Sign up FAST! Login

The System That All Creative Geniuses Use To Develop Their Ideas

Stashed in: #lifehacks, Creativity, Best PandaWhale Posts, Practice, Attitude, Problem?, Ideas, Flow, Innovation, @bakadesuyo, Pixar, Awesome, There is no finish line., Kaizen, Books, Intelligence, Genius, Creativity, Never give up., Life Hacks, Rising meets Risen, Creativity

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Dammit Barker, stop adding things to my amazon wish list...   :)

It's good to keep having things to wish for, Matt.

Two words: Continual improvement.

It may take Chris Rock six months to a year to develop one hour of comedy, and he does it by just scribbling ideas down on sheets of paper, going into these clubs unannounced and sitting down in a very relaxed, casual way with the audience, so that they know that, “Hey, this is not Chris Rock in prime time. This is Chris Rock in development mode.” He’ll just start riffing with the audience and he’ll bomb. It will be awkward at times. But what he’s doing is he’s looking for just a little hint as to where a hidden joke might be, and, once he finds that, then he keeps on that idea and keeps iterating, keeps improving, tweaking, until it becomes more and more a joke that he can use in his routine.

Read more:

The same is true of most creative processes:

The term for these people is “experimental innovators” – those who learn from each little mistake and piece together what ends up being something great, whether it’s a comedy act or a building or a piece of music. It just doesn’t come without lots of setback and toil.

Read more:

Pixar calls it plussing:

As Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull describes it, you have to “go from suck to non-suck” when you’re developing a new movie. So, they “plus” each other’s ideas. They don’t use judgmental language when they’re in these team meetings, even if the ideas are really crummy. They use what they call “plussing.” So, they take an idea, they say, “Yes. That looks good and what if we did this,” instead of saying, “I don’t like that idea,” and just throwing it out completely. So, this idea of plussing, taken from improvisation rules, is core to the Pixar culture, and the point is just that you make everybody’s ideas better, you take the good elements and then you make them better and you constantly do this until you get to perfection.

Read more:

"Yes, and..." is exceptionally important when I perform improv. Although it can be hard for beginners to avoid going off on extreme tangents even though they use the words. The key is the expansion on the idea or a strong enough link to it for there to be a recognizable transition. It's important both for the audience and for your fellow performers to get into the flow.  Just to add to people's reading wish lists. "Impro" by Keith Johnstone is a foundational improv book. Daniel Pink also talks about improv extensively in "To Sell is Human".

Excellent point. "Yes, and..." takes practice but is a powerful concept.

The key isn't problem solving; it's problem FINDING.

One of the really interesting things from the research on creativity, including from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is that the most creative artists tend to be really, really good at trying a lot of things before they solve a problem. These people weren’t just problem solvers, they were problem finders.

Read more:

Mindset makes a big difference:

The willingness to spend 5 to 10% of your time doing experiments will, over the long run, really open up that part of you that can be more creative and entrepreneurial, and yield, hopefully, some new opportunities that you hadn’t thought of before trying something.

Read more:

This is good stuff.  I can attest to such a system and thought tools working as helpful drivers of incremental innovation.  And that these techniques could work in near any creative domain, but they will not work for every creative purpose or every person.  Not only are there are other systems that also work to drive creativity, this system doesn't work very well to drive disruptive innovation.  

Disruptive innovation benefits more from a different approach with different thinking models that have less emphasis on plussing and more emphasis on lateral thinking, often dependent upon inclusion of non-domain and non-experts to reveal implicit relationships and proven experiences totally unrelated to the existing domain but that then significantly redefine it.  

Disruptive inventions and breakthroughs are different than incremental innovations because they usually arrive as whole cloth insights, not something that gets cribbed together by committee or a single person mulling over hundreds of ideas and continuously refining them over time.  The Chunnel is one example and seeding clouds is another and would argue Frank P. Davidson and Vincent J. Schaefer, respectively, are creative geniuses for inventing these things.

I guess if we wish to describe this as "The System That All Creative Geniuses Use ... to Develop Their Ideas" then we are speaking about all creative geniuses for a specific class, not all creative geniuses--presuming we judge someone as a creative genius by their impacts and results and not by their activities.

True, I'm particularly interested in the goal-oriented creative geniuses.

Hi Rob,

I'm not sure I agree with your distinction between "goal-oriented" and "disruptive" innovation.  I've been involved with (and observed) various disruptive innovations as they were developed, and the process seems extremely similar to that outlined here.

To be sure, the process often starts with a "whole cloth insight" (after a lot of other wrong ideas didn't pan out :-).   But that is just inspiration; the other 99% of perspiration still has to occur.  It can't be done by a committee, but it is rare for it to be done by one person in isolation.

And speaking at least for myself, my brilliant world-changing inspirations are at best 50% accurate; and I have no idea which ones are which until I've gone through the process...

