Where is your sweet spot for coming up with good creative ideas?

Finding your creativity sweet spot. Source: W. Koutstaal

 

Imagine that you have just been invited to take part in an online experiment in which you will be asked to generate as many creative ideas as possible.

Imagine, too, that you are given the opportunity to first read the instructions for the creative challenge you will be set, and that you can choose between one of two sets of instructions, A or B.

Both versions outline your responsibilities.  Version A says you’ll be asked to take part in “an idea-generating task involving various commonly found household items” such as “a 14-inch nonstick-cooking pan or wooden door stoppers.”  Version B is slightly more general, saying that you’ll be asked to take part in “an idea-generating task involving household items” such as “cooking pans and door stoppers.”

You are also told that exactly 25% of the responses will be reviewed (Version A) or, instead, that some –– no percentage specified –– will be reviewed (Version B).  Additionally, you are told “You will receive your compensation within 48 hours of completing this task, in your PayPal account” (Version A) or “You will receive your compensation within 2 days” (Version B).

Which of the two versions of the instructions do you prefer:  Version A or Version B?  Do you think you’d be likely to come up with more creative ideas if given Version A or if given Version B?  Why?

On testing it out see: “Finding and Making Sweet Spots in your Creative Process.”

 

Can we be sad and creative too?

Putting sadness in creative focus.
Source: pdpics via Wikimedia Commons

 

Sometimes in trying to understand creativity and emotion we draw hard and fast rules. We are quick to see the potential of positive moods for creativity and for helping us see the big picture. But we underplay the role of negative moods — seeing them as leading us to narrowly focus on the trees, and miss the forest.

Can it be that the human mind, and the human mind when it meets with the messy complexities of emotion, is altogether that simple and tidy? What might happen if (for whatever reason) our thinking processes were predominantly detail-focused and our mood was quite positive? Or if our thinking processes were broad and abstract but our mood was somewhat sad?

—> For more, check out our latest Psychology Today post: “When Emotion Meets Thinking.”

 

Too perfect: Inviting creativity through improvisable gaps

Take a look at these two images:

icons_finished_unfinished

Source: Jonathan Binks, adapted from McGrath, Bresciani, & Eppler (2016)

How do they make you feel? How are they different?

For some recent research exploring how images that you use can invite you and others to playfully and creatively elaborate on ideas see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-innovating-minds/201611/too-perfect-no-room-newness

Of Puppies, Play, and the Pursuit of Creative Insights

Puppy is to dog, as colt is to . . . .  Source: Jonathan Kriz via Wikimedia Commons

Puppy is to dog, as colt is to . . . . 
Source: Jonathan Kriz via Wikimedia Commons

Awakening our creativity with a few simple words. . . .

How much do you think creativity is something enduring and permanent that remains constant across time, that is, you either have it or you don’t?  Or how much do you think creativity depends on the situation or context you are in, and so fluctuates up and down?

This is the topic of Wilma’s latest Psychology Today blog post. For more please see.

Our ongoing tug-of-war with abstraction: ways to use — and not use — abstraction

U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Neely via Wikimedia Commons

Lifting and moving 100-pound sacks of coffee beans is back-breaking work.  Repeatedly grasping, hoisting, and piling the sacks ­­— heavy and awkward with their shifting contents — is a significant health issue for workers.  How might the unloading of these and similar sorts of cargo be made automatic, and ease the burden on workers lugging such heavy loads?

Joining up with a colleague in an interdepartmental research center, researchers in civil and industrial engineering at the University of Pisa in Italy decided to take up this challenging problem.  Specifically, they set themselves the task of developing a “gripper” that could grasp coffee sacks made of a porous material (jute), ranging in weight from 50 pounds to 170 pounds.  The gripper needed to work quickly (grasping or releasing in less than 3 seconds), and without excessively tearing or damaging the jute material.

