Why hiring the ‘best’ people produces the least creative results

From Aeon:

While in graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took a logic course from David Griffeath. The class was fun. Griffeath brought a playfulness and openness to problems. Much to my delight, about a decade later, I ran into him at a conference on traffic models. During a presentation on computational models of traffic jams, his hand went up. I wondered what Griffeath – a mathematical logician – would have to say about traffic jams. He did not disappoint. Without even a hint of excitement in his voice, he said: ‘If you are modelling a traffic jam, you should just keep track of the non-cars.’

The collective response followed the familiar pattern when someone drops an unexpected, but once stated, obvious idea: a puzzled silence, giving way to a roomful of nodding heads and smiles. Nothing else needed to be said.

Griffeath had made a brilliant observation. During a traffic jam, most of the spaces on the road are filled with cars. Modelling each car takes up an enormous amount of memory. Keeping track of the empty spaces instead would use less memory – in fact almost none. Furthermore, the dynamics of the non-cars might be more amenable to analysis.

Versions of this story occur routinely at academic conferences, in research laboratories or policy meetings, within design groups, and in strategic brainstorming sessions. They share three characteristics. First, the problems are complex: they concern high-dimensional contexts that are difficult to explain, engineer, evolve or predict. Second, the breakthrough ideas do not arise by magic, nor are they constructed anew from whole cloth. They take an existing idea, insight, trick or rule, and apply it in a novel way, or they combine ideas – like Apple’s breakthrough repurposing of the touchscreen technology. In Griffeath’s case, he applied a concept from information theory: minimum description length. Fewer words are required to say ‘No-L’ than to list ‘ABCDEFGHIJKMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ’. I should add that these new ideas typically produce modest gains. But, collectively, they can have large effects. Progress occurs as much through sequences of small steps as through giant leaps.

Third, these ideas are birthed in group settings. One person presents her perspective on a problem, describes an approach to finding a solution or identifies a sticking point, and a second person makes a suggestion or knows a workaround. The late computer scientist John Holland commonly asked: ‘Have you thought about this as a Markov process, with a set of states and transition between those states?’ That query would force the presenter to define states. That simple act would often lead to an insight.

The burgeoning of teams – most academic research is now done in teams, as is most investing and even most songwriting (at least for the good songs) – tracks the growing complexity of our world. We used to build roads from A to B. Now we construct transportation infrastructure with environmental, social, economic and political impacts.

The complexity of modern problems often precludes any one person from fully understanding them. Factors contributing to rising obesity levels, for example, include transportation systems and infrastructure, media, convenience foods, changing social norms, human biology and psychological factors. Designing an aircraft carrier, to take another example, requires knowledge of nuclear engineering, naval architecture, metallurgy, hydrodynamics, information systems, military protocols, the exercise of modern warfare and, given the long building time, the ability to predict trends in weapon systems.

. . . .

The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: the idea that the ‘best person’ should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.

. . . .

Even with a knowledge domain, no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team. Each of these domains possesses such depth and breadth, that no test can exist. Consider the field of neuroscience. Upwards of 50,000 papers were published last year covering various techniques, domains of enquiry and levels of analysis, ranging from molecules and synapses up through networks of neurons. Given that complexity, any attempt to rank a collection of neuroscientists from best to worst, as if they were competitors in the 50-metre butterfly, must fail. What could be true is that given a specific task and the composition of a particular team, one scientist would be more likely to contribute than another. Optimal hiring depends on context. Optimal teams will be diverse.

Link to the rest at Aeon

A reminder that PG doesn’t always agree with items he posts on TPV.

In recent years, PG has become increasingly suspicious of any recommendation for “diversity” since the term has picked up so much political baggage.

He might even suggest limiting “diversity” to a term of art which stands solely in the realm of the politically defined terms that mean whatever the politics of the moment say they mean.

Regarding the OP, if “diversity” means a collection of intelligent and creative individuals with a variety of different skills and bases of knowledge, PG thinks such a group can work effectively on complex problems.

However, the mental and social overhead that accompanies the operations of groups of people can make the process of accomplishing truly creative work difficult and unlikely. On more than one occasion in PG’s experience, a single person has made doing useful work in a group difficult or impossible. Sometimes, this problem is not a factor of background or intelligence so much as it is a matter of the personality of the individual.

Teams can be a useful work environment or a giant waste of time depending upon the personalities, experiences, talents and abilities of the team members. Group dynamics does usually operate in such a way that conventional solutions or extrapolations from past solutions into a changed environment are a more likely product of teams than really breakthrough ideas.

On a couple of occasions during his professional and business career, PG has had the privilege of working with individuals who were bonafide geniuses in their fields with a track record of technical breakthroughs that was astounding. From this admittedly limited group of examples, PG can’t imagine these people working well with a team nor can he imagine a team producing the types of brilliant innovations that the individuals did, certainly not within the timeframe during which the individuals were making their discoveries and creating their innovations.

Where There is Creativity, There is Plagiarism

From Plagiarism Today:

Plagiarism can often seem invisible.

Not only do plagiarists often go to great lengths to hide the activities but, even when it’s done in broad daylight, those that aren’t actively looking for it will usually miss it. It’s very easy to look around you and feel confident that you’re in a relative plagiarism-free zone.

But the truth is much different. Plagiarism is literally everywhere that there is creativity. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you create or how it’s created, if there is originally and expression, you’re likely to find plagiarism.

In the more than 15 years I’ve been running Plagiarism Today, we’ve discussed plagiarism in a wide variety of environments including knitting, board games, video games, flag design, API development, YouTube videos (not counting other copyright issues), poetry, podcasts, comic books, architecture, marketing and much, much more.

If there’s creativity in an industry, there’s a near-guarantee that there is plagiarism in it. That’s because, whenever there’s a barrier to creating something, whether it’s an essay or movie, you can rest assured someone will be there to take whatever shortcuts they can to create their own.

. . . .

As Jason Chu of Turnitin once said, “Plagiarism is about putting outcomes ahead of processes.”

In short, plagiarist is someone who wants the outcome of having created something but doesn’t value or respect the process of creating that thing. In a simple example, a student who wants an A on a paper but doesn’t want to go through the trouble of actually writing such a paper may be tempted to plagiarize it.

To be clear, not every person that feels this way will be a plagiarist. Many students may not care about or see the value in writing an essay, but most will grit their teeth and do the work, either out of a sense of honesty or a fear of reprisal.

However, a student that values or even enjoys the process of writing an essay or completing an assignment will be much less tempted to plagiarize, regardless of their sense of honesty or how much they fear getting caught.

. . . .

But to creatives, this can seem alien. Why would you want to create something and not have it be original? Why would you want to put your name on something that someone else already made?

The reason is that we, as a society, value creators. Though, not always enough to avoid pirating their work, there is still a cult of celebrity placed around authorship and creativity. Whether it’s authors, filmmakers, musicians, artists, photographers or any other type of work, there’s a lot of appeal to being a creator.

That societal value is only matched by some people’s individual willingness to take shortcuts. In short, being a creative is very appealing, especially in the digital age when just about anyone can find an audience, but being creative requires a great deal of hard work and there are many that find that too high of a cost.

. . . .

[One step toward the deterence of plagiarism] is to be honest about what it takes to create a work.

For example, this post, and ones like, do not spring fully formed from my mind. They often take hours or works, sometimes broken up over multiple days. Even for all of my typos and grammar mistakes, there is a great deal of editing, revision and preparation that goes into them as well.

However, that’s not something that people see. We have created a mythos around creativity where a great work is the product of a brilliant mind, not the toil of countless hours of hard, often dull, labor.

