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Poetic possibilities…

When it comes to innovating, what part do facts play?

In his Selected Writings, Ralph Waldo Emerson puts them firmly in their place: “Whoever discredits analogy, and requires heaps of facts, before any theories can be attempted, has no poetic power, and nothing original or beautiful will be produced by him.” This chimes with one of the many good things Storied CEO Michael Margolis has to say in his conversation with Chris Do, CEO of The Futur™: “Data is a story of the past, whereas disruption is a story about the future. So we have to start with the future first, and then we use the past, the data, to legitimise and validate the future we’re trying to create. Most of us have that order or sequence turned upside down. We’re constantly looking backwards instead of looking forwards. And this is where we trap ourselves within a past story or within even an existing narrative that may not be the right story for the future we’re trying to create… For any of us who are leading change or doing something that’s new and different – you’re being hired for your possibility mindset, the ability to see and name the possibilities and the opportunities amidst change, amidst constraints. But we often are leading with the data, trying to prove and validate something and trying to posture instead of widening the aperture and really unlocking the creative mojo and the generativeness in any situation.”

Whether it’s Waldo’s ‘poetic power‘ or Michael’s ‘possibility mindset‘, the key here is to prioritise and encourage the freedom to imagine. To explore in full the poetic possibilities.

Looking to innovate? Dream more; let the facts follow…

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Wear sombreros…

In Edward Tufte’s Seeing With Fresh Eyes, the da Vinci of Data underlines the value of going beyond the confines of rational right-angled thinking to look truly, deeply and widely at the world as it really is in all its wavy wonky wonder – from the ellipse of the half-moon to the sloped ramp of the Guggenheim by way of the the laidback undulating curves of the sombrero:

In a world awash with data-driven decisions made by machines, it is more important than ever not to lose sight of the human angle and touch. Not least because still – and who knows, maybe forever – no algorithm can yet match us for creativity, judgement, nuance, empathy, perception. Those wrong-angled, right-minded beautiful things that make us who we are.

So let’s put down our set squares, look up, look out and trust our eyes – wear sombreros.

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Familect blinkies…

The readiness of the English language to welcome with open arms mighty fine new words is one of its great strengths, and family slang, or familect, is one of the more entertaining and inventive sources.

This particular strain of lovable language finds a happy home in Kitchen Table Lingo – an ideal summer book to dip into while “bibbly” (tipsy) or “incatacipated” (when you are trapped beneath a cat asleep on your lap). To add to the pot, here’s a homespun neologism courtesy of my daughter: “blinky” – when a great idea suddenly appears in your head, making your eyes widen in wonder.

If you have any familect blinkies of your own, please feel free to share – the more the merrier!

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Shockingly good…

Can computers enhance, or even outdo, human creativity?

According to the FT’s John Thornhill, OpenAI’s GPT-3 program has been used “to write poems, articles, comic sketches and computer code, compose guitar riffs, offer medical advice, and reimagine video games, sometimes with stunning effect.” Indeed, tech entrepreneur Arram Sabeti, who used the software to write a Raymond Chandler-style screenplay about Harry Potter, called it “shockingly good”. Technology this powerful inevitably raises ethical issues. A group of philosophers tasked with assessing GPT-3 concluded it was “unnervingly coherent and laughably mindless”. But such facility without the moral compass to match is far from funny.

As with creatives, so with computers – it’s not enough to be good at what you do, you also need to do good with what you do.

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Creative, coordinated…

Going back through some of my old files as groundwork for a new project, I dug out this distillation from 2005:

Over a decade on and a world away from that time, it’s good to see that the trend in business is indeed away from the pyramidic and matrixical towards the creative and coordinated. Whether it’s the ever-growing mega ecosystems of Amazon et al or the bloom in networks of micro businesses – our days call for, encourage and reward new ideas and the close collaborations of like-minded individuals with complementary expertise.

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Listen to purple trees…

Wandering through Covent Garden with my daughter on our way to see our favourite painting in the Courtauld Collection, we came across Wrdsmth’s arresting appropriation of this K6:

A call to keep the creative spirit we all share as children, to colour outside the lines, to watch green oceans and red bears, to listen to purple trees.

Picasso put it well, as well: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

A long while ago, I did a piece for a client that riffed on the same theme:

He may only be knee-high to a grasshopper, but you can learn a lot from this young fellow…

There’s something about a beach that capture’s a child’s imagination.

Give them a stretch of sand and some sea and who knows where it will lead. New adventures? New friends? New experiences? Maybe just wet feet and hands. But one thing’s for sure: children will happily spend hours on a beach doing the things that us grown ups are all too often far too grown up to do. Things like exploring, discovering, rooting around and joining in, sharing stuff, trying stuff out just for the hell of it. Generally having the time of their lives.

The kid cartwheeling on the sand. Or the grown up snoozing in the deckchair. Which one’s the more inspirational?

That’s not to say we should all act like ten year olds. Just that we can all draw inspiration from how a ten year old acts. Management consultants talk about empowering, innovating, re-engineering… It’s often difficult to see what it is that they’re actually getting at – right here, right now, in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. For a different, more enlightening point of view, we could do a lot worse than watch, listen and learn from the cartwheeling kid.

Who knows, we might even end up doing a few cartwheels ourselves.

Some things bear repeating, with different hues and tones each time.

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Thinking and producing…

A new year’s resolution courtesy of James Rhodes: play the piano for an hour every day.

Or… “If the piano isn’t your thing, buy a guitar. Write a thousand words a day. Take a photography course. Learn to dance. Find something, anything creative… We are facing unfathomable challenges regarding everything from population growth to natural resources, finances to politics. Thinking ain’t going to solve these challenges. But creativity? Creativity will usher us into a new age of Wonder and Awe. In business, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to see solutions to problems by thinking in a conventional fashion. That part of our brain that translates notes on a manuscript into finger movements, sound, interpretation and life is what will help us navigate things.”

A lot of fluff and guff is written about creativity, but James Rhodes nails it: “Creativity is the act of turning new, imaginative ideas into reality. It involves two processes: thinking and producing. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative, but not creative. And boy, do we need to act.”

Spurred on by these wise words, my own personal resolution is to think and do things in new ways.