In my Fast Company piece on 3 Paths Toward a More Creative Life, I talked about the need to disconnect from our hyper-connected life to foster creativity and suggested walking. But what a dope! I left out running and biking!
Thanks to the people who commented on the FC post who talked about how running and biking help their creativity. I’m betting swimmers send in a post as well.
Anything that cuts you off from the racing flow of information and hyper-engagement that makes up most of our lives should do the trick.
“We can all implement our own 20 percent (creative time) strategies, committing to a certain amount of time each week to pursuing areas that interest us…We can spend some of that time "mining the past” of industries that interest us. We should be setting up at least one meeting a week with an expert in our fields and asking What’s exciting and inspiring these days?
We can also ask experts what’s NOT there. What is everyone getting wrong?
““There is nothing ‘rare’ about creativity; it is something we can all cultivate. People who might never consider themselves "creative” are drawing on many of the same skills as those of a musician or writer would use.“”—
Csikszentmihalyi on Renaissance Italy and Creativity
Creativity is a social phenomenon more than an individual event.
Mihaly Csikszmentmihalyi is best know, of course, for his work on individual flow. But he also analyzed Renaissance Italy to explore why Florence, at a certain point in history, was able to produce such an amazing number of brilliant artists.
In my book, Creative Intelligence, I say that he asked, What are the social conditions that lead to creativity? How can we make ourselves part of that social matrix? These are critical questions in our quest in becoming more creative.
Meg Whitman is trying to save Hewlett-Packard, a once and glorious high-tech company. HP has been in trouble for nearly a decade. So far, the remedies tried have involved improving efficiencies–firing over 30,000 people, outsourcing production, flattening that old pyramid. It’s time to try something different–reigniting HP’s creativity.
In my book, Creative Intelligence, I bring together a panel of former HP engineers who talk about their incredibly creative early years at HP–and how it ended. They describe the labs–which I call “magic circles”–where researchers explored all kinds of things without much restrictions–and the GMs who came by to screen the new ideas, curate them and then provide the resources to scale creativity into creation. I call them the “wanderers.” The founders of HP, Mrs. Hewlett and Packard managed their company by wandering around.
The magic circles of labs (play-grounds really) linked to wanderers who scaled generated organic innovation for HP. The company created new scientific instruments, ink-jet printers, computers–a panoply of new products coming out of the creativity of its engineers and researchers and then scaled by skillful brokers of corporate resources.
It ended when the GMs, who were often engineers themselves, were replaced by the biz dev guys. It ended when deep knowledge about science and experienced intuition about chances of success were replaced by wanderers who were business people using numbers to make decisions. It ended when HP started to fire the bottom 5% of employees every year to “improve” its human capital–destroying the trust among colleagues needed to play, try things out, take risks, fail and go on without repercussions. That ended the creation of exciting new products with fat profit margins for HP (the last was HALO, that wonderful conferencing technology, that HP never developed and sold off).
Organic innovation is what HP needs now. It has failed to buy innovation in its many purchases of companies. It has failed to turn around by promoting more efficiency. Its time for creativity. The example of HP in its heyday provides the narrative for #5 of my Creative Competencies–Pivoting/Scaling. It’s what Meg Whitman needs to do.
I remember my first ride on the Segway, Dean Kamen’s incredible invention. I got up on the two-wheel thing, pushed forward and I was away, moving quickly, turning, having great fun. The Segway was supposed to change everything–how we moved along in cities, how we left cars behind, how we saved energy, how we went to war, etc. It didn’t.
In the end, it was a wonderful piece of technology in search of human purpose. It became an expensive novelty.If it had been framed differently, if the culture and history of transportation had been mined deeply, if it had been made more cheaply–in short, if Kamen had used a few of the 5 Creative Competencies in Creative Intelligence, his technology might have found traction with a big audience.
Google is doing the same thing with its Google Glasses. It’s new technology is very cool but there is no connection to people. Right now it is a gadget made by gadgeteers for other gadgeteers in search of a broader popular audience. Throwing new invention over the wall to designers is an old way of doing things that sometimes works just fine (hey, Search is great, right?) but often does not (remember the old VCRs with a million useless functions?
