Saturday, February 11, 2006

Davos Quotes on Creativity

Fast Company Now blogged about events at the World Economic Forum at Davos, especially the themes on creativity and innovation. The pieces are all quite short, but a couple are relevant to my last post on the NSF workshop on creativity tools.

In the "Innovation and Design Strategy" session, the panel members were asked to describe what they saw as the key to creativity.

Last to be voted off the island was Ideo's Tim Brown, who suggested that creativity is spurred by approaching problems with a beginner's mindset, and by exploring ideas through the use of rapid prototyping.

And the winner is: Google's Marissa Mayer, who argued for "a healthy disrespect for the impossible" combined with the virtues of constraints. In other words, aim high, but focus. Mayer described how an artist friend once told her that it was much easier to paint on a canvas that already had something on it--a mark or a line of some sort--than to begin with an entirely blank canvas. The existing mark is a constraint, something the artist has to think about and work around. And product developers at Ikea begin with a different sort of constraint, she said. They start with a price they have to meet--say $49--and then think about what they can make for that price.

I remember once being asked to just go off and design a solution for a big hairy problem -- with no realistic inputs at all to ground it or steer my direction. What's the ideal solution, Lynn?? I could have done something, but that waste of my time would have been more than I could have tolerated after the fact. The real development world is a world of constraints, and given a million other things I was also responsible for, I would have been in a bad mood indeed when my creative exercise was shot down as unrealistic. To this day, I am careful to always include minimal acceptable versions of every design idea I come up with -- because everything gets cut down eventually.

And the blank canvas is a bitch to start from, as she said. Translating that into software tool terms, I think it's more fun to start from something not quite right (a template for a document design, a building component?) and then modify it to get what you want.

Here's another one from their coverage, just because it's pithy and reasonable and I was on the page:

A Columbia University economist, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, spoke at a session on global competitiveness in Davos this morning. He offered what I think is the most succinct statement of the stages economies move through on their way to becoming innovation-based. First, he said, you concentrate on making something cheaper than anybody else. And when you can no longer make something cheaper than anybody else, you concentrate on making something better than anybody else. And when you can no longer make something better than anybody else, you concentrate on making something different than anybody else. That's the innovation economy.


Erik said...

It seems to me most software engineers prefer designing systems from "blank" to fixing systems that are wrong. (I prefer the latter, and most of my managers have confirmed that this is weird.) Interesting contrast to the preference you describe. (Artists abhor a blank canvas?)

And it's easier to write a song once you have some of a song in place, although, heaven knows, not easy.

Lynn said...

Huh. That is interesting -- I wonder if the complexity of the existing system (and lack of comments!) is a factor here. But I wonder if there's also a seniority/experience factor -- would very junior sw engineers feel the same way?

Yes, I've heard the blank canvas and blank page issue a bunch of times, and read about it in books on creativity as well. I hate a blank page, myself.