Creativity is not something that’s available on demand and it rarely bears any fruit of worth without being combined with hard work. However, we don’t talk about those elements and that sets up an unrealistic expectations for those who have never done it themselves.

How can we expect others to respect the process of creating something when we aren’t always open and honest about that process ourselves?

Our cult of creativity has minimized the work that goes into creating something and put the focus on an intangible spark or a mythical completely self-contained idea that sprang forth fully formed. Neither are true.

Creativity is work and, though more work does not equal better product, if we were more open about how works were actually created, others might feel less justified in skipping the invisible work or copying the elusive creativity.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

To Stoke Creativity, Crank out Ideas and Then Step Away

From ScienceDaily:

There is an effective formula for unlocking employees’ creative potential, according to new research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin and the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Employers should incentivize workers to produce an abundance of ideas — even mediocre ones — and then have them step away from the project for an “incubation period.”

The researchers found that people who were rewarded simply for churning out ideas, whether good or bad, ultimately ended up producing more creative ideas than people who did not receive pay incentives or those whose pay incentives were based on the quality of their ideas instead of the quantity. All the study participants stepped away from the initial task for a time and returned to it later.

“Creativity is not instantaneous, but if incentives promote enough ideas as seeds for thought, creativity eventually emerges,” said Steven Kachelmeier, the Randal B. McDonald Chair in Accounting at Texas McCombs and co-author of the study in the Accounting Review.

It has been well established in the academic literature that creative performance is enhanced by an incubation period, but this research looked at a new question: What happens when you add incentives for idea generation to the equation?

. . . .

It has been well established in the academic literature that creative performance is enhanced by an incubation period, but this research looked at a new question: What happens when you add incentives for idea generation to the equation?

. . . .

Some participants were offered pay based on the number of ideas they generated, some only for ideas that met a standard for creativity, and others a fixed wage of $25, regardless of the quantity or quality of their puzzle ideas.

Initially, none of the incentivized groups outperformed the fixed-wage group in measures of creativity, as judged by an independent panel. Creativity incentives, it would seem, do not work instantly. But in a subsequent return to the creativity task 10 days later, those who had originally been paid to come up with as many ideas as they could had “a distinct creativity advantage,” outperforming the other groups in both the quantity and quality of ideas, Kachelmeier said.

Having an incubation period after participants put their minds to work was key to their success, the researchers said.

Link to the rest at ScienceDaily

A Philosopher Argues That an AI Can’t Be an Artist

From MIT Technology Review:

On March 31, 1913, in the Great Hall of the Musikverein concert house in Vienna, a riot broke out in the middle of a performance of an orchestral song by Alban Berg. Chaos descended. Furniture was broken. Police arrested the concert’s organizer for punching Oscar Straus, a little-remembered composer of operettas. Later, at the trial, Straus quipped about the audience’s frustration. The punch, he insisted, was the most harmonious sound of the entire evening. History has rendered a different verdict: the concert’s conductor, Arnold Schoenberg, has gone down as perhaps the most creative and influential composer of the 20th century.

You may not enjoy Schoenberg’s dissonant music, which rejects conventional tonality to arrange the 12 notes of the scale according to rules that don’t let any predominate. But he changed what humans understand music to be. This is what makes him a genuinely creative and innovative artist. Schoenberg’s techniques are now integrated seamlessly into everything from film scores and Broadway musicals to the jazz solos of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman.

Creativity is among the most mysterious and impressive achievements of human existence. But what is it?

. . . .

Creativity is not just novelty. A toddler at the piano may hit a novel sequence of notes, but they’re not, in any meaningful sense, creative. Also, creativity is bounded by history: what counts as creative inspiration in one period or place might be disregarded as ridiculous, stupid, or crazy in another. A community has to accept ideas as good for them to count as creative.

. . . .

Advances in artificial intelligence have led many to speculate that human beings will soon be replaced by machines in every domain, including that of creativity. Ray Kurzweil, a futurist, predicts that by 2029 we will have produced an AI that can pass for an average educated human being. Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher, is more circumspect. He does not give a date but suggests that philosophers and mathematicians defer work on fundamental questions to “superintelligent” successors, which he defines as having “intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest.”

Both believe that once human-level intelligence is produced in machines, there will be a burst of progress—what Kurzweil calls the “singularity” and Bostrom an “intelligence explosion”—in which machines will very quickly supersede us by massive measures in every domain. This will occur, they argue, because superhuman achievement is the same as ordinary human achievement except that all the relevant computations are performed much more quickly, in what Bostrom dubs “speed superintelligence.”

So what about the highest level of human achievement—creative innovation? Are our most creative artists and thinkers about to be massively surpassed by machines?

No.

Human creative achievement, because of the way it is socially embedded, will not succumb to advances in artificial intelligence. To say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to.

This claim is not absolute: it depends on the norms that we allow to govern our culture and our expectations of technology. Human beings have, in the past, attributed great power and genius even to lifeless totems. It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.

. . . .

Can we imagine a machine of such superhuman creative ability that it brings about changes in what we understand music to be, as Schoenberg did?

That’s what I claim a machine cannot do. Let’s see why.

Computer music composition systems have existed for quite some time. In 1965, at the age of 17, Kurzweil himself, using a precursor of the pattern recognition systems that characterize deep-learning algorithms today, programmed a computer to compose recognizable music. Variants of this technique are used today. Deep-learning algorithms have been able to take as input a bunch of Bach chorales, for instance, and compose music so characteristic of Bach’s style that it fools even experts into thinking it is original. This is mimicry. It is what an artist does as an apprentice: copy and perfect the style of others instead of working in an authentic, original voice. It is not the kind of musical creativity that we associate with Bach, never mind with Schoenberg’s radical innovation.

So what do we say? Could there be a machine that, like Schoenberg, invents a whole new way of making music? Of course we can imagine, and even make, such a machine. Given an algorithm that modifies its own compositional rules, we could easily produce a machine that makes music as different from what we now consider good music as Schoenberg did then.

But this is where it gets complicated.

We count Schoenberg as a creative innovator not just because he managed to create a new way of composing music but because people could see in it a vision of what the world should be. Schoenberg’s vision involved the spare, clean, efficient minimalism of modernity. His innovation was not just to find a new algorithm for composing music; it was to find a way of thinking about what music is that allows it to speak to what is needed now.

Some might argue that I have raised the bar too high. Am I arguing, they will ask, that a machine needs some mystic, unmeasurable sense of what is socially necessary in order to count as creative? I am not—for two reasons.

First, remember that in proposing a new, mathematical technique for musical composition, Schoenberg changed our understanding of what music is. It is only creativity of this tradition-defying sort that requires some kind of social sensitivity. Had listeners not experienced his technique as capturing the anti-­traditionalism at the heart of the radical modernity emerging in early-­20th-century Vienna, they might not have heard it as something of aesthetic worth. The point here is that radical creativity is not an “accelerated” version of quotidian creativity. Schoenberg’s achievement is not a faster or better version of the type of creativity demonstrated by Oscar Straus or some other average composer: it’s fundamentally different in kind.

Second, my argument is not that the creator’s responsiveness to social necessity must be conscious for the work to meet the standards of genius. I am arguing instead that we must be able to interpret the work as responding that way. It would be a mistake to interpret a machine’s composition as part of such a vision of the world. The argument for this is simple.

Claims like Kurzweil’s that machines can reach human-level intelligence assume that to have a human mind is just to have a human brain that follows some set of computational algorithms—a view called computationalism. But though algorithms can have moral implications, they are not themselves moral agents. We can’t count the monkey at a typewriter who accidentally types out Othello as a great creative playwright. If there is greatness in the product, it is only an accident. We may be able to see a machine’s product as great, but if we know that the output is merely the result of some arbitrary act or algorithmic formalism, we cannot accept it as the expression of a vision for human good.

