Mindfulness, uncertainty, and Creativity
Dr. Langer also touches on the subject of creativity in her book, Mindfulness. Her experiment shows that uncertainty results in more creative solutions than certainty. If people could learn about unfamiliar things in a truly conditional way, then they might see many different uses for the object.
Here is the secret to creativity and innovation: the ability to use or see familiar objects in an unfamiliar way.
In Dr. Hippel’s research, the ability to use familiar objects in an unfamiliar way was tested by creating five problems that could only be solved by that means. As an example, one problem could be solved only if young children bent a paper clip provided to them and used it as a hook. The hook was then used to pull a ring out of a vial. The (young children) subjects of the experiment were only given a paper clip and a vial with the ring in it, and they were asked to pull the ring out of the vial using the paper clip.
Subjects were divided into two groups. One group of problem solvers saw the crucial object being used in a familiar way (e.g., the paper clip holding papers), while the other did not (e.g., the paper clip was simply lying on a table unused). Being able to see familiar objects in an unfamiliar way is the key.
The secret to creativity is really in this skill. And this skill is mainly developed with observation skills, bare attention, concentration, insights, and mindfulness. For many children, problem solving is virtuous. We, as adults, modify tools around the house all the time.
For example, the invention of snow chains, barbed wire, the invention of walking tension springs (1945, Richard James), sonar, rubber bands, remote control for television, microwave ovens, perhaps the invention of Hula hoops, the discovery of penicillin, Viagra, Velcro,
More than Just Creativity: Innovations by the Users
For a long time the research community believed that innovations are the creation of big businesses. However, we now know that this assumption is wrong. The fact is: most innovations originate from you, a person with a heightened mind and consciousness, the everyday user. You are the source of innovation!
Research has shown that you, the USER of your passion, are actually the main source of innovation.
You, as a USER of your passion, innovate every day all over your home, kitchen, garage, office, and shop. When you modify a tool (seeing familiar objects in unfamiliar ways), add an extra ingredient, or find a new way to perform an ordinary task more effectively with heightened concentration and curiosity, you innovate. That’s how, if you remember, the one-time famous accounting program Lotus 123, now widely replaced by Excel from Microsoft, was developed. An extremely bright accountant in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (with strong attention, insights, concentration, and virtuous goals) developed Lotus 123 and was using it in his own office (just for himself) three years before someone suggested that he should sell his software on the market. Notice the level of intrinsic motivation in this man: no money, just for the love of doing it and benefiting from it.
Many research studies examine who actually develops the new products introduced into the marketplace. The majority of these studies show that, in most cases, it is the USER who actually develops a novel and commercially successful product. Yes, the user is the actual source of innovation. Eric von Hippel, in his excellent book called The Sources of Innovation, says:
“We have now found three innovation categories in which it is typically the product user, not the product manufacturer, who recognizes the need, solves the problem through an invention, builds a prototype, and proves the prototype’s value in use. If we apply this finding to “stages” of the technical innovation process, we find—perhaps somewhat counterintuitively—tthat the locus of almost the entire innovation process is centered on the user.”
Typically, the innovative user:
• Perceived that an advance in instrumentation was required.
• Invented the instrument.
• Built a prototype.
• Proved the prototype’s value by applying it.
• Diffused detailed information on both the value of the invention and how the prototype device could be replicated.
To be successful as an innovator and entrepreneur, there is, however, a tremendous need to see things in a new way, be able to use familiar objects in unfamiliar ways, or create new experiences from old ones. The same thing is true for ideas. Being able to use the old ideas that were used in familiar ways in an unfamiliar way is the secret to success. Some people call this new use of ideas a paradigm shift. A big part of this book is dedicated to observation, paying attention, observing things in new ways, and achieving mindfulness. As you read below, try to remember all the tools we have discussed and taught you. Try to see if you can prove Dr. Hippel wrong now that you have gained new skills. Are you limited, blocked, and/or constrained? Let’s see how Dr. Hippel argues for the lack of these skills in observation. Professor Hippel continues:
Users selected to provide input data for consumer and industrial market analysis have an important limitation: Their insights into new product (and process and service) needs and potential solutions are constrained by their real-world experience. Users steeped in the present are, thus, unlikely to generate novel product concepts that conflict with the familiar.
