The Self-Edit

As children progress through school they become self-conscious and quietly begin to suppress their playful tendencies for fear of being childish or breaking with social norms. These children grow into adults who self-edit in an attempt to adhere to these social norms for fear of being different. Play is dismissed and creativity eyed suspiciously as something that lacks discipline and is confined to the arts. It’s not really anyone’s fault but the trappings of a system steeped in tradition and outdated ideas. Ironically, it is creativity, imagination and courage that is required to create new social norms as we overcome the systemic inertia in our fight against this spiralling trajectory.

I had a chance to meet Nolan Bushnell earlier this year. Growing up with the magic that was Atari I was fascinated to hear about his history of serial entrepreneurship, how he managed a young Steve Jobs (and turned down a 1/3 stake in Apple), and how he found and nurtured creative talent in the workplace. He shared stories of identifying, recruiting and hiring by offering gems like employing people for their passions and intensity, ignoring credentials, looking for people who have interesting hobbies, avoiding the clones and hiring the obnoxious and crazy. To nurture and then retain creative employees he suggests celebrating success often and loudly, instituting a degree of anarchy within the organization, championing the bad ideas, treating employees as adults, having a yearly demo day (think HackSIS), neutralising the naysayers by making them take ownership for their criticisms and throwing the dice.

Throwing the dice, a concept published by George Cockcroft in 1971, involves leaving decisions in life to chance. Why should we do this? Because we tend to self-select our agenda without being aware that we’re doing so. Bushnell states that this is the biggest problem with creativity – self editing.  Living by the dice is the easiest way to break old habits, get out of a rut, or change your daily routine. How does it work?

1) Buy a 20 sided and an 8 sided dice.
2) Create a list of 8 new daily habits you would like. Every day, roll the 8 die, and do whatever number it lands on.
3) Create a list of 20 goals or projects. These can be as small or as outlandish as you like but don’t self-edit, as big innovation often lives right on the edge of seemingly ridiculous ideas. Roll the 20 die, and do whatever number it lands on until you finish the goal. Then, roll again.

In his book Finding the Next Steve Jobs, Bushnell states,

Do not self edit. Your ideas may be the key to everyone’s future.

It’s always been the seemingly improbable, boundary-pushing ideas that have created this world around us. The people who say something can’t be done are the ones standing in the way of people doing it. Nolan Bushnell’s advice to anyone is simple. Act. Don’t just talk about it. Do something.

Roll the Dice.

Out of Our Minds

“Our ideas can enslave or liberate us. Some people never do make the transition and remain resident in the old world view; their ideological comfort zone.” – Sir Ken

Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative is a book that, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed. Sir Ken gives a very broad overview of a changing world, a broken education system, shares anecdotes that sometimes relate to the points that he is trying to make and gives the reader a general framework for being a creative leader.

He defines common misconceptions about creativity; namely that ‘creativity’ as it is currently understood actually consists of:

  • Imagination – the source of creativity. The ability to bring to mind things that are not present in our senses.
  • Creativity – the process of having original ideas. Creativity is applied Imagination.
  • Innovation – the process of putting new ideas into practice. Innovation is applied Creativity.

Sir Ken asks us to challenge the many things that we take for granted,

“Like the medieval astronomer we continue to believe in the assumptions of mass education, despite all the evidence that the system is failing so many people within it.” – Sir Ken

and speaks about cultural aversions to change and why resistance to change is only natural.

After attending the Creative Innovation 2011 conference recently, I now know that many of the speakers where actually directly quoting this book as the book – and this is what is worrying me.

In 1780, Jacques Rousseau published Emile, in which he argued for a new approach to education that was based on play, games, pleasure and personal interests. For the next 200+ years their have been many who have argued for a more playful and creative education system, those such as Froebel, Montessori, Steiner, OrffDewey and Kohn, and yet despite their efforts, they have gone largely ignored. But in the fast-changing world of the 21st century, every business, government official and education leader wants a quick dose of creativity and innovation and will pay whatever it takes to say they have done the latest ‘Sir Ken’ workshop, and this in turn ticks the necessary innovation box. But can you actually ‘teach’ creativity? Granted, a framework can be introduced to encourage ‘creative’ thinking and a ‘creative’ culture and work environment (think Google), but in an age of the quick-fix workshop, how many of these organizations are willing to invest in long-term strategies to really drive systemic change toward a more creative and innovative environment?

Take the time to read this review of Out of Our Minds on Amazon – Is Creativity the New Snake Oil?

Is Creativity the New Snake Oil?

Children as Makers

In the MakersCory Doctorow paints a picture of a not too distant future, where a global economic downturn has led to an explosion of tinkering, innovation and creativity. This explosion is coined the ‘New Work’ movement and draws similarities to the dot-com boom of the 90’s. This ‘New Work’ movement empowers the average person and inspires a renaissance of sorts, almost removing the idea or paradigm of the centralized working environment. It creates a new culture, one of joyful discovery and inquisitiveness, of collaboration, and one where innovation is not only valued, but necessary to remain competitive in a fast-changing world.

This culture, dominated by amateur creators, no longer values corporate hierarchies or structures. People evolve with an ever-changing, and increasingly sophisticated technological world and are not tied or shackled to institutions that try to maintain the status quo, and they in turn, create new economic models and ways of doing business. This new movement is fuelled in part by the 3D printer. Wikipedia describes 3D printing,

“3D printing is a form of manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printers offer product developers the ability to print parts and assemblies made of several materials with different mechanical and physical properties in a single build process.”

Quantum Victoria has a Dimension Elite 3D Printer that will be used for engineering processes such as proof of concept, functional testing, product mockups etc. and whilst the current costs of these devices is prohibitive, already we are seeing low-cost solutions entering the market. These printers are basically used as rapid prototyping devices at present, but not for much longer. Neil Gershenfeld, the Director for the Centre of Bits and Atoms at MIT, has been working on personal fabrication labs or ‘Fablabs’ for a few years now. These machines are still currently in their primitive stage, but Gershenfeld predicts that within 20 years every home will be equipped with a ‘Fablab’.

In 20 years, imagine not going to a jeweller to buy a new watch – but instead designing your own and fabricating it in your own home. Imagine being able to build anything you ever need in your own home, then imagine the effect that this will have on society, economics and industry.

New and emerging technologies like 3D printers are radically altering the landscape in which we live. By harnessing the potential of these technologies we can ensure systemic and fundamental restructuring – but to take full advantage of the opportunities this paradigm shift affords, we need children to have a passion for new ideas and creative tinkering. If innovation is seen as the successful implementation of creative ideas, then play is an integral part to the development of these passions we require our children to have.

Whilst most adults recognize the importance of providing young children the opportunity to play in educational environments, the connection between play and learning is often talked about dismissively, referred to as ‘just play”, and discussed as if in a dichotomy with learning. The ‘back to basics’ movement should be about reconnecting pleasurable emotions with learning and encouraging a playful environment – one that is not clinging to romantic notions of nostalgia but instead suited to the needs to the 21st century. This new approach would enable learners to develop the creative-thinking skills that are critical to success in todays society – in other words it would encourage children to be makers.

The Makers is technically science fiction, but really could be a commentary of society in the early 21st century. It resonates with many of the themes that are current in today’s society such as open source v proprietary, the individual v the corporation, intellectual property and out of date copyright laws and infringement in the age of the remix culture. 

Download your own free copy of Makers by Cory Doctorow here.