For this reason, it seems to me, nothing but another human being can properly be understood as a genuinely creative artist. Perhaps AI will someday proceed beyond its computationalist formalism, but that would require a leap that is unimaginable at the moment. We wouldn’t just be looking for new algorithms or procedures that simulate human activity; we would be looking for new materials that are the basis of being human.

Link to the rest at MIT Technology Review

PG suggests that humans and AI are likely to have a prickly relationship for quite a long time.

PG wonders how the author of the OP would regard creative genius as manifested in humans with severe mental illnesses or addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Vincent Van Gogh spent time in a psychiatric clinic.

Edvard Munch wrote, “I can not get rid of my illnesses, for there is a lot in my art that exists only because of them.” His best-known painting, The Scream, can certainly be interpreted as an expression of someone in the throes of mental illness.

 

 

Quite a number of well-known writers have died from the effects of their chronic alcoholic consumption.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Chandler, Dylan Thomas, Grace Metalious, Dorothy Parker, and Carson McCullers come to mind.

Is a severely-impaired human being more truly creative than an unimpaired artificial intelligence?

Why You Should Work Less and Spend More Time on Hobbies

From The Harvard Business Review:

As professionals around the world feel increasingly pressed for time, they’re giving up on things that matter to them. A recent HBR article noted that in surveys, most people “could name several activities, such as pursuing a hobby, that they’d like to have time for.”

This is more significant than it may sound, because it isn’t just individuals who are missing out. When people don’t have time for hobbies, businesses pay a price. Hobbies can make workers substantially better at their jobs. I know this from personal experience. I’ve always loved playing the guitar and composing. But just like workers everywhere, I can fall into the trap of feeling that I have no time to engage in it. As head of demand generation for Nextiva, I have enough on my plate to keep me busy around the clock. I can easily fall into the trap of the “72-hour workweek,” which takes into account time people spend connected to work on our phones outside of official work hours.

When I crash, there’s always the temptation to do something sedentary and mindless. It’s little surprise that watching TV is by far the most popular use of leisure time in the U.S. and tops the list elsewhere as well, including Germany and England.

. . . .

Creativity. To stand out and compete in today’s crowded and constantly changing business environment, organizations need new, innovative ideas that will rise above the noise. I’m tasked with constantly looking for new ways to attract attention from potential buyers. But coming up with a fully original idea can be difficult when your mind is filled with targets, metrics, and deadlines.

A creative hobby pulls you out of all that. Whether you’re a musician, artist, writer, or cook, you often start with a blank canvas in your mind. You simply think: What will I create that will evoke the emotion I’m going for?

It’s no surprise that by giving yourself this mental space, and focusing on feelings, you can reawaken your creativity. Neuroscientists have found that rational thought and emotions involve different parts of the brain. For the floodgates of creativity to open, both must be in play.

. . . .

Confidence. When I face a tough challenge at work and feel stymied, I can start to question whether I’ll ever figure out a successful solution. It’s easy to lose creative confidence. But after an hour of shredding on the guitar, hitting notes perfectly, I’m feeling good. I can tell that my brain was craving that kind of satisfaction. And when I face that work project again, I bring the confidence with me.

It turns out people like me have been studied. In one study, researchers found that “creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance‐related outcomes (i.e., job creativity and extra‐role behaviors).” In fact, they wrote, “Creative activity while away from work may be a leisure activity that provides employees essential resources to perform at a high level.”

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

Does AI Enhance Creativity?

From Forbes:

The sophistication of artificial intelligence (AI) software is giving rise to a healthy debate about human creativity v machine creativity.

Whilst there is general agreement that AI will eventually take over many task orientated jobs, there is skepticism over whether occupations that require high creative intelligence will become automated.

. . . .

One of the main benefits of AI is saving time on mundane tasks. Working with a machine can ease the workload for creatives and allow them more time for strategic and creative thinking. But it’s more than just a time saver. From providing data insight to enable marketers to better understand their consumers to ideating and iterating basic ideas to aid the creative process, AI can provide valuable support.

. . . .

AI is also a powerful tool and partner for musicians. There is an entire industry built around AI services for creating music. Big players like Google and Spotify are all getting a piece of the action. Many of the systems work by using deep learning, a type of AI that’s reliant on analyzing multiple layers of data. Dance anthems through to pop classics can be analyzed for their chords, tempo, length etc so the software can determine patterns and create music. AI platform Amper’s co-founder, Michael Hobe, says “It’s more of intelligence augmentation. For me, it’s allowing more people to be creative and then allowing the people who already have some of these creative aspects to really further themselves.”

. . . .

Recently, The & Partnership London turned to tech company Visual Voice to build an AI platform that could write the next Lexus ad script, with visual recognition support from IBM Watson. The first step was to feed the machine the right information. The AI was trained with Cannes Lions-winning car and luxury advertising – 15 years worth –  to find trends associated with acclaimed advertising and it was taught to be intuitive. This was done through drawing on emotional intelligence data and via a study conducted in partnership with applied scientists which explored intuition.

. . . .

Google’s AI boutique DeepMind is developing an AI with imagination. It’s this distinctly human ability to construct a plan, to see the consequences of actions before they are made, that could really shake things up.

Link to the rest at Forbes

Here’s the Lexus ad created entirely by artificial intelligence:
.

How to balance full-time work with creative projects

From Fast Company:

“Teacher burnout” refers to a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion brought on by prolonged periods of stress. Combined with low wages, inadequate funding, and disheartening educational policy, burnout has resulted in eight percent of teachers in America throwing in the towel over the past decade.

As a teacher myself, it’s been interesting to reflect on what keeps me coming back to the classroom, five years into this difficult yet ultimately rewarding job. What it comes down to, I think, is that teaching is not the only thing that keeps me going. In my opinion, relying solely on a day job or career to fulfill your ambitions and keep you mentally stimulated is risky business. Instead, I like to incorporate a smattering of fulfilling creative projects within my day-to-day life to help me keep my teaching job in perspective. And while it isn’t always easy to do it all, there are ways to balance things out.

Over the past few years, in addition to teaching full-time, I’ve managed to finish a master’s degree, start a record label, contribute to various publications, and release/perform music as Nassau. Through it all I’ve practiced, failed at, and re-tooled strategies for balancing full-time work with multiple creative side projects. In this guide you’ll find a handful of takeaways for staying sane, organized, and intentional while trying to do it all.

BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR 9 TO 5

Your day job matters a lot

It really does! The average person will spend over 90,000 hours, or about a third of their lives, at work. With another third of our hours spent sleeping, the time we actually have for “living” seems modest at best. If you’re holding down an unfulfilling 9-5 with the primary ambitions of supporting yourself and your creative work (versus building a career in that area), ideally this job should provide you with at least one of three things: more time, more resources, or a skill set that will help you be successful in your creative endeavors.

As you contemplate what type of day job might make sense for you, consider the feelings you’ll want to have after completing a shift, or after heading out from the office. Probably “drained, grumpy, and sick of everyone” are not feelings that are on your list. So think about it: What type of work or situations might you seek out that wouldn’t leave you in a bad mood after working? By spending some time brainstorming about the job that could be a nice complement to your personality and side projects, you’ll put yourself in a better position to find the right type of gig.

. . . .

Finding the right gig to nicely balance with your personality and creative work isn’t going to happen overnight. As you work towards finding the right role, pause and reflect on your thoughts and emotions whenever possible. In each type of positions, ask yourself: Were there new trends in your behavior? Did you notice an uptick in your creative work and productivity outside of your 9-5?

