Bringing two worlds together

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Science as art – physical world meets innovation.

Our latest study topic Mining Interfaces is about breaking away from the predictable “silos” approach to dealing with issues and drawing on more than one discipline in a quest to unearth new opportunities and creative ideas. The possibilities are unlimited when one opens themselves up to this way of thinking; there are plenty of examples of combining the arts and science. Leonardo Da Vinci was not only famous for his artistic pursuits but also his ability to bring drawing and science together. His talent for painting iconic images such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper  was matched by a brilliant mind for mathematics and physics.

This got me thinking about how my mind has been moulded to dismiss anything mathematical or what I regard as high-brow science in favour of literature and the arts. Don’t get me wrong I am fascinated by science and admire how academics can make sense of a bunch of numbers and equations but many times it seems to be beyond my comprehension.   Returning to study as a mature age student requires me go places that maybe I haven’t been before. I already have a natural curiosity about the world and its workings, which many fellow journalists and writers possess. Lets face it, I was born a “sticky-beak”! I think my lack of expertise in maths was hindered by poor teaching from a text-book and maybe a touch of laziness.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook what we have stored up in our own brains over our lifetime. I believe the key is to find those individuals or resources that allow one to build on their existing skills and experience.

The onslaught of all information known to humankind has been accelerated by the invention of the internet and it is not realistic to expect anyone to know everything. The ability to “chunk” things down into manageable forms is more important than ever.  The “Knowledge Doubling Curve” devised by Buckminster Fuller, discovered human knowledge doubled nearly every century up to 1900.   Post World War 2 and it was said to be doubling every 25 years.   As the present internet expands and absorbs more information,  IBM claims the “internet of things” will see a doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

In a world crying out for our attention at every moment possible, I like to think that there is always room for creative and innovative ideas and inventions to inspire us and make us better as people with hearts and minds. Our willingness to cross disciplines is part of the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Approaching problem solving

 

Mount Buller July 2017

Don’t be deterred by the size of the problem.

How often do we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem because we try to take on the whole thing in one go.  I am reminded of the analogy how does one eat an elephant; one bite at a time. In week 5 we are being pushed to dive into our tool box to start the process of problem solving which does require some creativity and innovation.

I am learning that solutions are not always flashes of inspiration or even a light bulb moment. Even those that are regarded as geniuses did not arrive at that point without a process beforehand. Application and pure sweat are usually involved as well.

So how does one approach problem solving? Adam Savage of Myth Busters TV fame provides a useful framework in a talk he gave in 2010 in California to tackle this dilemma his way.  I regard myself as being more creative in literature than anything to do with science or maths. But Savage makes the point that we possess existing skills that can be utilised in a different discipline or area of endeavour. His skills as a sculptor and the knowledge he gained from doing his art were applied to a new role as a film producer. As he says even painters need to adopt some problem-solving steps to complete a great work of art.

Savage has come up with some useful steps that myself or others could apply.  To start with ask what is the problem I am solving and most importantly what is the problem. Once you are clear about that, think about the big picture. Am I solving a single problem or is it part of something else? Find out how much time I have to complete the task and what deadline pressures are involved. Time and resources needed tend to go hand-in-hand. And of course what budget is allowed is vital. Location can be another significant problem especially if it involves working in certain climatic conditions. Other considerations can be an awareness of the team’s morale and a realistic audit of my own skills and whether outside help is required.  Taking this step by step approach makes good sense because as a broad check list one can eliminate any issues or barriers before starting the physical work.

I am learning that there are various ways to approach problem solving. There is a current TV ad for Skoda cars which uses the line “you don’t have to be famous to be brilliant”.  Many innovations we take for granted were most likely created by ordinary people who were willing to step up to the mark.   There also needs to be a passion and a willingness to learn as much as you can about the problem you want to solve. Along the way, I am collecting new ideas and concepts, including TRIZ, a 40-principles matrix that offers another approach. What ever problem I encounter, the key is to plan the solution using the various tools available beforehand. I may not be famous but maybe I could aim for brilliance!

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Algorithms for Ideas

Free thinking

Creation requires influence

I am learning fast that if I expect brilliant ideas to invade my mind in one single moment of inspiration without opening up myself to other influences I may be sorely disappointed. The very term algorithms makes me inwardly groan. But thankfully, our university  tutors are taking us by the hand after a period of introspection to learn how to apply simple tools to creativity and innovation. Enter mind-mapping and SCAMPER.

