C.R.E.A.T.I.V.I.T.Y — what in God’s name does that even mean?
“Creativity is a drug I cannot live without” – Cecil B. DeMille
Many people suffer from “information overload” – relying primarily if not solely on the information sourced from the thoughts of others. They go to conference after conference, read countless of articles without ever digesting the content, and soak in every media and news channel thrown at them, all without ever truly thinking about it, much less thinking about where those thoughts even came from, which most certainly was not theirs.
Have you ever read a fascinating article only to struggle in regurgitating the key points a few hours later? How about a week later? Our ability to recall memories happens through pattern recognition in the neocortex – the 80% of our brain that does the “thinking”. Redundancy is critical in our ability to remember. Because without it, our pattern recognizers get allocated to other “inputs.” So unless you’re habitually immersed in said experience (the article’s content in this example), your pattern recognizers associated with the patterns in the article will eventually get re-allocated.
That’s where the whole 10,000 hours to mastery rule comes from.
The information our brain processes is naturally ubiquitous and pervasive. From the sights we see on our drive home, to the way we communicate, to how we come up with ideas and everything in between, our neurons are constantly processing (recognizing patterns). And I should be clear that in no way am I saying reading or consuming information through any medium of choice is a negative thing. I’m saying it’s useless if you don’t even remember it hours later.
The brain operates on patterns.
When it recognizes a particular pattern, it triggers a series of other recognizers to create an output. When the only inputs we provide are those preconceived by others (aka — words, sentences, opinions of information you take in), our perceptions are that of the only outputs we recognize. But because our experiences of our perceptions are changed by our interpretations, how do we alter our interpretations in an already recognized and established interpretation?
I’ve always said that of all the flaws in the education system, the biggest is their inability to teach how to learn. We don’t need to memorize random equations we’ll never use or who won the War of 1812; we need to learn how to think of ways to acquire the answers and whether those answers are acceptable enough.
After realizing the power our thoughts had, I became much more conscious in my thinking. It’s definitely no easy feat. Listen to the conversations the people around you are having? If they’re talking about jovial, positive topics, you’ll think the same. That’s because those inhibitory sensors of other words naturally trigger the pattern recognizers (because our brains have to give the words meaning for us to understand). On the flip side, if the conversations surround violence, hate, drama, your brain will trigger such memories.
An event I recently participated in catalyzed my mission to understand a well-known but often misunderstood and highly underutilized concept known as creativity. By definition, creativity is “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in producing an artistic work.”
Well, wait, what does that actually mean?
Breaking it down, “artistic” is defined as “having or revealing natural creative skill.” But, wait, so what is creative? The definition itself goes in an infinite loop, infusing not only a whole lot of confusion but simultaneously pinpointing to our society’s understanding, or lack thereof, an even bigger concept: subjectivity.
Keeping the processes of thought formation in mind, I sought an explanation as to why I perceived creativity the way I did and how I can alter it. Call it a thought experiment if you must. Because prior that, I never considered myself creative. Almost to an extent, I’d say I even prided myself on not being creative. I was artistically challenged. Musically inept. Lacked any ability to foster good design or visual excellence. Hell, I couldn’t even draw a straight line, much less a perfect circle.
Naively, I basked in my misconstrued definition of creativity. To me, “creative” was a depiction of your typical artsy stereotype – the snob with ripped jeans carrying a smug look and volumes of the great masters. An aloof attitude with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and living in a dingy loft constantly found in a deep discussion over whether a painting is post-modern or post-post-modern at a speakeasy with overpriced drinks and all too dim lighting. That wasn’t me. I liked math. Numbers were my thing.
And although I did “artistic” gymnastics (vault, bars, beam, floor) my entire life, in no way did I define that art. If you were to drill down the sport to its core components, it aims to literally defy gravity. Physics, to me, is the antithesis of art. I don’t know how many artists broke their arms painting a portrait. I don’t know how many artists lost world championships because they went out of bounds on their canvas. I don’t know how many artists saw their dream shattered by missing one inch in their landing.
Curious by nature, I asked a lot of people for their definition of creativity. The responses were scattered, to say the least, but confirmed the previous statement in the correlation between our experiences, perceptions, and interpretations.
Interpretations being key. Because despite being a problem solver, a solutions architect, and an entrepreneur with a “big” vision followed by an ever-growing trail of ideas, I still couldn’t call myself “creative.” As an entrepreneur, unpredictability and organized chaos become states of comfort you grow into (or fail otherwise). And just like with the pattern recognizers in our neocortex, the inputs follow a path of recognition, and if a pattern is missing, a new pattern is created. In entrepreneurial words, it’s the sh*t you have to figure out to make it work.
Looping back to the definition, it’s the to-be-created “patterns” that forms the basis of our “imagination.” So at its root, creativity is innovation. It’s doing things differently.
There are no rule books. No guidelines. No precedence to learn from. No “patterns” to follow except the pattern of creating a new one. It’s the exact subjectivity of creativity that paves the way to an innovative society. And although that statement warrants a new level of perception itself, it’s these topics, the ones pertaining to subjectivity that should be at the core of our conversations as a society. Because after all, if we can’t ourselves define what creativity is, how can we justify the “creative” solutions an AI comes to. Furthermore, without understanding cognitive dissonance, how can we ever decide the controversial ethics in AI. Now, before the modern Plato’s and Aristotle’s of the world scrutinize my thinking in suggesting an AI is “creative,” let me point out AI has already taken on creativity. We’ve seen poems from AI pass the Turig test, AI art that’s been scored higher than art made by humans, and now it’s creating music, so I’d like to challenge their thinking.
If AI’s have been able to derive a prediction or solution outside the parameters of what was given, would the AI not be formulating an “original” idea? So if AI’s can channel their inner Picasso, any human is capable of harnessing a level of creative genius. In fact, those that believe they are not creative are mistaking creativity for skill or craft. I can’t paint. I can’t draw. I can barely write elegantly enough to be legible. But that’s not creativity; that’s a skill. Skill is the byproduct of mastery — hours and hours of hard work. Creativity is the spark that fuels the ingenuity of our mastery. It’s the non-existent pattern (or the “to-be-discovered pattern”) in our neocortex that formulates a new path.
So, although I can’t paint a portrait or draw out the realism of abstractivity, I can definitely sit with you in an art gallery and ponder on the thoughts behind the artists’ motives. Because in the process of thinking, we formulate different interpretations. And as a consequence, our interpretations change our experiences. And if we have control of our experiences, who’s to say we don’t have control of moving mountains and parting oceans. And it’s the experiences that would most likely spark a new thought of innovation.