As you think about what type of day job might make sense for you, a simple exercise to try starts with taking inventory of your skills and passions. Write them down. Go for quantity here: What are you good at? What comes naturally? Anything goes. Then look for patterns or themes. You may even group your skills into categories including “things I love doing,” “things I get paid the most for doing,” “skills I want to improve,” or “skills I haven’t used in a long time, but would like to use again.” Identifying patterns will enable you to honor and recognize the expertise you already possess, and can help you find employment that complements not only you as a person, but your creative practice as well.

As you do the above exercise, you should also be honest with your intentions, and even name them. Would you like a job that makes you lots of money? Expands your network? Gets you working with your hands? Trust your brain and your body–you’ll thank yourself when you’ve landed the right job that’s actually helping you get what you want (not just what you think you should want), and are also able to have time and energy to produce creative work you’re proud of.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Colorful Statements: The Art of Illustrator Eliot Wyatt

From Adobe Create Magazine:

Eliot Wyatt likes to say that his personality and his work are quite similar: “a bit weird, fun, and loud.” An illustrator based in Bristol, England, Wyatt creates colorful—and sometimes a little trippy—work that has enlivened high-profile campaigns for clients like Airbnb, Buzzfeed, and Nescafé.

. . . .

Wyatt’s subjects range from politics and social issues to celebrities, delicious-looking foods, fantasy automobiles, and really cool sneakers. A candy-colored palette and a flat, nearly two-dimensional look make for a very distinctive body of work.

. . . .

When asked about how his approach is unique, Wyatt is thoughtful. “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say there is anything particularly unique in the way I approach my work,” he says. “I will sketch out ideas, develop the best ones, and then move into a final image. What is unique is the thoughts and ideas that run throughout my illustration work and the way that becomes identifiable as my style. It’s not necessarily the way you approach a project; rather, it’s the way you think about it. For example, it could be thinking about a different way to view a particular scene or object, or how you may be able to refer to something without directly placing it in the image. These decisions contribute just as much to your ‘style’ of work as the aesthetic you choose to work in.”

. . . .

And what, in his mind, constitutes a successful piece? “For me, it is when both the aesthetic and the ideas are strong in a single image. Sometimes an illustration can lead too much with the aesthetic, which ultimately makes for a weaker image. Typically, all work, either client or personal, starts out the same way. My initial sketches are developed further in to larger sketches, which allows for more focus on creating a solid composition and framing of the image.”

Link to the rest at Adobe Create Magazine, which includes several examples of the Wyatt’s art.

PG is familiar with writing exercises but wondered if authors engage in other practices that help jumpstart or expand their creative efforts.

For example, is a character sketch the equivalent of a visual artist sketching out an idea?

To the best of PG’s recollections, visual arts and writing are centered in different parts of the human brain, but he could be wrong.

Poultry Feeder Litigation

From Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log:

CTB sued HS for making an allegedly exact replica of CTB’s poultry feeder, infringing its registered trademarks for product configuration and color (color on the supplemental register).

Pan feeders are the industry standard. The usual configuration: a pan (bottom portion in which feed collects), grill (top portion, usually made up of spokes of varying number, size, and shape), and center cone (feed distribution mechanism). Feeders are sold to roughly forty “integrators,” who own the chickens and dictate which feeders individual growers may use.  Also of relevance, CTB also had a patent for a poultry feeder, which expired in 2010. The patent said it was aimed at providing a “barrier for preventing birds and animals from bodily climbing into the feeder yet simultaneously allowing those that do force their way inside to easily exit without sustaining injury or damaging the feeder apparatus.” (It discloses a locking brood gate and a mechanism for rotationally unlocking and locking the pan structure and grill structure together.

. . . .

Right after the patent expired, CTB filed a trademark application for the configuration of its feeder, which was rejected on functionality grounds. CTB responded and the PTO issued a registration:

The mark consists of a three-dimensional configuration of a unique mechanized poultry feeder which includes a pan structure and a grill structure. When viewed from any side, the perimeter of the feeder has a generally octagonal shape as it has two generally vertical sides, one defined at the bottom of the pan structure and the other defined at the top of the grill structure, and four generally diagonal sides which inter connect the vertical sides to the horizontal sides. Internal angles between the diagonal sides and the vertical sides are generally smaller than the internal angles between the diagonal sides and the horizontal sides. The matter shown in broken lines is not part of the mark and serves only to show the position or placement of the mark.

TM registration

CTB also sought to register the configuration and the color combination of red pan and gray grill, which was rejected on functionality grounds.  Then it sought to register only the color combination, which application was rejected multiple times for lack of inherent distinctiveness and ended up on the supplemental register.

. . . .

Another patent owned by CTB says: “[I]t is relatively well known within the agricultural industry that adult turkeys and chickens are attracted to the color red and, therefore, many adult turkey and chicken feeding trays are now colored red in order to entice the adult turkeys and chickens to move towards the red feeding tray so that it is easier for the adult turkey and chickens to find their food.” And it touts the virtues of reflective particles, which attract feeding animals, “preferably metallic flecks or flakes, such as titanium or aluminum, or any other metallic or non-metallic material that will bond with the nonreflective material of the feeder.”

. . . .

The patent stated that the area created by the grill and its individual spokes and hub allowed for the functionality of birds entering and exiting the feeder without injury.  CTB’s ads also touted a “patented feeder grill design [that allows] young birds to exit pans easily” and so on, providing further evidence of functionality. The parties agreed that the pan underneath the grill was shaped functionally. This dicated the V-shaped profile of the pan claimed as part of the trade dress. CTB argued that the section connecting the upper grill structure to the lower pan member wasn’t functional: the “two vertical walls, partly formed from the pan structure.” However, the “double-pan lip,” as touted in CTB ads, functioned to save feed.

. . . .

Color:  The parties’ products consisted of a red pan and a grill that is silver with metal flakes or shiny gray. Here’s a great legal sentence: “[I]t is undisputed that chickens are attracted to shiny objects.” CTB argued that metal flakes weren’t relevant because it was claiming only the color gray. But the use of metal flakes in a gray color scheme could be functional. Plus, the parties both used shiny gray, so CTB’s argument meant that it wouldn’t be using an embodiment its own trade dress, which the court thus concluded was red and shiny gray.  There was no presumption of validity here, and CTB’s own patent and ads touted the advantages of using red and shiny gray. Other CTB patents, and other industry patents, also identified red as functional for attracting poultry.  [If functional for poultry, why not for people?]  CTB’s witness Cole also testified that he conducted tests and found that red and shiny gray was close to the best.

CTB argued that there was no scientific evidence to support the conclusion that chickens are more attracted to these colors versus other colors. CTB misperceived on whom the burden lay, and didn’t show that the colors were “ornamental, incidental, or arbitrary” or were chosen for any reason other than functionality. Dismissing its own position in its patent as “apocryphal lore” couldn’t avoid summary judgment.

. . . .

CTB argued that it could still have rights in a color combo, but “a functional arrangement of functional parts remains functional. The undisputed evidence shows that, historically, plaintiff utilized a red pan and metal grill for functional reasons, and, more recently, plaintiff utilizes a red pan and gray plastic grill with metal flakes for functional reasons.”

. . . .

[T]he court went on to deal with remaining unfair competition claims as a matter of failure to show damages/proximate cause instead of pointing out that functionality ended anything but, perhaps, a claim for insufficient labeling. There was no evidence of any harm, just a theory of price erosion.

Link to the rest at Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log

For visitors to TPV who may not have had personal experience with chicken feeders, here is a photo of one of CTB’s chicken feeders with enthusiastic consumers:

And, pursuant to equal treatment of each of the litigants, here’s a photo of an HS (Hog Slat) feeder:

In the lower photo, the chicks are beginning to fledge – grow their adult feathers. Thus, they’re fledglings.

