I'm going to be running a six week course at the Cornerhouse in Manchester on Where Ideas Come From. I've been running it at Shoreditch House in London over the last year and it's been great fun to be a part of. Wonderful conversations follow and people from all sorts of creative industries attend. If your job is about coming up with ideas there will be something in it for you.
We were never taught about ideas in school, we were just expected to have them without any guidance as to where they come from. Once I begain studying ideas I naturally got better at producing them. Seems obvious I know but schools, collleges and workplaces rarely teach you about ideas. They just drop you in a brainstorm with a few bogus rules and expect you to know how to do it. Personally, I don't think this is the best way of getting good ideas out of your teams. Give them the right tools and they'll be generating ideas 24/7.
The feedback I get after each session is almost always the same - "Why did nobody tell me this sooner?" and all I can answer is that I think it's because of the old myth that there are people who are good at ideas and people who are bad and that the bad ones can't become good. Which is total rubbish of course.
If you want a place on the course you can sign up here. It's for people of all ages and abilities. The lessons will be a mixture of light lectures, videos and conversations. If you can't get to the course but would like to me run a workshop for your company do get in touch.
Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them. What we're talking about here is metaphor. Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself. Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we are experiencing now with what we have experienced before. It's not only how we express what we remember , it's how we interpret it — for ourselves and others.
"I wanted to be the instigator of new ideas. I wanted to turn people on to new things and new perspectives."
I loved the Bowie documentary Five Years which screened on BBC 2 last week. There are a few Bowie documentaries out there but this really dug deep into his creative process. There were so many great quotes in there that I thought it might be an idea to look at them in relation to some of the ideas I've blogged or talked about in the past.
"I've always found that I collect. I'm a collector. I collect personalities, ideas."
Some of the most creative people I know are collectors. As I pointed out here collecting "exercises your creative muscle. It powers your curiosity, imagination and appreciation. It teaches you about aesthetics, sharpens your powers of observation, helps you understand patterns and recognise what is missing. We build narratives around our collections as well as human connections. We strive for perfection with our collections and in doing so achieve Flow. We experiment and tinker with our collections and most importantly everything we do with them forms a pool of inspiration for future projects."
"I'm a storyteller and I decided to enact the story I was writing rather than perform it as myself"
You learn how to become a storyteller through your collections.
"I wanted to make a mark and I didn't know how to do it. And it took me all of the 60s to try everything I could think of, in terms of theatre and art and music, to find out what it was I wanted to do anyway."
I stumbled upon the Design Matters podcast late last year and am hooked. It's got an amazing archive that I'm slowly working my was through when out running or cycling.
The brilliant host and curator of stories Debbie Millman brings in guests from all fields to talk about their approach to work and life. Whether it is a Graphic Designer, Gardener, Journalist or Radio Producer there are always brilliant nuggests in there to get me thinking.
So I thought I'd start blogging some of those nuggets. Here's some from Gardener and Writer Margaret Roach:
On packing in her job and moving to the country...
"I crave solitude... I can literally go days without speaking to people. It's the most creative thing for me - silence and connection to nature."
On what she learnt from leaving a secure job...
"I'm a gardener first and foremost, I'm part of the food chain. I'm part of the cycle that's outside my window. I'm just one of the creatures and I love learning about where I fit in to that. For example have you ever stayed in a relationship too long, business or personal? Well I have. Birds don't do that. When it's time to migrate, when the signal comes, they fly away. They don't say 'I really like this tree. I think I'll stay here'. There's a lot of inspiration for me in the behaviour of animals."
On the value of taking time out..
"We tell children to take a 'time out' when they start screaming in a supermarket but we don't do that for ourselves. I think that silence and stillness are so undervalued in our contemporary lives. Plants have an active period then they have a dormant cycle. I have learnt to get up and go on some little adventure otherwise we will go crazy."
"In our careers if we succesd it's because we go go go and make things happen. It's about control (or the illusion of control). The mandate is 'control this', 'make this', 'here are the raw materials so turn this thing into this'. But there are forces bigger than ourselves at work. Go outside, go out to nature. Look at the North East (of the US) which has been under a lot of water this year. Not matter how good a gardener (they were) the people didn't get a harvest this year.It's bigger than them and this is the thing. We are just a speck. One part of a food chain, one part of a cycle. I like that. I like things being out of control. I like the failure. Because if I kept thinking that for the rest of my life I'd keep dominating then it would burn me out."
On striving for perfection...
"In a garden you can't struggle against the facts of life. It's OK to have some wrinkles."
On personal creativity...