“There is nothing ‘rare’ about creativity; it is something we can all cultivate. Creative Intelligence can be found across many fields and disciplines, in all spheres of life. Most important, Creative Intelligence is social: We increase our creative ability by learning from others, collaborating and sharing.”—
“Today’s most creative individuals see their work as a calling; that belief in their work gives them the energy to move forward and inspire others to join them in what is a social movement. They cultivate their charisma on order to serve their calling, and so can you.”—
This is in the section of Creative Intelligence called “The Search for the Secrets of Creativity.”
Thanks for pushing Creative Intelligence ever higher on Amazon in preorder, even before it officially comes out on March 5. In ebook, it is at #17 in Amazon’s Creativity & Genius category. And it is #55 in Cognitive Science. In hardcover, Creative Intelligence hit #84 on Monday in the Decision-Making & Problem Solving category.
Preorders build momentum and can “tip” the book into the fast selling lane once it is released. So please pass the word.
Boosting Brain Research: Make it Culturally Relevant
President Obama wants a decade-long program to deepen our understanding of the human brain. It would build a map of brain activity and, quoting the NYT “do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.” There are three goals–fight diseases, especially Alzheimer’s, increase artificial intelligence, and since DARPA is involved, bolster cyber-security.
I have one suggestion–to the array of neuroscientists, nano scientists and representatives from Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm running the brain project, he add cultural anthropologists, sociologists and designers. Combining the social with the scientific will accomplish two things:
1) Make the science relevant. One of the biggest economic and social failures of recent years has, in fact, been the Human Genome Project. There were big promises of huge economic benefits and, despite a federal study showing a “return” of $800 billion over a decade, we can see little of it. There is one project turning algae into energy producing organisms that I can think of. In addition, the Genome Project has not led to big breakthroughs in medicine either, despite promises that it would. It has, in fact, been disappointing.
Adding social scientists early to the program increases the chances that the direction of the research from the start might be more meaningful, both socially and economically. Had social scientists been attached to Monsanto’s genetic modification work, the company might not have had the enormous opposition to its GM seeds in Europe. It might have focussed on health and taste rather than efficiency and yield.
2) Americans fetishize the brain. The brain has become a secular divinity, in which we see everything coming out of it. The result is that the locus of control is seen to be outside ourselves. Just as religious people believe in fate or God’s will, so too the brain. As we focus on the brain “causing” creativity or thinking. we tend to think that exceptional brains will give us more exceptional behavior. And we hope that in the end we’ll be able to stimulate a portion of the brain and that will make us smarter, or better in some way.
I’m all for understanding more about the brain but I’m wary about how we, as a culture, use the brain to “explain” our lives. Learning and doing and understanding what is meaningful in context are the keys to making society and our lives better. Brain scans reflect our behaviors as much as the brain “causes” them. In Java, the shadow play shows the shadows of puppets acting out great political and social dramas. The Javanese understand the meaning of the shadows. They don’t confuse reality with reflection.
Creative Intelligence Quote: Nurture Your "Bandito Creatives"
“Companies should be nurturing their "bandito creatives,” men and women who’ve already demonstrated a willingness to break the conventional rules if that’s wht it takes to do their jobs creatively. Find them and map their networks. Ask them: Who are you talking to inside and outside the company? Who are the most original thinkers you know? Who do you go for inspiration? And, most important of all, how can we help you build out your “off-the-books” network?
I talked about the ritual of the gift in my Creativity and Capitalism course at Parsons this past Monday. In a rare occurrence, Valentines Day and the Chinese New Year fall together so a good chunk of the world is giving gifts over the next few days.
In addition, Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter talked to these students last week–a wonderful presentation–and he framed Kickstarter within the idea of gifting–not investing. A NYT piece came out over the weekend that did the same.
I asked my students about giving and receiving gifts and it was clear that giving gifts is fraught with tension. The ritual of the gift is actually very complex, very emotional and very powerful. Knowing what the other person REALLY wants requires skills of deep empathy, that men especially apparently lack, according to many of the women in the class. They steal themselves for getting hurt in the act of gift giving. And then pretending not to have been hurt.
