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November 11, 2014

Creative Logic

Ruth Hill


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Are you a science fiction fan?

I love a futuristic tale as much as the next person, but some of my favourite dystopian sci-fi movies are starting to feel a little too realistic these days.

The problem is that people are inherently inefficient. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, man has been using technology to make manufacturing processes faster, cheaper, more efficient... but now, it seems, we’re not content to leave it there. Soon, autonomous machines will be able to flip our burgers, drive our cars, perform surgery - even write our business reports.

Back in the 1960s, visionary and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicted that technology would “eliminate 99 percent of human activity” by 2001. We may not have reached this extreme just yet, but in 2013, Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne identified 702 occupations, from loan officers to legal assistants, that are “susceptible to computerisation.”

And now that Google and Facebook are investing heavily in the development of Artificial Intelligence, Arthur C. Clarke’s prophecy seems all the more feasible. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Google CEO Larry Page made his ambitions very clear. He believes that we should pursue the elimination of human inefficiency through technology to its logical conclusion, even if that means putting people out of work. “You can’t wish away these things from happening,” he says, “They are going to happen.”

When Rohan Silva, former technology adviser to British PM David Cameron, recently announced that advancing technology is threatening white collar jobs in areas such as law, medicine and accounting, his solution was to prepare more people for jobs in IT and technology. But I have a better idea.

Instead of trying to beat the machines at their own game, I prefer to take inspiration from the fact that our inefficient tendencies are the catalysts for innovation. A perfectly efficient system leaves no room for the creative mistakes that we’re so good at, so let’s nurture and celebrate one human quality that machines may never master: creativity.

If you look in the Mind Tools Creativity Techniques section, you’ll find a plethora of tools for boosting creativity. But, instead of directing you to these wonderful resources, I want to take a different tack.

Often, because many people get caught up in the “Big C” of creative genius, they glamorize it into an elusive art form that only the “brilliant people” can achieve. Ironically, as I know only too well myself, if you try too hard to capture that light bulb moment, you can actually send it into hiding. So here are my four top tips for being creative - without even trying.

#1 Prepare Yourself.

Creativity isn’t just about that flash of inspiration I mentioned earlier - that’s paydirt for what is sometimes quite a prolonged process. As rock star, writer and film director Nick Cave explains in this interview, you need to prepare, if you want the ideas to come.

Start by gathering information. This could mean reading the newspaper, searching the web or “pearl growing.” But nothing beats first-hand experience. Visiting places of interest and meeting other people can provide just the inspiration or glean useful information that you never knew you needed, so brush up on your listening skills, and let others do the talking.

#2 Stop Thinking About it.

Often, that Eureka! moment you’re seeking will find you when you least expect it. This is because creativity works on both a conscious and a sub-conscious level. If you’ve been working intently on a creative solution and feel like you’re getting nowhere, then it’s time to let your subconscious have a go. Psychologists call this “incubation.”

I’m kind of gifted in this respect - I find it very easy to “think nothing!” Taking a walk with my dogs or going for a run always helps me to get some “head space” when I need it. But if that fails, and you find yourself turning a problem over and over in your mind, you could try using techniques like imagery or centering to mentally let go. Or just go away and do something different for a while. (Just make sure you have your smartphone handy to record your ideas when they do come.)

#3 Make Mistakes.

As I said before, the mistakes we make are often the catalysts for future innovation. If you want to be creative, don’t be afraid to fail. The perfect creative solution rarely appears fully formed - more often than not, it will be inspired by the mistakes you, or others, have made in the past - so, to quote the title of Susan Jeffer's classic book, "Feel the Fear and do it Anyway."

#4 Retreat, if You Want to.

Sometimes easier said than done, but try not to get stressed. Nothing kills creativity like a bout of anxiety. If you worry about your ideas appearing naive or stupid, write them down and keep them to yourself until you’ve had a chance to reflect on them for a while.

Those well-known creatives - writers - have long been known to seek out private spaces in which to let their imaginations flow. Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, John Steinbeck, Dylan Thomas, Maya Angelou, Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl and many others all sought solitude while they wrote and yet today, we’re often expected to write in shared electronic documents “in the cloud.”

I try to save my most creatively-demanding work for the days when I work from home. But failing that, I’ll often create a private document on the hard drive of my laptop and share it only when I’m happy to. That’s how this blog post was created!

So, next time you worry about losing your job to a machine, get creative. As human beings, efficiency may not be our strong suit but, in the words of one of our most creative thinkers, Albert Einstein, “logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

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8 comments on “Creative Logic”

  1. Often when I go for a run or when I work out in the gym, an idea will literally pop into my head. It's usually a solution of sorts or an idea about business, being more creative when facilitating etc. I believe it's because my mind aren't busy thinking about those things consciously when I train. It gives my brain the chance to bring solutions etc. to the conscious from the sub-conscious. It also happens in the shower!

    1. Maybe cleanliness and creativity have their correlations, too, Yolande. Archemedes had his bathtub, you have your shower... 🙂

  2. Nice piece! The subconscious solutions to issues that returns as hunches is one reality we have been taking for granted as creative beings....

    1. Thanks, Eyo! I think those subconscious ideas are like the butterfly in the chaos theory. Seemingly insignificant, but who knows the true impact they have on our conscious decisions.

  3. Something that I've learnt recently, it's that to get an answer we must be clear about the problem we are looking at solving. Clearly articulating the problem and asking "how might we solve for..." are powerful connectors to our subconsious.

    1. Denis, thanks! What a great comment and it's a very good idea to use that phrase as a 'connector'. It pinpoints the specific solution you want without sounding as if you're ordering or commanding. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us.

    2. Great advice, Denis. Some experts think describing the problem state appropriately is the most important part of the whole problem solving process.

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