Creative Something

Articles tagged “innovation”

  1. Why is this a project to begin with?
  2. What purpose does the work serve, what is the end-goal?
  3. Who needs to be involved, and who is the project ultimately for?
  4. When does it need to be completed and when are the project milestones (if there aren’t any, make some)?
  5. Where will the work appear and where will it be worked on?
  6. How will these objectives be accomplished?

Before you start any project, answer these six questions

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“Nothing truly innovative, nothing that has advanced art, business, design, or humanity, was ever created in the face of genuine certainty or perfect information.”

Jonathan Fields in Maximize Your Potential

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Yes, luck is an essential aspect of innovation

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How exactly was a research physicist able to create the modern World Wide Web?

It seems like such a strange connection, physics and a wold-wide Internet. Yet, in the early 1980s, a London man named Tim Berners-Lee was able to create the modern-day web. By encouraging networks to interlink with hypertext (a computer text format) and web “domains,” Berners-Lee was able to take a very wide-reaching and difficult-to-use network that represented the pre-modern Internet and turn it into an early World Wide Web.

Realistically the web we love today was always a “bound-to-happen” thing. Anyone could have come up with the idea of connecting the virtual text language with the existing transmission protocol (TCP) and domain names.

But Tim Berners-Lee – again: a physicist working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research at the time – was the one who did it.

“I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to TCP and DNS ideas and – ta da! – the World Wide Web,” Berners-Lee said.

Why him?

Partially because he was in the right place (a global research company that had a need to communicate across the world) at the right time (a time in history where the technology capable of creating the web: hypertext, TCP and DNS, already existed). Berners-Lee was lucky in that sense.

We can see extremely similar cases through-out all major, historical innovations.

The iPhone has revolutionized the web countless billions across the globe communicate, and yet the smart phone as a technology had already existed for years before it. Apple was lucky in that they had access to the technology (the phone, wireless Internet, touch-screen technology) and the right audience (millions of potential customers who adored their iPods) to make the iPhone a success.

It’s a similar story for the advent of computers, automobiles, airplanes, air conditioning, silicone, satellites, radio, photography, microwaves, and so on.

When Wilbur and Orville Wright became the first humans to fly for 12 seconds using a propeller-drawn aircraft in 1903 they were immensely lucky too.

Lucky that they had access to motorized parts that had been invented before their time, lucky that they had all of the knowledge of those who had experimented with glided flight before them too. Lucky that everything allowing them to create the historical “Flyer” not only existed, but that they were in the right place and time to utilize the parts as necessary.

It’s not all about luck, of course.

All innovation requires that the inventor(s) be aware of the possibilities (like Tim Berners-Lee seeing the need for a world-wide Internet network), then act on them (like the Wright brothers putting in countless hours to make their idea work).

So yes, luck is certainly an aspect of innovation. There’s no getting around that requirement, it seems.

However, we – you and I – can do things in order to increase the likelihood of our encountering these lucky situations.

For example, while Thomas Edison is accredited as having invented the electric light bulb, electric power stations, movie cameras, and more, the reason he was able to do any of those things was because he forcefully put himself into the right place and time.

Edison filed well over 1,000 patents during his career.

The Wright brothers found their luck with their airplane after years of diligently working on bicycles and even a printing press they designed and used to print a daily newspaper.

Tim Burners-Lee had spent much of his life not only studying physics, but working with computer models and technology (like that of hypertext) in order to communicate with the teams he was helping. That work put him into a position where it would have been very difficult to not see a world-wide Internet.

In all of these scenarios the lesson is the same: luck plays a part in innovation, but it’s those who work to be in the right place and right time who get lucky. Then it’s up to those who find themselves in such circumstances to act!

As Edison famously stated: “What it boils down to is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

If you want to innovate, place yourself into areas where it’s most likely to happen. The best way to do that is work, tinker, diligently explore areas of your work where opportunities can make themselves known.

I’ll end with this quote that I regularly turn to when I work. From Steven Johnson’s flawlessly good book Where Good Ideas Come From:

“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.”


Welcome to the creative age

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It seems that a lot of people think creativity is a total scam or just a bunch of fluff. Maybe you’re one of them.

And I don’t blame them (or you) for feeling that way.

But creativity only seems that way because, in the last decade especially, it’s seriously such an important part of modern day life. I don’t think many of us even realize exactly how important it’s become. Even for those who aren’t in a creative field like art, writing, dance, engineering, or architecture.

I believe this is the creative age of mankind, where it’s suddenly not only possible, but also somewhat expected, for many of us to do creative work.

It wasn’t always this way though.

For a really long time the world ran on anything but creativity. Even saying that word outside of an art school or beatnik gathering or hippie circle meant certain humiliation.

Back then it was easy to be occupied with things that required you to be in the same seat every day pushing the same buttons. Absolutely no thinking required. Factories needed workers to pull levers and businesses needed people to crunch numbers, but nobody was expected to exactly think, let alone think creatively.

But then something interesting happened: the needs of the world at large changed. Not all of the world, but much of it (especially the parts concerning you and me). If you’re anywhere near my age you got to witness much of this change first-hand.

Machines got faster, more efficient, and relatively cheaper. Not only computers, but machines that manufactured those computers, and the ones that manufactured other important things like automobiles, phones, and even food.

And now, as that change continues today, a lot of people around the world are suddenly finding themselves with not a lot to do. Now there are no more buttons to press or numbers to crunch, technology does much of that stuff for us.

So we enter an age where the value of a person – particularly a working person – is no longer in their ability to perform a task repeatedly for an indefinite amount of time. Any of those jobs that do remain are typically filled quickly.

There are millions of people who have found themselves without any work to do. Not because they aren’t out there trying to find it, but because – in many cases – the work simply doesn’t exist.

Businesses and entire states (and in some instances, countries) have become aware of this change. Their solution has been to create jobs where the value of a person is now their ability to think!

Voila, due to the shift in technology and resources, creativity has become a crucial responsibility for mass amounts of people.

The most common jobs that have cropped up are sales or marketing, where creativity is required to out-sell competition and to capture the attention of a society where attention spans are already overwhelmed by ads, blog posts, games, apps, TV shows, social networks, txt messaging, and more.

Copywriting, advertising, SEO, graphic design, web development, app design and development, engineering, video production, and more, are all moving parts of marketing and sales giants that are controlling the old machines that we used to have to pull levers on or crunch numbers around.

These aren’t all the jobs out there, of course, but they make up a large chunk of what many people just coming into the job industry are doing.

Even in education creativity has shifted. Again, because the jobs of the future don’t need people who can simply solve for 2+2. Jobs of tomorrow require students that can think creatively, laterally, and about things educational institutions haven’t even yet seen.

Is it really any surprise, then, that in 2012 the business networking site LinkedIn declared “creativity” as the #1 “overused buzzword”. Of 135 million working professionals, creativity was the one word that the majority of them decided to use on their resume. But is it really just a buzzword if it’s one of the leading factors of today’s economy?

Another type of person has come out of the shadows now too though: the true creative class.

Those of us who take pride in doing authentic creative work for a living.

We’re the artists who have setup shop on Etsy or Big Cartel, the authors who have self published to Amazon and Lulu, the film-makers who have been seen by millions of people. Musicians, inventors, contemporary artists, designers, actors, engineers, all striving to incorporate ourselves into a world that is now extremely creativity-based.

It makes sense why we have sites like Kickstarter suddenly swelling up into the mainstream. And why small teams like that of Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and more are driving innovation.

Creativity itself has become a sellable commodity too. There are countless books, apps, movies, blogs, consultants, and entire businesses, all focused on creativity itself as a source of growth and profit.

Some of those resources and individuals are honest and do help the creative community. My work, for example. Others are obviously after a quick dollar and don’t provide much value to anyone.

I envision a not-too-distant future where creativity and creative education act as the business model and drive an entire industry themselves. It’s why I’m focusing more of my time on creating apps to drive and fuel creativity, like Prompts for writing and Oflow for inspiration.

Despite the seemingly sudden influx of creativity in the world, the act itself – of having new ideas – hasn’t changed. It’s the same as it has been for thousands of years. So while there are people who decide to use it as such, creativity is certainly not just a gimmick. It’s not snake oil. It’s immensely valuable.

Creativity is just a part of the increasingly strange world you and I get to be part of. And it’s only going to become more of an asset as technology like that behind 3D printers and wearable computers becomes more readily available.

If you’re already a creative, I hope you’re excited about the changes and what’s to come. It means we have more opportunities to provide more value and do more of what we love. Nobody in the history of mankind has ever had that chance like we do today.

I, for one, am proud of my creativity and that of the creative communities I’m involved with.

Creativity is the age we live in now. If you don’t yet: better start loving it.

Photo by JD Hancock.


Why it’s difficult to have creative ideas

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We often blind ourselves to creative ideas, merely by trying to be good at what we do.

Consider this for a moment. Have you ever been striving to have a creative idea but just couldn’t come up with anything? You maybe tried using some proven creative methods (mind mapping, begging questions, sketching, setting constraints, etc.), or sought out inspiration in the form of blogs or sites like Reddit, to no avail.

Despite having spent years researching and exploring creativity, I run into this exact problem almost daily. And no matter how hard I try I’ll end up feeling stuck and then defeated and then move myself over to the couch to watch TV and do nothing productive whatsoever.

It sucks.

Not being able to pull out creative insights at any given moment is a terrible thing to have happen to a creative. Particularly as one who wears the label on his sleeve, both personally and professionally.

I think one reason we end up feeling stuck and having a hard time coming up with ideas is the same reason we got to where we are today, surprisingly. At least, it’s true for me and it’s something I see others get consumed by as well.

Because I’ve spent the last six years learning about creativity, it’s hard for me to break away from what I know. There aren’t any naive questions to help inspire me at this point. Or so it seems. My mindset has shifted from: “Explore creativity” to: “Be the expert.” And the cost of that shift in thinking is that it’s more difficult for me to see anything new and different (even on the very topic of creativity).

This is a really common problem, but it’s especially so for any type of professional.