Art by algorithm

From Aeon:

When IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer defeated the world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, humanity let out a collective sigh, recognising the loss of an essential human territory to the onslaught of thinking machines. Chess, that inscrutably challenging game, with more possible game states than there are atoms in the Universe, was no longer a canvas for individual human achievement. Newsweek called it ‘The Brain’s Last Stand’.

Why was the loss so upsetting to so many? Not because chess is complicated, per se – calculating differential equations is complicated, and we are happy to cede the work to computers – but because chess is creative. We talk about the personality, the aesthetics of chess greats such as Kasparov and Bobby Fischer, seeing a ‘style of play’ in the manipulation of pieces on a grid. Chess was a foil, a plane of endeavour, for storytellers as diverse as Vladimir Nabokov and Satyajit Ray, and we celebrate its grandmasters as remarkable synthesisers of logic and creativity. It was particularly galling, then, for Kasparov to lose to a machine based not on its creativity but its efficiency at analysing billions of possible moves. Deep Blue wasn’t really intelligent at all, but it was very good at avoiding mistakes in chess. One might argue that its victory not only knocked humanity down a peg but demonstrated that chess itself is not, or does not have to be, the aesthetic space we imagined it.

And yet Kasparov, after having lost to what he later called ‘a $10 million alarm clock’, continued to play against machines, and to reflect on the consequences of computation for the game of kings. And not just against them: for the past two decades, Kasparov has been exploring an idea he calls ‘Advanced Chess’, where humans collaborate with computer chess programs against other hybrid teams, sometimes called ‘Centaurs’. The humans maintain strategic control of the game while automating the memorisation and basic calculation on which great chess depends.

. . . .

Kasparov argues that the introduction of machine intelligence to chess did not diminish but enhanced the aesthetics of the game, creating a new space for creativity at the game’s highest levels. Today, players of ‘freestyle’ chess work with high-end chess systems, databases of millions of games and moves, and often other human collaborators too. Freestyle teams can easily defeat both top grandmasters and chess programs, and some of the best centaur teams are made up of amateur players who have created better processes for combining human and machine intelligence.

. . . .

We are all centaurs now, our aesthetics continuously enhanced by computation. Every photograph I take on my smartphone is silently improved by algorithms the second after I take it. Every document autocorrected, every digital file optimised. Musicians complain about the death of competence in the wake of Auto-Tune , just as they did in the wake of the synthesiser in the 1970s. It is difficult to think of a medium where creative practice has not been thoroughly transformed by computation and an attendant series of optimisations. The most profound changes have occurred in fields such as photography, where the technical knowledge required to produce competent photographs has been almost entirely eclipsed by creative automation. Even the immediacy of live performance gets bracketed by code through social media and the screens we watch while recording events that transpire right before our eyes.

. . . .

Sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu painstakingly mapped the deeply social dimensions of cultural judgment in the 20th century, but today the deeply intersubjective nature of taste is not just obvious but almost subliminal. Algorithms are shaping the reception of works at the forefront, but also the periphery. The entire horizon of our cultural perspectives is shaped by the filtering mechanisms that populate our news feeds, prioritise our inboxes and rank our search results. And they are, of course, built out of our own collective responses to prior stimuli, modelling a collective aesthetic project that we (often unknowingly) participate in with every click and purchase.

Link to the rest at Aeon

The 7 Habits Of Highly Creative People

From Medium:

The most commonly held belief about creativity is that it’s elusive, esoteric and unique only to the anointed few.

The ancient Greeks believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. They called these spirits daemons. The Romans had a similar idea as well but called the spirit a genius.

Centuries later, not much has changed. The only difference is that we no longer attribute creativity to divine spirits, but to special individuals. We think that it’s only Beethoven, Picasso and Mozart who have creative genius.

Except that’s not true.

. . . .

1. Steal Like An Artist

There is a truth that the aspiring creative must first recognise. We need only turn to Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist, to learn this:

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

One must realise that the idea and inspiration for a piece of work comes from many sources at once. Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas. It’s why, quoting Jonathan Lethem, Kleon writes that “when people call something ‘original,’ nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.”

Hence the recommendation — steal like an artist.

The good artist emulates the style of another as closely as he can. The great artist selects elements from others’ work and incorporates them into his own mix of influences. He does so tastefully, knowing that the right fusion will create something that is uniquely his, although not completely original.

. . . .

5. Give Yourself Permission To Suck

Creating more work sounds like a good idea in theory, but it’s difficult in application. The single and most important reason is that we don’t give ourselves permission to suck.

Stephen Pressfield knows this too. In The War of Art, he names the fear that all creatives have — he calls it the Resistance.

“The amateur, on the other hand, over-identifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright.Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over-terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyses him.”

The problem is that we’ve been trained to tie our self-worth to our accomplishments. If that’s the case, who then, would willingly create a piece of work that would be used to judge him?

For this reason, Pressfield says that we must turn from amateur to professional. Only then can we produce truly creative work.

“Resistance wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can. The professional blows critics off. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance.”

The way to creativity is to create a lot, and the way to create a lot is to give ourselves permission to suck. People will forget the mistakes and garbage we make, but will remember our best works.

Link to the rest at Medium

The key to surviving the forthcoming robot revolution

From The New York Post:

Millions of Americans are fearful that robots will take their jobs.

And rightly so, say some recent studies. A 2017 study from Forrester Research projected that 25 million jobs will be axed from the US workforce over the next decade because of automation, but only 15 million jobs will be created in their place. Another widely cited 2013 study from Oxford University found that as much as 47 percent of the US workforce could be at risk of losing their jobs to automation within the next 20 years, particularly those workers in sectors like transportation, logistics and commercial retail.

. . . .

Other research takes a more optimistic view: A report out this week from professional services firm Accenture and the World Economic Forum projects that as few as 16 percent of jobs “are at risk of displacement … after accounting for potential job gains that would arise from the same trends.”

“There will obviously be some displacement, but I think, net-net, these technologies really allow for the expansion of human consciousness and the expansion of jobs,” said Brian Uzzi, a professor at the Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering. “It shouldn’t be thought of as machines substituting for jobs, but it’s going to be about job growth in current areas.”

. . . .

Whatever the numbers ultimately turn out to be, they’re likely to worry people with no STEM or engineering backgrounds to speak of — the actors, writers, English and psychology majors of the world. The good news though: Even if you don’t have a tech background, automation may help you at work.

Indeed, Uzzi and other experts believe that the future for such workers will revolve around using AI to enhance their efficiency and productivity, rather than regarding it as a job-taking threat. These experts see the selling point of human labor as residing in humans’ trademark creativity, sympathy and intuition — qualities not even the most advanced of automatons can effectively replicate.

LivePerson is one tech firm that’s proving that people with non-STEM backgrounds can find work in this changing environment. The New York-based company, which creates chatbots for clients in sectors like hospitality or telecommunications, employs a battalion of trained actors and linguists to write the content that customers interact with digitally.

Whatever the numbers ultimately turn out to be, they’re likely to worry people with no STEM or engineering backgrounds to speak of — the actors, writers, English and psychology majors of the world. The good news though: Even if you don’t have a tech background, automation may help you at work.

Indeed, Uzzi and other experts believe that the future for such workers will revolve around using AI to enhance their efficiency and productivity, rather than regarding it as a job-taking threat. These experts see the selling point of human labor as residing in humans’ trademark creativity, sympathy and intuition — qualities not even the most advanced of automatons can effectively replicate.

. . . .

Bradbury and his team develop the chatbots’ voices and written content — “very much a different job,” he explained, than what their coworkers on the programming side do. He likened his company’s left brain/right brain structure, in which writers and engineers work side by side, to using Microsoft Word: “It’s a different job to write the words into the word processor than to build the code into the word processor [and] decide where the buttons go.”

