Seven Ingredients of Creativity

July 20, 2016

There are many books published on creativity and innovation each year. Most are written by consultants or journalists who survey large areas and try to distil some general characteristics. A complementary approach is offered when when a hugely creative individual gives his own personal views, based on results within a specific specialised area.

Using the latter approach, the mathematician Cedric Villani offers seven ingredients conducive to the birth of an idea (see short video above):

  1. Documentation, for building on what is known
  2. Motivation incl. early education
  3. Environment eg life in a big bustling city
  4. Communication eg massive collaboration in the future
  5. Constraints, to imaginatively find ways around obstacles
  6. Illumination coupled with meticulous systematic work
  7. Luck and tenacity

Villani (born 5 October 1973) is an outstanding French mathematician and was awarded the Fields Medal in 2010 (the highest accolade you can get for contributions to mathematics).

Cedric_Villani_at_his_office_2015_n2

Cedric Villani (picture from WikiMedia)

From The New Yorker:

Villani has been called the Lady Gaga of French mathematicians. After winning the Fields Medal, math’s highest honor, in 2010, for what his award citation called “proofs of nonlinear Landau damping and convergence to equilibrium for the Boltzmann equation,” he embraced a role that many other medalists have dreaded—that of mathematical ambassador, hopscotching from event to event and continent to continent, evangelizing for the discipline. “We are the most hidden of all fields,” he told me. “We are the ones who typically interact the least with the outer world. We are also the field which is most emblematic of revulsion in school.”


The Allure of Physical Books

May 31, 2016

TsundokuSee also here

I made an attempt to move over to ebooks a few years ago, mainly in the hope of realising some more space (I literally have hundreds of physical books, many from when I was an academic).

However, over time, I’ve realised that I really prefer physical ones (except for travel). I was curious why this was so and Michael Hyatt has given 8 reasons:

1. Ebooks Are out of Sight and out of Mind

2. Ebooks Engage Fewer Senses

3. Ebooks Make It Easier to Get Distracted

4. Ebooks Result in Less Retention and Comprehension

5. Ebooks Feel Too Much like Online Reading

6. Ebooks Are More Difficult to Interact With

7. Ebooks Are More Difficult to Navigate

8. Ebooks Provide Less Satisfaction in Finishing

My current approach is to read a new physical book through a local library (which also helps keep it going, so that’s a win-win) to see how good it is. If they don’t have it in stock it’s easy and cheap to request it (even for quite technical books eg through inter-library loans). In fact through the British Library you have access to most books that have been published (at least in the UK).

I’ve found in practice that having my own copy is now not that important and I now only buy a few ‘exceptional’ ones (ie ones that have a large and lasting impact on me).

However, I wonder if this is also generational. I was brought up on physical books but for someone brought up on ebooks (and digital media in general) it might be quite different.

 


A National Innovation Plan – Call for Ideas

May 6, 2016

nip_block_2

From the UK Department of Business, Innovation & Skills:

Innovation can transform lives. It can help to address our biggest societal and economic challenges such as energy supply, food security and managing the impacts of demographic change. It enables businesses to develop new ideas, products and services, create new jobs and export opportunities.

The UK has a long and strong history in science and innovation, and a world-leading reputation, being ranked second in the Global Innovation Index in 2015. But there can be no complacency about the global challenges we face and the increasing levels of competition. At the same time, the nature of innovation is changing towards greater use of digitally connected technologies and data. This is changing how goods and services are produced and delivered, and transforming established markets. This survey seeks views on how the UK should further develop its innovation framework and system. This will help us to develop a National Innovation Plan.

See here.

The call ends on the 30th May 2016.


Gore Vidal and the People’s Airplane

March 27, 2016

gore-vidal-2-large

Vidal with President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, 1961 (credit Everett/Rex)

I recently skimmed through a biography of Gore Vidal after seeing it on display at the local library.

An intimate, authorized yet frank biography of Gore Vidal (1925-2012), one of the most accomplished, visible and controversial American novelists and cultural figures of the past century.

At a similar time, I also happened to see a good documentary on him on Sky Arts.

As is often the case, the childhood of these exceptional people is also quite exceptional (I’m always hoping they’ll be mundane, they rarely are).

Here’s a revealing example (see video above):

In November 1933, Gene Vidal announced the Bureau’s plan to make owning a personal aircraft as commonplace as owning a Model-T Ford. The Bureau invited aircraft manufacturers to design a simple, safe vehicle that would sell for a target price of $700. Unfortunately, the manufacturers never thought that was feasible, even though at least one of the innovations that came out of the contest—tricycle landing gear with a steerable nose wheel—did end up influencing future designs.