But the enterprising researchers weren’t just on the quest of a new gripper:  they were using this challenge to test-drive a new “creativity support” method they were developing.  Meant to help designers reach into unexplored idea territory, the multi-step method provides a structured guide for using abstraction and analogy to more effectively generate innovative design concepts.

—> For more see Wilma’s Psychology Today blog post.

Step this way — innovating with virtual reality

Sometimes the concepts of detail stepping and goal synergy can seem somewhat abstract. We thought we’d try to make them concrete through a recent example.

You’ve decided you’d like to check out and test drive the latest Cadillac. So you head to your local Cadillac dealer. Except, that when you get to the lot, there’s no car there and you’re asked to take a seat and don a virtual reality headset. The dealer walks you through virtual options as you vividly explore now one interior/exterior and now another.

So goes a new retail strategy soon to be rolled out in some Cadillac dealerships. Dealers will have the option of one of 5 levels of “reality”— spanning from fully real-world on the lot inventory to entirely virtual vehicles (except for test-drive and service-loaner cars).

This goal synergistic approach doesn’t undermine existing advantages of Cadillac’s many dealerships situated in larger towns and cities. There’s less need for excessive inventory management and logistics. Car buying becomes a more customized, flexible, individual experience, especially suitable to luxury brands.

To think about:

  • Something that seems like a roadblock—could it be a stepping stone?
  • Might you mix and match possibilities—blend the real and virtual where appropriate?
  • Why not pilot test—try out on a smaller scale first?
  • Can this invoke a mutually reinforcing innovation cycle where using virtual reality in one context spurs new innovations in virtual reality itself?

Insights into the creative process: A Q&A with illustrator/writer Mike Lowery

Q&A_image

The lines between author and reader are maybe not as sharply drawn as they used to be. Book 1 of Mike Lowery’s Doodle Adventures is a great example. “You draw the story!” the book’s cover tells us. And so we do…

But what’s the story behind the story?

Just as Lowery asks his young readers to pledge to “finish this book to get our heroes home safe at the end,” I asked him to pledge to freely improvise answering questions about his own creative journeys.

Lowery_oath

Each of the 8 questions I posed to him draw upon the science-based way of thinking about innovative thought and action that we develop in Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change. You can find the Q & A here.

Seeing and being seen: Process innovation at work

We wrote, in an earlier post, about an experiment that showed that employee innovation improved when employees on an assembly line were hidden (by a privacy curtain) from constant higher-level managerial supervision. Does this mean that privacy is always best? Or does it depend? Are there cases when, rather than being curtained off, it would be better to open up and be more transparent?

In a recent series of real-world and online experiments, now using food service as an example, researchers Ryan W. Buell & Tami Kim of Harvard Business School and Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London pitted two possibilities against one other.

When a chef is preparing simple grilled food for a customer, in full view of the customer, maybe that seems to the chef that she is being monitored and this brings with it an undesirable defensiveness. Or — alternatively — does knowing who the food is being prepared for lead to an increased sense of the meaningfulness of the work and a greater sense of the value of the work being done?

To answer these and other questions, the researchers used an ingenious placement of iPads with videoconferencing software as silent “virtual windows” in a cafeteria. The tablets were set up in one of four configurations: (1) the chef could see the customer, but the customer couldn’t see the chef; (2) the customer could see the chef, but not vice-versa; (3) they mutually could see each other; or (4) neither could see the other.

When both the customer and the chef could see one another using the “virtual window,” customers were significantly more satisfied (22.2%) with their food, compared with baseline observations. And this customer satisfaction improvement was not accompanied by any slowdown in service; instead service speed tended to increase.

But this raises yet another question. Was the customer more satisfied because they received preferential treatment in how their food was prepared? To answer this, the researchers devised a new “sandwich purchasing” experiment. Customers who had just purchased a sandwich at a university dining room were offered a special opportunity to preorder online a custom-made sandwich for the next day.