Many would just as soon do it the Chinese way–red envelopes filled with money. People can then go out and buy their own gifts. We are moving in that direction with gift certificates and wedding registries. Maybe we need Valentines Day registers–do they already exist? I don’t know.
How much to give–the value of the gift also came up in class. Should it be equal or unequal? Can it ever really be equal?
Should use wrap necessities inside the ritual of the gift–like giving a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine? Ha. Most thought not but a few didn’t mind.
When you think about it, the gift is one of the most common of our social rituals. Schwag–free gifts–is given at the end of nearly every big occasion now from weddings to award ceremonies. There isn’t an event on any night in any big city in the US where gifts are not being given out. Much of this schwag is personal–and much is commercial, filled with products donated by companies wanted you to BUY something.
Kickstarter reminds us of the power and importance of the gift. You offer the gift of your money, you participation, your advice and, finally, your consumption, to a maker–an artist, film-maker, book writer and, increasingly a techie type/designer making a cool new product. Usually it is the parents and friends of the person doing the making that gifts first, building the momentum for the rest of us to offer our gifts.
Kickstarter socializes making through the gift–its a very different model than the buying and selling model we are used to.
Hmm.. Come to think of it. If you haven’t already given that Valentines Day gift, you could go on Kickstarter and “gift” your honey by gifting some dough to something she or he is really into. But then again, you’ll have to actually know what kind of music or film or book your honey really likes.
I remember the first time I met a team of designers from Samsung. It was at an annual Industrial Designers Excellence Awards dinner (before they changed “Industrial” to “International”). I remember five middle aged men wearing identical boxy black suits with white shirts and dark ties. Their haircuts were the same too. Samsung began to spend billions on design and for years, boxy-suited design guys would show up.
Then, one year, the middle-aged guys brought two young men who didn’t wear boxy-suits. They had spiky hair, brightly colored ties and tight, European suits on. Ah, things were changing. This was mid to late 90s.
I can think of no other Asia company that has spent more on design than Samsung and the company has risen high into the ranks of design award winners. But until very recently, Samsung’s design has nearly always been derivative. Samsung uses a Fast-Follower approach to both design and business. It rarely leads and uses vast amounts of research to follow trends in the market. Apple, of course, is much of that market, so Samsung follows Apple very closely. This has made Samsung hugely profitable and hugely huge in size. But it has not made the company a leader.
The New York Times article is a good summary of the design/business culture of Samsung.
Not leading has not bothered Samsung much. I consulted for them years ago on a panel in NYC. Of course, the panel of mostly US designers told the Samsung people they should be more creative, more innovative and lead. But the Samsung design and marketing people didn’t think it was that necessary. They were making products that others could use as platforms to create apps and services to engage people. They could build the aura. And that would be sufficient.
Maybe Samsung is right. Last year I was in a movie theatre, being forced to see ads (which I hate unless the ads are really entertaining–just like everyone else, right?). There was this ad for a Samsung Galaxy phone that showed two people taping their cells together to exchange videos. Hmmm… Very cool. I think there was one about a daughter sharing a tape with her dad. Then there was a racy one between a wife and her husband.
Talk about engagement. It beckoned, it grabbed you and kept you in a relationship. It made you want more. It was personal and intimate. It was aura.
So Samsung is beginning to get aura. That’s very exciting indeed.
“Bruce Nussbaum is one of America’s most interesting design minds. His latest work is both a clarion call and a guidebook for moving creativity to the center of our lives.” Blurb on my new book, Creative Intelligence, by Dan Pink.
Dan Pink, of course, is one of my heroes. His book “A Whole New Mind” was a breakthrough in understanding how creativity really works. “Drive” is terrific and his current book, “To Sell is Human” is a best-seller.
Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter, presented in my Creativity & Capitalism class in Parsons on Monday. He was absolutely great and the 85 undergrads in the auditorium really like him. One of the points he made at the end of his talk was the role of family and friends in financing so many of the Kickstarter projects. They often provide the initial money, get the funding momentum going until “outsiders” start kicking in money.
This is fascinating to me. In a global era of digitalized crowd sourcing and crowd funding, the role of family and friends to startups remains crucial. I thought about it and again and again you hear stories of startups beginning with money from parents and uncles and buddies and classmates betting on someone they know. By far, it seems that angel investors are people we know and trust.