"To stiffle your own personal creativity in a trade off for success, money or a promotion is tricky. You do run out of time so I'm aware that I do need to indulge myself every day with some of my hare-brained schemes... You really do need to make some time or the lid really will blow off"
Last night was the third in a series of lectures I'm doing at Shoreditch House on where ideas come from. The session was based around what happens inside the brain and what happens outside the brain to produce moments of insight. As usual the questions and conversations that took place after were really interesting. So I thought it might be an idea to start 'showing my working out'. Author, journalist and top tech braodcaster Aleks Krotoski is brilliant at publishing her thinking and research as works. I've blogged a lot about creativity over the years but not been great at giving more background. So here are a few articles that might enlighten you more on the many issues I talked about last night.
A good place to start is Roo Reynolds Collections. Roo is a former BBC colleague currently working at GDS (which just won design of the year). I invited him to talk at the first event because most collectors I know are really creative people. This is because collecting excercises your creative muscle. It powers your curiosity, imagination and appreciation. It teaches you about aesthsetics, sharpens your powers of observation, helps you understand patterns and recognise what is missing. We build narratives around our collections as well as human connections. We strive for perfection with our collections and in doing so achieve Flow. We experiment and tinker with our collections and most importantly everything we do with them forms a pool of inspiration for future projects.
The second session was on combinatorial creativity. For years at the BBC I would hear people in creative sessions talking about how wrong it was to 'steal' other people's ideas. My answer was always "It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to". I stole that line from Jim Jarmusch. Faris Yakob talks alot about this on "Talent Imitates, Genius Steals", which is a reworking of the Picasso quote "Good artists copy, great artists steal", which is a slightly different version of TS Elliot's "Immature poets copy, mature poets steal", a twist on Wilde's "Talent borrows, genius steals". All of which are stolen from the Bible's "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun". Try reading the brilliant Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, watch Kirby Ferguson's amazing series Everything is a Remix and take comfort from the fact that one of our generation's greatest film directors has stolen from every movie ever made.
In last night's session I talked about focusing on creativity for the individual rather than the organisation. Yes, I run workshops and help organisations get the best out of their employees, but personally I think it's better for organisations to help every member of staff to develop their own creative abilities. If you do this people will think creatively every waking moment rather than saving it for a 1 hour brainstorm. It's a great investment inspired by, believe it or not, Pret A Manger only hiring happy people - happiness it the hard bit, teaching them to make sandwiches is the easy bit. So for more on what happens inside your head you might want to watch this excellent BBC Horizon film on the brain and creativity. John Cleese does a brilliant talk on creativity and why allowing the mind to wonder is so important. Despite being criticised for making up a Dylan Quote Jonah Lehrer is still a great writer on the subject. Try not to let the negativity surrounding him cloud the fact that Imagine is still a great read.
If you are interested in why coffee shops are important to the creative process and their role in the Enlightenment then you must read The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg, which Steven Johnson refers to in his brilliant book Where Good Ideas Come From. On the importance of making connections Steve Jobs knew that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. And so he designed his buildings to ensure these connections became part of regular daily proceedures such as going to the toilet. Richard Florida talks a lot about why you should build out and not up to build creative cities and if you want to understand how the creative face of Manchester changed as a result of simple serendipity then you must watch 24 Hour Party People.
I also talked about the importance just having cups of tea with people. So, if you fancy a brew find me on Twitter. I'm also happy to talk to organisations about workshops, away days and how to get the best out of moments set aside for generating ideas.
"And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent. That means there’s 99 percent virgin territory. Investors always worry, “Oh, you guys are going to spend too much money on these crazy things.” But those are now the things they’re most excited about—YouTube, Chrome, Android. If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things".
The third in my series of lectures on 'Where Ideas Come From' takes place at Shoreditch House on Tuesday 7th May at 7pm. If you'd like a place on the guestlist just tweet me (@huey).
The first looked at why it's important to collect and have hobbies. Collecting is like writing a shopping list of things that will feed all of your future projects. Collecting exercises your creativity muscles. It sharpens curiosity, appreciation and imagination. It teaches you about aesthetics, you learn to tinker and experiment, you either start of join social groups around your passion and you build narratives around your collection.
The second in the series addressed stealing other people's ideas and why you should. Don't get caught up trying to be completely original. Everything is derivative of something else. It's not where you take ideas from, but where you take them too. Accepting the idea of combinatorial creativity and being comfortable looking to others for inspiration makes the process of idea generation a whole lot easier.
The forthcoming event looks at creative spaces. Why do people always come up with the best ideas in the shower? Why do certain parts of a city produce more ideas than others? Why did Steve Jobs think the location of the toilet was such an important design feature in all apple offices? I'm also going to be looking at how the brain works and how locations relate to how the brain comes up with ideas.
As Shoreditch House is a members club I'm looking at taking the series of talks out and about so that more people can see them. If you'd like me to bring them to your town or workplace drop me a line.