When they arrived the next day, one-half of the participants (randomly assigned) who had chosen the preorder option were met by an experimenter who directly led them to the preordered sandwich storage area and gave them their order. The remaining participants were also met by an experimenter, but here they were asked to join a line and watch while the chef prepared sandwiches (although not their particular preordered sandwich) before they, too, were escorted to the sandwich cooler where they were given their preordered sandwich. In this case the customer could see the chef but the chef could not have influenced the quality of the sandwich because it had already been prepared before the customer had arrived.

Even though they had to wait, the participants who saw the chef at work perceived the sandwich-making service as significantly more valuable than those who retrieved their sandwiches directly.

These two real-world experiments suggest that process transparency can be beneficial in multiple ways. But both of these experiments involved students at a  university in the northeast United States — how generalizable might these results be? To address this issue, the investigators turned to a broader range of participants available via Amazon’s online Mechanical Turk.

Participants (including a subset from rural Kenya) were asked to watch a 2-minute video of a service interaction at a cafeteria sandwich counter. They were randomly assigned to watch one of three different videos. They saw: (1) a customer hand an order to a non-chef who then relayed it to the chef (here neither the chef nor the sandwich-making process were visible); (2) a customer hand the order directly to the chef who then made the sandwich out of view; or (3) a customer hand the order directly to the chef who then made the sandwich while in full view.

Participants who watched the third video, in which both the chef and process were in full view throughout, perceived more effort by the chef and appreciated the chef significantly more than either of the other groups. Using path analysis, the researchers found that observing the chef at work led to increased perceived effort, which was in turn associated with enhanced appreciation, which in turn led to higher perceived value.

In a follow-up Mechanical Turk experiment, the researchers offered the same set of encounters as above — except this time filmed from the point of view of the chef. Those who saw the two videos, from the chef’s perspective, interacting directly with a customer whether or not the customer saw the sandwich-making process, reported significantly higher intended effort and job satisfaction on the part of the chef, even though they also felt more monitored.

So what can we learn from this series of experiments, taken in conjunction with the earlier “privacy curtain experiments”?

Here are some thoughts:

  • there are sometimes subtle ways that our environments enter into our thinking and making
  • not one size fits all: the benefits for innovation of privacy and visibility are context-dependent
  • when we think of what fosters innovation we need to keep in mind that we are meaning-making, meaning-seeking beings
  • whereas privacy can promote experimentation, risk-taking, and improvisation, transparency can prevent over-abstraction by making visible, that is concretely real, tangible, and perceptible, who the work is for and who is doing the work, benefiting both.
  • process innovation comes in many forms including how, specifically, we are aware of one another. Or as the researchers Buell, Kim, & Chia-Jung Tsay conclude their paper: “In a culture where speed and automaticity often trump other values, we suggest that seeing and appreciating the people who help us, and allowing them to see us in return, can lead to experiences that are objectively better and more fulfilling for everyone involved.”

How do we (really) keep our creative momentum?

We often like to simplify things but — let’s face it — creativity is a messy business. It’s filled with trial and error, trying this and trying that. It reaches across time (minutes, hours, weeks or months, sometimes years) and space. It’s rife with unpredictable spurts forward and sudden stops or detours as unforeseen obstacles loom on the horizon. How then can we ever see “inside creativity” — peering into this dynamically changing thinking-making process to learn what works well, and what doesn’t?

One promising approach is to generate a sort of “creative micro-world” —setting out a creative challenge that can be taken up in a somewhat limited period of time (say a few hours), with specific constraints and goals. Then the entire thinking-making process of creative designers or engineers can be observed (perhaps videotaped and audiotaped). The designers might also be asked to “think aloud” — telling us, moment by moment, what they’re thinking, what problem they’re facing, what options they see, or what next steps they’re mentally testing out (or ruling out). . . .

For more please see WK’s Psychology Today post “Inside Creativity: Charting Innovation as it Happens.”

What’s your creative destination?

In launching any new endeavor, much depends on how creatively and flexibly we spell out—and interpret—our shorter and longer-term aims. This is a crucial process that tests our imagination, inquisitiveness, and purposefulness. It’s a process that we explore throughout our book, Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change.

