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.