There has been a bit of talk recently about the idea of introducing programming in the curriculum for schools (for everyone, not just as part of a computer subject). Andy Young has a very good article discussing the merits of this idea. Someone recently asked my about my thoughts on the topic so I thought it would be good to discuss it here. I would encourage you to leave your thoughts as a comment below as I believe this is an important idea to discuss and consider.
The essence of creativity is perspective. A different perspective sheds a whole new light on the matter, introducing new ideas. Anything we can do to help us gain new perspectives then is great for encouraging creative thinking. So here's an easy way to start getting some new perspectives. Not saying it is guaranteed to lead to great new ideas but it's a good place to start. It all has to do with the different ways in which our minds can process information.
Well I've made a decision to end the Wednesday articles on the website. Lately it's been harder to come up with fresh, quality topics for articles and I've also been getting busier with other projects. The games and challenges will continue weekly but the articles will now be on a lesser schedule. I feel it's better to release quality articles when the inspiration comes rather than lesser quality more consistently. It was a tough decision to make but sometimes those tough decisions need to be made.
For the last few months I have been trying to learn a particular trick on my unicycle. I reckon I was about 80% there but just couldn't get that last little bit. I kept persisting though, figuring I was quite close and more practice would get me there. Then a friend saw me trying and suggested I move one of my feet up slightly. I thought to myself, what difference could that make, but I tried it anyways. Lo and behold, I got the trick within a few goes. This has sparked me on an interesting train of thought.
The internet really is an amazing place. It is phenomenally huge, and unlike the real world, if you have access you may reach any part of it instantly and with virtually no effort or cost. It is also growing constantly and more importantly, evolving. We no longer have just static pages but rich interactive experiences and the ability to construct services that can manipulate and connect data in virtually any way we can think of. Searching for a needle in a haystack is easy compared to trawling the interwebs.
The other day I had a friend whose website had been hacked. We fixed it up but it caused me to reflect on the nature of our society. It obviously, was not a nice experience but no physical harm was done. Why is it that, more and more, things which are in essence virtual, hold more and more importance to us? I believe it has to do with scale and how virtual things change their influence as they get bigger.
"But we had to do something!"
I'm willing to bet you've heard this excuse before. Probably in relation to an action that had far from positive outcomes. Another idea that I think is closely related to this is the belief that "Any action is better than no action." In general I do believe that action is better than inaction but whenever I hear the words "but we had to do something" alarm bells start to ring.
It is not uncommon today to hear people talk about efficiency. Times are tough, etc, etc. Improving efficiency is seen as a means to make limited resources go further. As is often the case, this particular course of action is not necessarily going to lead to the desired outcome. The world is a massively complex place, largely unknown, constantly changing in unpredictable ways, for mostly unknown reasons in a twisted and interconnected mess of different interrelationships. What we actually should be seeking is simplicity.
The day I released this article is the 12th of December 2012. Right now you're probably in one of two camps. You're either thinking "hey that's kinda funky" or alternatively your saying "yeah, so what". I'd like you to consider this question: Do you consider yourself lucky? If you said YES then you are more likely to have considered my opening statement funky. If NO then you're hopefully starting to wander what you've just missed. Read on to find out what all this has to do with creativity.
I'm doing an online course at the moment on how to design things. This weeks topic is banding. When most people think about branding they think about things such as 'your name has to be catchy and distinct' or 'your name should evoke the right type of emotions' (eg. a sports brand name should evoke feelings of agility or adventure). These are all well and good but when it comes to new and versatile products I think naming is even more important.
Some people see board games as simple games where you roll a dice and move a piece along the squares. Basic games played by young kids. Others think of them as complex role playing games played by geeks. To take these views is to miss out on all that board games have to offer. Nowadays, board games come in all shapes and forms and often have very interesting game mechanics. As a friend pointed out last weekend, to succeed in these games requires a fair deal of flexibility in your approach and some real creative thinking.
Life is interesting, unpredictable and unfair. This means that every now and then it is going to throw you an event or outcome that you really would prefer didn't happen. A typical after effect of this is the knee-jerk reaction. The 'quick, we need to do something so that this never happens again', reaction. The thing is, these reactions are typically born out of fear and involve restrictions and or checks which often do little to prevent a future occurence of the event but instead inconvenience us, restrict us and stifle creative thinking.
Wayne Gretzky once said: "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." A great snooker player is always thinking several shots ahead. Chess masters are often thinking 10 or more moves ahead. People at the top of their game are always thinking several steps into the future but acting in the present. Highly creative thinking falls into the same category.
So you've come up with this awesome idea. It's funky as anything and you're pumped. But then it gets to starting and it all goes downhill from there. You dive in at a hundred miles an hour but later on take a look back and realise it's not quite going how you had hoped. That great vision you had to begin with is not what is materialising in front of you. What you need to do is take a step back and think about how you are managing your work. The difference between mediocrity and completely awesome is often just the way you choose to manage.
I receive a lot of advertising literature from politicians in my area. Especially around election times. I wonder how much this is necessary and what impact it has on our environment. This weeks article is not so much about creativity but a call to be creative. I think it would be great if there was a 'Please Email Me Instead' list that you could join and any political literature would then have to be emailed to you instead of printed and mailed. If enough people joined it, imagine how much paper we could save.
Space (not to be confused with outer space) is an amazing asset. Space is typically the absence of stuff, and yet it is not nothing. It exists in nearly every form. Space is very powerful, yet only a few of us really understand and appreciate that. Space can be very eassy to create, yet most of us fear it, we go out of our way to fill space, with stuff. Usually that stuff is of less value than the space that was there before it, but we fail to realise that. But most importantly, space is the area in which creative thinking happens.
I recently learned about a country called Bhutan. It is a landlocked state in South Asia. They are only small but they have a remarkable way of looking at things. Despite not being a particularly wealthy country, they are the happiest country in Asia and the 8th happiest in the world. This is not by chance either. While other countries focus heavily on their GDP (Gross National Product), Bhutan instead focuses on their GNH (Gross National Happiness). I think this is a wonderful perspective and one in which creativity can flourish.
Creative ideas often lead to remarkably simple solutions. Or is it that remarkably simple ideas lead to really creative solutions? I really admire simplicity. It is powerful and elegant and highly beneficial when done well. The only problem is that creating elegant simplicity is a fairly complex task. Today I'd like to talk about one aspect of this where a little creative thinking and attention to detail can really make a difference. Points of reference. All of our actions stem from points of reference, whether we like it or not.
There is an exciting new technology emerging at the moment which is 3D printing. If you haven't heard about it before, think of it as being similar to your typical laser printer but instead of printing ink it is printing in another material such as plastic, ceramic or metal, and instead of printing to a piece of paper, it is printing in layers to produce a physical object. There are several people making them at the moment such as Makerbot and RepRap. They are going to shake up the world and I think it can go down either of two distinct paths.