Tag Archives: creativity

In Evolution, Adaptability Beats Fitness

The longest continuous evolution experiment was started in 1988 and is still ongoing. The study, examining the “evolvability” of Escherichia coli (E. coli), has recently surpassed 52,000 generations and has had a sample of the population frozen and saved every 75 days (every 500 generations). The wealth of data obtained is fantastic and these frozen ancestors have been the focus of a recent study that set out to find whether the eventual “evolutionary winners” displayed signs of their genetic superiority hundreds of generations earlier.

To the researcher’s surprise, the bacterial winners in fact showed the absolute opposite: they were far inferior to the strains of bacteria that died out in later generations. To explain this they discovered that while these ancestors were conventionally less evolutionarily fit (they reproduced at a much slower rate), these “evolutionary winners” were much better at adapting to circumstances and at taking advantage of beneficial mutations. Adaptability trumped fitness.

“[The idea of] selection for evolvability has been in the air for a long time, but this is one of the first real systematic and explicit demonstrations of this actually happening,” said evolutionary biologist and population geneticist Michael Desai of Harvard University […]

The first surprise came when the team compared the fitness of four strains — two EWs [eventual winners] and two ELs [eventual losers] — and found that while all four strains had significantly higher fitness than the ancestral strain, the ELs appeared more fit than the EWs. Comparing the four strains directly confirmed the result: The two EW strains were at a significant disadvantage to the ELs. If these strains had not accumulated any more mutations, the researchers estimated the EWs would have gone extinct in just 350 additional generations. […]

The results suggested that the EWs, while initially at a disadvantage, prevailed in the long-term because they were more likely to acquire more beneficial mutations. In other words, the EWs had greater evolvability.

This seems like evolutionary evidence for the premise of Tim Harford’s latest book, Adapt.

Steve Jobs’ View on the Web and Creativity (1996)

In 1996, while he was still the CEO of NeXT, Steve Jobs was interviewed by Wired writer Gary Wolf. The result was a sometimes quaint, occasionally prophetic and often pessimistic exchange.

In this far-reaching (and somewhat lengthy) discussion with Steve Jobs, the two discuss the forthcoming ubiquity of “the web dial tone”, how technology doesn’t change the world and this on the true meaning of design and creativity:

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

via @tcarmody

Ira Glass on Being Wrong and Manufacturing Inspiration

Discussing how many great stories “hinge on people being wrong”, Kathryn Schulz interviews This American Life host Ira Glass on the benefits of being wrong.

I feel like being wrong is really important to doing decent work. To do any kind of creative work well, you have to run at stuff knowing that it’s usually going to fail. You have to take that into account and you have to make peace with it. […] In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can’t tell if it’s going to be good until you’re really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you. […]

I had this experience a couple of years ago where I got to sit in on the editorial meeting at the Onion. Every Monday they have to come up with like 17 or 18 headlines, and to do that, they generate 600 headlines per week. I feel like that’s why it’s good: because they are willing to be wrong 583 times to be right 17. […]

If you do creative work, there’s a sense that inspiration is this fairy dust that gets dropped on you, when in fact you can just manufacture inspiration through sheer brute force. You can simply produce enough material that the thing will arrive that seems inspired.

This fantastically comprehensive interview is one of the best I’ve read in a while and is part of a series of interviews on the subject of ‘wrongness’ following the publication of Schulz’s book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

Previous interviewees include Anthony Bourdain, Joe Posnanski, Diane Ravitch and Alan Dershowitz (part two).

via Intelligent Life

The Ideas of Frank Chimero

Designer Frank Chimero presents his ‘Ideas’: his manifesto of sorts principles on creativity, motivation and innovation. Chimero briefly covers seven topics, entitled:

  • Why is Greater Than How
  • Not More. Instead, Better.
  • Surprise + Clarity = Delight
  • Sincire, Authentic & Honest
  • No Silver Bullets, No Secrets
  • Quality + Sincerity = Enthusiasm
  • Everything is Something or Other

I’m particularly fond of the final two topics and this, from Why is Greater Than How:

This complex world has made us over-emphasize How-based thinking and education. Once the tools are understood, understanding why to do certain things becomes more valuable than how to do them. How is recipes, and learning a craft is more than following instructions.

How is important for new practitioners focused on avoiding mistakes. Why is for those who wish to push, are not risk-averse and seek to improve. How is coulda, Why is shoulda. How is finishing tasks, Why is fulfilling objectives. How usually results in more. Why usually results in better.

via Link Banana

Scientifically-Proven Ways to Improve Creativity

Fourteen acts or mindsets that have been shown–using science!–to increase creativity, from a two-article series on scientifically-proven methods to increase your creativity:

  1. Psychological distance: Imagine your creative task as distant and disconnected from your current location.
  2. Chronological distance: Project yourself or the task forward in time.
  3. Absurdist stimulation: Read some Kafka: absurdity is a ‘meaning threat’, making our mind work harder to find meaning and enhancing pattern recognition abilities.
  4. Use highly emotional states: Highly-charged emotional states increase problem solving and flexible thinking.
  5. Combine opposites: ‘Janusian thinking‘ helps integrative ideas emerge.
  6. Take resistive paths: The path of least resistance typically leads to ideas lacking in creativity (as they’re inherently built on existing ideas).
  7. Re-conceptualisation: Re-conceive the problem in different ways before trying to solve it, focusing on discovery at the problem-formulation stage.
  8. Counterfactual mindset: Two types of ‘what could have been’ thinking:
    • Subtractive for analytical problems (what could have been removed?).
    • Additive for expansive problems (what could have been added?).
  9. Two simultaneous problems: Multiple concurrent problems help the recall of previous creative solutions that may be related.
  10. Generic verbs: Focus on abstract rather than specific details of the problem (by thinking of problem-specific verbs in more generic terms).
  11. Synonyms and category taxonomies: Look at the problem category or type and discover hidden structures (by thinking of problem-specific details as synonyms and category taxonomies).
  12. Engage conflict: Social conflicts give us intense motivated focus.
  13. Think love not sex: Thoughts of love shift our minds to a long-term viewpoint while sexual thoughts shift them to the immediate, which is more analytical.
  14. Stop daydreaming: Somewhat against Csikszentmihalyi’s advice, incubation has shows minimal creative improvements. However its advantage may be in that it helps us forget previous bad ideas.

Alternatively you could take advice from Grayson Perry:

Being creative is all about being unself-conscious; being prepared to make a bit of a fool of myself. In my experience, embarrassment is not fatal. […] I’d like to make a plea for difficulty over cool. In the end, being difficult is the coolest thing you can be.