Here we offer an essential starting point—flexible problem definition—for discovering your creative destination, illustrated by two recent examples.

Example 1: IBM’s efforts to incorporate more design thinking

From The New York Times: “At a course in New York recently, a group of IBM managers were given pads and felt-tip pens and told to sketch designs for “the thing that holds flowers on a table” in two minutes. The results, predictably, were vases of different sizes and shapes.

Next, they were given two minutes to design ‘a better way for people to enjoy flowers in their home.’ In Round 2, the ideas included wall placements, a rotating flower pot run by solar power and a software app for displaying images of flowers on a home TV screen.”

Example 2: Jeanne Gang, of Studio Gang architects, on goals and values

From a talk by architect Jeanne Gang: “It’s about balancing and trying to find out what the question really is of a project. So if we were doing something that seemed like something that didn’t automatically or obviously have a social approach, we would try to pair it with something else. It’s about designing your own projects. What do you want the project to be about? . . .

It’s always a dilemma, it’s always something that you have to work at trying to create, to make a project more than what you are given on a brief. Because if you just took the brief at face value, then you wouldn’t be contributing . . . . Some projects are very hard to re-engineer in terms of their brief and others lend themselves to it well. That’s really the creative process right there, I think, for me.”

What do we learn from these two examples? We see that it’s not just the clarity of our objectives that matters. It’s also: How expansive should our “goal net” be, and what’s our “net” letting in—or keeping out? How does our destination intersect with our longer-term values and aims in view?

 

Sources:

Steve Lohr, “IBM’s Design-Centered Strategy to Set Free the Squares.” The New York Times, November 14, 2015

Jeanne Gang, “Expeditions in the Contemporary City.” Talk at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, February 12, 2015.

Berries and bubble wrap

Let’s look together at “Strawberries (fresh forever).” It’s a recent work by the photographer Lucas Blalock, and is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015.

What do we see?

16 variously ripe red strawberries are laid out in 4×4 grid on a layer of bubble wrap, itself spread out upon what looks like a wooden table. Accompanying each strawberry is a small superimposed or overlaid/overlapping photographed image of a wrapped strawberry candy with its tightly folded wrapper itself conveying a stylized image of a strawberry. Just as each fruit is slightly different, so too is each candy partner. The bubble wrap too is far from uniform—we notice a tear, a crease, it looks a bit worn atop the (apparent? symbolic?) wood-grained table.

What might be going on here? What might this intimately subtle photograph be telling us about representation and re-representation—especially about how we use and live with abstraction? How might it help us to understand detail stepping and the value of zooming in and out?

Think again of the photo’s depicted candy wrappers. Wrappers separate the candy and preserve and protect and identify it. But what does the “actual” candy hidden within its tidy wrapper look like, or smell like? And how does the highly homogenized image of the strawberry on each wrapper relate to its (photographed) companion fruit? And then there’s the 4×4 “grid”—or is it 8×8?

Among other things, the deceptively simple “fresh forever” strawberries photograph takes us on a wonderful detail-stepping journey by inviting us to explore varying levels of abstraction.

As we point out in Innovating Minds (on page 52):

“We have a choice in the abstractions we use. From moment to moment we can move up or down one or more levels, or stay at a given level of abstraction, moving along a level laterally. Often our experiences in themselves do not conclusively indicate which abstractions we might best use. Exchanging or alternating between the abstractions we are using can help us to see events—and relations between events—in a new way. Trying out a new abstraction may reveal connections to previously overlooked concrete particulars and also significant cross-connections between our more abstract readings of a situation.”

Strawberry

Agile music-making

We may have encountered the term “embodied cognition” in recent research showing the surprising interrelations of our minds and brains with our bodies—but here’s a twist.

How might the tuxedo and formal apparel of a violinist in a symphony orchestra detract from their freedom of movement, active expression, and basic physical comfort?

