Category Archives: Words

My thoughts in words on an array of subjects

chimera

The Chaos, Evolution and Mutation of Creative Thinking.

Ideas are the foundation of creative work, but things can get easily out of hand.

This mostly arises from simple poor thinking, but it can equally spawn from the inherent chaos of invention.

In a sense, invention does not exist. Nothing is invented out of thin air. The man who invented the pencil had to be preceded by the discoverer of how to grow and chop trees, or the ‘inventor’ of varnish, glue, paint, graphite and much more. It is the same with any idea.

Therefore, if each idea or invention, for whatever application, inspires a different product or idea, chaos awaits.

To take a different tack, and to display a surprising bit of dataviz, look at how two third-world countries gave roots to nearly every genre of popular music to date. The explosion in the 1970’s illustrates the chaos that I feel exists.

music-history2

So far chaos has proved a fitting description of this effect, but more correctly entropy might be used in it’s place.

Entropy

Tangled Headphones

“Entropy is a mathematically defined function that helps to account for the flow of heat through the Carnot cycle. In thermodynamics, it has been found to be more generally useful and it has several other definitions…

…therefore entropy becomes an expression of disorder or randomness” wikipedia

I was shown a beautifully simple illustration of entropy a few weeks ago. When taking in-ear headphones from your pocket or bag, they are always a tangled mess. With an almost infinite number of birdsnest permutations and only one result of the opposite, the probability shows that your listening pleasure will always be preceded by an impersonation of a north sea fisherman. Such is entropy. Whether one is talking about thermodynamics, the origin of the cosmos or the mess of headphones in your pocket, ordered systems will move to disorder. This analogy, though useless to a physics undergrad, does provide an attractive illustration of many creative process’.


Entropy and the brainstorm

So often, a brainstorm follows this entropic path toward an unsatisfying end. To use the much repeated chessboard problem:

‘If a chessboard were to have wheat placed upon each square such that one grain were placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and so on (doubling the number of grains on each subsequent square), how many grains of wheat would be on the chessboard at the finish?’

If every concept or idea spawned two new postit notes, stuck on your conference room wall, in 64 iterations you would probably have used most of the global stock of 3M’s fluorescent stickies (18,446,744,073,709,551,615 for your information).

postit chaos

In fact, there is a lot to be said about brainstorms being the most inefficient way to tease out a solution. The brain is apparently just not wired in a way to comfortably work in this environment and instead succumbs to peer pressure and other silent social problems that take thinking even farther from the intended goal.

“The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all…

…Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.” 

Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

With an increasing array of channels and markets, not to mention the level of targeting that modern analytics can provide, most business problems now begin at one of the infinite points of extrapolation and immediately begin to move further into chaos.

Seeing through the clutter

seeing through the clutter

What if we could reverse entropy, see through the chaos at that singularity when your business or idea was in a more ordered state? As far as I can tell so far, external eyes, be they a consultant or agency, are a good first step towards clarity.

Without knowing where your problem lies, a good ‘T’ shaped consultant with a defined specialty would normally be your go-to guy. These types of thinkers have an interest in lots of areas but are unashamedly expert in one particular area. But having that single verticle of expertise can blinker your expensive freelancer or consultant into tracing back along their own prefered path.

You could hire an agency with a spectrum of Ts that will aggregate their interest and attack your birdsnest problem from multiple vectors. This could work, but could also just lead to another, or even just seperate, stage of entropy, at a much greater cost.


Minimum Viable Knowledge

How about a single consultant with a large but not expert knowledge on all the expanded nodes of your conundrum? Someone who is not blinded by their own area of expertise shining out from the mess.

chimera

Ancient mythology is littered with tales of multi-headed beasts. Each head armed with a different deadly weapon. Some breath fire, others spit poison and so on. But the myth would be nothing if it weren’t for the lone warrior, armed with a magical sword capable of dispatching each lethal attack.

Consider each head as a single work discipline, never quite working in conjunction with its siblings. A flailing mess of opinion that fails to achieve anything other than fear, amongst the villagers, stands before you. Your saviour, a single man with the skill, agility and weaponry to defeat the problem.

Master of None

Society has been far too tough on the ‘jack of all trades’. Why hire a polymath when an expert is available? It turns out that for lots of modern business problems, a ‘jack of all trades’ is the most efficient advisor because they are not tied to one specific set of solutions. For many digital problems, all you need is the minimum viable prior knowledge about the market, product, business and channels and everything else inbetween.

Using a broad understanding of the majority of the nodes, an efficient, educated route to a tipping point where the original strategy, product or idea lives, can be laid out.

It’s a bit like a child asking how to spell something and being told “Look it up in a dictionary”. But they don’t know the first letter, let alone enough subsequent letters to narrow their search. At some point, a person with a minimum viable knowledge of the dictionary (a decent grasp on the construction and phonetics of the language) needs to guide the child back to a useful starting point and help them to solve their problem even if they don’t know the answer themselves.

When faced with chaos and entropy, a polymath is excited rather than intimidated. A social media specialist might take no delight in being asked to help on a SEO problem. A jack of all trades will dive into your chaotic problem in a way that ferrits out the clarity you need to take action.

 

Learning fast in the face of entropy

Too often I am asked to help with a project where the minimum viable product is shrouded by a mess of possible iterations that are fogging the road ahead. Following a multitude of breadcrumb trails back to a point of possible improvement, or even just group epiphany, is, for me, a near unconscious experience.

Often it’s the paths I have the least understanding of that light up like a beacon, a tunnel through my existing understanding that simply appears to have the least resistance. Not moving into negative space but negative knowledge. Almost synesthesic in how the directions pop into my thinking, a mental creative sat-nav if you will.

Without minimum viable knowledge however, the lack of confidence in decision making runs riot, quickly leaving people lost in the maze. Having that instinctive feeling when something is wrong or indeed right is common to most people, but you can never be sure of anything outside of your knowledge base. If your knowledge base is wide, confidence and clarity re-appear.


Threshold knowledge for action

Dummies

It seems that there is a threshold amount of information about a topic that allows you to understand the landscape and then navigate it. A modern polymath, for example Tim Ferriss, is no mere appreciator or theorist. He is experiential and active. This is the test for threshold knowledge in the face of entropy; Do you know enough to be able to take confident action?

Chaos and entropy are increasing in every human system as we add complexity, speed of communication and increasing amounts of data. Understanding this chaos from only one perspective and only having one tool in the box may hurt those advisors that overspecialised.

 

Entropy in action

When faced with a complex business problem it’s worth seeking out someone who has a broad range of interests but has also has taken them seriously enough to act on them. The coder that paints, cooks and writes poetry. The scientist that races cars, has designed her own home. That mixed bag person, renaissance man, jack of all trades…

In the face of creative entropy a little knowledge on a lot of subjects goes a long way…

 

Bruno Vincent X Peter J Thomson

Distrilation Vs Circubution

Last night I went to a talk (publicity tour) by Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.
His latest book, Spreadable Media, was the topic of conversation and despite the entire lecture and Q&A being fascinating, I couldn’t ignore the constant irony of the situation I found myself in.

Our host for the evening was University of Westminster’s Professor David Gauntlett, who after 10 minutes, managed to tweet out the live stream URL from his personal account and immediately requested we all follow suit using the event #tag. Fine, I can get in on that. Oh wait, there is no signal on my phone or available wifi to use (in fairness I imagine most of the students there would have had access).

Oh well, on with the talk without the distraction of updating my social followers and friends with content to ignore.

First slide: QR code…. I really hope this was here for humour, but without being online, who’s to know?

Second slide: Prof Jenkins describes his previous book “Convergence Culture”, its premise, it’s content and how it was out of date the second it was written, only to move further into obsolescence as it “rotted in a warehouse somewhere”.

Third slide: here’s my new book “Spreadable Media” which I am publicising with this lecture tour due to the afore mentioned academic decay.

So far, lots of negativity from me, but sincerely this was an interesting talk, it was just the void between slow and methodical academia and the fast paced subject, making me laugh at every turn.