Psychology is yet another industry already benefiting from AI, Uzzi said, pointing out emerging technologies that diagnose patients’ mental health challenges and aid licensed psychologists in developing treatment plans for them more expeditiously and effectively.

Link to the rest at The New York Post and thanks to Judith for the tip.

Is Creativity Finally Dead?

From Medium:

Creativity has been on a downward spiral in many segments of society as a result of profound information overload. We can call up information on almost any topic with a few clicks of the keyboard. As a result, we’ve gained massive amounts of awareness into the way our world works and into things and people and places of which we would previously have never been exposed. And yet we’ve lost something, too: We’ve lost a sense of the powerful dangers of knowledge. We’ve lost the ability to create meaning and substance out of the power of not-knowing.

. . . .

Not long ago, there existed a phenomenon called “not knowing.” Pre-internet, there were times when “I don’t know” was not just an acceptable answer to a question—it was the only answer. Pre-internet, people would say, “I don’t know,” and move on with their lives, rather than immediately Googling the answer to whatever question was being asked. Sometimes you simply didn’t know and moved on with your life. Other times, you didn’t know, and so you created an answer by fashioning a story that explained things in a way that made sense to you. Mythology, world religion, and the earliest days of science, exploration, and discovery were all rooted in the attempt to craft a story that fit the reality mankind perceived to exist.

. . . .

With more access to more information than at any point in human history, society has become incurious and willfully ignorant about things that we should never have allowed to slip aside. Most damaging of all, an incurious culture is the fastest, most effective way to destroy creativity and genius.

. . . .

In a time when people didn’t immediately know everything, society fostered curiosity, exploration, and discovery. The thrill of the new was sparked by a dissatisfaction with a lack of knowledge or understanding. The creative process began, and still begins, from a place of curiosity and not-knowing.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG will suggest that “incurious cultures” have abounded throughout history. Indeed, incurious cultures may be the historical norm with few exceptions.

PG further suggests the curiosity of individuals has proven far more important than the curiosity or lack of curiosity of the cultures in which they lived although a wealthy culture could fund (or crush) the curiosity of creative individuals.

Wealthy cultures can attract creative individuals by supporting their efforts. Due to the business creativity of the Medici family, Florence became a prominent center of medieval trade and commerce. The Medici Bank was the largest bank in Europe during the 15th century due to innovations in financial accounting and bank management, with branches in Rome, Venice, Geneva, Bruges, London, Pisa, Avignon, Milan, and Lyon, some of which were formed as limited liability partnerships.

What we would today call the Trust Departments of the Medici banks managed large portions of the funds owned by the Roman Catholic Church and many wealthy European families.

Medici wealth attracted great artists, sculptors and architects to Florence, including Brunelleschi, Donatello, Ghiberti, the Della Robbias, Filippo Lippi and Angelico, Botticelli, Paolo Uccello, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

The bank’s network helped support the Medici patronage of the arts. For example, Cosimo de’ Medici forwarded money from Florence through the Pisa branch so Donatello could pay for marble.

Adult coloring class promotes creativity and camaraderie

From the Sioux City Journal:

At age 76, Kris Bergstrom is finally getting in touch with her inner artist.

“I never considered myself to be artistic in the past,” she said, methodically coloring in intricate patterns with a pencil, “but I’m amazed at how relaxing coloring books can be.”

No, you read that right.

Bergstrom is one of the regulars for Coloring Corner, a weekly class held every Wednesday at the Siouxland Center for Active Generations.

“When I heard about this class, I couldn’t believe my ears,” Bergstrom’s sister Kathy Anders, 65, admitted. “C’mon, coloring books at our age? Before we knew it, we were both hooked.”

. . . .

A former teacher before she married, Card dabbled in different forms of art. But the 70-year-old never tried her hand at drawing.

“I like the creative challenge of drawing,” she said. “Even more than that, I like spending time with my friends. Every member of the Coloring Corner has become friends, since there’s so much camaraderie in this group.”

. . . .

Miriam Clayton, 84, can’t help but smile when Wickstrom mentioned the marketplace for art.

“You know it’s the book publishers who are making millions of dollars by selling coloring books,” she said. “Go into any book store and you’ll see coloring books aimed at every age and every interest.”

“When I was a kid, coloring books were inexpensive,” Card interjected. “This isn’t the case anymore.”

Link to the rest at Sioux City Journal

Real Worlds, Possible Worlds and Fantasy Worlds

From The New York Times:

The act of reading alters your brain. It does so, first, because your thoughts are brain processes. When you read, neural patterns come and go as the words pass before you. Some of those patterns also give rise to memories, subtle molecular changes in cells and the signaling mechanisms that link them. And third, your brain is physically transformed by learning to read. The networks that underlie vision and language are changed. Even people who become literate in adulthood, as a team led by the French neurobiologist Stanislas Dehaene has shown, acquire differences that are visible in a brain scan. With and without literacy, the brain is the same basic organ, with the same shape and chemistry, but a reading brain is different in ways that count. As Cecilia Heyes says in her forthcoming book, “Cognitive Gadgets,” if one didn’t know that reading is a recent human invention (literate culture is perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 years old), a skill passed on through learning in each generation, it would be easy to mistake the brain patterns seen in reading as evidence for a genetically encoded reading instinct or “innate module.”

. . . .

E. O. Wilson’s new book, “The Origins of Creativity,” is about the role of the humanities in an intellectual culture increasingly dominated by science. Wilson values the humanities, but he wants them to have closer ties to some of the sciences, an argument that draws on his view of the relationships between human biology, thought and culture. “It is becoming increasingly clear,” he says at one point, “that natural selection has programmed every bit of human biology — every toe, hair and nipple, every molecular configuration in every cell, every neuron circuit in the brain, and within all that, every trait that makes us human.” But reading itself, the reading of books like his own, shows that this isn’t true. The circuits of the brain are changed by literacy, and the molecular configurations in countless cells are being altered as you pick up new ideas from the page, as they make their way into your memory. If what Wilson says were true, there would be no point in reading, in trying to learn songs or engage in many other activities. We’d have little resemblance to humans at all.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Driven to Draw: Creativity Erupts from Brain Insult

From The Mission:

After eating one banana at 10’oclock precisely, she begins furiously drawing on the nearest blank sheet of paper. Her hand moves as if possessed, compulsively and rapidly sketching the same inane subjects from the day before. The irrepressible urge to create results in a complete neglect of her personal hygiene. Later, she gathers her pictures in a neat pile and binge eats an entire box of cookies. This isn’t a starving artist preparing for an opening show. This is Mrs. YCFZ, an 83 yr old patient never notably interested in art, diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

Mrs. YCFZ isn’t the first documented case where an urge to create erupted out of brain damage . . . ; yet the explanation for this sudden obsession for producing art baffles scientists. Creativity, from a neuroscientific perspective, is defined as the ability to produce a work that is both original and valuable. The brain part used in this endeavor is the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

. . . .

The PFC has a big job. It is connected with sensory systems involved in perception and receives information about past events and connects them to long-term memory circuits. As part of the limbic system it modulates emotions and motivations programs and performs plans of actions. In other words, “seeing” that art piece in your mind, planning what materials to use and then executing is all due to this little piece of grey matter. It is understandable then, that impairment of the PFC would result in a creative drought. Yet, clinical evidence says it is not so.

. . . .

The artists were not informed of the mental status of Mrs. YCFZ — they were only told to grade the drawings in front of them. Even though her cognitive ability deteriorated over the course of those three years, her creative capacity had not.

. . . .

She scored higher from her first to her last drawings; especially in measures of novelty and abstraction.

