Tag: creativity

Introverts, collaboration, and creativity

I work, for the most part, in my home office. Physically-speaking it’s a solitary existence as my office is separate to my house. However, I’m constantly talking to people via Telegram, Slack, and Mastodon. It doesn’t feel lonely at all.

So this article about collaboration, which I discovered via Stowe Boyd, is an interesting one:

If you’re looking to be brave and do something entirely new, involving more people at the wrong time could kill your idea.

Work at MIT found that collaboration—where a bunch of people put their heads together to try to come up with innovative solutions—generally “reduced creativity due to the tendency to incrementally modify known successful designs rather than explore radically different and potentially superior ones.”

I’m leading a project at the moment which is scheduled to launch in January 2019. It’s potentially going to be used by hundreds of people in the MVP, and then thousands (and maybe hundreds of thousands) after that.

Yet, when I was asked recently whether I’d like more resources, I said “after the summer”. Why? Because every time you add someone new, it temporarily slows down your project. The same can be true when you’re coming up with ideas. You can go faster alone, but further together.

Many people are at their most creative during solitary activities like walking, relaxing or bathing, not when stuck in a room with people shouting at them from a whiteboard.

Indeed a study found that “solitude can facilitate creativity–first, by stimulating imaginative involvement in multiple realities and, second, by ‘trying on’ alternative identities, leading, perhaps, to self-transformation.”

Essentially just being around other people can keep creative people from thinking new thoughts.

I think this article goes a little too far in discounting the value of collaboration. For example, here’s three types of facilitated thinking that I have experience with that work well for both introverts and extroverts:

  1. Thinkathons
  2. Note and vote
  3. Crazy eights

That being said, I do agree with the author when he says:

Once you’ve unearthed radical ideas from people, they need nurturing. They need protecting from group-think meetings and committees who largely express speculated unevidenced opinions based on current preferences from past experiences.

Design thinking has a bias towards action: it resists talking yourself out of trying something radical. Creating prototypes helps you to think about your idea in a concrete manner, and get it to test before it gets dumbed down.

Chances are, that crazy idea you had will get toned down if you let too many people look at it. Protect the radical and push it hard!

Source: Paul Taylor (via Stowe Boyd)

The link between sleep and creativity

I’m a big fan of sleep. Since buying a smartwatch earlier this year, I’ve been wearing it all of the time, including in bed at night. What I’ve found is that I’m actually a good sleeper, regularly sleeping better than 95% of other people who use the same Mi Fit app.

Like most people, after a poor night’s sleep I’m not at my best the next day. This article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic helps explain why.

As you start to fall asleep, you enter non-REM sleep. That includes a light phase that takes up most of the night, and a period of much heavier slumber called slow-wave sleep, or SWS, when millions of neurons fire simultaneously and strongly, like a cellular Greek chorus. “It’s something you don’t see in a wakeful state at all,” says Lewis. “You’re in a deep physiological state of sleep and you’d be unhappy if you were woken up.”

During that state, the brain replays memories. For example, the same neurons that fired when a rat ran through a maze during the day will spontaneously fire while it sleeps at night, in roughly the same order. These reruns help to consolidate and strengthen newly formed memories, integrating them into existing knowledge. But Lewis explains that they also help the brain extract generalities from specifics—an idea that others have also supported.

We’ve known for generations that, if we’ve got a problem to solve or a decision to make, that it’s a good idea to ‘sleep on it’. Science is catching up with folk wisdom.

The other phase of sleep—REM, which stands for rapid eye movement—is very different. That Greek chorus of neurons that sang so synchronously during non-REM sleep descends into a cacophonous din, as various parts of the neocortex become activated, seemingly at random. Meanwhile, a chemical called acetylcholine—the same one that Loewi identified in his sleep-inspired work—floods the brain, disrupting the connection between the hippocampus and the neocortex, and placing both in an especially flexible state, where connections between neurons can be more easily formed, strengthened, or weakened.

The difficulty is that our sleep quality is affected by blue light confusing the brain as to what kind of day it is. That’s why we’re seeing increasing numbers of devices changing your screen colour towards the red end of the spectrum in the evening. If you have disrupted sleep, you miss out on an important phase of your sleep cycle.

