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
I’ve been thinking about thinking since as long as my neocortex can remember. The way the human brain formulates and interprets thoughts is singlehandedly, the greatest biological invention. Though, despite it being a source of magnificent power, the human brain is also unfathomable in more ways than not.
A lot of people suffer from “information overload”. Relying mostly if not solely on the information sourced from the thoughts of others. They go to conference after conference, read series of articles without ever digesting the content, 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 certaintly was not theirs.
Have you ever read a fascinating article only to struggle in regurjatating 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”. Redudancy is key 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 content of the article in this example), your pattern recognizers associated to 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 the way 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 certain pattern, it triggers a series of other recognizers to create an output. When the only inputs we provide are those preconcieved 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 intepretations in an already recognized and established interpretation?
I’ve always said, 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 in acquiring the answers and more so, 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 inhibitary sensors of others 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 memories of such.
An event I recently participated in served as a catalyst in 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 the production of 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 there of, an even bigger concept: subjectivity.
Keeping the processeses of thought formation in mind, I sought an explanation to not only my current perception of creativity but a mechanism in which to develop an alteration of such perception. Call it a thought experiement if you must. Because prior to the event that triggered the pattern recognitions of the meaning behind creativity, although changing absolutely nothing in my behaviors or practices, did I consider 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 of fostering 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 because to me, “creative” was always a depiction of your typical artsy stereotype: the snob with ripped jeans carrying a smug look and volumes of the great masters, having 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 it’s core components, it’s aim is to literally defy gravity. Physics to me, is the antithesis of art. I don’t know how many artists broke their arm 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, our perceptions and our 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 becomes 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 shit 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 it’s 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 come to a decision regarding 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”, we’ve already 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 are able to 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 skill. Skill is the byproduct of mastery — hours and hours of hard work. Creativity is the spark that fuels the ingenuity to 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 potrait 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 oceans. And it’s the experiences that which would most likely spark a new thought of innovation.
So think often. Never stop thinking. And never stop creating.