The notion that familiarity with existing product attributes and uses interferes with an individual’s ability to conceive of novel attributes and uses is strongly supported by research into problem solving. We see that experimental subjects familiar with a complicated problem-solving strategy are unlikely to devise a simpler one when this is appropriate. Also, and germane to our present discussion, we see that subjects who use an object or see it used in a familiar way are strongly blocked from using that object in a novel way. Furthermore, the more recently objects or problem-solving strategies have been used in a familiar way, the more difficult it is for more difficult subjects to employ them in a novel way. Finally, we see that the same effect is displayed in the real world, where the success of a research group in solving a new problem is shown to depend on whether the solutions it has used in the past will fit that new problem. These studies thus suggest that typical users of existing products—the type of user-evaluators customarily chosen in market research—are poorly situated with regard to the difficult problem-solving tasks associated with assessing unfamiliar product and process needs.
With the skills we defined and provided you, are you poorly situated? Having developed skills in mindfulness, observation, bare attention, and doing with passion, do you fit in with the description of Dr. Hippel?
Dr. Hippel continues:
As an illustration, consider the difficult problem-solving steps potential users must go through when asked to evaluate their need for a proposed new product. Since individual industrial and consumer products are only components in larger usage patterns that may involve many products, and since a change in one component can change perceptions of and needs for some or all other products in that pattern, users must first identify their existing multiproduct usage patterns in which the new product might play a role. Then, they must evaluate the new product’s potential contribution to these (E.g., a change in the operating characteristics of a computer may allow users to solve new problem types if they also make changes in software and perhaps in other, related products and practices.) Next, users must invent or select the new (to them) usage patterns that the proposed new product makes possible for the first time and then evaluate the utility of the product in these patterns. Finally, since substitutes exist for many multiproduct usage patterns (e.g., many forms of problem analysis are available in addition to the novel ones made possible by a new computer), the user must estimate how the new possibilities presented by the proposed new product will compete (or fail to compete) with existing options. This problem-solving task is clearly a very difficult one, particularly for typical users of existing products, whose familiarity with existing products and uses interferes with their ability to conceive of novel products and uses when invited to do so.
Is the paragraph above a description of you? After reading this book, are you a typical user or a mindful user? After reading professor Von Hippel’s argument, it is now easy to realize why mindfulness and/or bare attention, observation skills, as techniques or even qualities are so valuable in the creative process.
Bare attention, Mindfulness, and skills in observation are the aims of this book. They are there to help you see familiar objects or subjects in unfamiliar ways to be more creative and innovative, even achieving breakthroughs.
Yoga Improves Concentration and Motivation: Benefits Beyond Strength And Flexibility
Practicing yoga can lessen anxiety, heighten concentration, and improve motivation in as little as eight weeks, according to research presented in New Orleans at the 54th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Researchers sought to quantify benefits that go beyond the strength and flexibility typically associated with yoga in the western world.
ACSM members Traci A. Statler, Ph.D., and Amy Wheeler, Ph.D., tested 84 students during the second and eighth weeks of four, 10-week Hatha yoga classes at California State University San Bernardino. Most participants were female (93 percent); 45 percent were Hispanic, 35 percent Caucasian, seven percent African-American, and two percent Asian. The students averaged 24 years of age; most had at least three months of consistent yoga experience prior to the class.
Two weeks and again nine weeks into the class, participants completed three standard assessments to measure their concentration, motivation, and anxiety levels. The results were dramatic. “We were surprised by the degree of difference in just eight weeks of practice,” Statler said. “We measured significant increases in all three areas. We’ve noted empirical evidence that yoga carries affective benefits, but now we’ve been able to objectively measure the results.”
