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Right Brain Workoutsby Peter Lloyd
What do an Alex Trebek game show, gambling expert, mystery play, cafe, gift and antique shops, LA Law episode, Science Guy installment, jazz composition, and Chicago gangster all have in common? You’ll never guess, so don’t even try.
Common sense makes it irrefutably clear that the sun comes up in the east, rides across the sky, and drops down behind the horizon in the west. For all practical purposes, this common-sense understanding works just fine for almost everything most of us do any day of the week.
Contrary to the opinion of many, Hallmark Cards did not invent Mother’s Day. Anna Marie Jarvis began a campaign to honor all mothers after her mother’s death in 1907. Seven years later President Woodrow Wilson approved a joint resolution of the United States Congress to designate the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the United States.
What would you call someone who plays a saxophone with insects? I’m not talking about a wooden saxophone infested with termites or anything like that. I mean a saxophonist who accompanies bugs. Someone who plays what you might call a concerto for sax and swarm.
I think I could find a thousand quotes, adages, and other so-called quips of wisdom that would discourage you from resorting to anger—ever. But they’re all wrong. Anger can be used to your creative advantage.
Yes, I know this page is not blank. And I know why I see “This page left intentionally blank” on some otherwise empty book pages. In fact I find it fascinating that people don’t always quite mean what they say, write, or otherwise communicate. It makes life so much more interesting and fosters creativity.
When a great scientist—make that one of today’s greatest scientists—publically declares that a successful scientist need not possess math proficiency, it just might be time for creative people with weak math skills to take another look at pursuing science as a career.
If you search “square root of 678” on Bing, you will get a long list of website links that may or may not lead you to the definition or the answer. Do the same on Yahoo, and you will receive the mathematical answer followed by a long list of the same kind of links.
The New York Times Magazine crossword puzzle “You’ll Know It When You See It” by Don Schoenholz asks the age-old question, What is art? The puzzle solution provides six definitions from a list of notable writers, philosophers, and statesmen. Each man offers his own unique dimension to the elusive answer.
I remember lending computer processor time over the Internet so that scientists could use my computer to solve problems that I suspect only they were qualified to work on. The processor-sharing system waited for my computer to pause for a time, then lent my processor. Thousand of other such donors offered time as well, giving important scientific efforts lots of free processing power.
After our geometry teacher taught us to bisect an arbitrary angle using only a compass and a straightedge, he informed us that to trisect an angle the same way is impossible. Even then, back in my sophomore year of high school, the concept of impossible raised my hackles.
On the moon there’s a crater named Gassendi, one of the undersung heroes of science and creativity. Billed as one of the first philosophers to formulate and take a scientific approach to his thinking and writing, Pierre Gassendi, a keen observer, published his observations of the transit of Mercury. He argued with Descartes and named the Aurora Borealis.
You’ve certainly heard guitarists play slide guitar. They use a glass or metal tube fitted to one of their fingers and play melodies by sliding the tube along their guitar strings. And you’ve listened to paired spoons played as a rhythm instrument. But have you seen and heard self-taught, South African guitarist Hannes Coetzee play the spoon slide guitar?
Everything about creativity has to do with changing, moving forward, getting better—out with the old, in with the new. And yet, we consider the most childlike among us the most creative, namely, those who choose not to grow but to maintain the mental and emotional liberty of childhood.
Creative writers find ways to express themselves in forms and styles that surpass the ordinary. Surpassing the ordinary defines excellence in any art, sport, science, business, craft, or other creative activity. Everybody writes, right? So why not do it better? Everybody can and everybody needs to.
The little girl looked down at the earth through her window in the airplane. It was her first time flying, and she was confused. Turning to the woman in the seat next to her, she asked, “When do we get small?”
So it happened again. A typical home repair project. Then, as usual, a problem arises which challenges my creativity. Once again an expert at the hardware store beats me to the solution. When will I learn to take my own advice?
For almost a century—from the end of the 18th to nearly the end of the 19th—maps of western Africa would have led you to believe that you would encounter a range of mountains called the Mountains of Kong. They were mapped through what is now eastern Guinea and along the northern border of Côte de’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo. The story of how this happened illustrates an important principle of creativity.
Mother Nature has solved all problems—any problem you can imagine. With a few billion years of evolution behind her, she’s seen it all, to say the least. There’s not a challenge she hasn’t faced, stared down, and sent shrinking. If you want Mother Nature’s help solving your problem, your challenge is to find which of her solutions fits your problem.
In the winter, I find great pleasure wallowing in the dark depths of Dostoevsky. This winter, it’s another visit with The Brothers Karamazov. I took up trying to learn Russian, so that someday I might read Fyodor D. in the original. That joy remains a long way off. But that’s how much I love Dostoevsky.
Words make such poor vehicles for moving ideas around, but they are the best we have. Or are they? In many ways words serve as the last resort when it comes to generating or expressing ideas.
Both Mohammad Shahbazi and Mississippi can be abbreviated MS. How appropriate. Shahbazi has worked with Dr. Aaron Shirley—a pediatrician, McArthur Foundation genius, and former 60s civil rights activist—to reform Mississippi’s care of its rural poor.
If you think the term e-book stands for electronic book, think again. It makes me think “Edinburgh-book” for a series of ten anonymously created book sculptures found in a selection of the city’s book-friendly locations. Every message left with each sculpture included the words “in support of libraries, books, words, ideas.”
When you think your thoughts can make things happen, you’re engaging in magical thinking. I know this could get me into trouble with skeptics, but I’m willing to (knock on wood) take a chance and recommend magical thinking on behalf of creativity.
Creativity demands freedom—freedom of expression, speech, assembly, association, and behavior that all consenting parties find mutually satisfying or at least tolerable. Our creative freedom depends on the tolerance of others. So we have to defend it from intolerance.
The debate will never end. Is creativity—the ability to innovate, invent, or create new and useful stuff—innate or learned? Which raises the question, can creativity be taught or learned? I have no intention of attempting to settle these questions, but I think I can probe them for insight.
I was given a simple challenge. Make three, old, weathered, seven-foot doors stand as a backdrop for my daughter’s wedding. The wedding planner wanted to hang autumn-colored wreathes from them and drape them with fabric. Easy enough, right?
Known in Greek mythology as a skillful craftsman and artisan, Daedalus was an innovator and inventor. He gets credit for the invention of carpentry and with that the invention of the axe, plumb-line, drill, glue, and isinglass. Mythological credit, that is.
Too much credit is given to the accident half of civilization’s greatest discoveries and inventions. It takes at least one more step to turn an accident into life-enhancing thing like brandy, vulcanized rubber, radioactivity, Teflon, potato chips, saccharin, plastics, Ivory soap, North America, and the pacemaker—just get the long list started.
In 1609 when Galileo spied four satellites orbiting Jupiter, he called them moons. Until then, there was only one moon as far as we humans were concerned. Now we’re stuck with the name moon, which is really not a name. It’s a descriptor, a category.
You may have have heard a novelist explain to an audience how a novel, “sort of wrote itself.” How the characters developed on their own, took on their own lives, as the author worked. Songwriters claim that songs ”just sort of come to me.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
Among the critical drivers of economic prosperity, perhaps nothing drives harder than the inventions and innovations that also improve our lives. Nobody knew this better or believed it more passionately than Jerry Lemelson.
So I’m listening to Car Talk one Saturday on my NPR radio station. Click and Clack are laughing out car and life advice as usual. This time, however, I notice something. It has to do with the caller. She’s funny, too. It’s always been that way, I recall. Could Car Talk callers be beneficiaries of comedic contagion?
When people walk, they swing their arms. So if any social organization imposed a law against arm swinging, some people would certainly defy it. I know I would. And I would be appalled at anyone obeying such a ridiculous law.
“Are they making that up as they go?” a friend asked me. We were gathered among colleagues in the bar of an upmarket hotel. All of us had worked together some time ago. It was a “Those were the days” kind of evening.
In the heart of Africa lives a primate whose name may mean “ancestor” in a dead Bantu language. Ancestor is called bonobo these days. Without a nameplate on the zoo enclosure, you might mistake a group of bonobos for chimpanzees. But you would be less likely to mistake them if you paid more attention to the way they behave.
Much is made of the fact that great contemporary creative leaders such as Steve Jobs did not finish college. But then neither did Charles Manson or Starpoint Central High School’s “most promising computer programmer,” Timothy McVeigh. And if you think about the people you know, chances are those you would consider successful probably hold degrees. For every dropout success story, I’m sure you can find many more dropouts limited by their unfinished education.
Where do creative people get off telling other people what they want? What about a creative genius like Steve Jobs, who famously told Business Week, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” If that’s true, it means a small group of inventors and innovators lead us. And not just to the products we use, because some of those products revolutionize the way we live.
Introduced to the world more than 4000 years ago, sword swallowing still amazes the uninitiated. While the practice requires serious self-control to master, so does playing the oboe. But has oboe playing saved lives? Maybe. No maybes about the practice of sliding a sword down one’s throat. Experiments on sword swallowers beginning in the 19th century opened the door to medical practices we take for granted today.
Certain things in life arrive as gifts from luck. Your genetic make up, for example, so critical to who you are and what you achieve, starts out like a crap shoot—chromosomes thrown at each other pair up by pure chance. When it's over, it's you, and you had nothing to say about it. Even what you do with what you're given is driven by what you've been given genetically and environmentally.
I remember proposing to a company that it use “We’re getting better” as its slogan. Or it might have been “We’re getting there.” Doesn’t matter. The idea of not puffing up their corporate chest to its maximum circumference prevented them from broadcasting anything less than a superiority claim. That’s fine, but too bad.
Which is the more creative way to peel a banana? From the top or from the bottom? Does it matter? Did you even know that some people prefer to open their bananas from the far end, the end opposite the stem? Neither did I till I ran into a contrarian peeler and found a bunch of evidence and fellow bottom-up peelers backing him up.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” says Shakespeare. And even in his day, Bill surely understood that dreams are made on money. But then there are artists, inventors, innovators, and other creative people who dream but often lack money. Is there hope for them and their dreams?
Ordinary, hard-working people drive the growth and vitality of most organizations. But the best creative thinkers and problem solvers, innovators and inventors create the breakthroughs that propel organizations out of the pack and into the lead. Unfortunately top creative talent can be difficult to find, recruit, and keep on board. Some organizations attract and keep them, others can’t seem to lure or hold onto them. What’s the difference?
I find it difficult to contain my frustration when someone dismisses solid evidence and chooses to remain grounded in error. Such a person typically retreats to the outhouse of equal opinion with, “Well, that’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Let’s agree to disagree...”
To tease my little brother, I’d wait for him to fail and then call him a big baby. Cruel, I know. Glad I got that off my chest. I can chalk it up to a big brother’s need to keep the younger sibling in his place, but that doesn’t excuse it. Sorry, brother. My intention, however, is not to use you as my confessional sounding board. It’s to illustrate the creative power of reversal.
Puzzles provide relief from the weight of solving real problems for some creative people. No deadlines, no one breathing down your neck, no job on the line. I solve problems all week and then attack the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sunday. It’s nuts, I know. Busman’s holiday. But it keeps me creatively fit and teaches me lessons in problem solving.
For roughly 13 centuries, Ptolomy’s geocentric model, which held that the sun circles the earth, seemed perfectly reasonable. After all, the sun certainly appears to rise, arch over the earth, and set on the opposite horizon each day. It took creative courage to to challenge such an apparently reasonable model and replace it with what seemed obviously unreasonable.
What will Earth do when it realizes it’s a creative creature? Now that most of us are connected electronically, our brains have become part of a world brain. The Internet and social media tools like Twitter and Facebook now behave like dendrites that connect my thoughts to you and yours to me. We are like neurons in a vast, connected collection of a few billion other neurons. Not quite as well organized and synchronized as a human brain yet, but we’re getting there.
It happens in every creative project as its deadline approaches. Anxiety begins to well up from my gut. I wake up from dreams in which I’m unable to solve the challenge. And yet, every time I sit down to solve such a creative challenge, I always come through. So why the anxiety?
Storytelling as the way to do business, as the way to speak to your market, as the way to lead people... Talk about your message as anything but storytelling today and you will be practically accused of committing a crime. That may be a stretch, but if you haven’t thought about how to tell your story, you’re cheating yourself.
Shakespeare offers worthwhile advice to creative people when he has Jacques of As You Like It declare, “All the world’s a stage” and “all the men and women merely players.” In our lives we play separate and distinct roles as parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends, neighbors, job holders, business partners, managers, employees, citizens... We act differently in each role. Not deceitfully, but because each role demands its own performance.
Ever feel like the whole world is against you? That’s how reigning world champion Garry Kasparov must have felt when MSN Gaming Zone pit him against a virtual, crowdsourced team comprised of anyone in the world with access to the Internet, advised by by a team of four young chess champions and a commentator who also made recommendations.
The term comes to us from Karl Marx by way of Joseph Schumpeter, who argues that innovation in the capitalistic economic cycle results from the accumulation and annihilation of wealth. Call it boom and bust or creative destruction. Free-market advocates, strange Marxist bedfellows, indeed, use the term to justify the temporary pain of things like downsizing to improve the efficiency an organization.
Every creative problem solver—that’s all of us—deals with the problem of generating really fresh ideas. Especially after a while. The longer you work on a problem, a scientific project, or a problem-solving team, the more difficult it can be to generate any kind of breakthrough.
Having worked as a freelance word-wrangler for some time, it’s been a long, long while since I’ve taken a job interview. So tell me, do they still ask, “Were do you see yourself in five years?” Never could answer that one.
Neuroscientists are beginning to understand how memory works. They can’t, however, tell you how to remember. But I can, because the recall process and one of the techniques you use to come up with great ideas are very similar. In both, you achieve success when you shut up and listen. I learned this in an unforgettable way.
As babies we all approached problems pretty much the same way. Problem... cry... solution. As you grew and craved independence, you started solving problems on your own through trial and error. Faced with problems today, I find trial and error at the foundation of all problem-solving techniques. It underlies the ageless force of evolution, which made you and your brain and the society in which you work, so why wouldn’t it underlie all problem-solving? But trial and error can be streamlined.
When I was a Boy Scout, I was trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Well, at least I tried my best to be. Now that I consider myself creative, I am dynamic, conscious, healthy, non-defensive, open, integrated, observant, caring, collaborative, androgynous, developing, and brave. Wait a minute! Androgynous? Hold on a second.
After seeing a magic trick or hearing a hot guitar lick, you might ask the performer, “How did you do that?” When you do, you’re using the instructional how. You want to know the procedure. What steps must one take to accomplish such a feat? If you don’t get a straight answer, you visit a “how to” website or buy a “how to” book.
Quantity is the big brother of creativity. We can argue about the mother—whether she be necessity, inadequacy, laziness, or some other mother. But Quantity definitely belongs in the family. And a hard-working, get-the-job-done brother he is. Quantity doesn’t always please with his presence, but wade through his garbage, and you’ll always find gold.
No one knows how language appeared in humans. The debate centers around how quickly it appeared and whether or not it arose from some innate ability or developed with some level of intention as a product of social interaction—what we call crowdsourcing today. Innate or deliberate, I call it invention. Better yet, open innovation. I imaging a noisy, prehistoric, creative free-for-all.
If you were to trace lines from the components of your smartphone back through time to the fundamental inventions and discoveries that make all sorts of high-tech wonders possible—such as the battery and electricity—most of those lines would go through Bell Labs, the cauldron of invention and innovation that gave us the transistor, solar cells, the laser, and more.
Franca Leeson just happens to be one of the most creative people I know. In addition to teaching meditation, Franca is a consulting partner at ThinkX Intellectual Capital and one of the organizers of the Mindcamp Creativity Weekend in Geneva Park, near Toronto. So when I learned that she teaches meditation as a creativity technique, I was determined to find out more.
Crowdsourcing, like brainstorming, draws criticism for the clamor and debris it attracts. Every creative director, artistic director, lab director, and garage inventor knows that creation and invention can get messy. As a rule, the more creative people involved, the messier. Messy because you have to deal with a lot of nonsense presented as ideas, and messy because the more ideas you rake in, the more you have to sort and evaluate.
Whenever I see an idea as simple as wheels on luggage, I wonder what took so long. Why didn’t someone invent this obvious convenience long ago? Looking into such a question always turns up a lesson or two about invention. Here are four.
How does this idea sit with you: We all have to work together in teams if we want to be more creative? If you like to create in a team, you might agree. If you prefer to create alone, you probably think it’s nonsense.
Why in the world did we ever decided to establish separate and hardly equal pronouns to distinguish between our two genders? Some languages go further and assign gender to their nouns. What’s the point?
