Opinion | The truth about creativity: It’s a process, not a serendipitous, magical occurrence

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia credits the success of the global hospitality service to design thinking. (Photo: Reuters)

The theme of creativity conjures up images of lone geniuses working in isolation to produce game changing innovations. In today’s digital era characterized by user generated innovation, crowdsourcing and co-creation, this notion of creativity is being turned on its head.

The new notion is that anybody can be creative and there are toolkits and techniques that ordinary people can use to produce extraordinary results. Researchers refer to this as everyday creativity. Everyday creativity is the ability to summon new ideas while going through mundane life experiences. It is something that lets a person see the familiar in the unfamiliar and the unfamiliar in the familiar. To understand the new model of everyday creativity, we first need to explode a few myths.

Myth 1: Creativity is a serendipitous occurrence

A simple Google search on creativity brings to the fore plenty of images of a glowing light bulb. For some reason, we associate creativity with a serendipitous, magical occurrence with distinct on and off states. The surprising truth about creativity, however, is that it is a process, and when applied mindfully can produce consistent results.

Acclaimed design firm IDEO applies Design Thinking as a process to apply creative design to everyday objects ranging from a mundane shopping cart to a toothbrush to Nike sunglasses. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, says, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Joe Gebbia, the co-founder of Airbnb, credits the success of the global hospitality service to design thinking. Gebbia, a student of design, recounts his experience from the design school. “If we were working on a medical device, we would go out into the world. We would go talk with all the stakeholders, all the users of that product, doctors, nurses, patients and then we would have that epiphany moment where we would lay down in the bed in the hospital. We’d have the device applied to us, and we would sit there and feel exactly what it felt like to be the patient, and it was in that moment where you start to go aha, that’s really uncomfortable. There’s probably a better way to do this.” This experience encouraged Gebbia to make “being a patient” a core value of the design team at Airbnb.

Myth 2: Creativity is the domain of lone geniuses

For the longest time, researchers have tried to understand the methods of extraordinarily creative individuals such as Mozart, Picasso and Einstein to codify the process of creativity. Could it be possible that studying ordinary people in ordinary situations can contribute significantly to understating creativity? The answer is a resounding yes.

Harvard professor Teresa Amabile says, “We may see a sea change over the next decade or so, where more and more things that are considered creative breakthroughs will be made by people whose names are never going to be known as famous individuals”.

Enabled by the collaborative power of the internet, ordinary people in their workplaces, communities and societies are now able to come together to solve problems and co-create ingenuous ideas. “Be my Eyes” is a fascinating example of this phenomenon wherein blind and low-vision people can connect with sighted volunteers through a live video call to get their problems solved.

Myth 3: R&D teams provide creative solutions

Innovation is no longer just the forte of research and development departments. Employees across levels today are given an opportunity to contribute to ideas and have a say in creating innovative products and services. In fact, companies today are going beyond employees and leveraging talent across the world to solve some of their toughest challenges.

Anheuser-Busch, a leading brewer in the world, sought input from the best group of taste-testers it could find—in excess of 25,000 collaborators in all – before developing a craft-beer. The company created a golden-amber lager named Black Crown through a combination of competition between brew masters, tasting sessions and crowdsourcing consumer ideas.

So far, the narrative around creativity has revolved around the talent meets opportunity story. Today, it is about ordinary people leveraging the community. Let us now focus on how to hone everyday creativity —in other words, develop the ability to unlock creative superpowers at will every day.

Ask yourself what problems you want to solve: If you are passionate about the problem space, chances are you will be motivated to solve it.

Immerse yourself in the problem space: Talk to various people, observe things in their natural environment, seek inputs to develop a strong point of view

Tap into social networks: Any creative process is, by definition, prone to high failure rates. Harness the creativity of individuals in your network to accelerate your learning curve and unlock novel ways of looking at problems. Iterate and test your hypothesis in safe environments to perfect your solution.

To sum up, creativity is not about being artistic, it is about a mindset—one that cares deeply about a problem, seeks solutions from the network to learn rich perspectives and has the perseverance to make a difference.


Listening to music may not help you enhance creative performance

music-headphones2_ThinkstockPhotosLONDON: Listening to background music “significantly impairs” people’s ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity, say scientists who challenge the myth that music makes us more creative.

