The sociology of creativity.

Optimizing the social structures that promote innovation. 

It is apparent that the amount and quality of innovation and creative activity of societies is dependent on certain social structures within those societies. In other parts of this site we have looked those social influences, that influence individual people to want to be creative and to be capable of being creative. In what follows we will uncover those other social structures that increase the amount and quality of creativity in society regardless of the desire and determination of individuals to be creative. By looking at how to optimize these social functions, we may have a chance to produce a truly creative society.

The natural history of innovation. 

Creativity in humans is the equivalent of natural selection in evolution, and is subject to the same forces of nature. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson explains that creation is all about connections, connections in the mind, connections between people, and connections between the objects of creation. He says:

"If you want to create a space for innovation, you won't get far by cloistering yourself away from the world and waiting for inspiration to hit you. Chance favours the connected mind."

These connections in turn depend on and are shaped by a balance between of four basic ideas or principles. These are chaos, order, complexity and simplicity. Creativity and innovation like evolution are connections sculpted by chaos, order, complexity and simplicity. 


Creativity rises out of the primordial soup of chaos. Chaos is needed in society so that knowledge of very different kinds can collide and intersect in a random, unplanned manner that is consistent with pure chance. Only through this randomness can something truly new or novel emerge out of the data or information that already exists. Without wildly different chance connections, what emerges is just a steady improvement of what has gone before. This was discussed by Thomas S. Khun in his famous work "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. All knowledge grows by conjuring speculation, the invention of new conjecture, and the elimination or acceptance of these, by means of trial and error testing. These conjectural inventions, however, do not come from nothing, but are rather conjured out of a chaotic soup of ideas by means of combining knowledge that we already have, and building these one upon the other to come up with something new. The amount of newness or novelty in these conjectures, turns out to be proportional to the amount of difference between the sorts of knowledge combined to create the new conjecture. This is in turn dependent on the randomness used in forming those conjectures. To come up with non logical connections in individual's minds we need a safe environment for this to happen in. We need an environment where connecting illogical elements is normal. However, our brains have a far greater tendency to connect elements in a logical way and we may need to be part of social structures that force us out of our comfort zone and into areas of knowledge that are unfamiliar to us. The chaos within needs to be partly induced by a certain amount of chaos without.


Although creativity is born out of chaos, that chaos must have order imposed on it if it is to function in a predictable way. Order is needed so that inventions or theories can work. Nothing works without order. The bringing together of unconnected elements to create something new and novel has no meaning if we cannot make it work. The trial and error we use to test our conjectural inventions eliminates the first chaotic elements and brings to the conjectures the first semblance of order, transforming them into tested theories. Order is the glue that keeps idea elements together and allows them to interact with one another in a regular repeatable way.    


Nothing, not an invention, not a theory, can in the end be completely simple. While the elements of an invention or innovation can be understood, the whole of an innovation is generally difficult to comprehend as a whole. But here's the thing. The understanding of large complex wholes is possible. Neuroscientists have a concept they call chunking where innovators get to initially understand those elements that make up the whole innovation. As Innovators come to understand those elements of an innovation they can then use chunking to further understand how those elements come together and work together as a whole. In this way complexity in innovation can be seen as a complex web where sometimes an innovator can know all the elements as well as knowing how they fit together and sometimes he knows just one element or just how they fit together.   


Simplicity is needed so that we can understand elements and ideas fully. Someone has to understand how each element in an innovation works and he has to be able to explain it to others so they too can understand. Ornamentation has to be pared away so the core ideas are exposed. The bringing of estranged ideas (elements, components) together to form new conjecture is unworkable if we do not initially fully understand those estranged ideas. We cannot combine them if we do not understand them. So it follows, we must simplify and clarify elements and components so they can be brought together into wholes. These wholes become the new conjectures that, if they survive testing, eventually become the new theories, which in turn become the new creations.      

In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson proposes that there are certain sociological conditions that are conducive to, and perhaps essential to creativity. These sociological conditions determine the natural history of innovation. These sociological conditions shape the balance between chaos, order, complexity and simplicity. Not only that but these sociological conditions can themselves for the most part be shaped and influenced themselves.

Adjacent possible.

Everything that comes into existence is composed of and is built out of what has existed before. However, until the elements or components of an invention come into existence, not even the possibility of that whole invention exists. New innovations or creations only become possible as their elements, their components, their foundations, come into existence. A new invention, a new idea, a new theory, a new technology, becomes possible because the existence of something else that makes it possible. An idea, a theory, an invention is possible only because something else adjacent makes it possible. That something is what makes the adjacent new and novel thing possible, not because it provides that newness, but because it is the final piece in the puzzle falling into place. The newness comes from how different the connected elements had previously appeared to be.

Innovations have a place and time because the elements needed to be jiggered together to enable them to have been invented, discovered, or created, appear first. They still need a creative person, or a group of creative people, to put them together, but their time has come. This is why two or more people can independently come up with the same innovation, invention, creation, theory or idea in about the same time and in nearly the same place. This happens because those people have access to the same existing knowledge, have developed the same skills, or are able to use the same current technology. From this perspective innovations are the result of probing the adjacent possible. Each new innovation opens up, perhaps, many adjacent possibilities that did not exist previously.

We tend to think innovations come out of nowhere and advance our technology and science in dramatic spurts, but in fact advances tend to be more like one door opening into a room at the end of which is another door. This in turn leads to another room with another door and so on. Innovating is as if the innovator is exploring a palace one room at a time. Innovators cannot go from room A to room C without going through room B. Sure you can imagine the future, but you will probably be wrong, because the missing elements of the innovation will help shape the final form of the innovation. The innovator must pass through each room, where he may find an element he is looking for, that will complete and give shape and form to yet another innovation. Each element, is of course, an innovation in it self that the creator does not have to invent himself, but rather he appropriates it as part of the new innovation he creates.

Of course this chaotic soup of ideas, innovations or creations not only has to come into existence, the knowledge of it has to be available to as many people as possible. The knowledge needs to be available to lots of people for statistical reasons. The more people who know this information, the more likely it is that one of them will put the chaotic mix of elements together in the right order to bring into existence a new innovation.

Liquid networks. 

The social force that brings these chaotic elements together is what Steven Johnson calls a liquid network. For ideas to come together people need to come together and have access to each other's ideas. In time gone by people did not mix very much. They stayed in their own little groups and shunned others. The less people came together and the less they shared knowledge the less likely it was that ideas or innovations could come into existence, and the more likely it was that ideas and innovations that did come into existence, could then just disappear. The ancient hunters and gatherers did not interact much with other tribes except to fight and were unlikely to pass on their secrets to other tribes. Also, any innovation that individuals came up with, gave them an edge in the tribe, so they would naturally hoard them. Individuals kept their innovations secret and tribes kept their innovations even more secret.

It follows naturally, that back then, innovations came into existence and then were lost, when their inventors died. Most of these innovations would then be discovered again, only to be lost yet again. Was it any wonder that early progress was at a snails pace compared with progress today? Even when ideas were passed on they were often passed on to only one person. There was little in the way of accumulated common knowledge in the time of the hunters and gatherers. Ideas passed on slowly when passed on at all, and the uses of such ideas as elements for building other ideas, proceeded even more slowly. Progress was being strangled.  

People and their ideas needed to bump into one another, and spill over, causing chaotic mixes of correlations and ideas. This spill of knowledge enables connections and correlations to be made that logic would prevent. It was only when large groups of people congregated together, and their knowledge began to spill over onto each other, that progress finally began to take off. The first big change came with the birth of the cities. Cities held people together. They could observe one another at work, they could exchange or swap ideas and inventions, they could club together to produce innovations that needed a number of different skills, and expertise, and it was so much easier to steal ideas from one another.

These liquid networks not only create the conditions for greater mixing of chaotic elements and ideas but also provide environments that are conducive to creativity. They produce environments where creative people can work together with out being pitted against one another in forced competition. They provide environments where creative people can feel autonomous and able to follow their own interests and inclinations and not feel controlled or manipulated by others. They provide environments of creative role models. They provide opportunities and time to develop the necessary skills. They also provides an environment of social contagion.

The way to understand these liquid networks is to look at the creative periods in history where liquid networks occur. Several periods in history can be identified to have had a very wide effect on the world, causing those times to produce very large amounts of creative activity. Most recently we have seen the surge of creativity provided by 'The World Wide Web'. Then there was the art boom that was early 'Twentieth Century Paris'. This effect can also be seen in small groups where people of like mind meet together and exchange ideas.

The Renaissance. 

Of course there was also the early art and science boom of 'The Renaissance'. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson suggests that it was the social implications of greater density of the city populations that triggered the the creative explosion of the Renaissance. He says:

"Before writing, before books, before Wikipedia, the liquid networks of cities preserved the accumulated wisdom of human culture. The pattern was repeated in the explosion of commercial and artistic innovation that emerged in the densely settled hill towns of Northern Italy, the birth place of the European Renaissance. Once again the rise of urban networks triggers a dramatic increase in the flow of good ideas. It is no coincidence that Northern Italy was the most urbanized region in all of Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries."  

Another aspect of the Renaissance, the social networks called the guilds or Arti, were also responsible for increased creativity. The guilds were the medieval institutions within which were organized every aspect of a city's economic life, forming social networks that complemented and in part compensated for family ties. Masters of the guilds, who possessed the means of production, took on apprentices and garzoni, the "boys" or journeymen who might work through a long career without ever becoming a master. Each of these guilds acted as a repository for knowledge in the particular craft and the arrangement of master and apprentices acted as schools where skills passed on from one to many.

The Enlightenment. 

Perhaps the most diverse and far reaching creative period was 'The Enlightenment'. The Enlightenment provided a haven for creativity, not only by further increasing the population density of people living together in the big cities, but also by means of a myriad of new ways in which people could connect with one another, that emerged. The Enlightenment, from about 1800 to the 1870s, was primarily a new way of looking at the world where people no longer held property or position by divine right. This gave rise to a new spirit of cooperation that infected scientists and other intellectuals, enabling them to share their discoveries with others. Instead of hoarding their discoveries away in secrecy. Scientists etc., became interested to get credit from their peers for their discoveries, and to be able to learn from, and build on the discoveries of those others.

This was accomplished by the formation of what has been called the public sphere. The public sphere was concerned with the conditions necessary for rational, critical, and genuinely open discussion of public issues, a realm of communication marked by new arenas of debate, more open and accessible forms of urban public space and sociability, and an explosion of print culture. The members of the public sphere held reason to be supreme; everything was open to criticism and they opposed secrecy of all sorts. The public sphere also provided the first philosophical inklings that a person at any level in society might rise up to accomplish something great. Suddenly it was clear, that the only thing that separated a creator of great works and the common man, was effort and hard work. This feeling, that all men had limitless potential, was what powered the Enlightenment. Because of this, the Enlightenment, although it was in part created by the continuing rise of the cities, can be itself viewed as a giant liquid network.

In this time, travel became easier, allowing people to make easier connections with people in other countries. Things that had been strange, wonderful and novel from far away, started to become commonplace. For the first time the poor and the poorly educated were infected by the social contagion of creativity as they were brought into random contact with objects and intrinsically motivated people from far away.    

The new efficient postal service enabled people to more easily exchange knowledge with those quite far away. News of new discoveries could be whisked off in the mail so the discoverer could be honored throughout the world. The possibility of communicating quickly over vast distances made it inevitable that ideas would be exchanged, given away freely, and be stolen.   

The increased consumption of reading materials of all sorts was one of the key features of the  Enlightenment. Developments in the Industrial Revolution allowed consumer goods to be produced in greater quantities at lower prices, encouraging the spread of books, pamphlets, newspapers and journals – “media of the transmission of ideas and attitudes”. Libraries that lent out their material for a small price started to appear, and occasionally bookstores would offer a small lending library to their patrons. Although the spread of print did not allow people to physically see other people in the act of creation, the written words did provide an indication of the excitement and joy of discovery, which in this time could penetrate to every level of society.

The many scientific and literary journals (predominantly composed of book reviews) that were published during this time are also evidence of the intellectual side of the Enlightenment. The criticism in these journals provided a fine map to guide interested creative people through the maze of material being published and helped them find those discoveries which were of importance.

Coffee houses sprang up during the Enlightenment and added further opportunities to exchange ideas. They commonly offered books, journals and sometimes even popular novels to their customers. The Tatler and The Spectator, two influential periodicals sold from 1709 to 1714, were closely associated with coffee house culture in London, being both read and produced in various establishments in the city. Indeed, this is an example of the triple or even quadruple function of the coffee house: reading material was often obtained, read, discussed and even produced on the premises. Although creators still worked mostly alone and in secret they came together in the coffee houses to discuss ideas. The same coffee houses, not only provided intense breeding grounds for the social contagion of creativity, but they also played a huge role in enabling ever newer young people with role models of creativity.

Although academies existed before this time it was only in the Enlightenment that they started to become hugely important as clearing houses for discoveries. In France Enlightenment begins with the Academy of Science, founded in 1666 in Paris. The Academy had two primary purposes: it helped promote and organize new disciplines, and it trained new scientists. It also contributed to the enhancement of scientists’ social status. In England, the Royal Society of London also played a significant role in the public sphere and the spread of Enlightenment ideas. The academies fostered great teachers, role models and became flash points for seeing how much people cared about, enjoyed, and became ecstatic, before during and after being engaged in creative activity. 

The Debating Societies also rapidly came into existence in 1780 London and present an almost perfect example of the public sphere during the Enlightenment. Although debating societies seem on the surface about being critical and off putting they are not. The debating societies of the Enlightenment were instead places of inspiration where ideas tumbled against one another to create even more ideas. The societies provided teachers, creative role models, and allowed creativity to be seen as both normal and highly enjoyable, which in turn infected young and old alike with the intrinsic motivation that enables creativity to be sustained. The societies helped to enable people to persevere after setbacks and failures.        

The slow hunch. 

Time and many elements or components are often needed to produce a significant innovation. Although our culture feeds us many myths about ideas arriving in a eureka moment (an instantaneous flash of intuition), such moments are something of an illusion. While this could be the case where an innovation comes about as a result of a correlation between only two bits of data, most innovations of any importance are a result of many bits of data accumulated, played with and tested over over a long period of time. An important innovation is not just one new idea but rather a new understanding of how many old ideas fit together to become something new. Although such ideas might suddenly come together in a moment where a final bit of information falls into place so it all makes sense, it is in reality a gradual build up of bits of hunches that expand on each other slowly over time. This as might be better described as a slow hunch as Steven Johnson calls it. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson puts it like this:

"...the snap judgments of intuition - as powerful as they can be - are rarities in the history of world changing ideas. Most hunches that turn into important innovations unfold over much longer time frames. They start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense of that there's an interesting solution to a problem that hasn't yet been proposed, and they linger in the shadows of the mind, sometimes for decades, assembling new connections and gaining strength. And then one day they are transformed into something more substantial: sometimes jolted out by some newly discovered trove of  information, or by another hunch lingering in another mind, or by an internal association that finally completes the thought. Because these slow hunches need so much time to develop, they are fragile creatures, easily lost to the more pressing needs of day-to-day issues."

This is not so much about people and ideas coming together as it is about the amount of time needed for those people and ideas to come together. An idea simply needs time for the humans involved to come in contact with old ideas and now ideas, with many many ideas, before a new idea can begin to start forming. In the case of an invention this could be understood to be tinkering with a project. When an inventor starts to build an invention he hardly ever has fully visualized its final form. Its form changes as he builds and improves it. This kind of tinkering or percolation can take years.

In his book "How We Learn" Benedict Carey calls this kind of long term (interrupted) attention percolation and suggests its effectiveness in producing new unique ideas is due to a variation of the Zeigarnik effect (where an interrupted task is better remembered than an uninterrupted one.) He suggests that a kind of mental itch gets into creative people's minds as if they had set a goal for themselves and that the setting of a goal invokes an unfinished task until the goal is reached. In this way the mental itch in the brain becomes an unfinished task and the Zeigarnik effect ensures that the itch will stay in memory until it finally blossoms into a new unique idea. Louis Pasteur famously said: "Chance favors the prepared mind." Carey responds that: "Chance feeds the tuned mind." Carey also quotes the short story writer Eudora Welty in trying to explain how a mental itch can tune the mind to be alert for certain types of information. Welty was asked where her dialogue comes from. She replied: "Once you're into a story, ...everything seems to apply - what you hear on the city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you are writing. Wherever you go, you meet part of your story. I guess you are tuned in for it, and the right things are sort of magnetized - if you can think of your ears as magnets." 

Carey goes on in his book "How We Learn" to describe the work of Ronda Dively. While Dively was teaching, how to write for publication in academic journals, using authoritative sources to make a cogent argument, she realized her students were not producing creative new thoughts of their own. They seemed to just be regurgitating the work of scholars in cut and past summaries. She decided that the curriculum she had been following was preventing percolation/incubation. She rethought the curriculum from top to bottom. She scrapped the six essay structure. Her students would now write one essay on a single topic due at the end of the semester. But in the course of their research, they would have five pre-writing assignments - all on the experience of doing the research itself. Some of the pre-writing assignments were, a description of an interview with an expert, defining a key term and its place in the larger debate, and a personal response to a controversial school of thought on a topic. She also required them to keep journals tracking their personal reactions to the sources they were using in which they had to divulge whether they agreed with the main points, and decide whether the expert was consistent in their opinions. All this was structured not only to create the time for percolation to take place, but also to sort of create a kind of mental itch that kept the topic (the uncompleted essay) uppermost in their minds throughout the semester. This was not a proper controlled experiment, but it worked really well with her students who produced very creative final essays.  

The tinkering of many inventors and scientists can easily be shown to follow this pattern. For example Edison knew he would find some substance that he could pass a current through to produce light, it was just a mater of finding one that would not deteriorate too fast. But a light bulb is not just a filament. It is a series of connections about electric resistors, it requires protection in the form of a glass bulb, and it needs an environment that causes the least deterioration such as a vacuum or an inert gas, all of which no doubt came to Edison over a very long period of time. Likewise, scientists do not come to ideas quickly. For a start they have to gather enormous quantities of knowledge before they can even begin. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson puts forward Darwin as a typical example of a slow hunch despite Darwin's claims to having an eureka moment. He can do this because Darwin left a very detailed biography of his thought processes and research. Johnson says:

"All the core elements of Darwin's theory are presented in notebooks well before the Malthusian epiphany, which the notebooks explicitly date at September 28, 1838. ...It is not merely that Darwin possesses the puzzle pieces but fails to put them together in the right configuration. In a number of remarkable passages, written many months before the Malthusian insight, he appears to be describing the theory of natural selection in almost full dress. Exactly a year before his Malthus reading, he asks in shorthand English: 'Whether every animal produces in the course of ages ten thousand varieties (influenced itself perhaps by circumstances) and those alone preserved which are well adapted?' All it takes to cement a working theory of natural selection is to modify the theory ever so slightly and clarify that the preservation of the 'well adapted' forms comes from their reproductive success. And yet somehow Darwin fails to understand that he has the solution at his finger tips, and continues his inquiry for another year before 'getting a theory by which to work.'

Even after the Malthusian insight, Darwin seems incapable of grasping the full consequences of the theory he has established. The journal entries on September 28 are suitably excited and do seem to grapple with the fundamental elements of the theory... But in the days and weeks that follow, Darwin's notes do not suggest a mind that has crossed an intellectual watershed. ...the very next day Darwin writes a long entry on the sexual curiosity of primates that appears to have nothing to do with his new discovery. More than a month passes before he even attempts to write down the governing rules of natural selection.

