Falling in love boosts creativity

September 29, 2009

loveResearchers at the University of Amsterdam have demonstrated that thinking about love gives a boost to conceptual innovators.

They found that thoughts of love, but not thoughts of sex, help people think more “globally,” making it easier to come up with new ideas.

As Scientific American reports:

The clever experiments demonstrated that love makes us think differently in that it triggers global processing, which in turn promotes creative thinking and interferes with analytic thinking.

Thinking about sex, however, has the opposite effect: it triggers local processing, which in turn promotes analytic thinking and interferes with creativity.

Why does love make us think more globally? The researchers suggest that romantic love induces a long-term perspective, whereas sexual desire induces a short-term perspective.

This is because love typically entails wishes and goals of prolonged attachment with a person, whereas sexual desire is typically focused on engaging in sexual activities in the “here and now”.

Does thinking about sex give a boost to experimental innovators? Perhaps, though the researchers didn’t tackle that subject.

Marc Andreessen explores age and achievement, needs more info

August 24, 2007

Marc AndreesenIn his blog, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen has started to explore the topic of age and the entrepreneur. He has begun with research from 1988 by psychology Prof. Dean Simonton at UC-Davis, which concludes that productivity declines from a peak near the beginning of a career — the basic pattern for conceptual innovators.

In the process of collecting data, I hope that Andressen will acquaint himself with the more recent work by economist David Galenson at the University of Chicago that also finds a second pattern — experimental innovators whose achievements increase with age and peak later in their careers. This second pattern appears in many — perhaps all — fields, including painting (Cezanne), poetry (Frost), film making (Hitchcock), etc., as regular readers of this blog have heard, probably ad nauseam.

By lumping the two types of innovators together, as Simonton and other researchers such as Harvey Lehman have done, they let the experimental pattern get lost in the overall average. As a result, they wrongly conclude that innovators overall tend to peak early in their careers, when that’s only true for some.

Andreessen, by the way, seems to fit the pattern of a conceptual innovator. He wrote the Internet browser software Mosaic, the basis for Netscape, at age 21 as an undergraduate in Illinois.

Scott Berkun on innovation — I’d give his comments a B

July 17, 2007

Scott BerkunFormer Microsoft innovator Scott Berkun, author of “The Myths of Innovation,” has some noteworthy observations about young geniuses and older experimenters in a recent interview in the “How to Change the World” blog from former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki.

His observations are interesting, but would be more useful if they incorporated insights that David Galenson brings to the discussion.

On experimentation: Berkun sees experimentation as a supplement to the conceptual approach, which often be, of course. He doesn’t describe it as an approach that can stand on its own: “The best bet is to be an experimenter, a tinkerer—to learn to try out ideas cheaply and quickly and to get out there with people instead of fantasizing in ivory towers. Experience with real people trumps expert analysis much of the time.”

On age: Berkun believes that innovation declines with age, which tends to be true for conceptual innovators but not for experimental innovators. His explanation is that older people tend to shy away from the risks that innovation entails.

“Innovation is difficult, risky work, and the older you are, the greater the odds you’ll realize this is the case. That explanation works best. Beethoven didn’t write his ninth symphony until late in his life, so we know many creatives stay creative no matter how old they are. But their willingness to endure all the stresses and challenges of bringing an idea to the world diminishes. They understand the costs better from the life experience. The young don’t know what their is to fear, have stronger urges to prove themselves, and have fewer commitments—for example, children and mortgages. These factors that make it easier to try crazy things.”

Readers’ comments on the interview are also interesting. They touch on the works of James  Burke and Clayton Christensen on innovation and Frank Lloyd Wright as aging innovator.

Malcolm Gladwell is wrong about Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’

July 12, 2007

Michael MooreNew Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell makes a fundamental error in his critique of Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko.” Gladwell says the health-care system is so complex that it can’t be fixed with one bold stroke such as Moore proposes. The best-selling author of “Blink” and “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell reasons thus:

Moore, he says, takes a Picasso-like approach, referring to Pablo Picasso as conceptual innovator who pioneered cubism’s bold break with more traditional painting.

Gladwell argues that the intricacies of the health-care mess require a step-by-step experimental approach like painter Paul Cezanne’s.

He presented that argument to a recent health-care conference in Las Vegas.

The flaw in that argument is that it’s problem-solving individuals, not problems themselves, that tend to be conceptual or experimental. Picasso, Orson Welles, T.S. Eliot, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were conceptual innovators. Cezanne, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Frost, and computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper made their contributions as experimental innovators. In each field, both types of innovators flourish.

Was the never-ending problem of how to portray the world in art so complex that it took Cezanne’s experimental approach to solve it at the end of the 19th century but became simple enough for Picasso to solve conceptually and cubistically in 1907? Of course not.

In Web survey, finders outnumber seekers 2-to-1

July 9, 2007

In my survey of visitors who took the “Which type of innovator are you?” quiz on the “Arts of Innovation” Web site, many more conceptual innovators (finders) recorded their results than did experimental innovators (seekers).

The breakdown at the latest count is 57 percent finders and 29 percent seekers, with the remaining 14 percent either dissatisfied with the quiz or self-categorized as half-and-half.

People’s favorites — Gates, Hazen, cummings

July 9, 2007

Elizabeth HazenAmong the dozens of artists, writers, film makers and inventors whose stories are told on the “Arts of Innovation” Web site, the most popular among Internet searcher are a software mogul, a microbiologist and a poet: (1) Bill Gates, (2) Elizabeth Hazen (pictured) and (3) e e cummings.

The most popular pages are:

The quiz “Are you experimental or conceptual?”;

• The preliminary, still-incomplete discussion of experimental and conceptual film makers;

• The presentation of the basics of experimental and conceptual innovators; and

• The page on e e cummings.

Benjamin Franklin as role model for aging conceptual innovators

June 26, 2007

New from the Arts of Innovation Web site:

Benjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin is the most prominent American inventor whose major successes came in middle age and later.

He’s remarkable not only because of his age, but also because of his style of innovation, which creates a double contrast.

First, he’s different from the many conceptually innovative inventors who achieve their greatest successes at a young age.

Second, he stands out from experimental innovators, who tend to achieve their greatest successes later in life, like Franklin, but whose approach differs from his.

Typically, successes come from older innovators who take a step-by-step experimental approach, such as Paul Cezanne, Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Murray Hopper and Elizabeth Hazen. That’s not what Franklin did.

His approach is conceptual, with sudden breakthrough ideas coming one after another. That’s a rarity even among young geniuses.

How did he do it? He was an exceptional man, needless to say. But in addition, without knowing it (of course) he followed this Web site’s advice, as outlined in “Tips for conceptual innovators.”

That advice was to keep changing focus. In each new field, he was a newcomer, which enabled him to make conceptual breakthroughs:

* He was 35 when he unveiled the Franklin Stove.
* He developed the lightning rod at age 44.
* He experimented with kites and electricity at 46.
* He invented the glass armonica at 56.
* He mapped the Gulf Stream at 62.
* He served on the committee that was named to draft the Declaration of Independence at 70.
* He invented bifocals in his late 70s.

By comparison, consider the similar case of Walt Disney. His achievements rank far below Franklin’s, but he too was a conceptual innovator — a finder — who achieved breakthrough successes in middle age. Like Franklin, he kept changing focus. Disney accomplished that by continually expanding his entertainment empire into new fields.