Psychologists from University of Gavle in Sweden, University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster Universityin the UK investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity.

They found that background music “significantly impaired” people’s ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity – but there was no effect for background library noise.

For example, a participant was shown three words (eg dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case “Sun”) that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (ie sundress, sundial and sunflower).

Listening to music may not help you enhance creative performance

The researchers used three experiments involving verbal tasks in either a quiet environment or while exposed to background music with unfamiliar lyrics, instrumental music without lyrics, or music with familiar lyrics.

“We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions,” said Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University.

Researchers suggest this may be because music disrupts verbal working memory.

The third experiment – exposure to music with familiar lyrics – impaired creativity regardless of whether the music also boosted mood, induced a positive mood, was liked by the participants, or whether participants typically studied in the presence of music.

Listening to music may not help you enhance creative performance

However, there was no significant difference in performance of the verbal tasks between the quiet and library noise conditions.

Researchers said this is because library noise is a “steady state” environment which is not as disruptive.

The findings challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content, consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving, researchers said.


Mobile apps may or may not be collecting your child’s data—but here’s why you should assume they are

This week two democratic senators are calling on federal regulators to investigate if children’s apps are tracking their data.

Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter on Wednesday to the Federal Trade Commission, writing they are concerned that numerous apps are potentially violating the law.

Without explicit parental consent, it is illegal to collect data on children under the age of 13 according to the Children Online Privacy Protection Act, which went into effect in 2000.

This comes after last month when the New Mexico Attorney Generalsued the maker of app Fun Kid Racing, as well as the online ad businesses run by Google, Twitter and three other companies.

The suit accused the companies of violating the law, and that Google misled parents by allowing apps to remain in its Google Play store children’s section after it was notified by researchers that thousands of apps may be tracking young children.

“The problem is this – we don’t know where the onus lies,” New York Times reporter Edmund Lee told CNBC’s “On the Money” in an interview.

Lee says the law isn’t clear on whether it should be the platform such as Google or Apple to make sure the apps in their stores are complying with the law, whether it’s up to the game developer or if it should be up to the third party data firm tracking the data.

“So there’s a whole system in place that everyone keeps passing the buck and there’s no case law yet,” says Lee. “Even the legislation – it’s not entirely clear who is ultimately responsible.”


So what should a parent do if they are concerned their child is being tracked?

Lee says, “You should just assume it’s going to happen you should assume you’re going to be tracked.”

“Right now it’s the ‘Wild West’ there are very few protections, few sort of places of enforcement around it, and that’s why it’s hard as a parent and as a kid to navigate,” he added.

However, Lee notes most of these are harmless games, and the tracking data is used for advertising purposes, which is how these companies make money.

For parents worried about their child’s privacy – Lee says he tells his own daughter to keep her communication online only with people she knows.

“You’re not going to be able to look and know every single piece of data that’s being floated out there until there’s legislation and case law in place. But in the meantime make sure you know who your kid is talking to and it shouldn’t be strangers and it shouldn’t be someone they just met online.”


Twitter Says Removal of Fake Accounts Does Not Hurt User Metrics

Twitter Says Removal of Fake Accounts Does Not Hurt User Metrics

Twitter said on Monday it has removed fake accounts but that does not impact its reported user metrics as was indicated in a report by The Washington Post.

The newspaper had said the social media company had suspended more than 70 million fake accounts in May and June, leading to a decline of monthly active users in the second quarter.

“Most accounts we remove are not included in our reported metrics as they have not been active on the platform for 30 days or more, or we catch them at sign up and they are never counted,” CFO Ned Segal tweeted on Monday.

“If we removed 70M accounts from our reported metrics, you would hear directly from us.”

Shares of Twitter fell 9 percent on Monday after a report said the social media company had suspended more than 70 million fake accounts in May and June, which could lead to a decline of monthly active users in the second quarter.

The slump wiped about $3 billion (roughly Rs.20,600 crores) from the microblogging site’s market valuation, which had stood at about $35 billion on Friday. Twitter shares were last down 8.6 percent at $42.62 (roughly Rs. 2,900).

“Such reaction is due likely to the assumption that the lower user count would attract less ad dollars,” Morningstar analyst Ali Mogharabi said.

Mogharabi, however, pointed to big advertisers now paying more attention to the quality content alongside which their ads are placed.