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.