Link to the rest at The Mission

Creativity grows by blending, breaking, bending

From The Houston Chronicle:

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and an adjunct professor at Stanford University, best known for his work on brain plasticity, which has led to television appearances and programs, and, of course, best-selling books.

. . . .

Anthony Brandt is a composer and music professor at Rice University, the recipient of a Koussevitzky Commission from the Library of Congress and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also the founder of Musiqa, Houston’s contemporary music ensemble.

They combine their interests and talents in the book “The Runaway Species,” a fascinating look at creativity across diverse disciplines.

. . . .

Q: You use a framework for creativity in your book, and you discuss the concepts of “bending,” “breaking” and “blending.” Can you discuss these?

Anthony Brandt: “Bending” is taking a source and messing with it in some way, as when a jazz band plays the same song they played every other night, but they do it in some other way. It’s a variation on a theme. “Breaking” is when you take a whole, break it apart and assemble something new out of the fragments. In the book, we use the example of Picasso’s “Guernica,” in which the artist used bits and pieces of animals, soldiers and civilians to illustrate the brutality of war. And “blending” is any time you are marrying two or more ideas. In the book, we have an example of “Ruppy the Puppy,” the world’s first transgenic dog. He has a gene from a sea anemone, and he turns a fluorescent red under ultraviolet light.

. . . .

Q: The book also describes tension in the human brain between being drawn to the familiar and the lure of exploration. Can you elaborate on that?

Brandt: People aren’t the same in the way they balance novelty and familiarity, but everybody has creative software running in their brain, and they are all capable of aligning themselves on that creative spectrum and being participants in it. But the diversity in this tension, between exploration and familiarity, is healthy. We want a range of people, some of whom are pushing the envelopes, others who are holding back. We don’t want to rush headlong into every wild idea, but we also don’t want to stay rooted in one spot, never improving our lot.

Link to the rest at The Houston Chronicle

Oliver Sacks on the Three Essential Elements of Creativity

From Brain Pickings:

Imitation, besides being the seedbed of empathy and our experience of time, is also, paradoxically enough, the seedbed of creativity — not only a poetic truth but a cognitive fact, as the late, great neurologist and poet of science Oliver Sacks (July 9, 1933–August 30, 2015) argues in a spectacular essay titled “The Creative Self,” published in the posthumous treasure The River of Consciousness.

. . . .

He writes:

If imitation plays a central role in the performing arts, where incessant practice, repetition, and rehearsal are essential, it is equally important in painting or composing or writing, for example. All young artists seek models in their apprentice years, models whose style, technical mastery, and innovations can teach them. Young painters may haunt the galleries of the Met or the Louvre; young composers may go to concerts or study scores. All art, in this sense, starts out as “derivative,” highly influenced by, if not a direct imitation or paraphrase of, the admired and emulated models.

When Alexander Pope was thirteen years old, he asked William Walsh, an older poet whom he admired, for advice. Walsh’s advice was that Pope should be “correct.” Pope took this to mean that he should first gain a mastery of poetic forms and techniques. To this end, in his “Imitations of English Poets,” Pope began by imitating Walsh, then Cowley, the Earl of Rochester, and more major figures like Chaucer and Spenser, as well as writing “Paraphrases,” as he called them, of Latin poets. By seventeen, he had mastered the heroic couplet and began to write his “Pastorals” and other poems, where he developed and honed his own style but contented himself with the most insipid or clichéd themes. It was only once he had established full mastery of his style and form that he started to charge it with the exquisite and sometimes terrifying products of his own imagination. For most artists, perhaps, these stages or processes overlap a good deal, but imitation and mastery of form or skills must come before major creativity.

. . . .

More than a century after Mark Twain declared that “substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources,” Sacks — who had previously written at length about our unconscious borrowings — adds:

All of us, to some extent, borrow from others, from the culture around us. Ideas are in the air, and we may appropriate, often without realizing, the phrases and language of the times. We borrow language itself; we did not invent it. We found it, we grew up into it, though we may use it, interpret it, in very individual ways. What is at issue is not the fact of “borrowing” or “imitating,” of being “derivative,” being “influenced,” but what one does with what is borrowed or imitated or derived; how deeply one assimilates it, takes it into oneself, compounds it with one’s own experiences and thoughts and feelings, places it in relation to oneself, and expresses it in a new way, one’s own.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings and thanks to Anne for the tip.

Confessions of a Content Creator

From Medium:

Gut: Hey Brain, want to write something that’ll almost certainly expose us to massive criticism?

Brain: Uhhh, no?

Gut: TOO LATE, DOIN’ IT, HERE WE GOOOO!!!!

As a content creator, I don’t really care about data.

There. I said it.

Don’t misunderstand: I know I’m supposed to care about data. I’m supposed to end that opening sentence by saying, “but I’m working hard to improve my analytical chops.”

But the truth is, I’m really not.

Instead, I’m working hard to improve my creative chops. It’s what I love. It’s what I was put on this earth to do. I aspire to create things that make you feel stuff and think stuff and want to spend more time with more of that stuff.

Now, I’m no fool. I know I’ll look far better if I claim that I’m data-driven. After all, I’ve worked for online startups and tech companies my entire career. We’re the crowd responsible for the data-first ways currently permeating even the most analytics-agnostic fields.

I know I’m supposed to say I care a ton about data. But, well … I just don’t.

. . . .

Here’s the thing: I’m not alone in feeling this way about data. There are others like me, others who create content for a living — damn good content at that — and we don’t really think about data all that much. We’re walking among you right now, working on your teams, attending your meetings, nodding at our CMOs who shout of MQLs and monthly lead-gen metrics.

We pretend to care. But we don’t really care.

We really care about our craft. We really care about what our intuition is urging us to try. We really care about making things others like — nay, love. And as it just so happens, this is the skill that many businesses are starting to realize they need but can’t often find.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that Content Creator is one of the many jobs that didn’t exist when he was a little squirt.

Why Coloring and Doodling Make Us Feel Good

From Mental Floss:

Quit your judging and give in. You know you want a coloring book, and now researchers know why. They published their findings in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy.

Art therapy experts at Drexel University and The College of New Jersey wondered if there was a neurological basis for the relaxation-inducing powers of coloring, doodling, and drawing.

The best way to find out, they figured, would be to watch people’s brains as they tooled around on the page.

The researchers recruited 26 people, eight of whom self-identified as “artists.” They fitted each person with a special brain-imaging headband and gave them markers and paper. The participants then had three mini art sessions lasting three minutes: one each of doodling, coloring, and drawing whatever they felt like. Between sessions, they left the headbands on and rested their hands. Afterward, the researchers asked participants how they felt about each activity and about themselves.

As human experiments go, this one was pretty sweet for its participants, many of whom said the arts-and-crafts experiment made them feel like they had more good ideas and were better at solving problems afterward. But three minutes was not long enough, some said. They wanted more time.

Their brains seemed similarly into it. All three activities produced an increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, a region that plays a central part in the brain’s reward system. During rest periods, blood flow slowed until it reached normal resting rates.

Link to the rest at Mental Floss and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

PG understands that no one has physical sensations in their brains. However, when he switches from lawyer stuff to either photography or post-processing his photos, he can almost feel one part of his brain winding down and a different part spinning up.

5 types of rest every creative should adopt

From TNW:

There’s a pervasive idea out there that life and creativity are a zero-sum game. Indulge one, destroy the other. Or, as designer Stefan Sagmeister once wrote in a mural of coins across a plaza in Amsterdam: “Obsessions make my life worse and my work better.” But as anyone who has ever experienced it knows, there comes a point when obsession makes your work worse too. Burnout can be creatively lethal.