Professionals do what they do because they understand a great deal of the industry or work. They are where they are because they took the time to ask questions and explore, but now their job isn’t to explore anymore, it’s more to simply do the work they already know how to do!

Teachers have to face this problem head-on, as their job encompasses unlearning every day in order to help teach those who don’t know what the teacher knows. It can be hard.

We get so deep into our own experiences that it becomes difficult to see the world in any other way.

That ability to change perspective (from expert to beginner, for example), is so vital to creativity. It’s such a prominent aspect of doing meaningful work. Not always, but a lot of the time.

In his book “The Act of Creation” Arthur Koestler describes this conundrum by saying:

“The discoveries of yesterday are the truisms of tomorrow, because we can add to our knowledge but cannot subtract from it. When two frames of reference have both become integrated into one, it becomes difficult to imagine that previously they existed separately.”

When you learn how to paint the type of work you can be proud of, it becomes difficult to want to paint anything new, let alone explore how. When you learn what words resonate with your readers, it becomes less of a worthwhile endeavor to explore other possibilities. It’s a trap to become an expert in anything, if your goal is to create something better than what already exists out there.

Not all is lost, fortunately. I think this is a good starting point for improvement.

Knowing that you have to break away from the mindset of an expert, that you have to get out from knowing that you know what you’re doing, is an ideal starting point for having more creative ideas.

If you’re so wrapped up in your own expert opinion (or, just in what you have already learned), the best way to get back to creativity is to see what questions others (often novices) are asking out there on the web. Explore questions on Quora, see what people are talking about on Twitter or Facebook. Attend community gatherings about your industry or type of work. Take classes and remind yourself about all the problems someone who is just starting out has.

Get back to thinking like a novice, like you have no idea what you’re doing, and ideas are sure to follow as a result.

If you were re-introduced to your type of work again today, what questions would you ask? What would you do differently? Go address those things.

Photo by Mark Hunter.


The fallacy of how things work

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Have you ever realized that nearly every creative stride, every major innovation, in the history of the world was the result of someone tinkering?

In the early 1970s, IBM released one of the first “personal” computers. Before that, computers were expensive, difficult to work with, and often took up half of a room to calculate simple equations.

Back then the dedicated hobbyist could buy a computer, but that wasn’t enough to do much of anything. There was also the cost of connectors, a teletypewriter, a display (often which incorporated blinking LED lights and nothing more), and other components to even make the machine functional for everyday use.

Then something interesting happened that we should all be able to relate-to in our work as creatives today. Particularly for those of us in businesses that shy away from innovation.

Here’s what happened.

While attending a group meeting of local computer hobbyists in 1975, Steve Wozniak ran home to his garage and began working on a personal computer that would change how the world forever used the machine.

With help from his friend Steve Jobs, the duo would assemble the computer to be almost entirely enclosed in one unit, so rather than having to fiddle with additional components, owners of the machine could simply plug-in a keyboard and an inexpensive CRT TV and have a functioning computer.

The Apple I computer that premiered in 1975 was the first computer in the world that would allow even naive owners to make use of the functions at their fingertips.

But the concept of anyone having a computer was a ridiculous one at the time. In 1977, the then founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen, stated: “There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in his home.”

But Jobs and Wozniak believed otherwise, they pressed on with their work and, now some three decades plus later, there are computers in almost every one of our pockets.

If you’re reading this, you’re doing so, in-part, out of the vision of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

But how many people would have the courage and motivation to make that same type of push today?

Particularly in businesses, where “what worked yesterday will work tomorrow” is the go-to mentality, how many of us can say that we’d have enough foresight to see what innovation needs to happen next?

It’s not easy, but it is possible with a simple twist of how we approach our work and the processes around it.

How do we do it? By changing our beliefs around the concept of: this is how it works.

Think about it, back in the 70s it was just common knowledge that computers just worked as a series of confusing and often expensive components that the average person didn’t need to know how to use. Before the first automobile, horse carriages were the primary means of transportation for those who could afford them because that’s just how transportation worked.

What happens is most of us feel content with the way things work. We don’t question it and we certainly don’t explore outside of it.

But before we know it, someone starts questioning. Someone starts poking and prodding, and before we know it “what works” becomes “what worked.”

Microwaves, smart phones, Facebook, the works of Jackson Pollock, are all examples of what can happen when people suddenly realize that the statement: “that’s just how it works” isn’t actually true!

What works is what you’re comfortable with, what will work is what you’re willing to discover by getting away from the norm.

A young entrepreneur named Alex Billington recently wrote a brilliant piece that I think perfectly explains this mentality that we need to embrace deeply as creators and innovators.

Alex writes in his article This is How it Works: This is Not How it Works:

“Stop using ‘this is how it works’ as a defense, or an excuse. Use it as motivation. Use it as a guide for where you should coming from. Use it as a starting point: 'this is how it works today, but this is how we want it to work tomorrow, and this is how we want it to work the next day.'

This is such a subtle shift in thinking, but the ability to do so not only encourages you to pursue creativity, it forces results.

Steve Jobs spoke on this exact point himself some years ago. We’re fortunate today that the wisdom was recorded and is now available to watch every single day that we need it, right here.

Photo by William Warby.