The story goes, an actor complains to a playwright, “You get too much credit for our success. At the end of the play, we take our bows, the audience cries, ‘Author! Author!’ and you come up and bow with us after sitting through the performance. Where were you,” the actor continues, “when we were learning our lines, rehearsing for months, blocking, fighting with the dirctor, and developing your play night after night?”
A long time ago a man named Charles Babbage conceived something like a computer. I say “something like,” because what we call a computer today looks and works much differently than what Babbage had in mind. Although it’s not precisely clear what Babbage had in mind in the 1830s. It looks as if we might find out sooner than later, though, if a certain creative inventor has his way.
Art, just like invention, begins as a product of the mind. Then—whether a creative person plays the bassoon, invents a smartphone, sings an aria, spins a pot, formulates a theory, or leaps off a pommel horse—the body of the creator always seems to be involved.
Andrew Jackson and Mark Twain have both been credited with saying something along the lines of, “I have no respect for a man who can spell a word only one way.” I have to agree. But that’s not the problem. Most of us can spell a word any number of ways. The challenge is to do so creatively.
In a working paper titled, The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can be More Dishonest, a pair of Harvard Business School researchers propose the glaringly obvious proposition that, possibly, “creative thinking may also have a hidden cost in the form of increased dishonesty.” All together now... Well, duh!
People believe a lot of what they believe because that’s what they’ve always believed. A solid set of beliefs, especially if they derive from solid research and critical thinking, make modern living possible.
From Stephen R. Grossman, author and problem-solving consultant, comes a way to take the waste and chaos out of traditional brainstorming. To begin, Grossman advises not to brainstorm problems until they become intractable. Got a problem? Put somebody bright and creative on it. Then only after your best people fail to crack it should you put a brainstorming team on it.
When I think, I use words. I wonder why. Are words necessary for thought? Or do scientists think in formulae, choreographers in wordless space and motion, visual artists in images? Do musicians think melody the way I think thoughts or speak English? When I hum an improvised tune to myself, am I thinking?
Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever. This not-so-subtle juxtaposition of imagination and hallucination, invites me to show off another big word you don’t hear too often—paraprosdokian. If I understood the word correctly, I’d be surprised.
From as early as I can remember, someone was trying to tell me that I could change the world. As sincere as they may have been in their effort to point me in a positively productive direction, I think they messed with my creative ambitions. I think those who continue to urge others to change the world, or promise young people that they can, do us all a disservice.
I like to browse second-hand bookstores, because I’m always surprised by what people throw away. Much of it interests me. Sometimes I’m floored. Recently I learned a lesson in creativity.
The best ideas seem to have been kicking around longer than you might think. So it makes sense that a question like, “Will computers ever think or create?” and a concept like artificial intelligence might be found hanging around with the earliest versions of computers.
The ironic question, “Why is there only one word for thesaurus?” reminds me of another. Why is there only one way to brainstorm? You’d think a process designed to generate a lot of ideas might work a lot of different ways. Okay, maybe there are two ways—the right way and the wrong way—but that’s all.
Humans, that is, some humans, like to work together. Others think it’s all about self-reliance, every man for himself, and if you want the job done right, do it yourself. Now there’s research that finds these two approaches not only break along party lines, as it were, but also between species.
Most creative people, I would think, look to best practices when choosing whom to emulate. Winners don’t usually imitate losers. The idea of benchmarking is to find the best, start where they left off, and beat the pants off them. But that strategy will only get you so far. Don’t overlook losers. They have valuable lessons to teach.
Inventor Tod Machover makes what he calls hyper-instruments for great musicians from Prince to Yo Yo Ma—instruments that respond to more than the fingering and bowing that a cello, for example, normally responds to. But it’s what he invents for non-musicians that make him a creative hero in my book.
It has happened to me. I know it has happened to you. You’re making a point in a political, philosophical, or personal argument. A brilliant analogy pops into your head and you use it, confident you will make your point. Maybe even sway your ideological opponents. Instead they blow holes all through your analogy. Not because it’s a bad analogy, but because they don’t understand how to use analogies!
It’s a fact burned into reality as permanently as the Grand Canyon is carved into the earth: you will always think and make decisions along the paths of your past experience. Unless you actively work to break this pattern of habitual thinking, you will generate only incrementally creative ideas. To get big ideas, you have to force your brain out of its ruts or mental patterns.
When I read the headline “People are biased against creative ideas,” my first reaction was to exclaim, “Well, duh!” I’d venture to say that most creative people could reel off stories of idea rejection long into the night. That’s not just speculation. I’ve sat around with colleagues trading war stories of new ideas discarded for trivial reasons—ideas that would later win recognition, success, and profit.
The way we humans define things affects the way we think. And the way we think determines how successful we will be solving problems. If we think, for example, that humans are the only animals capable of solving problems or performing creative acts, then we may fail to learn what animal problem solvers have to teach us.
The hallmarks of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) line up fairly closely with the hallmarks of creativity. So says a study that concludes, as you would expect, that people with the “disorder” are more creative than those without it. So why do we treat ADHD? Are we shutting down a primary source of creativity?
You’d think that if you were looking for ways to make a robot move more smoothly, you might find ideas by studying the way humans move. Not a bad place to start, but you might also want to take a close look at the way fish move as well. The best ideation practitioners help their clients find solutions by providing them with stimulation not only from expected models but from less-than-obvious models.
My problem-solving brain works the way I work on a jigsaw puzzle—with organized persistence. Since your brain and mine have more in common than not, I’ll bet yours does too. Some brain experts would agree. Any problem can be described as a solution whose pieces have not yet been properly put together. If you’re a casual jigsaw puzzle solver, you may not appreciate this analogy. So allow me to make my case.
Without much thought, you secure your seat belt before driving your car. It’s a good, unconscious habit. But for a while, every time I buckled up, I also wondered why the belts we currently use had to go through so many configurations before they appeared as the elegant, three-point system we use today. Could not someone have invented it as it is today? The answer to this question may surprise you.
It’s easy to match sight and touch sensations since we can see and feel the same object. The same goes for taste and aroma. They work together. You can feel the sound of an explosion or a passing car with loud bass speakers. But have you played with the idea of seeing odors, hearing a flavor, tasting a sound or a texture, smelling or hearing an image?
Back when I named these essays Right Brain Workouts, creative people called themselves right-brainers. They called the knuckleheads who gave them any guff left-brainers. After all, Roger Sperry had just grabbed a Nobel Prize for giving us his split-brain model. It was clearly us vs. them.
Here’s good news: We all learn and will continue to learn the creative way—by fumbling our way through the application before reading the instruction manual. Not just with software and electronic devices but with life. Unfortunately reactionary educators will continue to try to make us learn the old, top-down, theory-first way.
In my previous two Workouts, I offered three steps for applying the power of nothing to creative problem solving, invention, and innovation: Start nowhere. Eliminate Everything. Let the Vacuum Create.
In the previous Workout, I recommended two steps to prepare for making nothing work. I reminded you that problem solving is a kind of Zero Some Game. When you hit Zero, you’re about to get Some. If you did not read it, I know you’re questioning my sanity. Please allow me to review my premise before rolling your eyes. Or better yet, read The Zero Some Game first.
Unlike the universe, creative people never create from nothing. But the closer you get to starting with a blank slate, the more original your ideas. To create, innovate, or invent on a truly cosmological scale demands godlike discipline, patience, and unwavering trust that creation got it right. That everything comes from nothing. Could that be why every scientific theory or creation myth you visit begins with a lot of nothing at takes place nowhere?
While teaching physics at Kenyon College, science fiction author Catherine Asaro heard one of her physics students complain, “I’d really like to do physics, but I know girls don’t have as good spatial perception.” Let me try to help shut down that nonsense, with Catherine’s help, right now.
I call these essays Right Brain Workouts because they’re meant to strengthen your brain. They do this, I hope, by challenging you to think differently, to consider off-the-wall ideas, and to keep and open mind while I gamble with ideas. There’s madness to this method. Some folks with credentials bigger than mine (that is, they actually have some and have researched this question) have concluded that stimulating your brain is good for it. But you knew that. More to my point, they suggest that stimulation means thinking differently, not just thinking.
Try to find a better case for breaking with convention than Columbo, one of television’s most successful detective series. In Columbo: Master Problem Solver I drew problem-solving lessons from the Columbo character. But as many creative lessons reveal themselves in the the program’s defiance of every detective-story convention.
Anyone watching TV in the 70s could not help seeing at least a few episodes of Columbo. Having just viewed a few seasons on Netflix—frumpy clothes, bad hair, and all—I’m reminded: What an outstanding problem solver was the lieutenant! And not just the character. The creators of the program also had to use all their creative resources to protect what would become a television classic from those masters of mediocrity, television executives.
At a commencement, I was struck by a clever quip from the keynote speaker. She urged her graduates to remain learners rather than learned. Her point went by quickly, because she had much more to talk about, but I believe an important lesson in creativity lies in the distinction between these two words.
An Erdös 1 mathematician declared to me, “I can’t do arithmetic.” This from a man with a left-brained list of publications on lattices, arithmetic mean ideals, trace extensions, and infinite dimensional Schur-Horn theorem and majorization theory. How does this compute? Well, he also informed me, “I think of myself an artist.”
When Alex Trebek says, “He wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey,” your response, of course, should be, “Who is Homer?” Nevertheless classical scholars still argue over the identity and even the existence of the legendary poet. A plausible and timely conjecture even suggests that the epics may have been crowdsourced.
You already know, of course, that your brain is your core creativity tool. If you’re the kind of person who feels more comfortable using tools you understand—whether you read the entire manual before using a tool or resort to the instructions only in case of emergency—I think you will find the following survey helpful.
The Big Bang gave us space. The story goes, everything was once packed in an extremely hot, tight, and dense situation. But today my chair is under me and my desk in front. The Bang also gave us time—the thing that keeps everything from happening all at once. Things appear to happen one after the other. I start writing and eventually, I finish. All seems to be in order. For a while at least.
Every time you do something, you find it easier to do again. That’s how and why practice makes perfect. Unfortunately practice also makes bad habits just as difficult to break. And since we all have to think un-creatively some of the time, we run the risk of making creative thinking a challenge.
You are an animal. You share a whole lot of your DNA with other primates. Even after chimps, bonobos, humans, and gorillas became distinct species, biologists say that 99% of your DNA lines up chromosome-by-chromosome. Of course, you are different. No other living species begins to approach your level of creativity. But you’re still an animal.
History repeats itself. So do inventions and innovations, ads and art, books, plays, movies, songs, symphonies, aging uncles, and kids in the back seats of cars on long trips. Face it. We humans are pattern-seekers. And, by golly, we will find patterns whether they exist or not. Worse, we believe they exist, hunt them down, and even spread war stories of our exploits.
“Never assume,” I heard the man scold his partner, “it makes an ass out of u and me.” The scolding abruptly ended the argument and made everyone around the scene uncomfortable. Happily I’ve not heard that too clever aphorism again. But recently I found a medical news story that illustrates the value of this crude call to skepticism.
Contrary to conventional wisdom among creativity and innovation gurus, Alex Osborn is not the father of brainstorming. No surprise there, right? Conventional wisdom hardly ever proves itself wise. Which is why the wise rarely come up with anything conventional and jump up first to challenge anything that smacks of convention. Especially at creativity or innovation conventions!
Setting off on the premise that patents lock up rather than spread innovation, the Global Innovation Commons aims to reduce the abuse. To do so, they have created a website that makes patented technology available to people in places where it is not protected by its patents.
Over the course of an hour-long interview, Nobel Laureate Paul Nurse covered the nature of creativity and science, his personal creative motivation, managing creative people, as well as his unique definitions of life and DNA, the trouble with the global warming debate, and a surprisingly ironic discovery about his own origins. Plus much more.
In some ways creativity resembles religion. To begin, it’s a mystery. No one has explained, at least to my satisfaction, how it works. More to the point, in order to perform a creative act, we have to believe. Any writer, composer, or artist who stares at a blank page knows the feeling. Likewise any scientist, inventor, or innovator who confronts a seemingly intractable problem.
Inventors, innovators, artists, musicians—all kinds of creative people—suffer some of the worst calumnies: We never show up on time. We have to be reigned in. There is a creative type. We dress funny... I can live with all of those. It’s the most unfair and untrue myth aimed at creative people that I’d like to dispel.
Once in a while, creative people struggling with problems, encounter unexpected solutions. Too often they overlook them. The better you prepare yourself to accept unexpected solutions, the more likely you will be to break new creative ground.
With so many companies and websites out there and the number growing every day, it gets more and more difficult to come up with an original name and logo—a combination that no other company already owns or may want to copy. To make sure no one even covets yours, create a name that is difficult to spell and pronounce. Use words very few people understand. Then make your logo complex and hideous.
Every time a thinking machine pulls off a stunt like Watson’s victory over undefeated Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings and top money-winner Brad Rutter, I feel it my duty to assure my readers that a machine will never perform a creative act. Watson will never present us with an invention, innovation, or even a child’s poem. The animal mind remains the unique seat of creativity.
Researchers who study the effects of music on listeners have discovered a few things that support a creative principle that giants like Beethoven have practiced through the ages: If you want to create music that gives people chills, keep your composition simple. Of course, food, drugs, and sex might have something to do with it as well.
I welcome the evolution away from authoritarian leadership and toward its more democratic counterpart that thrives within enlightened companies around the world. Over the past few decades, it’s been out with the old guard. Their egress has been too slow for my likes, but the top-down management model is definitely on its way out. As with any example of evolution, the driver of change has been survival.
One of the secrets to successful creative problem solving is asking the right questions. How much more important becomes creative questioning when grappling with the world’s biggest problems. They call for the biggest possible questions.
If you feel passionate enough about something to want to start a movement, you might want to consider a less demanding alternative. Rather than create the movement, you might want to find one you can embrace and jump in as it’s first follower. It’s a less demanding role, slightly more secure, and according to Derek Sivers, a more important role than that of the leader.
You dim the lights. From the box in the middle of the room flows a soft, steady, soothing hum. Your audience focuses on the bright rectangle of light on the wall. As you speak, the images in the rectangle repeat again and again. Over and over, your consistent theme and logo appear and reappear. Only the grey mass of bullet points changes. Within minutes, a good part of your audience has descended into inattention. Though they struggle to keep their eyes open, others drift off to sleep.
A fly’s brain is composed of pretty much the same stuff as mine—neurons. But a fly will never write a Right Brain Workout. Even if it wanted to, neither could a very clever dog or the world’s brightest bonobo. Some would attribute me and you—people who can write, draw, sing, or invent—some mysterious power like creativity. But creative ability may come from numbers and not much more.
Given: Random stimulation sparks unique creative ideas. Given: Unique ideas produce more new-to-the-world products, inventions, and innovations. Question: Where do I find and how do I use random stimulation? Glib answer: Anywhere! Serious answer: Just about anywhere.
Nobody can be right all of the time. Not even my dad. “I was wrong once,” he admitted with a rare twinge of humility, before continuing, “the time I thought I made a mistake.” Unlike my dad, the rest of us make lots of mistakes. We’re all wrong a good deal of the time. That’s why we have to change our minds from time to time. Not an easy thing to do. We need to get good at it, though, because changing your mind happens to be the definition of problem solving.
Creativity can draw creative people deep into the swamp of nonsense. So before acting on any new idea, before arming yourself for the fight against knee-jerk change resistors, it behooves all creators, innovators, and inventors to spare the world from creative Titanics. Namely, promising that your new idea can never sink.
I’m impressed with the portraits sketched by the robotic hand and arm in the video below. The drawings represent their human models so well they actually evoke a feeling in me. Not quite Mona Lisa-category emotions but a response. Has this robot created art? Can robots create art? Music? Science? Will robots ever do anything creative?
From the beginning of robot research and design, it seems that inventors have been caged by affinity. The idea has always been, it seems, to design human replicas—machines that look and move like us—the form for which we have the greatest affinity. Someone had to break out this design habit to create a robotic device that in many ways improves upon the human hand.
Chaos is our friend. We can use it to help us generate genuinely fresh ideas. Without chaos, our lives would be doomed to predictability. There would be no such thing as creative thinking.
There’s an old story that warns problem solvers not to begin solving until they’ve found the right problem. It’s been told so many times in so many different settings, I feel justified in condensing it for you, at liberty. So here goes...
As a group, ants appear to be way ahead of humans in crowdsourcing, social networking, and just plain getting stuff done. Before we showed up and began trampling their colony entrances, they could enlist the brain power of their colonies to rebuild them.
In an earlier Right Brain Workout, I gave examples of how cross pollination works from The Backyard Astronomer to The Cheerios Effect. Here are some practices and resources you can use to cross pollinate.
More ideas mean better ideas, because more ideas bring more chances of hitting upon a really great idea. You can increase your chances of generating really, really great and new-to-the-world ideas when you enlist a more diverse group of creative ideators. The more diverse, the better.