Crucially, they build on one another. The sleeping brain goes through one cycle of non-REM and REM sleep every 90 minutes or so. Over the course of a night—or several nights—the hippocampus and neocortex repeatedly sync up and decouple, and the sequence of abstraction and connection repeats itself. “An analogy would be two researchers who initially work on the same problem together, then go away and each think about it separately, then come back together to work on it further,” Lewis writes.

“The obvious implication is that if you’re working on a difficult problem, allow yourself enough nights of sleep,” she adds. “Particularly if you’re trying to work on something that requires thinking outside the box, maybe don’t do it in too much of a rush.”

As the article states, there’s further research to be done here. But, given that sleep (along with exercise and nutrition) is one of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity, this certainly chimes with my experience.

Source: The Atlantic

What’s the link between employment and creativity?

These days, we tend to think of artists as working on their art full-time. After all, it’s their passion and vocation. That’s not always the case, as this article points out:

The avant-garde composer Philip Glass shocked at least one music lover when he materialized, smock-clad and brandishing plumber’s tools, in a home with a malfunctioning appliance. “While working,” Glass recounted to The Guardian in 2001, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

Art and employment aren’t necessarily separate spheres, but can influence one another:

But then there is another category of artists-with-jobs: people whose two professions play off each other in unexpected ways. For these creators, a trade isn’t just about paying the bills; it’s something that grounds them in reality. In 2017, a day job might perform the same replenishing ministries as sleep or a long run: relieving creative angst, restoring the artist to her body and to the texture of immediate experience. But this break is also fieldwork. For those who want to mine daily life for their art, a second job becomes an umbilical cord fastened to something vast and breathing. The alternate gig that lifts you out of your process also supplies fodder for when that process resumes. Lost time is regained as range and perspective, the artist acquiring yet one more mode of inhabiting the world.

It’s all very well being in your garret creating art, but what about your self-development and responsibility to society?

Some cultivate their art because it sustains their work, or because it fulfills a sense of civic responsibility. Writing children’s literature “has helped me grow in confidence as a person, which in turn has helped me develop … as an officer, too,” said Gavin Puckett, a U.K.-based policeman (it remains his primary income source) and author of the prizewinning 2013 “Fables From the Stables” series. Puckett, who joined the service in 1998, sketched the rhyming adventure “Murray the Horse” after passing a horse in a field while listening to a radio announcer report on “sports and activities you can only complete backwards” — he imagined a story about a horse that runs in reverse. He admits that telling stories still makes him feel as though he’s “stepping out of character.” “My role as a police officer came first,” he told me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m recently employed, or don’t really see myself as an ‘artist’, but I like the final section of this article

The trope of the secluded creator has echoes of imprisonment and stasis. (After all, who wants to spend all their time in one room, even if it belongs to them?) Sometimes the artist needs to turn off, to get out in the fray, to stop worrying over when her imagination’s pot will boil — because, of course, it won’t if she’s watching. And regardless of whether the reboot results in brilliance down the line, that lunchtime stroll isn’t going to take itself, those stray thoughts won’t think themselves, the characters on the corner certainly won’t gawk at themselves. Artists: They’re just like us, unless they can afford not to be, in which case they still are, but doing a better job of concealing it.

Source: The New York Times Style Magazine

Do the tools you use matter?

An interesting post from Austin Kleon on whether tools matter. It was prompted by the image accompanying this post, which met with some objections when he shared it with others:

On my Instagram, a follower was very upset with the above cartoon, saying it was “mean” and “hurtful” and not smart and ungrateful to my fans, and that I should try to “remember what it was like to be a beginner.”

He defends his position, partly by telling stories, but also by stating:

There are actually very good reasons for not wanting to teach young artists. There are good reasons for not answering a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” or questions about process at all.

If you are just starting off and I tell you exactly how I work, right down to the brand of pen and notebook, I am, in a some small sense, robbing you of the experience of finding your own materials and your own way of working.

It’s been interesting seeing Bryan Mathers’ journey over the last five years. I’ve seen him go from using basic apps which work ‘just fine’ to reaching the limits of those and having to upgrade to more powerful stuff. That’s a voyage of discovery, but along the way it’s absolutely useful to find out what other people use.

Kleon points out that we can do better than tool-related questions:

So, yes, the tools matter, but again, it’s all about what you are trying to achieve. So a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” is not as good as “How do you get that thick line quality?” or “How do you dodge Writer’s Block?”

I’m a fan of a great site called Uses This (formerly ‘The Setup’) which asks a range of people the hardware and software they use to get stuff done. The interviews are always structured around the same four questions, but the best responses are ones that take the idea and run with it a bit.

Note to self: update the version of this I did back in 2011.

Source: Austin Kleon

Your best decisions don’t come when you demand them

As with every episode so far, I greatly enjoyed listening to a recent episode of the Hurry Slowly podcast, this time with interviewee Bill Duggan. He had some great words of wisdom to share, including:

If we’re talking about the creative side, you certainly can’t force it, and a very simple thing is you can’t solve every problem in one day. You can’t solve every problem in one week. You can’t solve every problem in one year. Some problems you just can’t solve, and you don’t know you can’t solve it until you give up trying to solve it.

He makes the point during the episode that if you know what you’re doing, and have done something similar before, then there’s no problem in pushing on until midnight to get stuff done. However, if you’re working overtime to try and solve a problem, a lot of research suggests that you’d be better off doing something else to allow your subconscious to work on it, and spark those ‘aha!’ moments.

Source: Hurry Slowly

Arbitrary deadlines are the enemy of creativity

People like deadlines because people like accountability. There’s nothing wrong with that, apart from the fact that sometimes it’s impossible to know how long something will take, or cost, or even look like in advance. Creativity, in other words, is at odds with arbitrary deadlines:

We may tease them for their diva-like behaviors when they feel persecuted by a deadline, but we have to admit that “develop an amazing new idea” is not something that slides into your schedule, like pick up lunch or respond to new clients. Nor can systems be tweaked and extra hands hired to help hit a goal that requires innovation, the way they can when mundane busy work is piling up. And yet deadlines are a fact of life for any company that wants to stay competitive.

Time is a human construct, not something that’s objectively ‘out there’ in the world. As a result it can be interpreted differently in various situations:

Creative work operates on “event time,” meaning it always requires as much time as needed to organically get the job done. (Think of novel writers or other artists.) Other types of work operate on “clock time,” and are aligned with scheduled events. (A teacher obeys classroom hours and the semester calendar, for instance. An Amazon warehouse manager knows the number of customer orders that can be fulfilled in an hour.)

I don’t particularly like the phrase ‘creative people’ in this article, as I believe everyone is (or at least can be) creative. Having said that, I agree with the sentiment:

Creative people need another scarce commodity: mental space. Working in a large team and constantly collaborating as a group doesn’t allow a person the clarity of mind to solve problems with fresh ingenious ideas. “Alone time or working with just one close collaborator seemed to be the key under the low time pressure conditions,” says Amabile.

Creative people, she adds, “have to be protected. They have to be isolated in a way, from all the other stuff that comes up during a work day. They can’t be called into meetings that are unrelated to this serious problem that they’re trying to address.”

Source: Quartz

Creating media, not just consuming it

My wife and I are fans of Common Sense Media, and often use their film and TV reviews when deciding what to watch as a family. In their newsletter, they had a link to an article about strategies to help kids create media, rather than just consume it:

Kids actually love to express themselves, but sometimes they feel like they don’t have much of a voice. Encouraging your kid to be more of a maker might just be a matter of pointing to someone or something they admire and giving them the technology to make their vision come alive. No matter your kids’ ages and interests, there’s a method and medium to encourage creativity.

They link to apps for younger and older children, and break things down by what kind of kids you’ve got. It’s a cliché, but nevertheless true, that every child is different. My son, for example, has just given up playing the piano, but loves making electronic music:

Most kids love music right out of the womb, so transferring that love into creation isn’t hard when they’re little. Banging on pots and pans is a good place to start — but they can take that experience with them using apps that let them play around with sound. Little kids can start to learn about instruments and how sounds fit together into music. Whether they’re budding musicians or just appreciators, older kids can use tools to compose, stay motivated, and practice regularly. And when tweens and teens want to start laying down some tracks, they can record, edit, and share their stuff.

The post is chock-full of links, so there’s something for everyone. I’m delighted to be able to pair it with a recent image Amy shared in our Slack channel which lists the rules she has for her teenage daughter around screentime. I’d like to frame it for our house!

Source: Common Sense Media

Image: Amy Burvall (you can hire her)