Hi Ernie, I welcome any disagreement.  What were the disruptive innovations that you observed?

I'm not entirely sure you read me correctly about what to disagree on, or I could've been unclear too:  I was making a distinction between incremental and disruptive innovation creative methods, not "goal-oriented" and "disruptive" ones.  Maybe you had a typo, but just in case I do believe "goal-oriented" methods apply and are embedded in both incremental and disruptive innovation methods, not separate from them.  However, incremental and disruptive innovation creation methods are NOT the same:

Goal-orientation in incremental innovation typically targets efficiency gains, achieving better results by ideas that solve bounded problems against current baselines, e.g. faster micro chip processors using lower voltages and less heat.  The above system of creative methods work well and apply here.

Goal-orientation in disruptive innovation targets effectiveness gains, achieving better results by ideas that completely obliterate existing problem frames and create new baselines, e.g. distributed networks of slower processors that replace CPUs.

Or let's just think of civilizations moving from throwing rocks to bow and arrows to guns as a series of disruptive innovations.  And then any improvements within each of those classes of weapons, i.e. slings, compound bows, fully automatics, as incremental innovations throughout their implementation and evolved use.

You might have also conflated innovation as a process of coming up with an improved idea that works vs the actual execution of making it work.  These are two different things:

Disruptive innovations always create a cascade of incremental innovations embedded throughout the proof of concept, market, scale execution and implementation of every next best version to follow.  But that process is not what created the disruptive idea, it's simply an integral part of all good implementation for any idea, disruptive or not.

Incremental innovations rarely return the favor and generate disruptive innovations by their implementation.  This is true in practice regardless what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about creative flow in theory--incremental innovation creative flow just doesn't magically ascend upstream into a waterfall of disruptive ideas: as Einstein reputedly said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”  And we rarely ever get to disruption insights by adding n+1 more subject matter experts, PhDs or big brains to further attack a bounded problem in their realm of expertise.  

However, once your incremental innovation industry gets large enough, significant enough and complex enough to attract outside folks, who are not your industry domain experts, and get them interested enough to start mucking around, we then get the necessary organic environment and feedback dynamic where people can rapidly envision how to make the next next big thing that then makes your entire world irrelevant... and disruption inevitably occurs.

Happens all the time.

Rob, "Goal-oriented" was Adam's term.   We probably agree more than we disagree.  My main point is that disruptive innovations requires the same sort of iteration and hard work described in the article, the same as incremental innovation. The main difference is that incremental innovation can rely on existing metrics (implicit or explicit) to measure improvement, whereas disruptive innovation typically requires inventing (often implicitly) a new metric of performance.  But at some level, that just affects the scope of the problem being iterated upon.

Ernie, yes, I agree with the differences you outline above and your other points, yet there is one nibbling point I was trying to make--disruptive innovation is not produced by, nor "requires the same sort of iteration and hard work described in the article..." in ideation of such discontinuous creations.

My follow on point was that the article methods can describe and be prescribed for how a disruptive innovation, once envisioned, gets implemented and refined.  And that's a different point.

Perhaps this is only where we disagree?

Ah, maybe the difference is that:

For sustaining innovation, the basic idea is fairly obvious to most people, but the differentiator is efficient implementation.

For disruptive innovation, the differentiator is an idea is considered ludicrous by most people, and implementation merely requires a minimum viable product.

Adequate idea + brilliant implementation vs. brilliant idea + adequate implementation


Yes, that's accurate about the distinction I was sharing from my experience:

I've found brilliant implementation takes more sustained effort, on top of good structural design, for incremental innovation change projects to work well. This usually requires building innovation cultures at companies or activating communities by outcome frameworks to do lengthy innovation projects, for example.

Whereas brilliant ideas are often easily produced spontaneously with far less sustained effort (hard work) simply by imposing good structural design up front on any large outcome ambitions for change (e.g. systemic impacts like global climate change, net-positive externalities like housing the homeless, etc.).  That said, we agree that taking brilliant disruptive ideas and turning them into broader reality can be highly challenging and take a lot of work...or not--if, as they say, "...It was an idea whose time had come."

On the specific topic of improv & innovation, I took a great class called "Improv for Innovation" by Mamie Rheingold. It really surprised me how directly applicable a lot of improv exercises and skills are to coming up with creative ideas and turning them into real solutions. A few months after taking the class I had the chance to put it into practice at an Innovation Week at work where my project won the "most innovative" award--I felt like I had a new secret weapon.

Totally agree. Improv is a great method, with fun exercises to get creative juices flowing!

what a good thread.Bboys/Dancers/athletes and Artists, in general, also practice this way - the small tweaks that cumulatively create that perfect, efficient, natural, powerful movement or stroke.  Like sculpture.  One of the many wonders of iterative development aka life.  time.  

You May Also Like: