Some things really get up my nose, especially those things I read on the internet that talk about creativity as if it is something that you can walk in and buy from the supermarket shelf.
The latest article that drew my attention to this issue was one about someone having written a successful book using an algorithm.
The article talked about how the author simply put it a certain amount of formulaic tosh and the book was created and it was becoming successful.
A few years ago I heard some idiot on the radio saying the same thing about how to write a hit song, and then used Adele songs as an example.
What rubbish. I can tell you if it were that easy, the big media companies who have more money than God, would have warehouses filled with computer geeks doing nothing but making algorithms to make hit films, music, videos games and anything else that sells.
But they don’t and you know why they don’t? The reason is because creativity is not so easily defined. Creativity it is something almost mystical and illusive, and even the people who have it and make it work, don’t even know all the time how or why it works the way it does.
If you don’t believe I me, ask anyone who has ever made a hit song or movie and ask them to do it again. They can’t because it doesn’t work that way. Creativity is usually something that grows out of deep subconscious thought or knowledge that suddenly connects in some way and manifests itself. Sometimes it even comes about by mistake. But it never comes from a formula.
Algorithms are for one size fits all, and fortunately matter how much the marketers would like it to be different, people are individuals with individual tastes dislikes and imaginations.
If our children are taught to think that real creativity can only come from a computer generated algorithm, they will eventually lose their ability to dream and create.
For example what if one child is writing a story about creatures that eat blue bananas and walk on the sky on a planet where stars that come out in the daytime and shine like diamonds on the earth below and the sun is in the shape of a cube and made of pulsating green phosphorus and the creatures have hands that extend from their earlobes. Another child may be thinking and writing about creatures that live on the leaves of trees and communicate telepathically and only eat sunlight on certain days of the year and move from place to place by connecting to objects with their eyes that leap out from their bodies and stick to objects with a gooey substance.
These are ideas that algorithms won’t create because these are ideas from an individual mind as opposed to a collective formulaic mind.
In a creative human mind, the rules that are ordered and can apply to physical sciences have no real importance or relevance.
H2O will always be the formula for water, but the musical notes played from A to C to B flat will not always be the formula for a great melody. Or a certain famous actor will not always make a box office success with every film.
The business guys who run media companies are not stupid so they have come up with the second best thing to try and capture this illusive creativity, which is the sequel. And in some cases the prequel. But sequels and prequels only happen after the first one is a creative success. And it’s that “first one” that is the creative gold dust.
But how can one be sure and make that “first one” happen? You cannot, not by any formula. Over time people have figured out that it is a good bet if a hit book can be made into a play or film or vice versa. In some cases it works, but not always. The fact is creativity is simply not an always kind of thing.
In my estimation, the real danger in the algorithmic approach to creativity is that we poison the thought processes of our children and mislead them into thinking that anyone can access creativity and success by using algorithms.
Trying to use algorithms to do really creative thinking will only do one thing, it will help the people making and selling the algorithm hype and products become very rich and little else. To me these people are among those who do nothing but sell foolishness on the internet. I am sure you have heard of them; Become rich in 5 weeks! How to make a million in the time it takes you to fry an egg! Become the person you need to be and discover your inner self by looking down and focusing on your big toe while sitting on the toilet, all for the price of £145.00, BUY IT NOW, don’t wait, special one-time offer to expire in 20 minutes.
That’s right, every stupid thing imaginable is being sold on the internet, and 9 times out of 10 there will be someone who will buy it because we live in a world where the media has pushed the hype that easy money is within our reach if only we can get a lucky break.
But the fact of the matter is that formulaic creativity leading to success DOES NOT WORK. These are just schemes to make people feel that they can be successful with some magical practice. In reality creativity in any area whether it is plumbing, the arts, creating building materials or forestry is something that normally comes from some combination of knowledge, work and practice.
Writer Malcolm Gladstone in his book “Outliers” states that it takes ten thousand hours of doing something to make a success of it or become expert at it. Although this is not fool proof and it has become a bit of a cliché, there is an element of truth in it. If you look at the people who have been most successful in whatever area, they have been skilled with the craft element of it.
Filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg know more about films in their little finger than most film school professors will ever know because they are passionate about films in a way that pushed them to learned facets that few others even considered. And because of that they began to think and explore film in different ways and tried different things. Alfred Hitchcock worked in the art department of the film studio before he became a director, so he had ideas and perspective on how films could be shot because he had spent years looking at drawings in the art department first.
Berry Gordy Jr, the creator of Motown Record label was a hit songwriter for singer Jackie Wilson, as well as the failed owner of a record store, and a shift worker at the car manufacturing plant before he brought all of the elements into play to create what would become the world famous Motown Records.
The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed some of the most astounding buildings the modern world has seen, but he was a talented architect who studied and excelled at his craft and therefore was able to develop a different outlook from a strong foundation. Therefore when asked to design a summer house for Department Store owner Edgar Kaufman, Wright decided to build the house on top of a waterfall which resulted in an astounding and historical creative masterpiece called “Fallingwater”. When other architects in New York who Wright referred to as “the glass box boys”, were building skyscrapers, Wright designed the Guggenheim museum as a circular building that has become a must see tourist attraction for anyone traveling to New York City.
In the case of the world famous song “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, Bobby McFerrin wrote the song in less than ten minutes, but many may not realise that that Bobby was already an accomplished professional musician who had played piano and clarinet since he was a kid and grew up in a musical family. His mother was a professional rehearsal pianist and his father was a professional opera singer, so music was something that was deep in his subconscious.
Therefore what seemed on the surface to be a simple ten minute creation was based on years of musical knowledge, practice as well as inspiration.
Past creators like Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Walt Disney, and Albert Einstein as well as current creators like Donna Leon and Hiromi Uehara are all people who have worked hard and had a basis for their creations built on craft, passion and work… but never on a prescribed formulaic algorithm sold by someone on the internet or a scientific book to help them achieve their creativity or success.
Creativity is not a quick fix formulaic thing, but a thing that grows out of hard work, creative thought and intuition. Of course inspiration plays a part for sure, but even so the inspiration is based on something substantial.
So when internet articles poo poo the hard work associated with creation I say beware, because these people are stealing the real creativity from our children false expectations and making them think that creativity is an easily acquirable and sellable commodity and can be purchased to make them become successful.
The thing that children must become aware of it that creativity is something that grows out of knowledge and a passion for something one is deeply interested in. I think children need to be connected with reading and creative activities when they are very young in a way that stimulates them to want to enjoy what they are reading and doing more than wanting to become a formulaic success at it.
Parents also need to be aware of the damage the quick fix creativity people can do because when they discover the long arduous journey along the road to real creativity, children can feel let down and give up. Remember, because unlike adults, children often believe exactly what adults tell them. They have not yet developed the filtering process that allows them to distinguish what is fiction disguised as fact. The fact is people who push this kind of malarkey on the internet are actually contributing to the death of creativity in our children rather than enhancing it.
So to heck with the phoney algorithms. For me the acid test is this. If these creative algorithms are such a sure fired guarantee, why are the people who know how great they are not using them to write their own great creative bestselling books instead of trying to sell these “make you creative” algorithms to anyone who will buy them?
Think about it. If you knew where a bag of gold was buried under a rock, the last thing you’d want to do would be to run and tell everyone where the gold was hidden, right?
The fact is nobody who really thought there was gold hidden under the rock would do this, unless they were really in the business of selling shovels to everyone who was going out to take a look and try and find the gold.