Mind-mapping is one tool I have been exposed to in my working environment but I have suddenly been inspired to use it for other aspects of my life in a positive way such as diet and exercise. From a central point – a key element is used to generate ideas by creating several branches/categories that then create off-shoots for other thoughts and contributions in an uninhibited way. Type mind-mapping into your search engine and be amazed by the artistry and inspired end products. While I can marvel at some complex and beautifully executed pieces of work, it is not necessary to achieve the goal of capturing new ideas. The important part is getting it down on paper and having something tangible to work from. In group work this can be the basis of learning to think in a new way. If people want to add decorative bits that’s OK as long as it can trigger thought processes. I have learned that using curved lines is better than straight lines, but I doubt my financial planner would agree who has created a wonderful flow chart to map out my future finances.

Turning my attention to using SCAMPER as a tool was a new approach. At first one feels it’s a bit childish but it does provide an opportunity to “think outside the square”. Using each letter is a prompt to formulate ideas; S for substitute, C for combine, A for adapt, M for modify, P for put to other uses, E for eliminate and R for reverse.  Sounds too simple? You can use images or words to generate ideas.  There are YouTube online clips on how SCAMPER works on something as humble as a packet of popular chocolate coated multi-coloured sweets.  Maybe this is how product development works? Come up with weird and wonderful ideas to reinvent a product to tempt consumers with something new and innovative for an item they are already using.

Mind-mapping seems to be suited to all different types of problem solving while SCAMPER appears more useful for products. Any way, I’m willing to give it a go if it can give me new insights to being more creative.

 

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants – Isaac Newton

How does one disrupt thought patterns?

This week we are being challenged by the topic Perturbing Thoughts and how to disrupt our well-established mindsets that seem to dictate so much of our everyday lives. Let’s face it, us humans are creatures of habit, whether it be the route we take to work, where we sit in a lecture theatre or the camp site for our  annual  holiday.

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The road ahead may not be clear but it is the road less travelled.

Of course there may be practical reasons for why we adopt such predictable behaviours but when it comes to finding new ways of  creative thinking and being open to innovative actions; there needs to be a disruption to our usual thought patterns. Easier said than done, I hear you say.

Edward De Bono’s research which produced The Six Hats of Thinking strategy offers some insights into our own ways of thinking and how we can adopt a different coloured hat or bring in others to obtain the missing thought processes to come up with workable solutions and ideas. Being a “blue hat” myself which involves being focussed and keeping the process on track means that I may overlook some other processes that can prove useful.

Since starting this voyage of self-discovery, I have been bouncing different thoughts off my husband. He doesn’t consider himself creative in any way and likes to keep busy with manual work. But his thoughts are not contained like mine which unwittingly have been moulded into the “status quo”. It’s not that I’m not creative but rather I park some ideas to the side while I deal with everyday business of life and work.

Driving home the other night, my husband and I, were discussing lateral thinking and adopting a different approach to solving problems. Living in country areas or semi-rural locations, has created a conflict with wildlife and motorists trying to share the same space. Sadly, this often results in road trauma for our native animals and increased risk  to drivers.  Down our country lane lives four giant wombats who cross the road at night and can be rather difficult to see when they step out from the side of the road. We have lost one large  male this week.

My husband made the suggestion that maybe we should paint the wombats with “high-vis” orange paint so motorists could see them better. I was ready to dismiss this silly idea but then I realise without such thoughts how can one proceed to the next step of formulating a solution to such a problem. His other idea was to fit some sort of sonar device to vehicles to deter wildlife. I’m not sure, but I think there is such a thing in Scandinavia to warn off wild deer.  Our exchange also highlighted to me the need for more than one thinking hat to successful problem solving.

Living on 25 acres, also requires some lateral thinking as well. It is not big enough for large-scale farming so I am trying to think in practical and creative ways to use our land. Exposing myself to new ideas and concepts through alternative farming practices which encompass organic approaches and land management, has been a valuable experience because I add to my knowledge base and network with many other people on small acreage.  This will be a long-term joint project with my “outside the box” thinking husband. Hopefully, it may help disrupt my thoughts in a perturbing way!

 

 

 

 

 

What stops me being creative?

 

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Reflecting on creativity

 

As we enter week two of our university unit on Creativity and Innovation, we are being asked to be introspective about the possible limits one places on themselves when it comes to being creative. What stops me may be the same for you, or totally different. Whatever it is that stifles creativity, it is a topic well worth exploring. Without creative thought, the world would be a much poorer place. Why, only today the invention of the bicycle is being hailed 200 years later. This was in response to a problem when drought conditions caused lack of feed for stock including horses and the need for transport. Today’s cycling paraphernalia is a far cry from its humble beginnings when pedals were not included in the original design.