Although creating an experience of ethereal beauty, performing classical music can be sweaty work. In the words of one concert violinist after playing Berlioz’s epically passionate Symphonie Fantastique: “We were sweating through our undershirts, through our tuxedo shirts. My bow tie was completely soaked.”

agile_music_making

Must this be in the 21st century?

By evening a concert violinist, by day an entrepreneurial Dallas businessman, Kevin Yu after his morning run found himself wondering why couldn’t formal concert garb be more like athletic wear?

That was the start of an idea whose time had surely come. Yu soon began prototyping new forms of tuxedo shirts made of fabric that was accommodating, moisture-wicking, and flexible just like his running gear. Although he tried to keep his prototypes under wraps—word soon spread and orders and requests poured in.

As Yu’s friend a Dallas Symphony Orchestra co-concertmaster mused: “You kind of wonder why it didn’t exist in the marketplace to begin with . . . A lot of us just took it for granted: that that’s the way it had to be because that’s the way it always was.”

What else in our worlds might be just like this. . . .

 

—> For more background and the quotations cited above see:

Michael Cooper, Taking the starch out of concert attire, The New York Times, August 18, 2015.

The Magic of “Inside Out”

If you’ve just seen, or are about to see, the magically profound and profoundly magical Pixar film “Inside Out,” here are a few questions we invite you to think about:

  • What might it mean to have a control console in your head?
  • Fear, sadness, anger, joy, disgust… each is so identifiable and tangibly distinct, so affectionately near yet far. Why is caricaturing these emotions so helpful?
  • If memories aren’t really little crystal-ball-like orbs, what are they?
  • If we touch a memory (recall it), how and why do we modify it?
  • In order to grow and meet changing circumstances, how important is it to forget (or to re-characterize) our past?
  • How can all of our emotions work better together as team players—integrating and tempering each other, in ongoing interplay with our changing goals?
  • If you could add to the console team other emotions, beyond the five, what would they be, and why?

 

 

Jumping in—to get ideas

Recently, talking to an experienced designer, we heard that her colleagues often intentionally waited a long time before they actually got started on a new project. By delaying and deeply mulling creative options over in their minds they felt that their work would be stronger and more creative.

But is this “working entirely in our heads” the best approach? What might be gained if we just got going sooner?

Some of the difficulties that we imagine may fall away once we actually start putting our ideas out there into the world. Our idea landscape quickly changes once we get started. What we are looking at and working with associatively cues new ideas, our well-learned procedures kick in, we start to experiment with ideas—trying out, shifting, and reconfiguring possibilities to discover novel promising options.

“There is a much (much!) wider range of information and many more possibilities that will be ‘ready to mind’ once [we become] immersed in the appropriate problem-solving context, which allows processes such as automatic reminding and the triggering of ‘if-then’ rules and so on to come to the fore and ‘share the load’ of thinking with our conscious and deliberate efforts at control.” (The Agile Mind, p. 595.)

Part of the benefit of getting started arises through the “co-evolution” of our understanding of a problem’s requirements with its possible solutions. Creative problems and their solutions often mutually inform each other. We’ll expand on this in an upcoming blog entry where we will talk about the vital role of our working environments in prompting us to bridge to significant insights. These “bridges” emerge especially during our actual hands-on, interactive, individual and team-based collaborations.

To take a concrete example, John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, has some wise words about the value of just getting started and getting feedback as soon as possible:

 

—> For additional discussion see: Wilma Koutstaal, The Agile Mind, (New York, Oxford University Press: 2012), especially pages 594-595.

Exploring at the edges of what we know

Sometimes when we are exploring for ideas or information online, using a search engine, we have a general sense of what we’re looking for—but we can’t put it precisely into words. Yet, we would readily recognize promising outcomes or directions if we saw them.

Some of our online searching goals are more open ended and multifaceted. Here, getting an answer quickly is not our top priority. We’d rather embark on a somewhat slower search that got us closer to where we ultimately would like to be. The journey itself is part of the learning. We make and find as we go along, with each step providing us with new pathways.

How might our search tools themselves better enable us to truly explore? What if our search tools allowed us to fluidly and rapidly express our changing sense of where we really wanted to go?

One recent example that actually registers and iteratively acts upon our search intent in an interactive fashion—repeatedly inviting our feedback—is called SciNet. Imagine you have a research question about gestures. You enter the search term “gestures” and, on a radar-like circular screen, you are presented with a range of alternative topics—a number of which you might not even have thought of, say, “immersive environment” or “accelerometer.” Suppose further, that you can then move those topics about on the screen. You can pull the most relevant topics into the center of the radar screen. Suggestions that seem more peripheral for your purposes, you can move away closer to the outer edge of the circular radar-like display. The system dynamically responds in real time with new suggestions as your expressed interests change.

Such “interactive intent” search has been shown in a study, using SciNet, to provide significantly improved quality of retrieved information, allowing users to access both more relevant and more novel information in an efficient way. The search tool allows us to deeply tunnel into a meaning space that is already familiar to us (exploitation) but also offers support for experimental forays into the currently less well known (exploration). In the words of the system’s developers: “The model and its environment (the user) form an online loop, and learning involves finding a balance between exploration (showing items from uncharted information space for feedback) and exploitation (showing items most likely to be relevant, given the current user intent model).”

This interactive visualization allows the searcher to capitalize on their natural ability to rapidly and largely effortlessly recognize—rather than recall from their memory—relevant information. With this visualization we can rapidly adjust where we are on our “cognitive control dial” as we cycle through moments of automatic recognition and more deliberate evaluation and goal setting. The interactive visual display maps to both our visual and motor capabilities—allowing rapid updating of our search intent without costly sidetracking of our thinking. In this way, the boundary line between what’s “inside” and what’s “outside” in our thinking/meaning space becomes more permeable and more fully integrated with our unfolding thought processes.

Developing such cognitively friendly and fluid interfaces for structuring and guiding our exploratory idea search and experimentation are examples of what we broadly call thinking scaffoldings. As we explain in Innovating Minds, thinking scaffoldings are a way of productively guiding our perception-action cycles. They are intentional queryings and quarryings of our idea landscapes that are meant to help bootstrap (that is, “scaffold”) our idea generation processes. Thinking scaffoldings include not only databases or tools for extracting and identifying promising ideas or directions but also many other modes of scaffolding our idea generation processes such as adopting design heuristics, engaging in reflective verbalization, and drawing on tools for analogical or biomimetic search.

Thinking scaffoldings assist us to transition and keep moving across ideas, prodding us to re-categorize and shake-up or unsettle creative objects or their configurations. They help us to see things we could try or attempt—without an assurance that what we are trying will work.  They prompt us to test and revise, look and revise, and test again.

 

—> For more on exploratory online search see:

Dorota Glowacka, Tuukka Ruotsalo, Ksenia Konuyshkova, Kumaripaba Athukorala, Samuel Kaski, & Giulio Jacucci. (2013) Directing exploratory search: Reinforcement learning from user interactions with keywords. Proceedings of the 2013 International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces, pp. 117-128.

Gary Marchionini (2006) Exploratory search: From finding to understanding. Communications of the ACM, 49(4), pp. 41-46.

Tuukka Ruotsalo, Giulio Jacucci, Petri Myllymäki, & Samuel Kaski (2015) Interactive intent modeling: Information discovery beyond search. Communications of the ACM, 58 (1), pp. 86-92.

Re-presenting words: Writing like Jane Austen

Jumping past the physicality of words, to their meaning(s), is something, as skilled readers, we automatically and effortlessly do. But is our jumping guided by the shape and sound and sinuosity of the words? Does the way a word is written matter?

Take a look at the words of Jane Austen on a manuscript page.

What do you notice? What subtle meanings might be lost (abstracted away?) in a published book?

