Creativity — 2 ! — Quotidian — 398

(Transcript of video originally posted on 4 Jun 2022)

In Quotidian 397, I had said that we would be looking at Creativity, and that we would look at it in the context of the Hare and the Tortoise. Actually, we will involve a third animal. That’s the Python. Before we get in, I just wanted to tell you something that came to mind.. Muyal.. Aamai.. Who wins this tussle? The answer to that question… If you put the effort, you will win… That beautiful meaning.. it is hidden right there in the word.. Bring these two animals together? Muyal.. Aamai… Muyalaamai! Wow! Creative, eh?!

Vanakkam! We were looking at Creativity! Let us do an extension, a second episode on the same subject.

Creativity. This guy, John Cleese. You might have seen him as an actor. A comedian. A character actor. In a lot of movies. He has acted in Shrek. in Harry Potter too! As a ghost! Also, he has played roles in many famous British comedies and series. But, incidentally, his greatest contribution is that famous British comedy series called Monty Python. In fact, Guido van Rossum, the inventor of the amazing programming language called Python, when asked why he named it such an odd thing, he is supposed to have said that he was a great fan of Monty Python. That Monty Python and the Flying Circus? Was created by John Cleese. This John Cleese had written a book on Creativity. A Short and Cheerful Guide. I encountered a few truly interesting concepts in that book, and that is what I am going to share with you today.

First up, he gives a very important piece of advice. “Stop The Thinking”. You see, we just saw in the previous episode — networks in the brain, action network, imagination network, salience network… That might lead one to think that perhaps Creativity needs a lot of “Thinking” then? No, says Cleese. That thing that comes and lightly taps you on your back when you are not really “thinking too much”? That is Creativity, says John Cleese. And he gives some examples.

Consider tying your shoelaces. You don’t start your approach by thinking this is where I start, it goes in here, then I pull it through here, like this, and then send it under that……. etc. If you start thinking like that, you will actually make a mistake! Have you noticed?

If you are driving a car, have you noticed that you can actually listen to music, you can be on the phone with somebody (hands-free) probably, you can also have a conversation with somebody in the car with you, .. but, naturally, somehow automatically, instinctively, you turn at the right point, and somehow reach home. How! There is thinking happening without conscious effort. And, that is the source of creativity, says Cleese.

Basketball, football, in any game for that matter, that involves natural reflexes, coaches always say, thinking is harmful! Stop thinking, start playing, is their refrain! You might wonder, how to play without thinking! But, that is how you play naturally! How should that action actually be?

When somebody throws a brick at you, you instantly, immediately, reflexively, instinctively duck. You don’t look at it and say, “Oh, how large is this brick, what angle is it coming in, how much should I tilt my head, what velocity is it coming in, etc”? No! So, stop thinking! If you want to get your creative juices flowing, don’t think too much! Interesting advice!

And then he gives an example. About how subconscious creativity really does its work. This is how it goes. He talks about an experiment that some American scientists conducted on the American public who had never seen Chinese letter. Those Chinese characters — they had never seen them in life. They were shown a pattern of five characters. An hour later, they were shown a different sequence of characters (some from the old, many new). When asked if they could recall which of those were present in the first one, nobody could really answer. Because, it was totally alien to them. They had never seen Chinese characters.

The same experiment. Conducted by the same scientists. But, with a different end goal. This time, the scientists show a pattern, and then, an hour later, they show another pattern, and they ask the candidates, which ones they “like”. When asked this question though, for some irrational, inexplicable reason, they seemed to like the ones that they had actually seen earlier (even though they couldn’t recall having seen them!) It is the subconscious sending you a message, “Hey, I have actually seen it! I don’t want to tell you I have seen it! I am not your …… servant! I am the creative genius sleeping inside you. But, you know what? You have seen it. And, that is why I will make you LIKE it…!” That will be the circuitous route in which the message will really land! Beware! Be aware! Await! Observe! Keep your eyes and ears open!

He brings another book in context. Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind — How intelligence increases when you think less! (Remember, John Cleese said “Stop The Thinking!”) In this context, this Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind actually resonates with the Daniel Kahneman book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. That book too, gives the same advice. There are two kinds of systems in your brain. One is instantaneous. The other is slow and steady.

How do they elaborate that same message in this book then? Well, this book says, the Hare Brain is reacting, instantaneous, logical, analytical, evaluating, deciding… That is the Hare Brain. In fact, in English, there is a derogatory term that goes “hare-brained”. Too rashly deciding… But, that is like System One. System Two on the other hand, the Tortoise Mind, how does it work? Well, it doesn’t even think it is working! It is playful. It is leisurely. It is dreamy. It is not even trying to solve the problem. It is pondering ABOUT the problem. And, creativity lies in the mix of these two. Not in one of them. Not in the other. But, in the interplay of these two. In equal parts, when they go hand in hand, that is when creativity blossoms, says this author.

A few more things that this book talks about, this book inside the other book. They conducted an experiment on architects. Architects do both things — they do analytical thinking, because they have to build stuff that stands. They can’t build something beautiful that comes falling down. But, nor can they build something stable but ugly! It has to be beautiful and functional too. Both kinds of creative! They conduct an experiment on architects. They identify a large group of architects famed for their creativity, and another group of “also-ran” run-of-the-mill architects. They analyse both groups. What is different in their lifestyles? What do they do differently? What do they study? What is their background? What are their hobbies? How do they work? When evaluated thus, two beautiful discoveries, this author makes.

The first one? The creative architects know that delaying gives them great answers! Delaying? Well, postpone things till the very last moment of the deadline! If they have been told to get something done in five days, they would keep toying with ideas till the first half of the fifth day! The not-so-creative architects just get an idea, implement it, deliver before deadline, and move on. The creative architects know that delaying, courting the fear and the panic of not having arrived at a decision yet, … it seems that fear should be confronted! The ticking clock! The approaching deadline! That is when you get amazing ideas! Because ideas build upon existing ideas..!

The second differentiation that they made between the creative and the not-so-creative architects? The creative architects indulged in play! They actually played! Play? Doing stuff without any end goal. Doing stuff not because it is work, but because they love doing it. Doing stuff without time deadlines, without any end goal in sight. I like it. I like fiddling with it. I like playing around with this puzzle. I am not interested in solving it. I am experiencing it. I am exploring it. I am looking at it from various perspectives. This is play! The creative architects played! Think about it! Do you have the guts to delay? Are you child-like enough to play!

Coming back to that Creativity book, there were a lot of lessons in that book that we, Quotidian folk, have already experienced, have been exposed to. Just the phrases themselves will ring a bell for you. He talks about “Scratching your itch!” He asks us to “Share your process!” He advises us to “Copy! Imitate!” And, finally, he encourages us to not lose hope. “Keep going!” he exhorts! Atomically! Small improvements! We have seen all these, haven’t we? But, there were a few other things that this author shared that were really new. Almost like a wake-up call. Let us look at those now!

One thing the author talks about is, “Killing your darlings”. Don’t go around saying, “This is my baby. This is my idea”. If you attach your personal ego to that, you will end up being stuck with a suboptimal idea. Old ideas need to be chased out mercilessly! That is when the next idea will faithfully come to you like an over-eager puppy! Also, if your darlings aren’t good enough, the competition is going to kill it. The other guy is going to kill it. It is better you kill them yourself. So, kill your darlings, says John Cleese!

Another advice he gives is, “Get Over Confidence”. No! I am not saying get over-confident! Try and do away with “confidence” is what he is trying to say! This is because the moment you are sure about something, the moment you are superconfident, the moment you feel you have learned all there is to know, that moment, creativity flies away from you! He warns you! He says, most of us want to be right! The creative geniuses want to know if they are right! Think about it! If you want to be right, you will always do the safe thing. You will always be “Let me do what everybody else does. Get away. Get paid. Go home.” What does the creative genius do differently? He or she wants to know if they are right. So, they will make mistakes. They will try things nobody has tried before. They will probably goof up. They will change the goof up into something amazing and interesting! They will watch for responses! And they will make further changes! These people want to know if they are right! They are humble. They are eager to please. They are agile enough to keep changing! What a beautiful difference!

One more piece of advice he gives, the final piece, I would say, is “Fix them yourself!” You show your process to everybody. You ask them what they liked. Where it bored them. What they didn’t like. And so on. Yes. That is very very important. Ask people what they liked, what was boring, what was unusual, what got them to the edge of their seat. Ask all those questions. But, when the answers come, … they usually won’t just answer the questions you ask them. They will also add their own suggestions, their own solutions… You know what, you should fix it like that.. Use yellow instead of the green that you had used. Instead of “Sa Ri” in this musical piece, try “Sa Ga”…. John Cleese says, “Take all that feedback. Split it up into ISSUES OBSERVED and SOLUTIONS OFFERED. This second pack, wrap it up, give a plastic smile, thank them, and throw it directly into the trash. Because only you know how to fix them, how to make them better! That is the final warning the author gives us! I really liked this bit!

Talking about the Closing Thought for today, … it was this “Creativity”-beast that got hold of me when I came up with the “digits of Pi” sequence for my Quotidian series. I had said I would jump a number of days in the calendar corresponding to the digit of Pi to line up my next Quotidian video! Things went well too…! And only later I realised… Zeroes come too! The first one came on June 4th. When zero comes as my jump factor, the gap between two episodes, what does that mean? I need to do two episodes on the same day! My God! It has been taxing! Truly taxing! Yes, creative, but it has got its own side effects! Beware! Thanks a lot! The next meeting is on June 6th! Thank you!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.