In 1936, Vidal and 10-year-old Gore were filmed at Washington D.C.’s Bolling Field, demonstrating how easy it was to control one of the competition winners, the two-seat Hammond Model Y (a later version of which is in the Smithsonian collection).

As they say, “supremely confident at an early age”.

Some memorable Vidal quotes:

“I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.”

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.”

“Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.”

“The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.”

“Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an IQ of 60.”

“A good deed never goes unpunished.”

“All children alarm their parents, if only because you are forever expecting to encounter yourself.”

“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and fifty percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same fifty percent.”

“The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”


The Journey and the Destination

March 19, 2016

Journey Bowie

Towards the end of last year I decided to do some planning and when in this frame of mind I came across this quote (there are many variations on it):

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” – Ursula LeGuin

This made me think that, independently of however much you plan, even schematically, things happen along the way that change you and the way you think about things. A few weeks ago I came across the Bowie quote above which I thought gave another interesting viewpoint!

Photo credit: here.


Igniting Exciting Conversations

March 7, 2016

There are lots of articles on the drawbacks of formal presentations (death by Powerpoint etc). I’ve certainly gone through many presentations that have ranged from boring to incomprehensible.

In a concise article, Jack Welch offers three tips (extracts below):

Rule #1: Keep your message simple. Not simplistic, mind you. Not dumbed down, either. But simple, as in not over-complicated and completely graspable.

It’s quite likely true that if the idea or premise can’t be made simple (but not simplistic) then there’s probably something wrong with it.

Rule #2: Tell your audience something they don’t know. I’m always amazed when a manager comes into an executive or board presentation and basically recites materials that all of us have already received by email.

As you can imagine, this would certainly grab people’s attention. This relates to Rule 1 of course!

Rule #3: Let your passion rip. I don’t get it, but there’s a popular strand of thinking that speakers gain credibility in front of audiences by appearing pensive and logical, almost contained to the point of flatness, like a 3-star general giving testimony before Congress.

This is sometimes more a question of confidence than anything else.

I quite like this extract, which I think gets to the heart of the matter:

“Giving a speech/presentation is not about relating information or a point of view so that people go, “Hmm,” and move along. It’s about igniting exciting conversations that go on long after you’re done talking.”

Consequently it will be invaluable to think through how you’d keep these conversations going and how best to benefit from them.


Reinvention As Personal R&D

February 22, 2016

I’ve (so far) had three types of career: academic (internationally), business manager (in two large UK companies) and as an independent consultant (all in rather different technical areas).

I’m currently thinking about the next phase, which will probably centre around ‘giving something back to the community’, although perhaps not in a traditional way.

Part of this is just my makeup, I like doing and exploring different things, even if changing areas often gets progressively more difficult (a new learning curve each time) although still very rewarding.

In hindsight, it’s clear that my previous ‘reinventions’ were carried out in a fairly haphazard manner – I just got on with it (‘ignorance is bliss’). I’ve often thought there must be a better way. In this context I came across this insightful article by Saul Kaplan which is well worth thinking about if this sort of thing interests you:

Why aren’t we taught how to reinvent ourselves in school? Reinvention is imperative as a life skill. You would think we would at least be exposed to the fundamentals of personal exploration and reinvention while we are in school. Instead we seem increasingly focused on the skills necessary to get a specific job, a job that is highly unlikely to exist five years from now. As a society we highly prize specialty education pathways that track students toward narrow career choices instead of celebrating education pathways emphasizing a broad platform and skill set useful in doing future work that doesn’t exist today. Education and workforce development programs should emphasize foundational life skills that are transferable and enabling the personal confidence and skills to constantly reinvent ourselves.

Reinvention is a journey not a destination. It doesn’t have to be a scare word. You don’t have to know what you’re reinventing yourself to in order to work on reinventing yourself. It isn’t about stopping one thing in order to do or be something else. It’s about spending time every day, every month and every year constantly reinventing. It’s about personal R&D to explore and test new possibilities. It’s about experimenting all the time to uncover latent opportunities. It’s about continuing to strengthen our current selves while simultaneously working on our future selves by actively engaging in new ideas, environments and practices. You don’t have to stop doing what you’re currently doing you just have to allow yourself the freedom to try more stuff.

He then goes on to give a list of 15 practical ways to help ‘build your reinvention muscle’. It’s interesting that I already do most of them so I guess that’s a built-in character trait.

However perhaps the main point is the thinking about it all the time and trying some small experiments in new directions rather than waiting until you’re totally fed up and desperate for a sudden change (or worse, when a change is forced upon you).


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