All of which means we cannot say definitively that Darwin hit upon the idea for his theory of natural selection on September 28, 1838. The best we can do is say that he did not possess the idea when he embarked on his inquiry in the summer of 1837, and that he had it in an enduring form by November of 1838. This is not a matter of gaps in the historical record. It is simply hard to pinpoint exactly when Darwin had his idea, because it didn't arrive in a flash; it drifted into his consciousness over time in waves. In the months before the Malthus reading, we could probably say that Darwin had the idea of natural selection in his head, but at the same time was incapable of fully thinking it. This is how slow hunches often mature: by stealth, in small steps. They fade into view."    


Serendipity means a fortunate accident. This is without doubt the most essential ingredient in any creative activity. When we talk of serendipity here we not are talking about accidents that occur in external reality so much, as accidents that occur in the mind. Although people create ideas by using and building on the ideas of others this incremental development feels all too familiar. For something to feel truly creative, it needs to lose this familiarity so that it can feel unique, novel or new. What is needed is an environment that encourages random mental circuit firing, connecting disparate knowledge areas in a brain that somehow simulates the primordial soup of chaos. To create this chaos on the inside, a society needs to be structured so that data of very different kinds can collide and intersect in a random, unplanned manner. What is needed is a randomness in society which in turn produces random thoughts that are consistent with chance.

However, even without special external social constructions we are biologically engineered to produce chance connections in our minds. We have a randomness generator in our brains, that is built into our biology. We all sleep, but while asleep our brains do not rest. Our brains are often more active while we are sleeping than when we are awake. It is now understood that this activity may be necessary to creativity. It is speculated that the role of dreams may be to form random connections via random circuit firing. We know that during REM sleep acetylcholine-releasing cells in the brain stem fire indiscriminately. This random firing sends surges of electricity out across the brain in wave after wave. Memories and associations are thus activated to create the hallucinatory effect we call dreaming. Most of these random neuronal connections have no meaning, but occasionally the brain latches on to a valuable connection that has eluded conscious thought processes. In this way the brain explores, trying odd, unlikely and abnormal connections in an effort to produce new understanding. In this way our brains can experiment with novel combinations of neurons while we are safely mostly immobile. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson informs us about some research that illuminates this:

"A recent experiment led by German neuroscientist Ullrich Wagner demonstrates the potential for dream states to trigger new conceptual thoughts. In Wagner's experiment, test subjects were assigned a tedious mathematical task that involved the repetitive transformation of eight digits into a different number. With practice, the test subjects grew steadily more efficient at completing the task. But Wagner's puzzle had a hidden pattern to it, a rule that governed the numerical transformations. Once discovered, the pattern allowed the subjects to complete the test much faster, not unlike the surge of activity one gets at the end of a jigsaw puzzle when all the pieces suddenly fall into place. Wagner found that after an initial exposure to the numerical test, 'sleeping on the problem' more than doubled the test subjects ability to discover the hidden rule. The mental recombinations of sleep helped them explore the full range of solutions to the puzzle, detecting patterns that they had failed to perceive in their initial training period. The work of dreams turns out to be a particularly chaotic, yet productive, way of exploring the adjacent possible.

The question then becomes, "What kind of environments bring a chaotic soup of ideas together and whether we should try to activate this consciously, or rely on the unconscious mechanisms of dreaming to provide creative answers?" In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson says:

"The challenge, of course, is how to create environments that foster these serendipitous connections, on all appropriate scales: in the private space of your own mind; within the lager institutions and across the information networks of society itself.

At first blush, the idea of conjuring up serendipitous discoveries inside your own mind seems like a contradiction in terms. Wouldn't that be like losing your bearings in your own driveway? ...The truth is, your mind contains a near infinite number of ideas and memories that at any given moment are lurking outside your consciousness. Some tiny fraction of those thoughts are...surprising connections that might help you unlock a door into the adjacent possible. But how do you get those particular clusters of neurons to fire at the right time?

Promoting creativity by making dreams more available to consciousness. 

There are many ways dreaming has been used in creativity. However, this transference to the conscious state is itself unpredictable and uncontrollable and thus an unreliable way of being creative, which nevertheless has produces many of our great breakthroughs.

Dreamscapes and daydreams.  

Dreaming, is of course, a way of entering the world of the unconscious and going behind the locked door. Science has many creative people who got their ideas from dreaming. Niels Bohr conceived of a model of the atom in a dream. Dimitri Mendeleyev dreamed the solution for the arrangement of the table of elements. Friedrich Kekule derived the structure of the benzene ring from a dream he had about a snake swallowing its tail. James Watt revolutionized the ammunition industry by means of dreams about falling lead. In the arts much has appeared in dreams also. One of the greatest poems in the English language "Kubla Khan" was dreamed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Robert Louis Stephenson dreamed his novels before he wrote them. C. S. Lewis kept a pen and paper at his bedside so he could scribble down ideas that came to him in dreams. Rene Descartes kept a dream journal that was responsible for producing much of modern scientific method.

"Let us learn how to dream and perhaps we will discover the truth." Friedrich Kekule

"Quite often I do discover some preciously good material in the half-awakened, half-slumbery time before real sleep. Quite often I have forced myself completely awake to make notes on ideas thus come upon." Ray Bradbury

Salvador Dali discovered that if he was awoken just as he was falling asleep he could remember strange combinations of images that could not be accessed by the conscious mind. He would hold a spoon in his hand over a silver dish on the floor. He would then completely relax and just as he was about to dose off the spoon would slip from his fingers to the dish awakening him.

Dreams are useful in entering into the world of the locked door, but in a dream you have little control. You are just there as an observer. Not only that, but dreams tend to be forgotten, scattered like wisps of smoke, if not gone over immediately and recorded in some way. When you daydream you have more control, but still, it is a difficult technique to apply to a specific problem or need.   

Promoting creativity in the unconscious by means of safe temporary environments. 

There are some time honored methods for facilitating creativity by means of allowing a modicum of mental chaos. However, these methods do not, of themselves, require or promote conscious activity in generating creative ideas. They instead provide temporary short term environments where mental chaos is both safe and more likely.

Incubation and Rest.  

Incubation is the simple device of putting a problem aside and doing something else if you are stuck. It is basically stopping work on the problem consciously and letting intuition, insight and hunches provide solutions from the hidden area behind the doors to the unconscious. Many books on creativity suggest that rest and relaxation are essential in the creative process. Of course rest and relaxation make use of unconscious creativity by allowing the mind to build up associations and allowing various random parts of the brain to talk to one another, thus building unique patterns and ideas. The idea for "The Origin of Species" came to Darwin as he tells it, simply bubbling up from his unconscious mind while he was riding in a carriage. "I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me," wrote Charles Darwin. But, as has been pointed out, this was at the end of along slow hunch. Einstein talked about ideas coming to him while he was shaving. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson talks about stimulating this bubbling up of unconscious connections:

"One way is to go for a walk. The history of innovation is replete with stories of good ideas that occurred to people while they were out for a stroll. (A similar phenomenon occurs with long showers or soaks in the tub; in fact the original eureka moment - Archimedes hitting upon a way of measuring the volume of irregular shapes - occurred in a bathtub.) The shower or stroll removes you from the task based focus of modern life - paying bills, answering email, helping kids with homework - and deposits you in a more associative state. Given enough time your mind will stumble across some old connection that it had long overlooked, and you experience that delightful feeling of serendipity: Why didn't I think of that before?"

"As I went along, thinking nothing in particular, only looking at things around me and following the progress of the seasons, there would flow into my mind, with sudden unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza." A. E. Housman

"I have found, for example, that if I have to write on some difficult topic, the best plan is to think about it with very great intensity - the greatest intensity of which I am capable - for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak, (to my subconscious mind) that the work is to proceed underground. After some months I return consciously to the topic and find that the work has been done. Before I discovered this technique, I used to spend the intervening months worrying because I was making no progress. I arrived at the solution none the sooner for this worry, and the intervening months were wasted, whereas now I can devote them to other pursuits." Bertrand Russell

Promoting creativity through the freedom of social mental chaos.

In his book "The Sorcerers and their Apprentices" Frank Moss attributes the outstanding creativity of MIT's Media Lab to the serendipity that is produced by a social environment of true creative freedom. He says:

"Media Lab's approach to to invention and innovation: what I call serendipity by design. Serendipity by design means that there are no such things as truly accidental discoveries; that these 'accidents' happen because the Media Lab deliberately creates an environment in which unlikely connections can't help but happen; an environment in which the only real master plan is that there is no master plan, in which professors and their students are encouraged to consistently branch their research in new directions , follow their curiosities, cross-pollinate with others, and venture outside their specialties. The reason these seemingly random connections between people and people, people and ideas, happen at the lab is because when a new opportunity presents itself - for whatever reason and regardless how far afield it might be - the researchers are free to explore it and see where it takes them. Sometimes it leads to a detour, other times to a dead end. But sometimes a brand -new idea emerges, which may lead to yet another idea, and so on. The result is that any encounter or connection, by chance or otherwise, might well lead to an aha moment that could change the way we live, work, and play for decades to come."  

Promoting creativity through conscious mental chaos in short term safe environments.

As explained elsewhere, in the section on personal creativity, doubt has been thrown on whether real creativity can be achieved through conscious mental processes at all. Be that as it may, several ideas have been put forward to try and produce safe places and systems of self control where creativity could be induced consciously. The two most popular ones are ideas of Alex Osborn and Edward De Bono.