Statler, a sports psychology consultant, teamed with Wheeler, a yoga expert, to gauge the commonalities between sports and yoga. “Both require focus and confidence,” Wheeler said. “While westerners tend to regard yoga primarily as a physical discipline, in the East it is pursued as a mindful discipline, helping people live their lives with clarity and a positive outlook.”
Further research, said Statler, may address how best to translate yoga benefits into improvements in sports performance. “We’d like to study a broader sample, including more male students and more athletes,” she said.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.
Here are the steps to creativity and the secrets of creative people: No one has ever gotten off the bed and been a Picasso. No one!
My suggestions to those who like to be creative are to find something—a task, hobby, or profession—that you find noble and virtuous. Then copy your favorite leader, teacher, master, or mentor at home. The act of copying is only to get deep insights. Do not, under any circumstances, publish the copy. Just in private. We will explain. We all have to start with copying before we are creative in our fields. Even the most successful surfer, surgeon, or rock climber had to copy his or her first teacher. At first, Picasso also copied. It does not matter how long you have to imitate, copy, duplicate, or replicate. It does not matter. Don’t forget, you have to find what you do virtuous, noble, and virtuous. If you don’t, it will not work for you. It never works. What about those who have been copied? The smart and open-minded have a saying: “Imitation is the highest form of flattery”. The closed-minded who were lucky once complain… This closed-mindedness impedes creativity. Should you be happy that you copied? No! Absolutely not, and through this unhappiness, you gain the motivation to become creative.
OK, you might think we are a bit unorthodox here and claim things (like copying) that might make people roll their eyes. So we’d like to bring some great and unique examples. We truly believe copying will only help those who are true to their tasks and truly find what they do noble and virtuous. We strongly believe these are the people who will eventually become creative and will lead greatly. We strongly believe that creativity will eventually come to people once they gather more insights.
How do you think the Japanese did it? How did they become so creative? They copied in the 1950s and 1960s. When they were able to accumulate enough insights into building Cars, TVs, etc., they stormed out with creativity and ingenuity. Ronald Reagan enjoyed quoting Thomas Paine (“We have it in our power to begin the world over again!”! ). Kelsey Grammer was imitating Bob Hope in Frasier, and his Dad’s character in the show was that of John Wayne. Now imagine putting these two characters in one show. What do you get? Where was the creativity? The creative part was the fact that you did not notice it. It was done with so much skill and creativity that it was not noticeable.
I like to make sure I am clear on the fact that it is the task that must be found noble and virtuous, not copied. Copying is never noble; however, if you find the task noble, we believe copying at home and just for learning will help and will lead toward creativity. I like to challenge parents to appreciate creativity in their children. The E*Trade commercial shows exactly what is wrong with our economy. The best, youngest, and brightest are sitting by the E*Trade Monitor day trading stocks, and on the other video monitor they are playing Video Games.
Only those who truly find the task, the occupation, or the career noble and virtuous and will concentrate to perfect it and develop insights will be creative. Lucky are those who find serving their community and this great country noble and virtuous.
In the process of copying, you will concentrate on the task. Then you develop insights about the task. The trick is to combine finding nobility, concentration, and developing insights in a spiral circle. Each will strengthen the other in a spiral manner on a circle. In other words, the more you find the task noble and virtuous, the more you will concentrate and the more you will develop insights. The more you concentrate, the more you will find it virtuous, and the more you will develop insights. The more you develop insights, the more you will concentrate, and the more you will find it virtuous. Each must help the other grow and become stronger. This is essential to the process. We call this the tornado process. Nobility, concentration, and insight are the winds of the tornado, and each wind pushes the other to make the tornado stronger and stronger. If the tornado process does not happen, the creativity is not there.
In the tornado process, you need to develop good observation techniques. You will develop more intuition about the task and how to do it even better than your mentor or master. This will be the turning point from just copying to becoming creative.
Hopefully, one day you will realize you can be creative. It will just come to you. Believe me, it will. One day you will find yourself in a Picasso-like position. It might take 5 years, 5 weeks, or 5 days. It all depends on how many natural talents you have, how powerful your tornado is, and how much you love what you do. We cannot say for certain what talent is. Is it a byproduct of the tornado effect? We don’t know. We believe it is. We like to believe we are all talented. We are. We just need to discover our own tornado process. Each one of us has a tornado process hidden somewhere. You need to find your own tornado process.
