Notes from my Shoreditch House talk

Last week was the third in a series of lectures I’m doing at Shoreditch House on where ideas come from. The session was based around what happens inside the brain and what happens outside the brain to produce moments of insight. As usual the questions and conversations that took place after were really interesting.

So I thought it might be an idea to start ‘showing my working out’. Author, journalist and top tech braodcaster Aleks Krotoski is brilliant at publishing her thinking and research as works. I’ve blogged a lot about creativity over the years but not been great at giving more background. So here are a few articles that might shed more light on the many issues I talked about last night.

A good place to start is Roo Reynolds Collections. Roo is a former BBC colleague currently working at GDS (that just won design of the year). I invited him to talk at the first event because most collectors I know are really creative people. This is because collecting excercises your creative muscle. It powers your curiosity, imagination and appreciation. It teaches you about aesthsetics, sharpens your powers of observation, helps you understand patterns and recognise what is missing.

We build narratives around our collections as well as human connections. We strive for perfection with our collections and in doing so achieve Flow. We experiment and tinker with our collections and most importantly everything we do with them forms a pool of inspiration for future projects.

The second session was on combinatorial creativity. For years at the BBC I would hear people in creative sessions talking about how wrong it was to ‘steal’ other people’s ideas. My answer was always “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”. I stole that line from Jim Jarmusch.

Faris Yakob talks alot about this on “Talent Imitates, Genius Steals“, which is a reworking of the Picasso quote “Good artists copy, great artists steal”, a slightly different version of TS Elliot’s “Immature poets copy, mature poets steal”, a twist on Wilde’s “Talent borrows, genius steals”. All of which are stolen from the Bible’s “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”. Try reading the brilliant Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, watch Kirby Ferguson’s amazing series Everything is a Remix and take comfort from the fact that one of our generation’s greatest film directors has stolen from every movie ever made.

In last week’s session I talked about focusing on creativity for the individual rather than the organisation. Yes, I run workshops and help organisations get the best out of their employees, but personally I think it’s better for organisations to help every member of staff to develop their own creative abilities. If you do this people will think creatively every waking moment rather than saving it for a 1 hour brainstorm. It’s a great investment inspired by, believe it or not, Pret A Manger only hiring happy people - happiness it the hard bit, teaching them to make sandwiches is the easy bit. So for more on what happens inside your head you might want to watch this excellent BBC Horizon film on the brain and creativity. John Cleese does a brilliant talk on creativity and why allowing the mind to wonder is so important. Despite being criticised for making up a Dylan Quote Jonah Lehrer is still a great writer on the subject. Try not to let the negativity surrounding him cloud the fact that Imagine is still a great read.

If you are interested in why coffee shops are important to the creative process and their role in the Enlightenment then you must read The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg, which Steven Johnson refers to in his brilliant book Where Good Ideas Come From. On the importance of making connections Steve Jobs knew that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. And so he designed his buildings to ensure these connections became part of regular daily proceedures such as going to the toilet. Richard Florida talks a lot about why you should build out and not up to build creative cities and if you want to understand how the creative face of Manchester changed as a result of simple serendipity then you must watch 24 Hour Party People.

I also talked about the importance just having cups of tea with people. So, if you fancy a brew find me on Twitter. I’m also happy to talk to organisations about workshops, away days and how to get the best out of moments set aside for generating ideas.

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