Kickstarter amplifies this social phenomenon by legitimizing people’s startup dreams. If you can make it to actually presenting on Kickstarter–coming up with a great idea, doing that pitch video–your family and friends have even more motivation to help you. “Harry, come look at young Stevie’s camera idea! I always knew he was so smart. Let’s give him some money.”
Family and friends form the core of what I’m calling your Network Radius. That radius is the functional part of your network that provides resources to implement your creativity. It expands out from blood relatives to close friends to buddies to VC strangers to the public stock market. Knowing your Network Radius is critical to being a successful entrepreneur.
In Creative Intelligence I talk about Creativity Circles and Pivot Circles. The book is coming out in just a few days. But Charles has me thinking of the next round of thinking about creativity. That would include the idea of a Network Radius that cuts across both Circles, linking them.
If I were teaching a course in creativity and entrepreneurialism, a course in Indie Capitalism, this is what I would be putting up on the screen.
“On a cold winter night at a safe house in Manhattan some- where near Bloomingdale’s, CIA Director William Casey told me about the CIA’s methods for recruiting spies in World War II. It was 1983, and I had received a call the week before from a woman claiming to be the assistant to William Casey, the chief of the CIA. Thinking it was a joke by a friend, I laughed and laughed, until Casey cut in with “Hiya, Bruce….”
Thus begins a section in Chapter 2, The Search for the Secrets of Creativity, that takes us from the OSS in World War 11 through Csikzentmihalyi’s work on social flow in Florence, Design Thinking, VUCA and the Five Competencies of Creative Intelligence.
The SuperBowl game last night gave us an incredible lesson in the power of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized this wonderful term (Rolla May in the 50s called it the “peak experience”) where we enter “the zone,” get “in the groove,” or “on a roll.” Flow is statr of heightened awareness, focus and accomplishment. “Chicks,” as he is sometimes called, is known for describing an individual state of being, but his work on Florence also talks about the social conditions of flow, where things come together to promote a general flow. Flow becomes a social phenomena.
Anyone who has played team sports know this to be true. There are certain conditions that make for extraordinary team play. Sometimes we are aware of them and often we are not. Last night, the Ravens entered a flow state from the moment the game began and played a smooth, skillful, winning game. The team, as one social unit, was in the winning groove.
Until the lights went off and knocked them out of their groove. The team improvised on the ground, it powered with amazing throws and catches. It was just awesome. Somehow, that half hour in the dark broke the flow state for the Ravens and they almost lost the game. They were going to lose the game but were saved by the 49rs–who had entered their own flow state BECAUSE of the lights going out. But the 49ers fumbled their play and the Ravens ground to a close victory.
In my book Creative Intelligence, I quote Keith Richards from his biography, Life. His agent forces Richards and Mick Jagger into a room and tells them not to come out until they’ve written a song–which neither has ever done. They write “As Tears Go By,” later sung by 17 year-old Marianne Faithful. Richards discovers he can do (working with Jagger) what he never thought he could do–write songs.
He says he’s in the room “…and then something else took over in this process. I don’t want to say magical, but you can’t put your finger on it . It was a revelation, an epiphany, this discover that I had a gift I had no idea existed. Song writing.” The flow state came when he worked as a team with Jagger under intense pressure.
The flow state is a critical part of creativity and we know little about it really. We know it is mostly social, not individual, it is unusual yet can be structured and made to happen, and it is fragile–the lights can go out on it. You can manage it–up to a point. You can put people together as a team to generate flow but keeping that flow going is perhaps the most delicate management task of all.
The first translation of my book Creative Intelligence has just come through with Uni-Books in Taiwan and it will be in complex Chinese characters. That means Chinese readers in Taiwan, Hongkong, Singapore and elsewhere who read in this style of written Chinese will be able to access the Five Creative Competencies discussed in the book and why creativity is key to startups and entrepreneurial capitalism.
I’m hoping the next translation will be in simple Chinese characters from a mainland publisher so that all of China can read about creativity and innovation. Creativity is so essential for China to take the next economic step now that its era of cheap labor is ending.
If you read in English, you can preorder Creative Intelligence, in print or ebook, at: