Another bit on Da Vinci: he had a large number of ideas on a wide range of subjects, and his ideas were grandiose. The author implies that technology can help more people to tap into their creative potential.
Inspirationalists, Structuralists, and Situationalists
There is a great deal of literature on creativity, and diverse ideas about what it is or how it is inspired.
The author uses "inspirationalist" to describe the theory that creativity is a a moment in which something comes to mind, out of the clear blue. It is ascribed to luck or supernatural forces. The theory cannot explain the source of creativity, but seeks to tap into it through activities such as brainstorming and free association, fundamentally meant to jostle the mind into a state in which things can magically happen.
A second group, which the author calls "structuralist," sees creativity as a more rational and methodical approach, more akin to problem-solving. The individual ponders something, analyzes it in detail, to discover a solution that has not previously been considered (EN: seems to me this is the same as "inspirational," in search of a moment something occurs to you out of the blue, but uses a different method to jostle the brain). This form of creativity generally favors structured patterns, and often uses diagrams to analyze a problem.
Still another group, the "situationalist," see creativity as being the product of a practice - a writer "discovers" how to write as he is writing, the engineer discovers a new solution while designing a machine. Sometimes, it's groups of people working together who inspire one another. (EN: Again, it's still the search of inspiration, just a different way of jostling the mind)
During his description, the author mentions different software applications that can "help" in inspiring creative though (EN: I don't see it. Whether you're sketching with a pen or a mouse, it's still the same activity, and the computer doesn't make a person more creative, just facilitates tasks).
Three Levels of Creativity: Everyday, Evolutionary, Revolutionary
Creativity may be revolutionary: an entirely new idea, which is a complete break from the past. This is the "discovery" of something entirely new and unprecedented. It's rare, and the author concedes that it would be difficult to design tools to enable this kind of creativity, simply because it's a complete departure from all that is known.
"Creativity" may be a factor of everyday life. Even something as pedestrian as planning a budget or operating a machine can call for creative problem-solving skills as a matter of course. It is an essential part of problem-solving (for if the routine solution worked, there would be no problem and no need for a spontaneous response).
Creativity may also be evolutionary: it may use known principles and techniques in order to arrive at a novel or unique solution. Writing is an example": the author uses known words, known sentence structures, etc. to compose a sentence or paragraph or article that expresses things in a novel way.
Technology is most applicable to evolutionary creativity. Software is, by nature, rules based, defined data objects, defined actions to be taken, and the user's creativity is in accessing the built-in capabilities in novel combinations to produce a "unique" result.
Integrating Creative Activities
Some of the "creativity tools" the author mentions are word processors, graphics programs, databases, spreadsheets, e-mail, and Web browsers. Each of these automate or facilitate a task that relates to creativity (gathering, analyzing, or communicating).
The current trend is to integrate the tasks - a diagram can be drawn in a graphics program, imported into a word processing document, and sent as an e-mail attachment. Such integration is key to creativity, especially in being able to combine ideas without being stymied by issues of file format.
He also stresses the important of compatibility: the user should not have to learn a different way to cut/copy/paste for each application he uses. (EN: this is not so much "inspiration" as usability. The less one has to focus on the mundane, the more one can devote creative powers to things that really matter).
He then turns to interoperability - being able to access the functionality of one program from the context of another. If you are typing a letter and are unable to recall the correct spelling of a word, you should be able to consult a dictionary from within the word processor, rather than launching a separate application. (EN: True today, but things were not always thus).
He turns to the Web as an example: looking at a street map and being able to see a list of restaurants in a location, then the menu at each restaurant, within one convenient interface. (EN: I don't think this is creativity. It is convenient, and is the product of a creative design process, but I don't think helps others to become creative by using it.)
The author lists eight tasks that should help more people be more creative:
- Searching - Locating information in resources
- Visualizing - Showing the relationships among data
- Consulting - Collaborative communication with others
- Thinking - Being able to create relationships among data
- Exploring - Creating models and simulations
- Composing - Arranging information into a frame
- Reviewing - Looking at historical information
- Disseminating - Delivering the results of your work to others
EN: He doesn't go into detail about each of these in a methodical fashion, but refers to them, willy-nilly, hereafter)
The author describes creativity as a trial-and-error process in which a person pursues a solution until he gets "stuck," then tries something else, or calls in others to help him past the blockage or discover what he's done wrong so he might refine his approach (EN: this is problem-solving, which I suppose is a genre of creativity). Communication technology can enable this process.
The author mentions a program called "idea fisher" that helps in the free association process, mainly by applying a thesaurus approach to find a connection between the words that describe an idea and close concepts. There is testimonial evidence this has been effective for some individuals.
Simulation is a form of creative inquiry, and the author turns to spreadsheets as a method for taking a basic premise and applying a number of "what if" scenarios to see the possible outcome.
He briefly mentions "composition tools" such as word processors and drawing programs that automate and facilitate some of the tasks of recording and preserving ideas. He briefly mentions Dramatica as a tool that guides a writer in telling a story (EN: I've heard bad things about it: it leads people to write more formulaic and predictable stories, not creative ones)
Consultation through Negotiated Expectations
The author suggests that "consultation tools" (which allow people to share their ideas with others) are a vital component of creativity support, on the premise that creativity is fostered by an environment and contact with other creative individuals.
A quick return to Da Vinci, who needed to work in secret for fear he would be punished for having unorthodox ideas, and a suggestion that in environments in which creativity is discouraged, there are fewer creative people as a result of their being unable to collaborate and consult with one another.
EN: this is a logical leap. Because "creative" people were discouraged from showing their creativity, there may have been many, but we will never know. Not that I disagree with the premise, just that this line of logic is flawed).
The author cites other evidence that consultation is valuable - from the "improved quality" he sees in student projects, to the level of inspired thought that arises in environments such as academia and professional societies, to his own account of the inspiration he takes from interacting with other creative individuals.
EN: the author may be blurring the line between consultation and collaboration - the distinction is very important between independent minds sharing ideas versus a codependent creative process, the latter of which is a flawed concept that is often counterproductive.)
He elaborates on some of the sources of reluctance for a creative mind to share ideas: persecution and punishment, having one's ideas "stolen" by others, intellectual parasitism.
A brief mention that it is worthwhile to involve individuals from other disciplines in a creative process. A physicist can learn from a sculptor, an astronomer fro a cook. Often, an odd bird can bring a fresh perspective and help shake off the limitations of theory.
He also states that consultation is most useful in the middle to late stages of the creative process, when a person is in the trial-and-error process and has run into dead ends, or when he has derived a solution and is testing his theory.
EN: it is not expressly stated, but implied that the "early" creative steps are individual in nature and require the focus of a single mind. During this phase, attempts to "help" can be more destructive than helpful. Refer to the earlier note about "codependent creativity.")
He looks at the process of consultation, which begins with furtive overtures until there is a level of trust among the individuals involved: one party generally seeking input of the other, in the manner of asking a favor - and the general principles of etiquette apply.
Present technology facilitates consultation by enabling individuals to communicate across great distances and involve more people in the process. The Web-based community of interest makes it easier for like-minded individuals to find other experts in their field. The social networking site enables people to locate one another.
An Architectural Scenario
EN: The author presents a "scenario" to illustrate the concepts he's trying to communicate. I'm not documenting it, because it often does more harm than good to present a hypothetical situation that seems too idealized to be realistic.
The Skeptic's Corner
Among the straw men he beats down, there is an interesting point about culture. "Innovation" is inherently a destruction of the past and its replacement with something better, and many cultures and societies will seek to punish individuals with the arrogance and hubris to break from the herd and do things that are abnormal, unauthorized, and unorthodox. In other instances, a creative thought is a threat to the present system and those who are in power, and they will either seek to eliminate these threats or neutralize them by taking credit for their work. This is not a problem that technology can solve.