How does this relate to me being creative or not? Coming up with ideas can be the easy part; however converting them into actuality is another story. Allowing one to be creative is to be applauded but it will disappear into the ether if not harnessed. Creativity has to break through the internal and external factors that place barriers in our way. We need to look at what is self-imposed that we can deal with directly and those outside our control may need more work but can be overcome if we “think outside the box”. Already today, I have fallen prey to procrastination. There is church in the morning followed by coffee, then my daily one-hour walk (which does set my creative juices gurgling!), a chat to the young neighbour who has been sick with her three children for the past week, catching up on washing and preparing dinner. I’m just about to go off and check the oven now! Five minutes later I’m back with a drink in hand. I think you get my point, many of us are guilty of being distracted from our creative pursuits.

We can argue that creativity needs to have free rein but that is probably just an excuse for not making space in our lives and our environment for this important process to fulfil its potential. Many successful writers are often quoted saying that you must write something each day, whether that be a 1000 word limit or a chapter each week. Those of us who worked as print journalists understood that a deadline was exactly what it meant. Not much point writing a beautifully crafted story if it never makes it into print!

I often think it sad that the work of  many talented artists is  worth more after their death. While money shouldn’t always be the motivation to create, the recognition of one’s volume of work within their lifetime would be a sign of respect.

I was surprised but John Cleese of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python fame, had some useful insights via a training on-line clip in relation to creating an environment to foster creativity. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from places that inhibit our creativity or ability to problem solve. He was an advocate of “sleeping on a problem” overnight when a solution was not forthcoming. I also agree with this approach. Brain fatigue dulls the senses and the next day can provide fresh perspectives.

As this day draws to a close, I too will sleep on it and hope that my creative senses will be revived. If all else fails, keep a note pad handy by the side of the bed when you feel inspired so not to lose the essence of your thoughts.

From Easter to Anzac – sacrificial love

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On a green hill far away…

Good Friday dawns outside my bedroom window. The sweeping view causes me  to pause and think of a man hanging on a cross in a faraway land on a lonely hill. The bright sunlit scene before me belies what happened to a man called Jesus over 2000 years ago. This is our second Easter in our new home. Last year it was a chance to escape the city for a long weekend and time out from work.  For some Easter is a time to reflect on the actions of this man who came to live among us and then die so we could be forgiven for our sins and enjoy life in its fullness. The sermon for the day uses the modern analogy of a garbage truck travelling through the town picking up everyone’s burdens and dross along the way. I am conflicted this day because it is the first time that Australian Rules Football has been played on Good Friday and my team is playing. They lost by the way!

Easter is soon followed by ANZAC Day. This is a time to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to fight a battle in a faraway land on our behalf and I am reminded again of a man on a cross who well understood what unconditional love and sacrifice means.

Easter and ANZAC have come and gone this year, but I am forever grateful for the gift of living free in this country and the blessings that I enjoy.

Who wants to be creative?

 

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Don’t let the sun go down on a good idea!

What does it mean to be creative and innovative in a world that is undergoing unprecedented technological change? Why do I want to be creative? I have long understood that creativity extends well beyond literature and the visual arts to encompass a way of thinking that brings about ideas that can be converted into solutions and as a means of tackling previously unthought-of innovations.

As a writer, avid reader and enthusiastic photographer, creative thought is constantly at the forefront of my mind. But how many opportunities do I miss when I fail to act upon those promptings.  Thinking about creativity in the workplace, I have witnessed many inspired ideas, even offered some of my own, which get no further than the last minutes of a group meeting. During my employment with a large not-for-profit over six years, I needed to be open and creative in my thinking, if our mission to help disadvantaged individuals and families achieve positive pathways to better lives was to be fulfilled. Not an easy task!

Watching innovation guru Steven Johnson’s animated clip Where do good ideas come from?” got me thinking about the processes involved. One thing that clearly stood out for me was the need for collaboration to help to fill in the missing gaps in our creative thinking. Being in a vacuum is not much help to fulfil your purpose.  Johnson makes the comment about a “historic increase in connectivity” which is bringing more people together from a wider sphere and more opportunities to share ideas. There is also the aspect of where or the environmental factors that offer a conducive space to create. Staring at a blank screen at my office desk rarely sparks my imagination but transport me elsewhere where my senses can be stimulated and shared with others, may be the genesis of  a brilliant idea.

There is no doubt that that we will see monumental changes in the near future as to how we work, live and play. We can adopt the doom and gloom attitude or embrace the chance to change things in clever and meaningful ways. One of the challenges I see is to ensure that in this race towards new innovations that we do not leave the vulnerable behind. Hopefully, as I explore this subject in more depth, I will be part of the solution not the problem

 

Discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. 

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi