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Something to Crow About

By Peter Lloyd

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.

If we call the clever things animals do “instinct,” we may not look to them for help solving our problems, because we define instinct as some encoded script that prompts an animal to act in some blind, unthinking way. But some animals have been around much longer than we have and may be around long after we’re gone. Whatever it is that enables them to solve problems just might be worth examining.

So let’s call animals creative when they do what we call creative when we do it, whether they manipulate abstract concepts or act instinctively. Of course, before we do that, we have to agree on what’s creative. Some would argue that an act or an attempt to create is not creative until its result is judged creative in some context. I disagree. At the same time I will argue that an idea is not creative or a thing not an invention unless it turns out to be novel and useful. I think the creative process can be called creative whether or not it produces anything useful or new.

Process vs. Product
When you or an animal work on a problem, you have begun the creative process. If you create something novel and useful, you have produced a creative work. As soon as an animal begins working on a problem a creative process begins. Success or failure to produce something novel and useful determines whether or not the result can be called creative. When we separate the creative process from creative product, we can talk about two creative things and understand each better.

Now let’s watch a crow solve a problem.

You just saw a crow release peanut from a device by opening a trap door. Then when an obstacle prevented it from operating the same trap door, it invented a way to get around the obstacle. It went through a process to do so. Does it matter whether or not the crow thinks, “Let me see, the tube blocks my beak, so I’ll have to either find another way around the tube or go through the tube with something other than my beak...”?

After watching the crow, I wonder if thinking doesn’t just get in the way. Driving the crow is the desire to get the peanut, the desire to satisfy an animal need. It would be more accurate to dub creative only those behaviors that satisfy a passion. In humans I would say a behavior is not a creative unless it arises from one of the seven creative juices. If we humans are more creative than crows, cows, elephants, or apes, it’s only because we have more creative juices driving us.

See also:
Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.
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