The last several days, I have been thinking about the various types of creativity that are elaborated by Susan Weinschenk. The one that is most familiar is the emotional and spontaneous sort. Think of Van Gogh painting. This form of creativity comes from the amygdala and is deeply emotional. As children of the romantic rebellion, perhaps that is why we are so fascinated by it. I am also familiar with the cognitive and spontaneous sort. Think of Newton seeing gravity at work when an apple fell. This sort of creativity requires a huge body of knowledge and stepping away from intense thought. A Eureka moment, that we associate with genius type work. But Steve Johnson argues that these are not the most common place for finding new ideas. That, he says, comes from exchanges in threads of conversation.
So what about the other two? These may be more important to us as sources of innovation, and yet we tend not to value them as highly. One is where you face an emotional crisis. The brain shifts into overdrive and can produce new ideas quickly. Think about deadlines as a trivial example of how this works. This works when you are alone and it helps get teams in synch. But it works in a sloppy way. You get a result, but not necessarily an elegant one. The final type is deliberate and reflective. This happens when you focus on a problem over a period of time, amassing a lot of knowledge. As you learn more, your brain has a greater capacity to combine things in new years.
Think of Edison and his thousands of trials and errors to get the light bulb right. And here is the great man (from Eureka)
Applying this to global warming, we know that we inject too much carbon into the atmosphere. Check. We could cut back (and we are trying to) but that is tough. What if we could remove carbon? Well, it turns out that doing this involves rather simple chemical processes. We just haven’t applied them on a massive scale. So, some people are fooling around with different types of processes to find which ones work best at scale. Like Joe Jones at Skyonics. Jones says
“SkyMine is really Edisonian, in that it takes proven technologies and combines them in novel ways to innovative results,”
Right. Mining deliberative, cognitive creativity. My bet is that this will be where we find our solution.
But can we speed it up? Sure we can. If we could build a platform where people had incentives to share their experimental results, we would get more results faster. The problem is in creating the incentives. This is why big firms can be more innovative than start ups. With more capital, shared goals, and a larger pool of people with different kinds of knowledge, they can exchange knowledge about experiments faster. Think of Bell Labs. This is what that sort of place looks like (from Emilio Segre Visual Archives)
BTW, this is not the end of the story — there is still a sharing option (from open innovation). But that is for another blog post.