Category Archives: Creativity

Be Curious

Source: The Creativity Post, Jul 2017

  1. find and remove what gets in the way of your curious mind
  2. never be too shy to ask questions, and ask questions even when you think you know everything you need to know. Carefully and intentionally frame questions
  3. become a more interesting person and live a more interesting life by reconnecting with your inner child, sense of wonder, and catechumen’s mindset
  4. turn away from the familiar, and open your mind to new ideas, interests, experiences, and adventures
  5. dig deeper and understand the context, origin, and history of things
  6. forge deep and quality relationships by showing your sincere and genuine interests in people around you, across all levels
  7. build your own lab full of experimental tools as your sandbox to tinker or try out new things; enjoy mistakes and failures
  8. work with people with inquisitive minds, rather than just qualified and experienced people


Questions That Prompt Creativity

Source: The Creativity Post, Jul 2017

One of the most powerful forces for tapping and honing your creativity is inquiry. It isn’t the question, however, that makes inquiry so potent. It’s the mindset, the way in which you look at the world around you and the thinking that accompanies it.

That’s where the power lies. The clout comes forth when you make that mindset active – probing, being curious, and pursuing those things that make your head turn. It’s an important distinction. When we neglect that distinction we forget that questions are simply tools. Questions aid the probing and direct curious exploration. But once the questions are answered, the inquiry remains – at least for the person who understands that creativity is a uniquely human capacity in need of perpetual use and shaping.

As part of a multi-year creativity study, I had the unique opportunity to speak in depth with nearly seventy MacArthur Fellows. While unique in a number of ways, the Fellowship stands apart as the only award given explicitly for creativity. In the press it’s more popularly referred to as the “Genius Award”, a two-edged distinction to be sure, but one that gives a proper nod to a group of people who know a little something about creativity in actual practice. When I spoke with each of these creative practitioners I asked them this:

Two common elements made all of their questions powerful.

First, each question logically fit into what that person was passionate about and practiced. At times this common trait of “fit with passion” astounded, such as the novelist whose ongoing question was, “What is it about the ‘lie’ of fiction that we seem to need or at least be attracted to?” or the choreographer who couldn’t stop pursuing the question, “Why is danger profound?” Astounding or not, the key was that the question did it’s job, stimulating deeper curiosity and fueling the pursuit of passion in their actual professional practice.

The second feature that made these questions powerful was that each question was also “perpetual“. There is no single or final answer, for example, to the civil rights lawyer whose question was, “How can I change the way we think about this?” In a similar way, how could the photojournalist answer for all time, “How can I weave the light into the dark?” All of these deeply creative souls had some lingering question rolling around in their head (sometimes consciously, often not) that had no end, only the promise of ongoing possibility. It’s the very kind of question that ensures inquiry remains the focal point.

Such questions exist for us all. No one can tell us what ours is. But the odds are better than not that there is a question driving you regardless of how closely you may take note of it right now. What the question means to you, how you phrase or apply it, even the question itself is meant to have a strong element of fluidity. What matters is the habit of asking, and when we allow a question to drive us to keep doing that, our odds of being creative rise dramatically. 

Creativity Surpasses Automation

Source: MIT, Sep 2017

NPR: What do you see as the sector of the workforce that is least likely to change or least likely to disappear?

BRYNJOLFSSON: Well, there are three big categories that machines are really bad at. They’ve made tremendous advances, but they’re bad at first off doing creative work. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, or a scientist, or a novelist, I think you’re in pretty good shape doing that long-range creativity. 

There’s probably no better time in history to be somebody with some real creative insights. And then the technology helps you leverage that to millions, or billions of people. People who can combine some creativity with an understanding of the digital world are especially well-positioned.

Bongard Problems Require Creativity

Source: Quanta magazine, Jun 2017

Bongard problems go to the heart of scientific discovery: They give you two sets of six related figures, the left-hand set consisting of examples that satisfy some unknown rule, and the right-hand set having items that break the rule. Your task, like that of a scientist faced with messy data from nature, is to figure out the rule.

The visual nature of these problems reveals a great deal about human perception and cognition, which Foundalis describes nicely on his site. The primitive spatial functions required to reason about these problems, such as the ability to detect shapes in different sizes and orientations, are relatively hard to program into computer algorithms, but our visual system, honed by evolution, accomplishes them automatically.

Can you solve these three Bongard problems and discover the hidden laws in this toy universe?

Problem 1


Courtesy of Harry Foundalis. Bongard Problem 44 (Designer: M.M. Bongard)

Courtesy of Harry Foundalis. Bongard Problem 44 (Designer: M.M. Bongard)

Problem 2


Courtesy of Harry Foundalis. Bongard Problem 110 (Designer: Douglas Hofstadter)

Courtesy of Harry Foundalis. Bongard Problem 110 (Designer: Douglas Hofstadter)

Problem 3

Courtesy of Harry Foundalis. Bongard Problem 230 (Designer: Joseph A.L. Insana)

Courtesy of Harry Foundalis. Bongard Problem 230 (Designer: Joseph A.L. Insana)

Bongard problems and code-breaking games like Mastermind require the use of inductive reasoning. This generally means going from the particular to the general (as enshrined in the mnemonic PIG, for particular-inductive-general). In contrast, most mathematical problem solving relies on deductive methods, in which you reason from a known general rule to a particular conclusion.

