like.
I love the freedom that personal work brings – I don’t adhere to a process – I just work towards the end goal that I set for myself. I try to let the ideas happen and flow freely. Unfortunately free creativity with out discipline tends to lead to a great deal of wasted time. There is a lot of learning going on for sure but in these days of decreasing personal time much less gets produced. This site is a prime example of that. If I created this site like I would a client site all would be complete within a month and the content would be written on a regular basis. Instead I spend time trying new ideas, failing, and trying others. The most recent addition to this site was a the sharing of some of the projects I am and have worked on. I wanted to include work that doesn’t always get shown so completely in my portfolio and I wanted to include photographs of the work in progress. Dan Cederholm has a nice perl script to automatically create slideshows that I got to work but after thinking some more i don’t like it since it creates pages that are isolated from the rest of the site. I had thought a slide show might be more elegant than simply displaying photos as a long list on a single page. Now I am thinking the opposite. These kind of decisions are a terrific consumer of time. Perhaps the days of pure design play are over.