It has always been recognized that there are many solutions to problems and that one is wise to assemble as many as one can in order to pick the best one. In other words there is quality in quantity. Many of De Bono's thinking and perception training devices, (CoRT) provide a way to produce large numbers of solutions if we stop and use them. They provide a structure to focus or guide the mind, like avoiding the rush to judgment. CoRT devices like po and lateral thinking bring to a field of knowledge chaotic elements. These elements often appear to be totally unconnected and thus crazy or stupid. Po especially is designed to defer judgment until an idea has been fully explored. Other CoRT devices enable us to continue looking for solutions after one has been found. PMI plus, minus and interesting, CAF consider all factors, APC alternatives possibilities, and choices, all focus the mind on stopping judgment of ideas and continuing to look for ideas well after a solution has been found.


Alex Osborn's brainstorming, likewise, is bent on the generation of large numbers of solutions. Brainstorming does this by also stopping the rush to judge, and encouraging us to continue to look for solutions after an acceptable one has been found. Brainstorming concentrates on producing lots of ideas and likewise allows no judgment until all ideas have been exhausted and fully explored. These days brainstorming tends to be either done by individuals or some combination of individuals and groups. This is because it was found that groups tend to inhibit creativity even when structured in this way not to be evaluative. This would follow from Amabile's research which showed that the mere presence of other people is inhibiting to creativity. Gordon Torr suggests that sometimes brainstorming can still be evaluative in what people remember afterward, and in disguised comments, which can make it seem little but a kind of group torture. This probably never gets quite as bad as in the cartoon below.



We live in a world that has mixed feelings about error. There are of course jobs and times and places where the lives of perhaps many people depend on what one person does, and it is very unfortunate if that person makes a mistake. Air traffic controllers, doctors, emergency services people, etc., cannot afford to make mistakes, because people will die if they do. Be that as it may, most of the time when people are wrong, when they make a mistake or are in error no one is likely to die. Thus we have no good reason to fear those errors and certainly not to avoid them with the horror and desperation most people do.

This kind of error aversion is not only unjustified, it has the unfortunate side effect of rendering people creatively impotent. Error is part of how we learn and a necessary possible outcome in any creative endeavor. Creators need to be prepared to not only encounter mistakes and errors in their creative works, but be prepared to rise up from them again to try and try yet again. It is not natural to fear it. That we do learn to fear it, is due to defects in the process of socialization, especially in the process of education. Traditional education is so structured as to continually denigrate and punish error and reward the lack of the same. But if we are afraid to fail, we become afraid to try. If we do not try there is no idea, no creation. Everything stops because there is no change, and we need creation for things to change. Fear of failure is the greatest impediment to creation. This fear should never develop and if it does develop it should be overcome.

Not only is error a possible outcome in any creative venture, but it also presents a way in which truly creative new innovations may be generated. Creators must be ready and able to use errors as signposts as to when and where they should change direction in mid stream. Often the creative connectivity is in the error itself.

Discovery through error. 

Some of the most important findings in science happened when the scientist was looking for something else. Some of the world's greatest inventions happened when the inventors were trying to invent something else or do something else. Basically a lot of important discoveries and inventions came into existence by accident. The quality of genius in these scientists, innovators and inventors was in recognizing the potential in what just turned up. There are many lessons about learning and creativity involved in this process and all of them involve being able to accept errors as opportunities. Many of the examples given here are from "Wake Up Your Creative Genius" by Hanks and Parry.

errors Most people tend to be very focused on what they are doing, and results that do not fit the theory they are trying to prove, or results that are inappropriate to the invention they are trying to build are easy to discard or throw away as being unimportant.

Post-it notes. 

Most people know that Post-it notes were invented by Art Fry at 3M, but it is less well known that without Spence Silver, a chemist at 3M, Post-it notes would never have come into existence. As part of his work at 3M Silver had mixed up a batch of adhesive that was, well, not very sticky. Most people at 3M wanted to throw it out and forget about it as a failed experiment. However, there was something about it that appealed to Silver, who kept it alive at the company for 5 years until Fry finally found a use for it.

errors Most people tend to think great ideas are found because someone was looking for them. However, most great ideas were not being looked for when they were found. They are simply recognized as a salient anomaly to be investigated, a reason to drop one line of investigation, make a left turn, and start a new investigation.


When Alexander Fleming discovered that mold had infiltrated a culture of Staphylococcus he had left by an open window, and had caused considerable damage to the culture, he did not react by throwing it out and re-growing the culture. Instead, he was able to put aside what he was working on and consider how mold might be harnessed to fight harmful bacteria. Being able to make this left turn in his research led Fleming to eventually invent penicillin.

errors Most people tend to think great ideas are found because scientists know what to do or where to look. However, many great ideas required the intervention of some random element that could not have been suspected.


After years of trying to coax images out of iodized silver plates with no luck Louis Daguerre made the mistake of storing some plates from a failed attempt in a cabinet where a jar of mercury had been spilled. In the morning, he discovered a perfect image on the plate. He realized it must have been the fumes from the mercury that had made the difference.   


Charles Goodyear was trying to make rubber into something useful. But the substance changed consistency so much, the task was nearly impossible. On hot days it was soft and sticky; on cold days it was hard and brittle. One day while he was working with it, he accidentally spilled some on his stove - and discovered the process of vulcanization.

The pacemaker. 

It's hard to say who invented the pacemaker, but one of the most important discoveries leading to the pacemaker was made by Wilson Greatbatch. He was recruited to engineer an oscillator to record heartbeats using transistors so such a device would not be bulky. One day while working on the device Greatbatch grabbed the wrong resistor. Instead of recording a heartbeat the device was instead pulsing with the familiar rhythm of a heartbeat. It was producing  a signal that simulated a heartbeat. Here was the beginning of a device that could stimulate the heart with a perfectly timed pulse.

errors Most people tend to think great ideas are found because someone was careful and thought everything through. However, many great ideas were the result of stupid, dangerous and even clumsy actions.


Constantine Fahlberg was working with a new combination of chemicals in 1879 looking for who knows what. Some of the new chemical had gotten on his hands and when he rubbed an itching lip without washing his hands, some of it got on his lip. Inevitably he licked his lip and the sweet substance he tasted became saccharin. It came to be an ideal substitute for sugar.  


Roy Plunkett and his assistant Jack Rebok were testing the chemical reactions of the refrigerant gas tetrafluoroethylene (TFE). A pressurized cylinder of the gas, which they had filled earlier, had failed to discharge when its valve was opened. They therefore set the cylinder aside. Rebok however noticed that the cylinder was too heavy to be empty, and suggested they cut it open to see what had gone wrong. Plunkett agreed despite the possibility of it causing an explosion. When opened they found that the gas had somehow solidified into a white powder. Plunkett became intrigued and put his current work aside so he could test the properties of this new substance. The properties of the substance (PTFE that was eventually patented as teflon) were indeed interesting. It was more slippery than graphite, it proved to be almost completely inert, refusing to interact with all the chemicals they tried on it, and it also had an extremely high melting point.


Gore-tex was invented through an angry action. Bill and Bob Gore had realized that PTFE could be developed into a breathable material if its layers of molecules could be unfolded. To do this the Gores heated rods of the polymer to different temperatures and tried to carefully stretch it. However, no matter how carefully they pulled the polymer it would snap. Eventually Bob Gore, in a fit of frustration, pulled one of the rods violently. Surprisingly the one foot rod stretched to the entire length of his extended arms. Thus Gore-tex was born out of thwarted bafflement the ugly stepsister of error.

Shatterproof glass.

Laminated glass was invented in 1903 by the French chemist Edouard Benedictus, who was inspired by a laboratory accident. A glass flask had become coated with the plastic cellulose nitrate and when dropped shattered but did not break into pieces. This gave Benedictus the idea to create a type of safety glass that holds together when shattered. In the event of breaking, it is held in place by an interlayer, typically of polyvinyl butyral (PVB), between its two or more layers of glass. The interlayer keeps the layers of glass bonded even when broken, and its high strength prevents the glass from breaking up into large sharp pieces. This produces a characteristic 'spider web' cracking pattern when the impact is not enough to completely pierce the glass.

errors Most people tend to think great ideas are found because someone is fully concentrating on what they were doing. However, many great ideas required that the discoverer be aware of everything happening in the vicinity of experiments. Anything that changes in the vicinity of an experiment may have some great significance.


While trying to re-create the the experiments of William Crookes the inventor of the cathode ray tube William Roentgen noticed a fluorescent glow in a sample of barium paltinocyanide that had been left unintentionally on a nearby table. He was at the time operating a cathode ray tube in a closed light-proof box. This was not an error exactly but it certainly was not part of the experiment. Roentgen went on to place various objects between the cathode ray tube and a screen coated with barium paltinocyanide. He thus found that different substances produced different strengths of shadow on the screen. Lead seemed almost completely opaque, while wood cardboard and aluminum were almost transparent. After realizing these images could be captured on photographic plates, and recording the bones in his wife's hand Roentgen dubbed the emissions from the tube X-rays.

errors Most people tend to think that following and believing in something that is mistaken cannot be a path to discovery or innovation. But this is not the case. Creativity requires randomness and what could be more random than being wrong. So being wrong over and over has actually a better chance of becoming creative than being right.

The triode vacuum tube. 

The triode vacuum tube, that was essential to the wireless and many other devices, was the result of a series of misunderstandings and errors on the part of inventor Lee de Forrest. When Forrest noticed the flame in a burner change color in as as he sent a surge of voltage through his spark gap machine, he thought that gas could be employed as a wireless detector. He was wrong. He began experiments in which he placed electrodes in gas filled bulbs. After years of trying and failing he tried putting a third electrode in a gas bulb attached to an external tuner. Eventually he used a piece of wire bent back and forth several times as the middle electrode. This device appeared to be far superior at amplifying audio signals than anything existing at that time. In his book Steven Johnson points out that:

" almost every step of the way, de Forest was flat out wrong about what he was inventing. ...The flame was responding to ordinary sound waves emitted by the spark gap transmitter. ...It took another decade for realize that the triode performed far more effectively in a true vacuum than in gas."

errors Most people tend to think that creators must be open to investigating any errors that occur in their work. But most people including most creators tend to assume, not that errors might indicate something interesting to investigate, but rather that anomalies probably mean that their research methodology is faulty or that something is wrong with their instruments.

Cosmic background radiation. 

Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson assumed they were listening to meaningless static for more than a year, until a chance conversation with a Princeton nuclear physicist alerted them to the possibility that it was background radiation. Only then, did it occur to them, that what they were listening to was not the result of faulty equipment, but rather the still lingering reverberation of the Big Bang. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson explains:

"Two brilliant scientists with great technical acumen stumble across evidence of the universe's origin - evidence that would ultimately lead to a Noble Prize for the both of them - and yet their first reaction is: Our telescope must be broken."


Fear of mistakes.

Unfortunately the way societies operate is often to condemn its newest members, the children of that society, to a life of fear of making mistakes, of being in error or of being wrong. Now this is not to say the people who shape societies, the parents or teachers etc., set out with any intention of making learning and creativity difficult or in any way deterring children from learning or being creative. In her book "Mindset" Carol Dweck puts it like this:

"No parent thinks, 'I wonder what I can do today to undermine my children, subvert their effort, turn them off learning, and limit their achievement.' Of course not. They think, 'I would do anything, give anything to make my children successful.' Yet many of the things they do boomerang. Their helpful judgments, their lessons, their motivating techniques often send the wrong message."

Parents and teachers wrongly tend to send children messages that make them fearful of error. They make children afraid of not doing what other people want, of not pleasing, of being in error, of making mistakes, of failing, of being wrong. Thus children become afraid to take risks, to gamble, afraid to experiment, afraid to try the difficult and the unknown. Thus children are rendered fearful of undertaking challenges. Even when they do not create children's fears, when those fears are already made and built-in, parents and teachers often use those fears as handles to manipulate children and get them to do what they want. In this way children's ability to accumulate vast quantities of knowledge and to be creative is sacrificed for the comfort of society's adults. Fortunately this condition of society is not universal nor need it exist at all. The fact is we now know what the messages are that cause children to to fear error and we also know what messages allow children to remain fearless of error.

Some of what we know about what causes fear of error is intuitive, but some of it is not so intuitive. It is fairly obvious that if children are told they are stupid or made to feel stupid when they make a mistake that this will not encourage them to make errors and will cause them to avoid errors. What is not so intuitive is that if children are told they are smart this will also make them afraid of making errors. The research done by Carol Dweck and her colleagues shows that children are very sensitive to information conveyed by others as to whether the world and themselves can be changed for the better and being told they are smart makes children feel they are continually being judged just as surely as being told they are stupid. There is a hidden message in praise of personal attributes and abilities. It says, "You have permanent traits over which you have no control and I am judging them and you." When praised in this way children want to live up to their label of being smart and making mistakes does not show they are smart, it shows they are stupid. For such children what others believe about them becomes more important than their abilities and their actual knowledge.

With every action, and every message a parent or teacher conveys a hidden message about being wrong and the ability of people and things to change. A child who is told, "You learned so quickly! You're so smart", hears instead, "If you don't learn something quickly, you're not smart. A child who is told, "Wow you are so clever. You didn't make any mistakes", hears, "If you made a lot of mistakes you must be stupid." So do parents and teachers have to avoid praise altogether? Fortunately parents and teachers can still praise, they simply should avoid praise of personal attributes such as intelligence or abilities. Of course children love to be praised it gives them an immediate lift of pleasure and confidence. But these quickly fade only to instill a need for more of the same. Confidence that comes from being praised in such a way evaporates the moment a child hits a road block that indicates it might not be true like an error, a mistake or being wrong.   

Children need confidence, not in what they can do or in what they are, but rather in what they can learn to do, and in what they can become. They need confidence not in their abilities, but rather in what their abilities can become in the future. They need a confidence that their abilities, their knowledge, indeed their intelligence, can be improved through effort, hard work and persistence. They need a confidence in their ability to learn. They need to come to believe they can through effort, hard work and persistence be able to learn anything. They need to become confident, that if they fall behind and do not seem to understand some thing, that all they need to do is to put in more effort, work harder and persist until they do understand. Although babies seem to be born with this confidence, they can when immersed in the wrong kind of environment or life experience lose it.

It turns out to be surprisingly easy to create an environment where this does not occur. All that is required is to focus children's minds on their ability to change both themselves and their environment, to focus their minds on what they will be able to do and be in the future instead of who they are now and what they can do now. They need to fully absorb the idea that although it is possible to learn anything that it will not come easily and that nothing can be learned with out effort. They need to absorb the idea that learning is a series of mistakes that provide an opportunity to make corrections and that nothing is truly learned without this trial and error. They need to absorb the idea that the more difficult something is to accomplish the more worthwhile it is. They need to absorb the idea that they need to persist if they are to overcome difficult obstacles beyond the point of what might seem reasonable.

Parents and teachers can create this kind of environment by how they praise children and how they act as role models for children. Everything parents and teachers say and do that is perceived by children will influence children's attitudes toward making errors and whether or not they start to fear making them. The following is a road map for avoiding turning out children who are afraid to take risks and make mistakes.

Facilitation by praise.

Carol Dweck's research informs us that praise of personal attributes such as intelligence, abilities/capacities or even accomplishments can orient children toward believing that the world and especially themselves have attributes that are fixed and incapable of change. This encourages children to both feel entitled and at the same time dependent on the praise, which ultimately makes them fragile in the face of evidence to the contrary such as being wrong or in error. However, praise of variation in problem solving strategies, praise of effort, praise of persistence and praise of hard work all move people toward believing that the world and their own abilities and intelligence can be changed and improved. It conveys to them that errors are opportunities for learning how not to do things. This kind of praise enables children to retain their fearlessness of failure and making mistakes.

Facilitation by criticism. 

Criticism of a child's intelligence or his abilities is obviously limiting the child's willingness to make mistakes. However criticizing children's accomplishments can also deter children from being willing to make mistakes. On the other hand, telling children that they are not trying enough different strategies, that they are not putting in enough effort, that they are not being persistent enough or that they are not trying hard enough all helps orient children toward being unafraid to make mistakes that put no-one in danger. Children who are usually given this kind of criticism will in turn find it enables them to be less afraid of technical criticism when their accomplishments have to be criticized as part of the creative process.


One way Dweck and co. discovered to help children to challenge themselves, make mistakes and learn from them, was to consistently draw their attention to the amount of improvement the children had made and how the mistakes they had made led to that improvement. Drawing attention to how mistakes lead to improvement is actually illustrating incremental change which is central to Dweck's ideas.

Attitudes and expectations. 

The attitudes of the role models around children, usually their parents and teachers, has an important effect on whether children are comfortable with mistakes or are afraid of them. If parents have the right kind of attitude their every action is modeling that attitude for their children to absorb. Likewise, teachers who have a good attitude to life will believe their students can and will change and so help bring this about, by the force of their belief through self fulfilling prophesy. The parent or teacher has to be comfortable himself with difficult challenges and making mistakes if he wishes to inspire the same. Its not enough to praise or criticize the effort children put in but also it is just as important how you praise or criticize others in the presence of children. A role model has to be consistent in all his actions.     

Nature versus nurture. 

he nature argument seems to support the idea that we are born with fixed gifts and that there is nothing we can do to improve our abilities or overcome our limitations. On the other hand the nurture argument seems to usually supply hope that our abilities can be improved and our limitations can be overcome. Nature versus nurture is an old debate, but its importance, as Carol Dweck explains, is not in which side is true, but rather in that, whichever idea we believe helps decide whether children are fearful of making mistakes or not. The mere reading of an article supporting nurture will in most situations move children toward a willingness to make mistakes at least for the period of the experiment. Be warned however that nurture can also be used in a deterministic fatalistic manner. Believing in nurture will not help us avoid the fear of making mistakes if we believe that nurture is fixed by others. It only helps if we believe that the nurture is chosen by ourselves and thus can be and is changed by us.   

Knowledge of self theories or mindsets. 

The mere knowledge of the existence of self theories or mindsets as presented in the research in Carol Dweck's books was also instrumental in moving children to a mental state where they could undertake more difficult tasks and be less intimidated if they struck difficulties or made mistakes.

The no punishment of mistakes. 

The idea that mistakes should not be punished is so obvious in facilitating children to be creative that it almost seems unnecessary to say. Unfortunately although many parents and teachers pay lip service to the idea, that mistakes should not be punished, this concept is amazingly difficult to implement. The few businesses where it has been implemented such as 3M are well known havens of creativity. Such businesses have built a culture where not only are employees not punished for mistakes, and do not have their ideas crushed, but where people admit their past mistakes to new comers, and where bosses do not have the authority to kill employee's projects. In society at present many parents unfortunately believe that children need to be punished for making mistakes and so instill a fear of error early. But even children who have parents who do not punish errors usually have to deal with schools that do. Most schools are unfortunately so structured as to automatically and unthinkingly punish errors.  

The wild ducks versus the no asshole rule. 

Wild ducks is a way of referring to the social ineptitude that appears to come packaged with the type of people who are creative. It may well that creative people in becoming experts have to spend so much time becoming expert in their field that they may have to sacrifice learning social skills. It seems that people who have personalities that make them willing to make mistakes, also make them socially inept, and in the case of those social mistakes often seem never learn from them. In their book "The Innovation Paradox" Farson and Keyes put it like this:

"Innovators are seldom easy to be around. The most creative members of an organization can be irascible, annoying, touchy, intolerant, prickly, self-aggrandizing. Their lack of tact offends coworkers. It also makes them willing to speak up when others hold their tongues. What comes out of their mouths is often quite valuable, if not easy to hear."

These wild ducks need an environment where they interact little with non creative people to protect both themselves and the non creative people. At the same time, they also need guidance in social interaction. When dealing with creative children, putting them together with other creative children is a good start. Creative people often become abrasive in their manner simply because they cannot abide fools, and because they have to defend their ideas. Creative children need to learn to fight for their ideas, but they need to learn to do so in a civilized manner, without being assholes about it. Fortunately the role models of parents teachers etc. acting on Carol Dweck's above idea of a growth mindset can help children to be less abrasive and more respectful of others while remaining creative. These role models provide an environment where praise and criticism is mostly of effort and where mistakes are understood as essential for learning.      


Exaptation is a term that is used to mean a situation where a technology optimized for a specific use in one field of knowledge, is instead used in a completely different way, for a completely different purpose, to fulfill a completely different function, in a different field of knowledge. In this way an old technology can be hijacked and adapted to become a new technology. The wine press became a printing press, the burr on a sock became a Velcro strip, the punch cards of the loom became the first way to program a computer. The computer which was itself created to calculate scientific equations was exapted to run the world of business. The world wide web was designed to enhance the the distribution of information among scholars, but has be exapted to run the world's buying and selling, the world of commerce.

This kind of innovation may well be a template for all innovation. Even when inventions seem to come about because of ideas bumping into one another and spilling over onto one another as in liquid networks, the most significant feature of this interaction has been the variety, spread and diversity of the intersecting ideas. In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" Steven Johnson explains how this comes about in society and its importance:

"The cultural diversity subcultures create is valuable not just because it made urban life less boring. The value also lies in the unlikely migrations that happen between the different clusters. A world where a diverse mix of distinct professions and passions overlap is a world where exaptations thrive.

Those shared environments often take the form of a real world public space, what the sociologist Ray Oldenburg famously called the 'third place,' a connective environment distinct from the more insular world of home or office. The eighteenth-century English coffeehouse fertilized countless Enlightenment-era innovations: everything from the science of electricity, to the insurance industry, to democracy itself."

"In the late nineties, a Stanford Business School professor named Martin Ruef decided to investigate the relationships between business innovation and diversity. Ruef was interested in the coffeehouse model of diversity... the diversity of professions and disciplines, not the race or sexual orientation. Ruef interviewed 766 graduates of the school who had gone on to have entrepreneurial careers. He created an elaborate system for scoring innovation based on a combination of factors: the introduction of new products say, or the filing of trademarks or patents. And then he tracked each graduate's social networks - not just the number of acquaintances but the kind of acquaintances they had. Some graduates had large social networks that were clustered within their organization; others had small insular groups dominated by friends and family. Some had wide ranging connections with acquaintances outside their inner circle of friends and colleagues.

What Ruef discovered was a ringing endorsement of the coffeehouse model of social networking: the most creative individuals in Ruef's survey consistently had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and involved people from diverse fields of expertise. Diverse, horizontal social networks, in Ruef's analysis, were three times more innovative that uniform, vertical networks. In groups united by shared values and long term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks. the limited reach of the network meant that interesting concepts from outside rarely entered the entrepreneur's consciousness. But entrepreneurs who built bridges outside their 'islands,' as Ruef called them, were able to borrow or co-opt new ideas from these external environments and put them to use in a new context."             

Promoting creativity through mental chaos in long haul environments.

The mere having of, or being likely to come in contact with different types of knowledge provides a different type of mental chaos, where there is increased likelihood of bizarre correlations between very different areas of knowledge. For ideas to be exapted from one area of knowledge to another different areas of knowledge need to find some way of being mixed together. The person who is exposed to the most different areas of knowledge such as a Jack of all trades, or a renascence man, or a person simply interested in the views and ideas of different types of people, then emerges as the one most likely to become creative.

The Medici Effect. 

In his book "The Medici Effect" Frans Johansson suggest there are two types of innovative or creative accomplishment, directional and intersectional.


What Johansson calls directional innovation is additive. This kind of innovation or creativity builds on what has gone before in a single field of study and is restricted to that field of knowledge. It is in fact innovation by improvement. This kind of creativity is usually minor and almost never the kind we attribute to geniuses.


What Johansson calls intersectional innovation, comes out of the intersection of two or more fields of knowledge. While this too is additive it is so in a much more random manner. Such innovative activity seems newer or more novel and thus more really creative. Johansson suggests that all the really great advances in science have come out of the intersection of more than one field of knowledge. Not only that, but the more divergent the fields of knowledge, the more productive they will be in producing genius level innovations. For instance, he points out that the new science of swarm intelligence came out of a chance meeting and discussion that happened between Eric Bonabeau an R&D engineer at France Telecom and Guy Theraulaz an ecologist studying social insects.

Johansson believes therefore, that people can significantly increase the probability that they will come up with more and superior innovations by becoming proficient in more than one field of study. Experts can thus refresh their own eyes by crossing over and beginning to learn in other fields. In this way, they bring the context of their previous field of study to the new field they are beginning to learn about, and vice versa. He further suggests, that the quality of these innovations will be directly proportional to the extent of the difference between these fields.

He also suggests various ways societies might facilitate increasing the probability of such intersections in diverse fields of knowledge. One obvious way would be to encourage people to change their field of study after they have become proficient in it. In this way they would be adding another string to their bow. This idea of increasing intersections of knowledge can be expanded in many ways. Another way to increase this probability would be to encourage people to have regular discussions with others working in other fields of knowledge. Such conversations might  entail them both explaining what is currently happening in their field, and also what they are doing in their own work. Again we can see the workings of the coffee house model in encouraging creativity. Yet another way to increase this probability is to encourage people to ask for help from people in other diverse fields of knowledge. If society encouraged us to explain our problems to people in other diverse fields, their suggestions might prove to be pivotal. Indeed the encouragement of mere mixing with people in other fields should increase the probability of better innovation in a society. Johansson points out that brain trusts and brain storming groups, are these days, often made up of people who are proficient in very different fields of study with this idea in mind.

On a more mundane level societies could facilitate creative people in opening themselves up to new fields of knowledge in many ways. It could be made socially acceptable and indeed normal for people to expand their interests, by attempting to cultivate new interests or change the parts of their lives that are habitual or routine. People could, for instance, be encourage to be involved in many hobbies. Any kind routine breaking could be fostered, even ones as simple as trying new food. Almost anything could make a difference. People could be simply be influenced to simply walk or drive to work a different way.

Leonardo da Vinci, who is almost an archetype of genius, was proficient in many fields of scientific study as well as in painting and sculpture. He constantly drew on one area of knowledge to innovate in another. For instance, his knowledge of avian anatomy greatly assisted him in his understanding of aerodynamics. His understanding of human and animal anatomy greatly assisted him in his painting. Likewise, Johansson indicated that creativity that was undertaken by groups, would benefit from the people in those groups being as diverse as possible. Such groups he suggested should include people of as many different disciplines as possible. Johansson's idea, is of course, not unlike many of the techniques for being creative, in that they involve combining random or chaotic elements. The difference with this technique, is its stressing the importance of different fields of knowledge and not suggesting any conscious activity.

The Amateur.

Sometimes a lack of knowledge can be as liberating for creativity as as expert knowledge in a different field. Everybody can be creative and certainly can contribute to creativity. Often the people who do not know very much in a field can come up with ideas that are impossible for those who are experts in a field. The amateur has a fresh eye and an expert can be restricted by his expectations.

The expert tends to see what he expects to see. In whatever we do, we take in only enough information to activate pattern recognition, and then our brain supplies the rest. For instance, when we are reading we are not actively reading all the words. We might be seeing all the words but our brain is filling in many of them. When teaching English as a foreign language there is a comprehension test that is given, where every 7th word is omitted, and spaces left for the students to fill in the missing words. This is difficult for non native speakers, but is surprisingly easy for native English speakers, because they are practically already reading the missing words. This has advantages and disadvantages. It probably enables us to read faster, but makes proof reading almost impossible to do with 100% accuracy.

This brain shortcut unfortunately distorts expert's perception forcing them to be victims of their own anticipation and expectation, and thus see what isn't there and not see what is there. This has been identified as a kind of perceptual blindness in experts. Experts know all too well what is impossible while amateurs simply do not know what is impossible and so easily entertain such possibilities. Societies that can facilitate creative people in accepting help from others, who know little of their field, can avoid this kind of perceptual blindness and approach art, science or innovation with a fresh amateur eye. Already amateurs are becoming more and more important in the world of creativity as is especially evident in the field of astronomy. There is so much sky to look at that only by employing amateur findings can there be sufficient coverage. This might incidentally increase the creativity in the field of astronomy by facilitating divergent idea intersections.


A platform is an environment created by a new innovation. Platforms are environments where new inventions or innovations can thrive. A platform is one specific innovation that can become a place where thousands of others can live and flourish. When a platform appears we get a proliferation of innovations of a particular type, ones that exist because the platform exists. Such innovations are ones that cannot exist without the original innovation that is the platform. These platforms tend to stack one upon the other causing the numbers of innovations to expand at an escalating exponential rate.

Computers are a prime example of of a platform. Computers are hardware that provide an environment where where other types of hardware like printers, scanners, CD Roms etc., can function. They also provide an environment where different types of programs (software) can perform. One of these types of programs is what is called an operating system. Operating system like windows are themselves a platform where special types of complicated programs can function and thrive. The Internet is an innovation that connects computers and lives in their operating environments and is also a platform where special programs can live that allow computers to talk with one another. On top of the Internet now the world wide web has been built which is also a platform. The web is a truly awesome environment where interactive programs can flourish on a scale previously unthinkable. But it does not end there on top of the web are new types of programs that are also platforms for even more programs. Programs like Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter are the new homes of countless programs and still the process seems unlikely to stop there. Every minute of the day some interesting program is appearing on the web and many of them are new platforms to house yet many more programs.

While some social situations that affect creativity, are ones we can influence, platforms are not. Platforms are a black swan. A black swan is a metaphor for an event that is so unusual or strange that it cannot be predicted. Such events, fall outside statistical modeling, because they have no historical precedent. The existence of a new platform cannot be predicted, not because platforms have not come into existence before, but because each platform is so radically different from any other that it cannot be anticipated until it actually exists. In all likelihood not even the inventor of a platform is likely to be able to imagine the ways in which it will provide an environment where innovations can grow and thrive.

While platforms are an interesting social phenomena that affect creativity on a massive scale, we can only try to take advantage of them as ideal environments in which to create, after we have recognized them as in fact being platforms.     

fourth The Fourth Quadrant. 

The Fourth Quadrant, is Steven Johnson's way of looking at two social continuums of creativity. These two continuums are the individual versus the network range of who creates, and the profit motive versus non profit motives of those who create. If we check these dimensions against one another we get four possibilities. An individual motivated by profit, networks of people motivated by profit, an individual not motivated by profit, and networks of people not motivated by profit. It is the last one of these that Johnson refers to as the fourth quadrant.

                         four quadrrants           

The myth of the lone entrepreneur inventor. 

One of the great myths about creativity is that of the lone genius struggling tirelessly to invent, eventually succeeding and being rewarded by the proceeds from his invention. Now while this has happened on occasion it is simply untrue of most innovation. The reason why this happens so seldom is because both these social functions restrict the flow of information. 

The market versus intrinsic motivation in creativity. 

Nobody would try to suggest that money is not important to people or that money is not a consideration in motivating people to be creative. People have been motivated to earn money from the time of its invention and in this regard creative people are no different. However, both ordinary people and creative people are not limited to be only motivated by money. Creative people, in particular, tend to be motivated by intrinsic motivators where much of the pleasure in being creative is actually intrinsic to the act of creation itself. It has also been shown that extrinsic motivators such as money can have a negative effect on the quality of the creative work. In his book Steven Johnson provides us with the reason why monetary incentives are so suffocating for creativity:

"Why have so many good ideas flourished in the fourth quadrant, despite the lack of economic incentives? One answer is that economic incentives have a much more complicated relationship to the development and adoption of good ideas than we usually imagine. The promise of an immersive payday encourages people to come up with useful innovations, but at the same time it forces people to protect those innovations."  

The problems are many. Each innovator is forced to initially be very secretive about his ideas. The innovator cannot talk to anyone about his idea for fear that person will steal it. The innovator cannot show his idea to anybody for the same reason. When a prototype is fully developed it must be patented or copyrighted so that others cannot make use of it without paying something to the innovator. Basically other innovators are either stopped from building on and improving the innovation or the new knowledge is held to ransom. Instead of the knowledge being held in a free competitive market it is instead in a sellers market where sellers are not restricted in the amount they can ask. Johnson continues:

"If ideas were fully liberated, then entrepreneurs wouldn't be able to profit from their innovations, because their competitors would immediately adopt them. And so where innovation is concerned, we have deliberately built inefficient markets: environments that protect copyrights and patents and trade secrets and a thousand other barricades we've erected to keep promising ideas out of the minds of others.

...All of the patterns of innovation we have observed in the previous chapters - liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, noise, exaptation, emergent platforms - do best in open environments where ideas flow in unregulated channels. In more controlled environments, where the natural flow of ideas is tightly restrained, they suffocate. A slow hunch can't readily find its way to another hunch that might complete it if there's a tariff to be paid every time it tries to make a serendipitous connection; exaptations can't readily occur across disciplinary lines if there are sentries guarding those boarders. In open environments, however, those patterns of innovation can easily take hold and multiply.

Like any complex social reality, creating innovation environments is a matter of trade offs. All other things being equal, financial incentives will indeed spur innovation. The problem is, all other things are never equal. When you introduce financial rewards into a system, barriers and secrecy emerge, making it harder for the open patterns of innovation to work their magic. So the question is: What is the right balance? Its certainly conceivable that the promise of hitting a financial jackpot is so overwhelming that it more than makes up for the inefficiencies introduced by intellectual property law and closed R&D labs. That has generally been the guiding assumption for most modern discussions of innovations roots, an assumption based on the free market's track record for innovation during that period. Because capitalist economies proved to be more innovative than socialist and communist economies, the story went, the deliberate inefficiencies of the market based approach must have benefits that exceed their costs. But, as we have seen, this is a false comparison. The test is not how the market fares against command economies. The real test is how it fares against the fourth quadrant." 

The individual versus a network of people in creativity. 

Innovations are created by individual people and certainly have been so created in the long distant past. But, in the present, things are changing. Most of the innovations created in this day and age are so complex that no one person could create them, or if they did it would take too long. Creative people in this era tend to work on aspects of an innovation rather than whole innovations. Such innovations are like a puzzle that through teamwork have to be assembled into whole innovations.

But if we stop and think about it, these bits and pieces of creative ideas coming together, are not really that new. Creativity has always been an accumulative activity. New technologies are built on older technologies. New innovations grow out of older innovations. Any creative activity relies on many technologies without which the creative effort would be impossible. New works of art only become possible because some artist invented a new skill or a new technique or a new art form arises because of the invention of a new technology. Science develops by creating theories and testing them, but the science also has to build on what has gone before. Theories are usually modifications of theories that existed previously.

In previous times the amount of scientific knowledge in the world was such that if a man worked hard at it he could learn it all. Today each field of learning is so large that nobody is able to encompass it any more. As our learning goes along ever more specialized paths of learning, the need for us to be in ever closer contact with what is happening in other fields of learning, becomes increasingly more important. It becomes increasingly important not only that we be networked with others but ideally networked in as random a way as possible. This can be applicable in many different ways.

    Firstly, it becomes increasingly important for inventors innovators any kind of creators to be able to work closely together with other creators to share their ideas on a personal level so that their ideas can fit together easily into the same whole. They have to be able to work as a team toward the same goals.

    Secondly, inventors, innovators, any kind of creators need to have increasing access to information. They need to know what others in their field are doing every moment so that they do not have to duplicate it. They basically need to be in a collegiate or academic community where ideas are continually made available in presentations and published papers that everyone has access to.

    Thirdly, inventors, innovators, any kind of creators need to have access to what is happening in other fields so that knowledge can cross pollinate with their own work.

    Fourthly, inventors innovators any kind of creators need to be in environments that force them into close contact with people working in other fields and disciplines. This is needed so that correlations and cross fertilization happens often and as randomly as is possible.

The increasing importance of the fourth quadrant in facilitating creativity. 

It follows from the above, that networked groups of people and intrinsically motivated people, implementing non market creativity, are and will continue to become increasingly essential to all forms of innovation and creative vitality.

The problem of cultural forces and changing technology for creativity. 

Technology in society is how innovations come to be expressed as a commonplace and usual practice. Technology is a double edged sword that can both liberate new innovations/art forms and also can crush them. The established forms of technology become deeply embedded in the fabric of society and the people dependent on them are very reluctant to allow them to become obsolete. New technologies tend to bring with them new inventions/art forms which in turn compete with the older established inventions/art forms. In many cases the profiteers of the old technologies are not only in a position to strangle the new inventions/art forms, but they are highly motivated to do so. This problem is compounded by the fact that new inventions/art forms usually use old inventions/art forms as part of their content. The main way that the proponents of the older technologies maintain their intellectual monopolies is through the use of patents and copyrights.

The Commons. 

A commons of ideas is what is left when patents and copyrights run out. On the one hand, there seems to be some reasonableness in allowing the people who come up with good ideas and innovations to have some period during which they can profit from their ideas without others appropriating the idea or innovation. On the other, hand as we have seen, patents and copyrights restrict the flow of information necessary for innovation to flourish. What is needed then is some restrictions on how long a person or a company can keep milking patents and copyrights that choke the information flow.

Basically this means that companies should not expect to have the advantage of being a monopoly because of patent or copyright law for very long. This would mean that big companies would have to be innovative to remain competitive and new entrepreneurial companies would have a better chance to replace them. But this is the way the capitalist system is supposed to operate, isn't it?

Copyright law, in particular, is simply out of control, choking information flow at a time when technology has provided the means of implementing accessibility to all of man's knowledge. If copyright did not exist all of mans knowledge could be placed in various forms on the world wile web in a very short time.        

New entrepreneurial companies are the life blood of the capitalist system. A commons helps these new, entrepreneurial, innovative, companies by providing a nurturing environment for new ideas and innovations in three ways.

    Firstly, it provides unlimited resources without cost or necessary permission, for the creation of new innovations. After all new ideas are built on old ideas and if innovators do not have access to the old ideas it makes the birth of new ideas next to impossible. Thus a commons is essential for inventors, innovators, artists and all creative people.

    Secondly, the big players in the old technology are never interested in a new disruptive technology, and so new innovations always come from new small companies. The commons favors new small companies by providing resources as explained above. Thus a commons is essential for the opening of new innovative business ideas and is essential for entrepreneurs.

    Thirdly big players in the older technologies (the monopolistic former cash cows) are motivated to crush new disruptive technologies if they realize their potential. Any law they can use, any pressure they can apply, any resources they can restrict, are fair game. For older companies the commons can appear as a plague eating away at their company. Without a commons the big companies have the playing field of creativity to themselves where most creativity gets crushed and that which manages to survive is a pale, lame perversion of the creativity and entrepreneurial business growth that could have been. A commons is essential for keeping the cash cows from becoming monopolies that choke the life out of creative people and prevent the growth of new entrepreneurial business.

The shrinking commons and shrinking creativity. 