Whereas the conclusions from deductive reasoning follow entirely from the initial assumptions, inductive rules, and therefore scientific conclusions, are basically well-supported guesses that fit existing data well. The problem is that many possible rules can fit the data

Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?

Source: Forbes, Dec 2016
Research paper:

An interesting paper on the idea that the productivity of researchers is falling. That is, we have to devote ever more effort to developing new technologies and this spells, in the end, doom for economic growth. The point being that advancing technology is what allows productivity growth, it is productivity growth which enables economic growth. Thus, if we have to devote ever more resources to finding and developing those new technologies then we’ll end up running out of resources to do so and thus economic growth will fail to happen.

what is actually being measured, when they look at Moore’s Law, is the exploitation of an already known idea. Not the finding of new and different ideas.

What we do have here is proof that established firms are having to put greater effort into chip advancements over time.

Can Creativity be Automated?

Source: Boston Globe, Feb 2009

A little-known discipline of science called computational intractability studies the boundaries of our understanding … but of the everyday computational realm.

We know answers exist, but it turns out that calculating the solutions to such kinds of problems could take too long, even if all the world’s most powerful computers were to work together on them. Individual instances can be solved, but there is no general way to attack such problems efficiently, which means the “universe could have degenerated into black holes while your computer is still running,” said Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at MIT.

By knowing what problems we can’t solve – and scientists are busy figuring out whether problems that seem intractable actually are – researchers can pursue new ways to approach problems, or come up with approximate solutions to problems.

“There are some things we just take for granted cannot be done – and intractability research tries to make it precise,” said Sampath Kannan, director for the Division of Computing and Communication Foundations at the National Science Foundation.

“As we increasingly become an information society, it’s increasingly important to understand” the limits of computation, he said.

Recognizing that value, the National Science Foundation granted $10 million last year to Arora’s center at Princeton.

Sometimes what is intractable looks deceptively straightforward. Take the challenge of making housing assignments. Imagine that there are 100 spots in dorms, and a pool of 400 students to choose from. The dean has a list of pairs of students who are incompatible and cannot appear on the final list.

“The total number of ways of choosing students 100 from the 400 applicants is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe!” the Clay Mathematics Institute wrote in its $1 million challenge. “Thus no future civilization could ever hope to build a supercomputer capable of solving the problem by brute force.”

even with complete data about complex systems, it can be hard to find the rules and patterns that are hidden in the data, simply because of the limits of computation.

“I think it does go a long way to explaining why prediction problems are hard,” Aaronson said.

“A huge reason that we’re interested in these sorts of questions . . . is the question whether creativity can be automated,” Aaronson said. “T

A huge reason that we’re interested in these sorts of questions . . . is the question whether creativity can be automated,” Aaronson said. “The kind of creativity that proves theorems or solves puzzles, or finds patterns in data.”

With repercussions ranging from cryptography to artificial intelligence, humanity has a lot riding on the answer to the question – which remains unsolved.

With repercussions ranging from cryptography to artificial intelligence, humanity has a lot riding on the answer to the question – which remains unsolved.

Creative Children

Source: Keith Sawyer blog, Mar 2017

How can we keep creativity alive in children?

Creative children are likely to be unusual children. They get bored with the idea of Jack’s always going up the hill with Jill. They do not accept things as they are; they do not easily settle down to their lessons as they are given to them.

The good teacher may be genuinely searching for creativity in her pupils. But she is continually defeated in her efforts by the demands of her supervisor, the politics of the local school system, the lack of space, the lack of materials, the lack of assistance, the size of the class. Given these obstacles, she is unprepared to cope with the child who uses his creativity to defeat her. The child who constructs questions that will arouse the boys to raucous laughter, whose raised hand she must therefore distrust; the child who invents secret clubs and ciphers and signals and ceremonies that turn the classroom into something strange and unpredictable.

We fail to see obstructiveness as an aspect of creativity. The teacher cannot risk disrupting the precarious balance of her overcrowded classroom. The best teacher has little time or energy for any kind of creativity, and none for the disruptive sort. But we can remedy these things quite easily and inexpensively. We can build enough schools. We can hire clerks and janitors

and guards to take much of the burdensome load off the teacher’s back. We can pay our teachers well enough to keep as teachers all those who really want to teach.

We want people who are original, creative, spontaneous, innovative. But we want them to be produced by teachers whom we condemn in a hundred ways to be overworked and uninspired, unrespected and underpaid. We would like the children of America to be creative, to learn about creativity, while we make the best change they have to learn, to respond to teaching, as uncreative as possible. There is only one sure way to develop creativity in all the different kinds of children in schools. We must cherish the creativity of all those who have elected to become teachers because they want to teach.

If we are to give more than lip service to creativity in children, we must actively support the creativity of the teacher. We must come to recognize fully the creativity of good teaching.