. . . .

“I waste a lot of time,” poet John Ashbery wrote. “That’s part of [the creative process]… The problem is you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted.” Gertrude Stein agreed: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

. . . .

Stress is the enemy of creativity. Our best work often comes from a state of nonchalance, when our minds are calm. “Qualities such as focus, calmness, clarity, and insight are as important to your creative process as glamour and stimulation,” wrote Mark McGuinness in a post on the site 99U. But a calm mind doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something you have to practice. How? Meditation. Of all the forms of creative rest, meditation is the most immediately beneficial. And the benefits only increase the more you do it. There are plenty of sites that offer meditation techniques, but the basics are incredibly simple: put yourself in time-out for 10 minutes. Think about your breathing. Let thoughts pass through your mind but don’t acknowledge them. Soon they will stop coming at all, and you will feel your mind clear. Think of it like restarting a computer.

Link to the rest at TNW

What Some Research on Creativity Tells Us

From The Epoch Times:

If anyone doubts that our culture is obsessed with creativity, a quick survey of the available literature on the topic should satisfy.

The amount of scholarly interest on creativity in the last 50 years at least is mind-boggling. Psychologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers have studied it, of course, but researchers in the fields of engineering, theology, and linguistics have looked into it as well. Studies have ranged from how moods, intelligence, and personality type are related to creativity, to how it affects mental health, economics, and neurological processes.

. . . .

When we think of creativity in relation to health, we might first think of improved mental health. Art therapy, according to the American Art Therapy Association, is used to help clients explore their feelings, foster self-awareness, and manage behavior and addictions.

But one hefty but by no means exhaustive review of literature from 1995 through 2007 on the relationship between the creative arts and health suggests an even deeper effect. Looking specifically at the therapeutic effects of music, visual arts, movement/theater, and expressive writing, one review surveyed the effects on physical healing.

For example, in two studies that used music therapy on hospitalized cancer patients, the benefits included reduced pain (found a study published in Oncology Nursing Forum), and increased immunity and lowered anxiety, among reductions in other psychological and physical symptoms (found another in The Journal of Psychosocial Oncology).

And at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, researchers compared those receiving “art intervention” with those who did not, in different units of the hospital. The groups receiving the intervention showed significantly better vital signs and fewer physical symptoms of stress, and needed less medication to help them sleep.

The Journal of Aging and Health reports long-term benefits. Researchers found that openness, or a mental flexibility and willingness to entertain novel ideas, can be a factor in increasing longevity, or as Scientific American put it, “creative thinking reduces stress and keeps the brain healthy.”

Link to the rest at The Epoch Times

Most people are secretly threatened by creativity

From Quartz:

Creativity is highly prized in Western society—much touted by cultures that claim to value individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit. But scratch beneath the surface, and it turns out that a lot of schools and businesses aren’t actually all that excited about bold new ideas. By and large, we tend to be threatened by creativity—and eager to shut it down.

The problem begins with education. We know that teachers say creativity is important. But research shows that many teachers define creativity as a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts—thereby downplaying the essential role that creativity plays in everything from math and science to argumentative writing and sports. Furthermore, teachers routinely label creative students as “disruptive,” treating outside-the-box thinking not as a strength but as a problem to be dealt with. So it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the US and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations. Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since the 1970s.

The same pattern holds true in business. IBM recently asked 1,500 executives which leadership characteristics they most desired in employees. The number one trait: You guessed it, creativity. But the same study noted that more than 50% of executives said they struggled with, and felt unprepared to recognize and embrace, creative solutions. Study after study shows that new ideas are chronically rejected at many companies, even businesses that say they want more innovation.

. . . .

The upshot is that we are in an ongoing war against creativity, yet we are loathe to admit it. Our negative feelings about unusual ideas are a knee-jerk reaction; we may not even be aware that we’re having them.

Link to the rest at Quartz

PG has had a group of Google Alerts running ever since he learned about the service several years ago.

A couple of those alerts are designed to pick up interesting stories about creativity. Over time, PG has noted the largest groups of news reports, etc., that talk about creativity tend to be centered on public education and municipal government stories.

Without demeaning anyone who works in those two areas, PG doesn’t associate big-time creativity with either endeavor. Both arenas tend to be dominated by bureaucracies which are difficult to move from their habitual ways of doing things (and are also constrained by a thicket of laws).

Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?

From The Financial Times:

In the auditorium of Beijing Bayi School, on a cold morning thick with smog, props are broken, lines unlearnt and the mechanical curtain has blown a fuse. In four hours, my cast of 22 Chinese 14-year-olds, who have never acted before, will perform Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to an audience of 1,500 — in English. All their education has told them that drama is an irrelevance. As I race around the theatre, trying to track down an absent Grandpa Joe and a missing Golden Ticket I ask myself, not for the first time: what am I doing here?

Chinese education has increasingly been hailed as “superior” to the way we teach in the west in recent years. Its success in global tests for 15-year-olds reinforced this sense of a world tilting to the east: in the 2012 round of the Programme for International Student Assessment tests (Pisa), Shanghai, representing China, came first in science, reading and mathematics. Fretful western governments took note, amid mounting concern that China’s educational success would inevitably pave the way for economic and cultural dominance. Or, as the former UK government minister Michael Gove baldly stated when he was secretary of state for education, the UK can either “start working as hard as the Chinese, or we’ll all soon be working for the Chinese”.

. . . .

As I can confirm from my five weeks at Bayi School last year, school days are definitely a lot longer than in the west. Older pupils started at about 7.30am and continued until 6pm, usually backed up by evening self-study classes. Most schools have classes on Saturdays, too. If they don’t, middle-class parents will arrange private lessons with tutors. Asia is the fastest-growing market in the global private tuition industry, which is forecast by Global Industry Analysts to be worth nearly $200bn by 2020. Students in Shanghai also spend almost 14 hours a week on homework, close to three times the average given by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

. . . .

To China’s educationalists the timing of the western love affair with their system is striking. For the past decade or so wealthy Chinese parents, keen to avoid the test-dominated regime of their own educations, have been sending their teenage offspring to study in America in dramatically increasing numbers: 46,000 Chinese students attended American high schools in 2015, up from just 637 in 2005. In the UK, Chinese are also “by far” the largest group of international students according to the 2016 Independent Schools Council census.

Now these parents are also demanding a more “western” option at home. Wealthier parents have flocked to enrol their children at the newly opened Chinese arms of traditional British private schools such as Wycombe Abbey and Harrow. UK state schools are beginning to get in on the action too; Bohunt, the school from the BBC programme, is opening a private school in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, next year. And it’s not just parents who have an appetite for something different.

More than a decade ago, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a statement denouncing the “exam-oriented education” of China. In the past few years, the ministry has introduced a policy calling for the formal encouragement of “creativity” and “innovation” in schools. The school where I taught has clearly taken heed. Among sections about a “military training that builds spirit” and “an education in Communism”, its prospectus boasts of Bayi’s commitment to “encourage creative awareness and creative acts”.

Link to the rest at The Financial Times (if you hit a paywall, you may want to cut and paste “Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?” and see what happens)

How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative

From Wired:

“I’m dying of boredom,” complains the young wife, Yelena, in Chekhov’s 1897 play Uncle Vanya. “I don’t know what to do.” Of course, if Yelena were around today, we know how she’d alleviate her boredom: She’d pull out her smartphone and find something diverting, like BuzzFeed or Twitter or Clash of Clans. If you have a planet’s worth of entertainment in your pocket, it’s easy to stave off ennui.

Unless it turns out ennui is good for us. What if boredom is a meaningful experience—one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?

That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. In one, researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an “associative thought” word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver.

Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.”

Link to the rest at Wired