What are the signs of the tornado process?
If you find yourself doing something nonstop with an amazing energy you never thought you possessed, you are experiencing the tornado. Say you cannot stop playing the piano. You cannot stop climbing that rock. You cannot stop writing that novel.
An interesting question would be: How can I find what I am good at? What is my tornado?
Some 15 or 20 years ago, there was a TV show called LA Law. Then, I read in the Wall Street Journal that the number of applications to Law Schools had tripled because of the LA Law TV show. This might sound funny to you. But this is the real tornado process in action for some of the young, talented lawyers. There are so many Doctor Who shows on TV. From Gray’s Anatomy to ER and Hopkins They are the best examples of developing the tornado process for very young future doctors. So are shows like Criminal Justice or CSI.
Are Health and Creativity Connected?
Looking at beautiful art can act as a painkiller
Beauty is truth, the English romantic poet John Keats once wrote, but according to the latest scientific research, it is also a painkiller. Looking at a beautiful piece of art has long been said to have the power to heal emotional wounds, but new research also claims it offers a distraction from physical pain.
The research carried out by the University of Bari in Italy could help vindicate hospitals accused of wasting money on art and decor, as it suggests a pleasant environment helps patients overcome discomfort and pain.
A team headed by Professor Marina de Tommaso at the Neurophysiopathology Pain Unit asked a group of men and women to pick the 20 paintings they considered most ugly and most beautiful from a selection of 300 works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli.
They were then asked to contemplate either the beautiful paintings, the ugly paintings, or a blank panel while the team zapped a short laser pulse at their hand, creating a sensation as if they had been pricked by a pin.
The subjects rated the pain as being a third less intense while they were viewing the beautiful paintings, compared with when contemplating the ugly paintings or the blank panel.
Electrodes measuring the brain’s electrical activity also confirmed a reduced response to pain when the subject looked at beautiful paintings.
While distractions, such as music, are known to reduce pain in hospital patients, Prof. de Tommaso says this is the first result to show that beauty plays a part.
The findings, reported in New Scientist, also go a long way toward showing that beautiful surroundings could aid the healing process.
“Hospitals have been designed to be functional, but we think that their aesthetic aspects should be taken into account too,” said the neurologist who published her findings in the paper Aesthetic Value of Paintings and Their Effects on Pain Thresholds.
“Beauty obviously offers a distraction that ugly paintings do not. But at least there is no suggestion that ugly surroundings make the pain worse.
“I think these results show that more research is needed into how a beautiful environment can alleviate suffering.”
The 12 volunteers, six female and six male, were picked randomly from the student body at the university and were aged between 22 and 38. They were asked to choose their favorite paintings from the website http://wwar.com/artists/.
Pictures they liked included Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Pictures they found ugly included works by Pablo Picasso, the Italian 20th-century artist Anonio Bueno, and the Columbian Fernando Botero.
One of the problems with the study for those wishing to reduce pain is the subjective nature of beauty.
Edvard Munch’s The Scream was deemed by some people to be beautiful.
“These people were not art experts, so some of the pictures they found ugly would be considered masterpieces by the art world,” said Prof. de Tommaso.
Unlocking The Inner-Savant In All Of Us
We are all capable of the extraordinary savant skills displayed by people with autism, according to Professor Allan Snyder, speaking at the Royal Society today. Snyder argues that it is our inbuilt expectations of the world that stop us from using them.
Prof. Snyder spoke on the savant syndrome and his efforts to ‘turn on’ autistic savant skills in people who don’t have autism at a discussion meeting jointly organized by the Royal Society and the British Academy. Snyder is director of the Center for the Mind at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which people with autism or other mental disabilities have extraordinary skills that stand in stark contrast to their overall handicap. Savant skills are typically confined to five areas: art, music, calendar calculation, mathematics, and spatial skills, and these skills are accompanied by an exceptional ability to recall meaningless detail. In autistic savants, these skills appear spontaneously at a young age.
Prof. Snyder has been able to artificially induce savant skills in people who do not have autism using the inhibiting influence of low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to turn off that part of the brain that controls all our inbuilt expectations.
“To do this,” says Snyder, “we direct magnetic pulses into the brain, to a specific site called the left anterior temporal lobe, which is near the left ear. This site has been implicated in individuals who suddenly display autistic savant skills after injury or fronto-temporal lobe dementia.” The magnetic pulses are applied over the left anterior temporal lobe for 15 minutes using directed, low-frequency rTMS.”
During one study conducted by Prof. Snyder and his colleagues, participants were asked to perform a specific task before, during, immediately after, and 45 minutes after rTMS treatment, with tasks including drawing a dog, horse, or face from memory in one minute or proofreading a document.
The result was a major change in the drawing ability of four out of the 11 participants; two of these participants also showed a noticeable improvement in their ability to recognize duplicated words in the proofreading task. Their abilities returned to normal within about an hour.
In a similar study, ten out of twelve participants had an improved ability after the rTMS treatment to accurately guess a large number of objects in one and a half seconds, an ability that faded after the treatment.
At the discussion meeting, Snyder spoke about these innate skills and discussed why savant skills are usually suppressed.
Normally, we are aware of the whole and not the parts that make it up. These attributes of objects are inhibited in normal brains,” says Snyder.
“Savants have access to less processed information before it is packaged into holistic concepts and labels. Autistic savants tend to see a more literal, less filtered view of the world.”
1. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles: as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. As we prepare for our 350th anniversary in 2010, we are working to achieve five strategic priorities:
Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation.
Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice.
Invigorate science and mathematics education.
Increase access to the best science internationally.
Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder, and excitement of scientific discovery.
2. The Centre for the Mind is part of the University of Sydney. http://www.centreforthemind.com
3. Professor Allan Snyder received the Marconi International Prize in New York City in December 2001. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the recipient of its 2001 Clifford Paterson Prize. Allan holds the 150th Anniversary Chair of Science and the Mind at the University of Sydney. He was a Guggenheim Fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine and a Royal Society Research Fellow at the Physiology Laboratories of Cambridge University. He is a graduate of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University College London.
His discussion focused on published work from the papers indicated below as well as new work on reducing false memories and prejudice. Snyder, A.W., Mulcahy, E., Taylor, J.L., Mitchell, D.J., Sachdev, P., & Gandevia, S.C. (2003). Savant-like skills are exposed in normal people by suppressing the left frontal lobe. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 2, 149–158. Snyder, A., Bahramali, H., Hawker, T., & Mitchell, D.J. (2006). Savant-like numerosity skills are revealed in normal people by magnetic pulses. Perception, 35, 837-845.
How do I improve it? Ask Those Who Use it.
Dr. Nathaniel Sims, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has figured out a few ways to help save patients’ lives.
In doing so, he also represents a significant untapped vein of innovation for companies.
Dr. Sims has picked up more than 10 patents for medical devices over his career. He ginned up a way to more easily shuttle around the dozen or more monitors and drug-delivery devices attached to any cardiac patient after surgery with a device known around the hospital as the “Nat Rack.”
His best innovation to date, he says, involved modifying a drug infusion pump routinely used in hospitals to dispense the proper doses of medicine.
Dr. Sims, an accomplished pilot, noticed in the mid-1980s that he could obtain navigation information from regularly updated databases. He wondered why doctors couldn’t use a device preprogrammed with the necessary data to figure out dosages themselves. From 1987 to 1992, he and a small team built an electronic device that worked with an existing pump to provide patients with the correct dose of the proper drug. Alaris Medical Systems was the first established medical supply firm to use the technology.
David L. Schlotterbeck, the chief executive of Alaris, bet the company on the device. It was a good wager. The smart pump now brings in $700 million in sales, more than Alaris’s overall revenue of $534 million in 2003, the year before the company was sold to Cardinal Health.