Today patent law and copyright law is being extended in the service of the big media companies. Patents and copyright are being extended indefinitely, so that these big companies can continue to sit on their behinds and laurels raking in money, without coming up with new innovative ideas. The result is a general reduction in the quality of creativity and a criminalization of the new cutting edge creativity. The whole idea of copyright and patent law needs to be rethought in terms of what it is really trying to accomplish. Is it really good for the new up and coming innovations and art to be stifled by the purveyors of old technology or art? Would it not be better to find some way of providing the most ideal environment in which new innovations and art will continually flourish? There are ways to do this which will be addressed in our section on the future.


While the information above might lead you to think that a creative person should be a very social person, spending a great deal of their time gathering and transforming the ideas of others, this is not the case. In her book "Quiet" Susan Cain points out that the creative person tends to have particular character traits, most notably those of an introvert. The moment somebody points this out it seems obvious that most of the world's great creative works were given to us by quiet intense people. Even though it is not necessary Susan Cain provides considerable evidence that introverts seem to be more creative than extroverts, and that most creativity comes from them. However, this site maintains that any type of personality can be and is creative. Cain's findings, and our acceptance of the truth that introverts are more creative, has a simple explanation. 


The explanation is time. While extroverts tend to flit from hobby to hobby, from interest to interest, introverts tend to stick by their passions. Thus introverts are more able to build up the requisite number of hours to learn extensively about a domain of knowledge and thus become an expert in it. Creativity requires time. It requires time not simply to learn the required expertise and skills, but time to reflect, ruminate, contemplate, and allow ideas to brush against one another thus making unusual and startling connections and combinations. Because they spend little time being social introverts have this time in abundance, while extroverts have hardly any at all.


Extroverts spend so much time connecting with people, convincing, and impressing that there is little left over in which to be creative. This does not mean, that they are not creative, or do not have the potential to be creative. If they are creative they will obviously be less prolific, and this, in itself, means that their creativity is less likely to be important. Probability is against them. They may only have one or two good ideas but they can often use such ideas as spring boards for a successful life.


Introverts on the other hand tend to be very prolific and so probability determines they are far more likely to have good creative ideas.


As discussed above, contact between ideas is a very necessary part of, both the production of new ideas, and the prevention of such ideas being lost. Thus the big cities produce more creative people and more creativity, even though those creative people tend to be not very social. Often extroverts have to play an important part in process of creation even though it may not be the centrally creative part. It is necessary that they make sure the creative ideas reach others. They transmit the ideas while introverts tend to develop the ideas. One creates the fire while the other fans it into white heat. 

Sometimes the best aspects of both introverts and extroverts are part of a creative endeavor. Business teams like Stephen Wozniak and Steve Jobs are legendary figures that complemented each other. Other great introvert extrovert teams are Moses and Aaron, or Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. As Cain explains in her book Introverts and extroverts work well together and usually enjoy working together. Susan Cain provides considerable advice for making this happen in her book.

Other times introverts have to push themselves to be more communicative in order to make a creative endeavor work like say Bill Gates. It is also possible that extroverts could force themselves to have quiet periods of contemplation in order to bring up their creative output. Again, Susan Cain provides considerable advice for making these things happen successfully in her book.       

Return to childhood.

Almost all books on creativity also recommend a return to a childhood state of mind as a way of achieving creativity. What they are actually recommending, is partly a return to the facilities or tools we are born with but tend to lose as we develop into adults. These facilities or tools have been examined by the Root-Bernsteins and presented in this site's section on creative genius, and are naturally used in childhood. The reason for this is that there is a deeply entwined connection between genius and creativity. Geniuses are always creative and many of their personality attributes and abilities are ideal for being creative if not essential for it. These abilities and personality attributes are those very abilities and personality attributes that most of us were born with but lose, because we discover other abilities and personality attributes are more essential and are socially acceptable in society.   

There are however, some other qualities of children, which are also important in creativity, and are probably being recommended as well. They are, a childish insatiable curiosity, and fearlessness in making mistakes and being wrong. These qualities of childhood are also unlearned or suppressed as children grow older. Children don't know it all and do not have to pretend that they do. They are free to admit they don't know and thus have a chance of discovering a new answer. All these childish attributes are indeed useful to being creative.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up." Pablo Picasso

However, return to childish ways is very difficult for adults in this society and culture, where childish qualities are looked down on. Thus the recommendation to try and be more childlike is not likely to be very effective in helping average people to be more creative, except in a very watered down sort of effort. Yet it should be of no surprise to discover that many of our great geniuses had these childlike qualities; Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, Jules Vern to name a few.

"A capacity for childlike wonder carried into adult life, typifies the creative person." Don Fabun

Ideally a better idea than returning to a childlike creative state is never leaving it to begin with. Abraham Maslow's self-actualized people retained this childlike creativity, and we now have a better idea as to what environmental conditions might facilitate the retention of these creative childlike qualities. Many of the same environmental constituents that enable a successful, fearless life also enable children to keep and use these personality attributes and abilities. This will be discussed further in individual pages concerning these tools or facilities. 

The negative consequences of innovation.  

Innovation means change and while all innovations have their positive side, which is why they come into existence, they also have a negative side. Almost any invention or innovation you can think of has had some detrimental consequences for society. This should not be a surprise to us. Invention and innovation mean change and change always has many consequences, some good and some bad. The bigger and more important the changes, the more disastrous the negative consequences of those changes can be. Our greatest inventions and innovations all bought disasters as well as great benefits. The invention of agriculture, the very innovation that kick started civilization and human progress, while it bought many benefits, also bought several dire effects. The greatest problem that came as a side effect of agriculture was disease.

While the advent of many humans living together in one place may produce a breeding ground for new and novel ideas, it also bought a breeding ground for bacteria and the rapid transmission of diseases. It also bought with it new necessary ways for humans to move their bodies and a new and different diet both of which wreaked further havoc on the bodies of the humans living in the new conditions.

Here's the thing. We have the opportunity, the ability to save ourselves and produce a better world by encouraging social situations that produce greater and greater amounts of creativity. We have to understand, however, that every innovation, every change for the better, will also bring with it changes for the worse. This does not mean that we should be afraid to forge ahead with ever greater innovative and creative fervor, but that we should be vigilant as well, even as we forge ahead. We should be vigilant to discover the down side of innovations and minimize whatever nasty side effects such innovations might bring. In his book "Bad Ideas" Robert Winston has laid out 12 aphorisms about science that apply to all creative innovations:

  1. "The announcement of any new discovery is almost always heralded by exaggerated claims for its immediate or imminent value."

  2. "Nearly all technological advances have threatening or negative aspects which usually are not fully recognized or predicted at the time of their invention."

  3. "Many, if not most, human discoveries have beneficial applications that are not envisaged when the discovery is first made."

  4. "Many human technological advances are made more or less simultaneously and independently in unconnected places around the globe."

  5. "We constantly reinvent the same technological advances and rediscover the same discoveries."

  6. "Most scientific advances are made by gentle, incremental progress. There is rarely such a thing as a breakthrough."

  7. "Scientific knowledge may be growing at an exponential rate, but the exploitation of scientific knowledge is usually much slower than is generally anticipated."

  8. "Many really important discoveries and some inventions are arrived at by serendipity." All innovations, all new creations are arrived by serendipity if we include serendipitous connections in the brain.

  9. "Even 'good' democratic governments frequently misuse scientific knowledge." Of course totalitarian governments almost always misuse scientific knowledge.

  10. "Scientists are human and therefore may not always be entirely objective." Of course nobody can be entirely objective but scientists are better at it than most people.

  11. "Scientist are no better than anyone else at forecasting the future. In fact, their predictions are usually widely inaccurate."

  12. "The great majority of scientists do their work because they believe that the advance of knowledge brings benefits which should be shared with everybody."

Who is responsible for negative outcomes of creativity and what can they do? 

The creators have to take responsibility for the negative consequences of their creations but they are not alone. People at all levels of society have both a stake and a responsibility for the negative outcomes of creativity. Obviously politicians are the most obvious misusers of technology and innovations who should take responsibility for their actions. Media people also must take responsibility for influencing or not influencing the misuse of technology. Ultimately however, it is the creative person him or herself who has to bare most of the responsibility. In his book "Bad Ideas" Robert Winston goes on to provide a manifesto to guide scientists/creators in their efforts to be creative. He says in part:

"We need to strive for clarity not only when we make statements or publish works for scientific colleagues, but also in making our work intelligible to the average layman. ...It [our responsibility to minimizing negative outcomes] involves listening to and responding to the ideas, questions, hopes and concerns the public may have. ..Moreover, it can make any technology that is developed from our work more relevant to the needs of the public and less likely to be dangerous. ...Wherever possible we should always consider the ethical problems that may be raised by the application of our work. ...We should consider that, when talking outside our own subject, we may be more likely to mistake the facts of the case. ...we need to keep some distance from politicians, and should not avoid criticizing their decisions where we feel they are wrong or dangerous."  

The light at the end of the tunnel.  

The ability to create then, like learning itself, is an ability, a quality, a facility we are all born with and that certain social conditions can facilitate. Societies therefore have a responsibility to implement those conditions in which creativity thrives. More creativity though, means an even greater vigilance would be needed to minimize the negative side effects of such an explosion of creative innovations. In this way, civilization can be considered to be a long dark tunnel, lighted occasionally by innovative creative thoughts, which sometimes threaten to set fire to the tunnel. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, where it is possible that society can be so structured as to make creativity a universal possibility. 

However, no matter how good society gets at producing creative people, the quality and variety of art and invention, depends on an environment of resources necessary to create the new art and innovative forms. This environment of resources is a commons of older art, technology and information that is free and easy to access. There is still a light at the end of the tunnel of creativity and it is possible for anybody to reach it.

Needs Interest Method Reality Keys How to Help Creative Genius Future What is Wrong Theories Plus
Genius Prodigies Creativity Thin Slicing Observing Imaging Abstracting Recognizing Patterns
Forming Patterns Analogizing Enaction Empathizing Dimensional Modeling Playing Transforming Synthesizing