Archive of posts in category “creativity”

  • In the spirit of making public predictions in order to get my thinking straight, I had a think about the industry I work in most: the world of communications agencies. What does the future hold for them? Is it possible to feel out what might happen in the next decade? Nothing particularly good, I don’t think:

    “No economies of scale. Limited demand-side growth prospects. A model that delivers the benefit of productivity increases to clients, not agencies. Limited opportunities for further M&A. This all paints a bleak picture of the last decade for the big four, and a bleak picture of the prospects for the industry in general.”


  • A useful tool from Jay Acunzo, which helps to define how an idea differs from the competition that’s already out there:

    “Unfortunately, most of us get stuck playing comparison games. I think that’s because most of us are quick to spoil the possibilities for ourselves. We can’t wait to see the score. We can’t wait to look in the box at the cat. We can’t wait to figure out the best practice, or else we spend too much time consuming things inside our echo chamber. We adopt a narrow view right from the beginning instead of considering endless possibilities — which should be the hallmark of any creative person. As a result of being so anchored to our peers and competitors, when it’s time to pitch our premises, it sounds like a comparison.”


  • Andreas Wagner, in an extract from his new book, details the evolutions – in both biology and human culture – that lay dormant for years before suddenly encountering the conditions in which to become successful:

    “These and many other new life forms remained dormant before succeeding explosively. They are the sleeping beauties of biological evolution. They cast doubt on many widely assumed beliefs about success and failure. And these doubts apply not just to the innovations of nature, but also to those of human culture.”

    This reminds me of the theory of the “slow hunch”, which Clive Thompson wrote about last year. #

  • Cultivating serendipity

    The discovery of penicillin and X-rays; Newton and the apple; Archimedes in the bath. So often, it seems, someone trying their best to work out a difficult problem ends up stumbling onto the solution by accident. But do you have to leave everything up to chance? Or can you organise your life in a way that maximises the chances of these unintended benefits?
  • The simplicity of subtraction

    When we’re creating things, keeping them simple is a constant battle. That’s because of how humans think – and how we can get fixated on addition rather than subtraction.
  • Clive Thompson writes about how great ideas can have incredibly long gestation periods, as they roll around our heads and are augmented by bits and pieces of new information as we learn new things. He includes a great example of his own.

    His advice?

    “Treasure your long hunches. Gather wool slowly, and patiently. Keep lots of notes about things you’re learning and thinking about, and don’t worry if you feel like you’re being digressive. If you find yourself reading up on something that seems like a weird side-distraction, let yourself go there. It might be your brain working slowly – very slowly – on a hunch that won’t reveal itself for another ten years.

    “But when it does, it’ll be great.”


  • The five-year chunk

    How do you strike a balance between the past, the present, and the future? The trick is finding the right period of time to focus on – not so long that it allows your ambitions to float off into the æther, but not so short that you never tackle anything tough.
  • Dedicated innovation

    Dedicated R&D teams are a controversial subject, but so too is the idea that everyone should be innovative in what they do. Which is correct? Is it sufficient – or even necessary – to build a dedicated innovation team in order to develop new ideas? Can people innovate in their day-to-day jobs? And which is better?
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sadly died last month. Among his many contributions to popular ideas around creativity (such as the idea of “flow”) is this excellent list of ten strangely paradoxical opposing traits that particularly creative individuals seem to possess:

    1. Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.
    2. Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.
    3. A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
    4. Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other.
    5. Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.
    6. Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.
    7. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping [of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’].
    8. Creative people are both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
    9. Creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
    10. The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.


  • The three Xs of innovation

    Kent Beck identified three phases of product development: Explore, Expand, and Extract. Knowing which one you’re currently facing changes how you approach your work – and your chances of success.
  • The commoditisation of creativity

    Creative ideas are becoming easier to have and easier to execute. They’re becoming commodities, low in value and interchangeable. In this brutal world, is there anything left for the professional creative? I think there is.
  • Build competence, not literacy

    There’s a big difference between literacy and competence, but we often conflate them by mistake – and create cultures and organisations that are fragile as a result.
  • In praise of the idea shepherds

    What Shakespeare’s friends and textile manufacturers in a 1960s factory have to tell us about creativity, power, and who we collectively choose to celebrate.
  • The taste–skill gap in creative work

    Many people who get into creative fields already have a highly tuned sense of taste for their chosen discipline. But this taste, rather than being an asset, often prevents them from progressing – by causing them to reject their own work as sub-standard. How do you get past that?
  • I can’t believe I didn’t find this when I wrote about augmented creativity: Garry Kasparov coined the term “centaur chess” for a game of chess played by two humans, in which the humans ultimately decide which moves to make, but have access to the full power of a computer before doing so. In theory, it’s a form of chess that combines the creativity and empathy of human players with the raw computing power of the chess engine. #

  • Communal creativity

    Informal, loosely coupled groups of people often produce a prolific burst of good ideas, changing the worlds of science, art, and music. But why is that? What conditions are necessary for this super-creativity to emerge, and when has it happened in the past?
  • A factory for startups

    All other things being equal, startups are able to innovate more easily than larger, more established businesses. There are lots of ways for existing organisations to involve themselves in startups: startup accelerators, internal startups, and so on. Is the startup studio the most useful model?
  • Augmented creativity

    We’re not at the stage where artificial intelligence can come up with and implement novel, interesting ideas independently. The first computer-generated novel or screenplay that humans actually want to read or watch is still some time away. But what seems to be around the corner is equally interesting: AI-augmented creativity.
  • Evocative advice on how to combat writer’s block:

    “BUT: sometimes you do everything right and you still have writer’s block. In my opinion, there’s no reason to force it at this point. Writing comes from the deep and complex things happening within your mind. It is an expression of Creativity.

    “It helps to think of Creativity as a force, a capitalized word.”


  • Creating creative organisations

    Donald T. Campbell, inspired by evolutionary theory, explained the spread of creative ideas in three steps: variation, selection, and retention. What does it look like to build an organisational culture that excels at all three of these phases?
  • Insiders and outsiders

    Throughout history, outsiders have solved countless problems, and society has venerated the romantic myth of the heretic, seeing what others can’t or won’t and suffering the consequences of their discoveries. But is there a systemic advantage in being an outsider? Can they see what others don’t? Or are those with inside knowledge more likely to succeed?
  • The rise of creativism

    The late-twentieth century saw the rise of managerialism, the belief that professional managers wielded skills that were applicable across organisations and industries – a movement that failed miserably. At the same time, there emerged a strain of thinking that did the same thing for creativity. But can this “creativism” succeed where managerialism failed?