A type-faced page offers desirable consistencies and constancies. But for this we may pay a price:

“Handwriting . . . happily accommodates the quirks and inconsistencies of individual expression, taste, and personality, and a range of letter-shapes that grow and diminish in size regardless of rules of upper and lower case. In the print edition, where the print transcription both substitutes for and interprets the handwritten original, we largely take on trust the reliability of that substitution. . . . A print transcription, we take it, will be faithful to the linguistic elements of the text – its words and punctuation. But to shapes? to spatial relations? to the graphic ‘noise’ of dashes of varying length and sub-semiotic marks?”

–> From: Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition

Oh no, my cow just fell over—but I can reboot

Suppose you need to translate technological computer terms, such as “browser” or “cache” or even “crash” into another language in which such technological terms are absent? How literal can you be—or is metaphor what is needed?

How do we convey meaning effectively when the cultural building blocks are so different?

Take this imaginative approach:

“Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. ‘Crash’ became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying) . . . In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, ‘cached pages’ became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food. The windowless houses of the 440,000 speakers of Zapotec, a family of indigenous languages in Mexico, meant that computer ‘windows’ became ‘eyes.’”

The translation project is also a great example of goal synergy: “As well as bringing the linguistically excluded online, localisation may keep small languages alive.”

Analogies and metaphors are part and parcel of our communicative repertoire and we can use them more or less purposively, and more or less creatively. Metaphors and analogies are not curlicues—they are enmeshed in how we think. They are not mere ripples on the surface but currents that move the stream—and us—forward.

As we observe in our book Innovating Minds, analogies:

“are clearly important in the generation of our ideas but they can also serve several other functions in fostering positive creative change and development.  Analogies enable us to use what we already know in order to better understand or grasp something that is novel or less familiar.  In one study of new product development projects, 6 of 16 people interviewed explicitly noted that analogies helped to promote communication between team members, designers, and engineers during new product development.  Two of the interviewees even stated that enhanced communication was the most important aspect of the analogy in the given project.  The communicative and explanatory functions of analogies may prove especially pivotal in bridging between teams and individuals with quite disparate backgrounds, task priorities, and thought processes.”

So what’s a robot for?

Most of us have encountered the notion of “functional fixedness” – our tendency to yoke a particular use or function on to objects. For example, we might assume that a spoon is for scooping or a chair is for sitting, but less readily recognize that a spoon might serve as a lever or a chair might act as a doorstop.

So what’s a robot for?

Cirque du Soleil, partnering with ETH Zurich’s Flying Machine Arena, sought to creatively call upon precision aerial robots as collaborative dance performers. They experimented with sundry semblances and scenarios but discovered that the quadrocopters truly came into their own as…. lampshades. The lampshades each can sport multicolor designs and textures, tassels and various appendages, and convincingly assume idiosyncratic roles and personalities.

In the words of the actor Nicolas Leresche, who fluidly interplayed with the flying machines:

“Actors think they are the ones who make objects move. I think that, on the contrary, it’s the objects that make us move. In the case of drones, even more so! They are companions (in an etymological sense), confrères, brothers.”

–> Here’s the quote and a video tracking parts of the team’s creative process.

Creativity Cross-Checks and Queries, No. 7

We use the expression creativity cross-checks and queries to refer to questions we ask to encourage reflection and connections to your own work and practice . . .

Here’s an insightful quotation to reflect on:

“I think initial ‘concepts’ or ideas are always over-rated. My starting points are usually quite simple—the fun and skill is in the making. . . . What I love is the physical process of making a machine. It’s partly drawing—not pretty drawings but drawing as a way of thinking through problems. . . . The making process also involves lots of prototypes—there are many problems drawings can never solve.”

— Inventor and cartoonist Tim Hunkin

Cross-checks and queries:

  • how might you give yourself more time and space to try repeatedly and make productive/promising mistakes?
  • could you more keenly enjoy the wending and winding of the discovery process itself?
  • do you invite varied formats to guide you to what might be left out (both details and abstract principles)?

For more creativity cross-checks and queries (Parts 1 through 6) see our: Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).