I want to speak with the designer who came up with the disastrous new Gap logo—with him or her as well as the Laird + Partners creative team. They not only talked themselves into embracing the infamous black-and-blue abomination rejected outright by their consumers but they must have pitched it successfully to their now battered and red-faced client.
Contrary to common sense or, more accurately, contrary to our current prejudices, collaborating online might be even more effective than doing so in person. Early adopters of online collaboration have known this for years. And now academic research has caught up and taken notice.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every time you ran a brainstorming session, you also were able to prepare properly and ensure optimum results? Well, you can’t. Sometimes you need to get your team together for an impromptu idea session without doing everything that would make it as productive as possible. That’s when it’s time to Brain Bash.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. At least I’ve never suffered it. And when other writers complain of it, my recommendation has always been, “Just sit down and write.” I know that doesn’t quite qualify as practical advice, so let me put it another way. In the form of three tips, three Block Breakers.
The creative problem-solving process is as old as humanity—make that primate-ity. Creativity, as in the ability to solve problems, arose in primates like us millions of years ago. The way to solve problems hasn’t changed much since our ancestors began rubbing stick together to make fire. That’s why some of the oldest advice on the subject holds true today.
Maybe you’ve heard the myth that we use only ten-percent of our brains. Whatever that means. I’ve recently heard the number imagined as low and three-percent. Both percentages are nonsense, of course. So there’s no using either as an excuse for not being more creative, innovative, or inventive.
The brilliant creator, co-star, and co-author of Fawlty Towers and the front-and-center member of the Monty Python team appears in a video titled John Cleese WCF speaking to a Flemish audience about creativity. From his talk I‘ve gleaned three recommendations, plus an explanation of why bad leaders discourage creativity.
Creativity cannot be stopped. Creative people will pursue their dreams and do the work they love whether they get paid or not. You’ve heard a professional musician, athlete, inventor, or actor tell an interviewer that they would do what they do no matter what. That the money they make merely ices the cake. Sounds pretentious coming from the mouth of a pro who swims in millions but it’s true.
The list of qualities and accomplishments that do not make an effective teacher may surprise you, because it includes things you might expect a teacher to have. What does make a good teacher takes a little more time to explain, but it includes respect for unusual ideas and wrong answers.
In marketing circles folks talk about transparency, collaboration, invitation, engagement... reaching consumers where they live with ideas so powerfully persuasive that we consumers are compelled to buy them. This requires more that just listening to us in focus groups. We've forced marketers to collaborate with us to create not just products but also the way they present those products on the shelf and in the messages they send us.
I went after the word pecha kucha the same way I would any other word I'd never seen before. I'm well trained. "Look it up," my mother used to say whenever I asked what a word meant. In those days, I went to the dictionary. This time I went straight to Wordnik. It came back with, "You're the first person to look up this word on Wordnik!"
The Rukiga word gotwantdo, pronounced gah-WAHN-doo, summarizes the three steps necessary to perform a creative act. Such as composition, invention, innovation, and so on. Okay, I made up the Rukiga word but, made up or not, it contains a solid creativity concept. Let's break it down into its component parts to understand it better.
You see it in all fields of scientific pursuit—biology, economics, physics, psychology—studies funded, conducted, and concluded with bold declarations of the blindingly obvious: "Brain scans show uncertainty fuels anxiety." Really?
The world’s greatest living scientist has opened our eyes on a number of cosmological subjects over the years. He has changed fundamentally our understanding of the big bang, black holes, and quantum mechanics. It was good to hear such a creative individual spell out his recipe for creativity.
Back when I considered myself in competition with a creativity guru who entertained his clients on his own ranch with a pool, go carts, volley ball court... you name it, I brainstormed a bit and stumbled upon an alternative: “I’ve got the Cincinnati Zoo!” Lots of stimuli and fun possibilities there.
In a productive brainstorming session, ideas can flow faster than anyone can transcribe them. In contrast, an online brainstorming session like brainline captures every idea, but you forfeit some of the advantages of a live session.
I'm sitting in my favorite independent coffee shop. Creative people come here. I enjoy writing here, but right now something gnaws at my nerves. Sure, the air conditioning might blow a tad too cool but that's not it.
Inventors, artists, scientists, and other creative people often set out to do one thing or to solve one problem only to end up solving or discovering the unexpected. The famous example of Christopher Columbus setting out to find a westward route to the Far East only to stumble upon the New World still reigns as the most striking, I think, even if it has become a cliché.
Some things never change but everything changes. Let's churn that conundrum for a while. Age-old rules from the Old School reign today and always will. The dazzling display and blazing speed of digital delivery may trick us into thinking a new wave of technology amounts to something different from the waves that have been beating the shores of our senses from the beginning. But don't be fooled.
Author Paul Lockhart speaks to me where I live. He's written a book titled A Mathematician's Lament. I only read about the book in an article, "Rock Groups" by Steven Strogatz. But I've had rocks in my head ever since. That is, I've been thinking about numbers in a fascinating new way.
Even when asked to listen for something else, your brain pays more attention to what you expect to hear instead. So say the results of experiments at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Brainstorming facilitators have known this for a long time. That's why the good ones go to great lengths to force the brains of their brainstorming session participants out of such thinking ruts.
Boy, did I think I was clever. "I'll watch the invisible-gorilla passing-ball video," I told myself, "and this time I won't be fooled, because I've seen it before." Since I saw the original, however, an update has been listed in the New Scientist "Best Illusions of 2010." Still I felt so smug because I was already familiar with the video that so graphically demonstrated how easy it is to miss something so obvious.
Ever wonder what it sounds like inside the gut of a bug? Neither have I. But a team of scientists not only wondered, they did what scientists do and figured out a way to listen. They used a technique devised by nanotechnologists called atomic force microscopy. And with tiny microphones in hand they strapped down a bunch of mosquitoes, flies, and ladybugs to found out what it sounds like inside the little critters.
No, not if the word conservative means moderate, careful, restrained, keeping with traditional, opposing change. Or if we make the mistake of confusing methods with goals.
When we solve problems, we go through processes of trial and error in which the stronger ideas survive and the ones that don't work are discarded. That in a nutshell of oversimplification represents the kernel of Natural Selection.
It all began with a simple search for "creativity museum." A museum of creativity? Isn't that a contradiction of terms? Besides it wouldn't seem right to pause, contain, and display creativity, even if you could. But isn't that what art museums do? Not when we understand the difference between art and creativity.
"Be it known to all that Peter Lloyd is now, has always, and will ever be empowered with the inherent ability to create whatever the heck he darn well pleases. And that interference in any form with his natural license represents and offense against all that makes life worth living." That has been my idea and expression of Creative License ever since I understood the term.
The Lone Inventor is not unlike the Lone Ranger. Neither exists. And yet you may have come across the claim that all or most of our most significant inventions have come from the sweat of individuals, be they tinkers, lone wolves, non conformists, mavericks, or mad scientists. The claim has two sides—one true and the other false.
Mother Nature, who gives us everything we need to survive and occasionally takes it back in tantrums of devastation, also displays an equally vicious sense of humor. She simply can't resist making us look like fools when we attempt to understand and explain her.
Abraham Lincoln or P. T. Barnum may have said, "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time." It may have been, "... all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time..." but the pithy part stays the same. You can't please all of the people all of the time. So why try?
Managers can improve the creative performance of their creative people by the way they respond to failure. Designers, writers, inventors, or anyone charged with coming up with creative product need to know that it's okay to mess up.
The universal symbol for "idea" is losing its luster. Principally because it's so inefficient. Most of the electricity we pump into the most common type of electric light bulb becomes heat. Very little becomes light.
Here's a familiar ethical question for creative professionals to ponder:
Don't look to me for an opinion one way or the other on the issue of communal creativity. That's what writer Randy Kennedy calls what others call plagiarism. I refrain from taking sides because, I like being appropriated. As a songwriter, it's an honor to have someone perform my work. If they make a million, I want part of it, of course.
I was blessed with at least the beginnings of a classical education. Blessed sort of literally. In my first two years of college I was thoroughly immersed in the waters of liberal arts at a Catholic seminary. Rhetoric, epistemology, philosophy, metaphysics.
Not all invention needs to take us in the direction we presume to think of as forward. Sometimes backwards is forward in the same way that less is more. Some inventions, like the internal combustion engine, have just plain gotten completely out of hand.
Nothing puts the spurs to invention like a good, solid, unrelenting, no-exceptions deadline. And perhaps nobody knows this better than the teams who compete every year in the 48-Hour Film Project competition.
Smart inventors and innovators look for inspiration anywhere. And I've found some of the most inspiring invention models in the creative efforts of criminals. That's because, in general, people beyond the pale have to be more ingenious. For one thing, there are fewer instructions, recipes, and how-tos within easy reach or role models giving seminars.
Remember the school bully? In any verbal dispute he had a very limited supply of two- or three-word comebacks: "Oh, yeah?" "Nuh-uh!" "I'll kill you." Well, he's back and he's us.
How would you like to take a trip, deep into the uncharted wilds of your unconscious? May I suggest you invite along someone like Christina Wehling. She's a sculptor and an art therapist. With her help, your trip becomes a process of creative self-discovery.
I believe that the principal guide in our lives has to be our inner guide. That we all have within us the capacity to be our own best friend or our own worst enemy. And that nature speaks to us through this unconscious that we have, through our inner person. It isn't coming from outside, it's coming from inside.With Christina as your guide, you'll soak up a treasure of rich, visual images. And upon your return, begin drawing vivid pictures from recent memory.
You're holding a paint chip called Oriental Silk thinking, this looks an awful lot like Ivory. And you're right. Every so often crayon makers and paint formulators update the names of their colors.
"Pay attention!" my teacher used to snap, whenever she caught me doodling. I learned, like most of us, that most people interpret doodling as inattention. Now we have news that we're wrong. Doodling doesn't reduce concentration, it enhances it.
Was Christopher Columbus a bold adventurer, expanding human horizons? Or more like a venture imperialist, who happily threw open the doors to an orgy of genocide?
To make a real honest mistake, you have to go in earnest after one thing and be open to whatever you actually find. Like Christopher Columbus. He set out to find a new route to the Indies. And he failed. But he made do with a new world, even though today's flat-Earthers would eventually mock him.
Creative problem solving requires at least one rule. It may be the one and only problem-solving rule we need to invent and innovate successfully. It's this: everyone involved must attack the problem while standing, if only temporarily, on common ground.
A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, makes funeral fashions. Dresses and suits made in case you come to your final resting place with nothing to wear.
Why in the world is the word creative monopolized by one department of the typical advertising agency. The creative department it's called. As if all the other departments are un-creative.
Creativity is sometimes associated with letting go, acting silly, hugging strangers, exchanging gratuitous and often insincere praise and encouragement, and all sorts of feel-good, new-agey nonsense. Of course, anyone who has ever created anything useful to anybody has some idea of the discipline, determination, and sacrifice required to invent or innovate.
If you've already read about Robert McCoy, in the previous Right Brain Workout, then you know he's the professional skeptic and founder of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. He listed a number of worthless products on the market today. Products that would never last without a lot of people faithfully dialing flashing 800 numbers.
There's a museum in Minneapolis dedicated to good ideas gone bad. It's called the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. It's founder, Robert McCoy, a professional skeptic, has collected 150 examples of medical devices that do absolutely nothing. Let's take a quick tour with McCoy as our guide.
If ant-colony organizational genius can teach us anything about getting things done, it's this: Spontaneity Rules! That is, if everyone is genuinely inclined toward success of the colony.
Why is English the most widely spoken, richly worded language in the world? One reason is an open door. According to the PBS series, The Story of English, our language has never stationed guard dogs at its gate.
The way schools are run these days, I'd be proud to display a bumper sticker that reads, "My child is a disciplinary problem." Not that it's true, but if it were, I'd be proud to announce it.
Do humans have an art instinct? Well, you're asking the wrong person if you want an objective look at both sides of this question. Having written about creativity and innovation for so many years, I rolled my eyes and sighed, "Oh, really?" when I read, "'Art Instinct' theorizes we may be hard-wired by nature to create."
Everybody has a customer. Or as Bob Dylan sang, "You're gonna have to serve somebody." So it's no surprise that innovative market researchers have replaced dry, objective, hard-knuckled research with creative forms of product play. It's sort of like collaborating with rather than examining your customer.
No matter how many times a trainer yells, "Keep your guard up!" it never really sinks in until the first time a boxer gets punched in the nose. With that in mind, what should you do when someone under you makes a mistake? Make them pay for it?
Why wouldn't the Cincinnati Reds pick up William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy from the Boston Beaneaters in 1894? He couldn't hear and he didn't speak, but he was a great ball player. His last play with the Boston team clinched them the pennant. A spectacular outfield grab in thick, San Francisco fog.
When I was about nine years old I thought that if the world would just make me their dictator, I would kill all the bad guys. But even back then I realized that in order to carry out my plan, I would need a lot of bad guys.
In the Turing Test humans face off with a few computer terminals. The human subjects type a line which appears on the terminal, and in a matter of seconds a reply appears. They continue, back and forth, just as if they were conversing.
We can learn to innovate, invent, and be more creative from just about anything. Here are seven lessons I learned from working crossword puzzles.
There's no shortage of experts willing to tell you, for a fee, what it is that will make your employees generate more and better ideas. Be careful. It's a lot easier than you think. I say, if you just listen to your people and start putting their ideas into practice, you'll do just fine.
We all agree that kids are pretty creative creatures. So it's hilarious to see an adult go through all sorts of teaching contortions to convince a child of something the natural innovator will eventually figure out anyway.
Last week in "More Idea Sources," I posted the comments of five writers who told us how they get their ideas. Clear to me was how similar their path followed the ways of Socrates, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Goethe, Mozart, Poe, Amy Lowell, Dostoyevsky, and Walter Lantz that I published last November.
A lot of companies want a creative culture, but not all of them want to do what it takes to have one. Naturally they don't lead the world when it comes to inventing successful, new-to-the-world products.
Ever notice how a really great idea ignites more great ideas? How a great idea fires people up? When John F. Kennedy promised that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the idea literally took off.
Last November we saw how Socrates, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Goethe, Mozart, Poe, Amy Lowell, Dostoyevsky, Walter Lantz, and Jagdish Parikh, an international management expert, got their ideas. Now it's time to see how some not-so-famous people, like you and I, get theirs.
Ann Piening McMahon was one of 11,000 workers laid off by McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis some years ago. For ten years she worked as a laser communications satellite specialist. Not a job that's easy to find.
Anyone who's ever said, "I'm not creative," please read carefully. Yes, you are. And I can prove it.
In his seminal book on the nature of creativity The Act of Creation, polymath Arthur Koestler coined the word bisociation to describe what we less eloquently call a combination or connection of ideas. Koestler would say, "bisociation—an association between two or more previously unconnected elements."
In 1990, Scott Anderson was an Indiana elementary school teacher just plain fed up with the bone-headed bureaucracy, administrative apathy, and the contempt for creativity he felt was frustrating his attempts to teach.
In 1532 Francisco Pizarro came before the court of the Inca, seemingly in peace, but set on conquest. He noticed that certain members of the Incan court wore knotted ropes around their waists. Assuming these ropes were rosaries, he ordered his men to ambush the men who wore them.
While we think of ourselves as the planet's only inventors, we can't help but marvel at the variety and innovation of form and behavior we find among other living and even non-living things. The fact that brilliant adaptations are driven by blind, random mutation doesn't diminish the value of the solutions nature offers.
Want to tap the world's greatest renewable source of creative energy?They're already on your payroll. Your people are full of ideas. All you have to do is encourage creative thinking, and listen.
This is a creativity test. We're going back to the days when the phone booth was about the only alternative to the desk phone. You're the president of a company that makes phone booths.
This is the last in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to escaping the Four Cages of Context, the principal impediments to greater creativity, innovation, invention, problem solving, and human progress. Today we'll escape the cage of Success.
Success is 99-percent failure.
I, for one, find great comfort in mindless routine. Why rethink the way I brush my teeth? Or tie my shoes? Why change the path of my daily morning walk?
Don Winkler says, "The dumber the question, the more people laugh at you, the more likely it will lead to a breakthrough." And he should know. Don does lots of things backwards, not necessarily on purpose. He has a dyslexic brain.
This is the third in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to escaping the Four Cages of Context, the principal impediments to greater creativity, innovation, invention, problem solving, and human progress. Today we'll escape the cage of Order.
The line it is drawn/The curse it is cast
This is the story of two monsters, Dafi (below, left) and Haneen (below, right), who have discovered that they share at least one thing in common—love for their favorite foods. "Hummus! Falafel!" they squeal with delight.
You've seen the signs on the backs of semis. "How am I driving? Call 1 800 EAT DIRT." Or something to that effect. Those signs are inspired by a cruder version with a real 800-number. How do you feel about being asked to be a snitch?
This is the second in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to escaping the Four Cages of Context, the principal impediments to greater creativity, innovation, invention, problem solving, and human progress. Today we'll escape the cage of Affinity.
It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.
I asked a group of single, middle-aged adults to write a personal ad about themselves. Then we talked about creativity, after which I asked them to write another personal ad. Here's what happened:
I've been taken to task more than once for stating that anybody can be creative. Sorry, I won't take it back. But I will elaborate.
This is the first in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to escaping the Four Cages of Context, the principal impediments to greater creativity, innovation, invention, problem solving, and human progress. Today we'll escape the cage of Knowledge.
I had no fixed idea derived from long-established practice
I got off the plane at Shannon Airport in County Clare, Ireland, and noticed two clocks at either end of the main lobby. They disagreed, by about five minutes. I mentioned this discrepancy to a baggage handler, and he wasted no time teaching me an important lesson in creative thinking.
I want to pass along the gist of an article by Stanley Bing in Across the Board. It classifies five types of crazy bosses.
You and I are Creative Animals. Like all the other animals in our kingdom, we're here today because we've passed the test of Natural Selection. We clothing-covered bipeds passed this test by learning to innovate, invent, and solve problems in remarkably creative ways.
Why are creative people never on time? My friend, Ernie, one of the most creative people I've ever known, was never on time. You see, when Ernie said he'd meet me at 11, it meant he'd think about leaving sometime before noon. It drove me crazy until I learned to adjust my clock.
I used to think that people of past generations were not as good looking as we are today. That was until I worked as an extra on the set of The Public Eye.
There's nothing more ridiculous to watch than managers mired in day-to-day details. Well at least I thought there was nothing more ridiculous until I watched Binocular Soccer.
How do you feel about this statement? "A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical."
Here follows the actual court-stenographer's transcript of the proceedings in State of Pennsylvania versus Gill Sans. The events referred to occurred in the city of Trebuchet, in the county of Ersatz. An important lesson in the rule of law vis-à-vis creativity and innovation is contained herein.
Nothing sells like success. Creativity consultants, innovation proponents, and the Cowardly Lion have pitched the idea of bottom-up management forever. But here it is again from one of the architects of a success story that shook the world.
Ever wonder where ideas come from? I do. I know they come through the right brain, but where does the right brain get them? I opened a book called Brainstorms and Thunderbolts. Here's what I found:
Agatha Christie once took issue with the old saw, "Necessity is the mother of invention." She said the real mother is laziness.
Who doesn't love animals? Furry, purring kittens. Loyal, loving dogs. But when you're reminded that insects are animals, too, are we still talking love?
It seems the Hippocratic Oath has become an endangered species. No "save the oath" groups rising to its defense, though. How in the world did it last this long? I wonder.
Dick Summer helps people motivate themselves. He's a man so full of ambitions, abilities, and ideas, that, when you talk with him, you have to listen.
It is impossible to ignore the innovation implications of the election of Barack Obama—a black man with a name that sounds like the West's worst enemy—as President of the United States.
In "Life Is a Highway: Study Confirms Cars Have Personality," Innovations Report summarizes research that concludes, "many people see human facial features in the front end of automobiles."
I'm sitting here on this huge, dirty, old rock, when I look up and see a furnace in the sky. It's looks about as big as a dime, and yet I can feel it's heat.
In the lexicon of psychology, evaluation apprehension theory predicts that when we work in the presence of others, our concern over what they will think can enhance or impair our performance.
The Mexican writer, Carlos Fuentes, has attributed the success of capitalism over Soviet socialism to the West's "constant self-criticism."
A long time ago, I took a History of Broadcasting course at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. Jack, our instructor, spent a good deal of time on the story of the great inventor Thomas Edison.
When I happen upon a innovative idea, I'm often struck by where I usually find it—right under my nose. Typically I remark to myself, why didn't I see it sooner?
More than 30 years ago a study published in the Harvard Business Review determined that white-collar workers could have ten times more time by not wasting time. Part of that waste is unproductive innovation—time spent re-inventing the wheel.
The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision some time ago ruled that there is not a lick of creativity in the white pages of the phone book. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor went so far as to say they are "devoid of even the slightest trace of creativity."
We would never expect America's C-Span to win awards for the creativity or innovation of their television productions. That's not what they're after. But it wouldn't take much for C-Span to liven up its sleepier moments and at the same time attract, perhaps, a wider audience.
Why does the Boston Consulting Group advise its MBA-decorated clients with co-innovation experts who haven't earned MBAs--the degree once considered indispensable for business managers?
When Jack Daniel moved his distillery into Moore County, Tennessee, it was to get away from a religious congregation. The former owner was a preacher from another county, where his congregation let him know he had to choose between the pulpit and the whiskey business.
The inventors of Breathe Right adhesive strips were much better designers than the designer of the nose. It was George Carlin, if I remember correctly, who observed that the nose, a runny, open orifice is situated right above the mouth.
In any discussion about creativity, innovation, invention, art, or music, you're likely to hear the notion that creativity for the sake of creativity is not a good thing.
Creative solutions don't always have to come from struggle and sweat. Innovation is sometimes right under your nose, around the corner, or back home where you grew up.
You'd be justified in suspecting the worst, should you ever walk into a room where I perform the following demonstration.
A limitation of our eyes enables us to see movies as fluid motion, when we're actually looking at a series of dozens of images each second. It's called Persistence of Vision. A similar phenomenon might be called Persistence of Ignorance.
Ever hail a great idea with an exclamation like, "I wish I had thought of that!" Or along the same lines, ever wonder why some obvious bright ideas did not become great inventions sooner?
After defining a problem as something that has a yet-to-be-found solution, somebody a whole lot sharper that I is supposed to have observed that, "if there's no solution, then it's not a problem."
Here's an innovative idea from the world of libraries, even though it may not be that new.
If you hate to be told, "I told you so," you should be able to identify with the following innovators, inventors, and dreamers.
I asked a number of very clever people to take a simple intuition test of my own devising.
Left Brain: Hey! Right Brain! Wake up. We've got to write another Right Brain Workout.
The record shows that our greatest creations have been done either in accordance with or in defiance of tradition.
Everyone who wants to be a starving artist, raise your hand.
Back when I was a young and spirited public relations whipper-snapper, the New York PR agency, Porter Novelli, impressed me in a big way when it conducted a survey of 100 executives from America's top companies.
Animals off all sorts gather at what we call their "watering holes." Humans in offices do the same around the water cooler or coffee maker.
In politics, there's a thing called the Bandwagon Effect. Call it "rally 'round the winner" or "the herding instinct," it boils down to following the crowd.
Q: What are your strong points?
When Chuck Francis was down to his last six cents, he decided to become a millionaire. And he did. Sound familiar? Well, you won't find full-page newspaper ads asking you to send money to Mr. Francis.
Inventors and scientists use formulas to express as elegantly as possible the way nature behaves. Nature, of course, doesn't check to make sure, for example, that the distance it allows an object to travel always equals time times its rate of travel.
When you think of all the hot air we waste trying to communicate, you'd think we'd know better than to claim superiority over animals that don't appear to talk. Why should they?
Mozart was not a stodgy prodigy. His childhood travels often brought him to the tavern, where he would head for the spittoon and amuse the locals with spitting games.
If we're lucky, that is, if we don't die young, we're all going to be disabled. Oh, if you can't read this, try increasing the font size on your browser.
The great German conductor, Michael Gielen, wrote a letter to his season subscribers that offers very helpful advice to those of us who are turned off by modern music, or for that matter, anything foreign.
Every important innovation travels in uncharted territory. To propel your new idea through uncharted territory, you always have to make and break the rules. To get comfortable with rule-breaking, it helps to develop a good deal of creative arrogance.
If you've ever had an idea, you know what I'm talking about. You get all excited, tell it to someone whose opinion you value, and the next thing you know, your idea dies.
Any innovator who wants to break new ground should never hesitate to question authority. This is not a call to rebellion but a call to common sense--authorities are so often wrong. And if they happen to be right, they're usually way behind.
According to an old article in Discover magazine, Russian scientist and intrepid innovator Andrei Linde has set his creative sights on nothing less than understanding what life is. His method is to study the boundaries of the irrational with the tools of rationality.
As the great and innovative inventor of melody and song Cole Porter advised,
Birds do it
Animals inspire us in many ways. Some inventors even look to them for creative help with their inventions.
You've invented a product or service. Now, what to name your innovation? You can make the naming process even more complicated than the process of invention. Or with a few guidelines in mind, you can save yourself a lot of trouble.
Every revolutionary breakthrough invention or innovation begins with what appears to be a stupid, dangerous, or at least an impractical idea. At the same time, critical breakthrough-thinking is driven by an off-limits or forbidden desire to flaunt a taboo.
In a letter to a friend suffering from "lack of creative power," Friedrich Schiller writes, "it hinders the creative work of the mind--if intellect examines too closely the ideas already pouring in... at the gates."
"Employees aren't allowed on the internet," he replied sheepishly. Reading my astonishment, he nodded empathetically.
As a child, Jerry McLaughlin sampled the fruit of the paw-paw tree, sometimes called the Indiana banana. It made him sick. But cancer patients may one day thank Jerry, because many years later, as a chemist looking for plants that might kill cancer cells, he remembered the paw-paw.
A group of first-graders and a group of adults were seated at a basketball game. They were asked to count the number of times the players passed the ball. Which group do you think came up with the more accurate count?
I picked up A. J. Jacobs's The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and found it to be one of the most innovative works of research I've ever read.
Chuck Kristensen was just a biologist who thought the spider was getting a bad rap. Few are poisonous, their bites are rarely fatal. And so as a hobby, Chuck decided to investigate what spider venom was all about.
I accidentally discovered a new and innovative way to come up with creative ideas, and I'd like to share it with you.
Bored with your regular diet? Pinched by the rising price of groceries? You can bring innovation and creativity into your daily cuisine with a nutritious food that's better for you than red or white meat, easy to prepare, cheap and plentiful.
How many times have you heard this? "Gosh, I wish I could play the piano like that." Usually right after a brilliant performance by a truly gifted virtuoso.
There are many ways to make yourself more innovative and creative. One of the most effective, you and Albert Einstein have mastered. At least you had it mastered at one time in your life.
Humans have no lock on innovation. Our cousins in the animal kingdom have adapted to their environments with amazing ingenuity. For example, one of the animal kingdom's most innovative defenses is an invention of the skink lizard.
Great innovators can be arrogant, impatient, moody, unpredictable, surly, sarcastic, supercilious... And not just because they're smarter than you and me. No, some of them get that way. Take Ludwig van Beethoven.
Even if you're among the most uncreative, you have the tools to stifle innovation, invention, and new ideas that constantly threaten your comfort and security.
Whenever an innovation comes along, the conscientious inventor always should consider the unintended harm or disadvantages the invention might bring along with its benefits.
It's about time. In the name of innovation, invention, and creativity, I declare that all ideas are not equal and do not merit equal time.
Steve Allen has written a book I call a must-read for everyone interested in strengthening their creative-thinking muscles. It was published in 1989 as Dumbth: And 81 Ways to Make Americans Smarter and in 1998 as Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking with 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind.
The question of intuition comes up eventually whenever people discuss creativity, innovation, and how the creative process works. Some reject the idea of intuition as something magical or spiritual. Others disregard it as a shortcut for hard, intellectual work, and a principal source of error.
Creative idea-generating techniques include those that produce surprising innovations and inventions by forcing thinkers to consider opposites. Nature teaches us this lesson. Where would we be, after all, without opposite sexes?
This is the seventh and last in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Sloth.
This is the sixth in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Anger.
The collision of random ideas often results in the most interesting and exciting innovations. Like the French entomologist who, while examining a wasp's nest, got the idea of manufacturing paper from wood pulp.
Any idiot can kill a great creative idea. All it takes is the ability to recognize that the new idea is different. Like rejecting the Model T because it doesn't have a feed bag. Or poo-pooing any innovation just because it's different. We've been known to justify our distaste for the different with the ultimate authority.
This is the fifth in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Envy.
Forty-one percent of workers want to quit their jobs because they are dissatisfied with company training. So says Business Week/Up Front, "Why your workers might jump ship."
Don't you just love nitpickers? The horseflies of life's hike through the woods. And they think they're so helpful. You've just put a precious part of your life into a piece of creative work, when along come the bright-eyed, ever so helpful nitpickers, who actually think they can make it better in minute or two!
This is the fourth in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Lust.
There's a story going around about a lawyer who bought a box of rare and expensive cigars and insured them against fire. It doesn't take a terribly creative mind to come up with such a loony notion. It would take some real innovative sleight of hand, however, to pull it off.
This is the story of the original bat man. People called him bat man, not because he protected them from harm, which he did, but because they thought he was crazy.
This is the third in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Greed.
Creative people, dressed in black, use skinny, white Macs. That's the rule. The rest of us plod along with un-cool, not-so-innovative Windows. I'm here to throw that rule out the window.
"The most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music." That's what one critic called Bolero. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, was greeted with, "...stupid and hopelessly vulgar music!" by another. Yes, he was writing about one of music's most creative and revolutionarily innovative composers of all time!
This is the second in a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Gluttony.
Men and women need no more reasons to bicker. They have no trouble creating their own bones of contention. So as a public service, I would like to eliminate one source of confrontation among many heterosexual couples--the battle over whether to leave up or put down the toilet seat.
What do you do when your creative people present you with something you absolutely hate?
This is the first installment of a series of Right Brain Workouts devoted to the Seven Creative Juices. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as my starting point, I've audaciously re-positioned them as the natural forces that drive creativity, innovation, invention, the arts, and human progress. Today we meet Pride.
We all know pi--the transcendental number you get when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter. This most monumental and incredibly ennobling invention came to us from the Greeks. But the idea (that the ratio of the circumference of a circle and its diameter comes out to a little more than 3) goes back even further--to the innovative geometers of ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, and again, those creative Greeks.
Remember that great idea you had a few years ago--on-premises daycare. How could you forget? You brought it up to your employer, and he made you feel like an idiot, right?
Have you ever been involved in a creative session or an innovation initiative in which someone has not said something along the lines of "...so to get our creative juices flowing..."?
John Poco of Lawrence Livermore Labs in Livermore, California, works with the lightest solid material ever made--silica aerogel. About as heavy as the air over San Francisco on a foggy day, the substance has been nicknamed "frozen smoke," because that's what it looks like. Poco and his Livermore scientists have reduced the density of aerogel and improved its composition and clarity.
I'm thinking of the last time I rode a bus full of school children. It's not pleasant, but I'm doing it so you don't have to. It's a long trip and someone eventually pipes up with, "99 bottles of beer on the wall..." An eager chorus, all those with nothing better to do, chimes in. At the same time, another group, including the parents pleads, then demands that they stop.
What would you call the familiar, plastic packaging device that holds your six-pack together? Koko the gorilla speaks with the help of a word board--a tool that lets her point to icons that represent words. It's said that she used her word board to describe the six-pack holder as "bottle necklace."
About 20 minutes into their December 2005 Charlie Rose television interview, Edward O. Wilson and James D. Watson agreed that "Charles Darwin was the most important person who ever lived on Earth." Watson explained to Charlie that "Darwin was the first person, using observation and experience, to really put man in his place in the world."
Maybe we'd all have a little more respect for our planet if it had a nobler name. Something other than Earth anyway. The word comes from roots that mean "base." Even today, earthy implies low or common. And why not? What's more common than earth?
In one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, there's a sign in the restroom that begins, "Please leave light on..."
Ever hail a great idea with an exclamation like, "I wish I had thought of that!" Or along the same lines, ever wonder why some obvious bright ideas weren’t introduced sooner?
In my never-ending search for the ultimate truth, I asked a group of about 30 executives, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Nine said the chicken. Five said the egg. The rest didn't answer. Except one who had the courage to admit, I don't know.
The student of the creative process has learned many times the value of making mistakes. I for one have paid a lot of attention to the advice of Thomas Edison. His remarks on the invention process are quoted often enough to make them almost clichés.
Where is your Creative Space? Where are you when you get your best ideas? Can a place actually help you be more creative? These questions have intrigued me for some time now. I've snooped around a bunch of creative spaces. Some stand alone brainstorming centers, some rooms dedicated to creative thinking inside advertising agencies and innovation-focused corporations, and some of the places I've made more conducive for my own inventive efforts.
At age 11, Emily Rosa staged a rather simple science project which ended up in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. In doing so, she became the youngest person to land a research paper published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Not bad for a fourth-grader. How did such a young girl make such a big splash?
An article published at the end of 2007 in the New York Times, "Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike" by Janet Rae-Dupree, reminded me of what a knucklehead I've become. And not just me but all of us who think we know anything.
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