So onto the content that caught my eye…

Circulation Vs Distribution:
Top down, controlled distribution of media via prescribed, scheduled channels.
Vs
Bottom up consumer circulated tweets, updates and memes.

It’s hardly breaking news to say that old models of traditional media distribution are being replaced with consumer circulation. Whether this is a piracy debate or user-generated meme makes little difference. What fascinated me was this observation became more and more diluted throughout the lecture to the point where the last question from the audience prompted Prof Jenkins to agree that currently brands and media COs are:
Distributing from the bottom up and circulating from the top down.

This to me describes how the free, democratic, web 2.0 (2.0 being something that Jenkins thinks of as the monetization of social networks rather than the technology itself) has quickly been assimilated by the corporate world.

Now, I think I have ripped this enough and so, not wanting to be impolite to those involved in a free and interesting talk, I will get on and share some of the points that caught my eye.

– Taking an average of the array of stats on news media circulation, it is fair to say that 50% of people are involved in circulating news media. A number far higher than the 1, 9, 99 rule would have you believe.

– Deliberately opening your content up to ‘piracy’ can be the best market research you could ever ‘buy’

– Comms is not the same as broadcasting. Communication is a full duplex conversation.

– ‘Astroturf’ the term to describe fake grassroots media or ‘circulating from the top down’

– Humans like to look after their offspring, to be successful we must think like a dandelion, ‘spread without care’.

– Circulating media for free generates it’s own emotional currency.

– Finally, and David Cameron could do with knowing this if Rebekah Brooks is to be believed (is she?), LOL (laugh out loud) is not the product of the txtspk (text speak) generation. It was actually invented by the American amateur printing press community 150 years previously, as were numerous other abbreviations, initialisms and acronyms, to save time on the laborious process of typesetting their ‘zines by hand.

lolcaption-funny-fail-pictures-telescope-wrong-way

Dyslexic Incubation

Following on from my post about Tom Pellereau on his Apprentice win.

In a totally shameless push for more traffic, I recently followed Tom ( I can call him Tom because we apparently went to the same school) on Twitter and sent him a link to the post mentioned.

Unsurprisingly, his stream has been full of great links and insight, though I’m no quite in tune with his music taste.

One such link is this post by Sally Gardner, an author but more relevantly an Expert Dyslexic | Read post

In it she discusses many of the problems she encountered as a child at school, her self belief that has lead to her success and some encouraging thoughts on how to incubate the talent within what was once an outcast of the educational society.

“I believe we fail too many creative children in this country, whether they are dyslexic or not. If a child is interested in a button, you can teach him the world. Teach him the world and don’t expect him to be interested in a button. We are looking the wrong way down the telescope.”

Both their stories, and my own, got me thinking…

There appears to be an age of epiphany common to Tom, Sally and myself once we had left traditional schooling.

This could be due to a number of things though:

1. The alienation and branding of our ‘disease’ stripped our enthusiasm throughout our ‘formative’ years leading to a renaissance once we entered the workplace.

This in itself raises yet more questions:

  • Is the stigma of dyslexia isolated inside education?
  • Are dyslexics just better at learning for themselves?
  • Is vocation the key to absorbing knowledge?
  • Do dyslexics have some kind of latency inherit in their ability to learn?

2. The need to equip all school children with the core skills of reading and writing at the expense of the creative nurturing imprisoned our development.

I feel this affected me greatly, but can appreciate the need to encourage as high a level of literacy as possible.

3. The alienation and struggle to find ones path, opens up a greater variety of avenues in employment and inspiration.

Following a recent conversation in a pub with a teacher friend, I was informed that many of my opinions are widely recognized and solutions have been put into practice.

So number 4 is:

4. Tom, Sally, myself and everyone else of a certain age that connects with some, if not all, of what I have said, is just the product of a poor educational strategy that has since been refined and improved…

I just hope that, if this is the case, in 10 or 20 years time, when the ‘New Breed of Dyslexic’ has passed their age of epiphany, the result is as bold and productive as Tom and Sally (and myself obviously).

 

 

 

A Story For You

The following is a story written on a delayed train to Port Elliot festival with contributors writing alternate words.

 

Once Is Enough.

 

Several squirrels boiled up a large soup because they’d recently run a bistro. The revenue from patisserie was a struggle due to nibbling a lot of flour. This didn’t settle their accountant’s bill despite good margins from bisque. “Shit!” Ocelot said stirring the wallpaper like jus. He realised he’d shredded the accounts papers with a grater for cheese.

Bertie knew that the accountant really liked beetroots with horseradish on kippers for weddings. If only the kippers hadn’t run away this season. “Nevermind” said Jemima, “Ocelot smells a lot, we can fillet him”. “lovely idea Jemima but my knife is broken” said Bertie’s fetus in a flash. “Who could hear the dialogue and mumbling which interrupted our recipe writing?” thought Ocelot. “Actually, we all heard nothing” chimed everyone in unison despite all being drunk on fermented tax-returns.

It wasn’t Tuesday or any other day beginning with T when Mr Wednesday arrived to drink absynth as an inaugural toast to Friday. On the chime of the second chime the glass cracked leaving burning scars down Mr Wednesday’s pantaloons. This caused a delightful hoohaa among attendees sunbathing on the terrace by a hovercraft.

Mr Wednesday and his flaming galah made a beeline towards the toilets to bath his heated seat. The charred bits covered the family in ash which went down well, not. Time flew into a terrine vortex bringing all narrative crashing upwards, never to be read ever before dinner.

The End or nearly the end?

THE APPRENTICE

The Expert Dyslexic

Not being an avid fan of The Apprentice, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the final last Sunday.

Usually, the contestants are a bunch of shiny suit, footballer tie wearing phone salesmen with zero creativity, organization or ‘business acumen’ to use a well worn expression. And this season was no exception.
Sales of buzzword bingo cards must have hit the roof as the nation sat down on a Tuesday evening and crossed off Jim’s self promotional cliches. But there was one notable exception…

Tom (Pele-something, I am writing this on the central line and can’t look it up for lack of Internet) was the eccentric, geeky, well spoken, unshaven but most importantly dyslexic winner of Lord (of the email-phone disaster) Sugar’s £250,000 investment.

Now in all probability Tom’s chair will swiftly turn back into a nail file (which I am told by an expert in the field of getting a manicure is over designed, as one should file each side of the nail toward the point) as Sweet Heart (sorry Sugar, sorry Lord Sugar) will surely want to capitalize on the existing success and get himself into cosmetics as he so passionately announced.

Having photographed previous winners in the past. I am well aware that the prize received is always a disappointment, but that is to be expected of reality TV.

The point of this post is to celebrate and congratulate Tom, not on his win, but on his superb description of how dyslexia helps him to achieve his goals.

Being dyslexic myself (nothing unusual for a photographer) I have often been uncomfortable with the tag ‘disease’. I was rubbish at school, not much better at university but have excelled in employment. To me, dyslexia is just a rearrangement of a persons skills and thought processes. Not an inability to do something, but the immense ability to think like no one else. It’s just one part of the huge diversity of human existence that in retrospect we love, but label and condescend every day.

Tom described his ability to form three-dimensional models in his head for any given challenge, rotating them in his own personal augmented reality and examining their pros and cons to find the most appropriate solution to the problem. Something that took me 25 years to realize not everyone can do.

The force feeding of information that traditional schooling promotes just serves to alienate anyone capable of working it out for themselves, there’s nothing like being told you can’t do something their way when left to your own devices you could probably prove them wrong (Ego alert!).

To sum up these ramblings I wrote on the tube. Dyslexia can be a skill in it’s self, not a disability or dunces hat, but an alternate dimensional view on knowledge and information and problem solving that I hope more “able-headed” businesses will embrace, support and exploit.
As such I will now edit the ‘skills’ section of my CV from “Adobe creative suit, Microsoft office,welding etc.” to just “Dyslexic”.