What Dr. Sims did is called user-driven innovation by Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Mr. von Hippel is the leading advocate of the value of letting users of products modify or improve them because they may come up with changes that manufacturers never considered. He thinks that this could help companies develop products more quickly and inexpensively than with their internal design teams.
“It could drive manufacturers out of the design space,” Mr. von Hippel says.
It is a difficult idea for research and development departments to accept, but one of his studies found that 82 percent of new capabilities for scientific instruments like electron microscopes were developed by users.
Citizen product design is still unsung, but it has already become a force in software, especially gaming software. “Counter-Strike,” a player-created “mod” (for modification to the original game) of “Half-Life,” became as popular as the original game. Apache, the popular open-source Web server software, or the Firefox Internet browser, with its thousands of add-ons and plug-ins, also depend on users to develop innovations. Large companies like I.B.M. are increasingly turning to open-source techniques in their own software development.
It may also drive economic growth, Mr. von Hippel says. While Dr. Sims has no interest in starting a company, many people like him will do exactly that. Burton Snowboards, for instance, grew out of modifications that Jake Burton Carpenter made to a product called the Snurfer. He added a binding for the feet so that Snurfer riders no longer had to guide it with a rope on its nose.
SawStop makes a table saw that automatically stops within five milliseconds when it comes into contact with a user’s finger or thumb. The blade leaves the user with a small nick or cut, but the digit remains intact. It was invented by Stephen Gass, a patent lawyer who liked woodworking and thought that making a table saw safer was an interesting challenge.
One problem with the user-innovation model is that it can run into intellectual property protections. But the potential for creating new companies has led the government of Denmark to establish user-driven innovation as a policy. It found that Danish companies tended not to push for technological innovation, so user innovation may be the way to help them compete more effectively in a global economy.
Denmark may be the perfect testing ground for citizen product design, says Christopher Lettl, who six months ago left his native Germany to become professor of user-driven innovation at the University of Aarhus School of Business in Denmark. He thinks that Danish culture’s focus on the concept of “janteloven,” which holds that no person is better than another, may make companies more open to ideas from their users. The Danish company Lego is famous for tapping customers to help develop its Mindstorms NXT robotics kit.
Skeptics argue that Denmark is both small (population: 5.4 million) and a backwater of innovation and thus has little to lose by trying something new. They might also point out that even in Denmark, Mr. von Hippel’s ideas are up against more conventional forms of user-aided design, such as sending anthropologists to study how people use products in their daily lives. Companies then translate their research into new designs.
Even some of Mr. von Hippel’s acolytes remain cautious. “A lot of this is still in the category of, ‘You could imagine this working out really well,’” says Saul T. Griffith, who, as an M.I.T. engineering student, was part of a group of kitesurfers who developed products for their sport that have since become commercialized. Mr. von Hippel wrote about Mr. Griffith in his 2005 book, “Democratizing Innovation.”
Still, Mr. Griffith can cite a long tradition of user design. One of his favorite examples comes from the title article in Tom Wolfe’s 1965 book, “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” which chronicled car customizers whose innovations—ttailfins, double headlights, low-slung bodies—wwere later adopted by Detroit. Mr. Griffith says that even now, millions of people modify their cars—far more people than the world’s automakers could ever employ in research and development.
There is currently no effective way for companies to harness the ideas of those millions. But the Web—iitself created by Tim Berners-Lee, an Internet user looking to do something new—sseems to offer an excellent potential idea-gatherer. Mr. Griffith’s industrial design firm, Squid Labs, last year spun off a do-it-yourself community site on the Web called Instructables, which features items as diverse as the Minty Boost iPod power source, dachshund wheelchairs, and guns made entirely of K’nex toys, along with detailed instructions on how to build them. Instructables intends to offer software to companies that want to build communities of citizen product developers.
Mr. von Hippel, who has spent 30 years waiting for his ideas to take hold, says that as user communities like Instructables spread, they will dominate innovation. He calls them “the dark matter of innovation.”
User-driven innovation may still be in its infancy, but it is clear that companies should keep an eye open to whether something is rosy in the state of Denmark.