Category Archives: Creativity

A lesson on creativity

Every day morning, I drive my daughter to the bus stop where she boards her school bus. This short drive and the subsequent wait at the bus stop is something I love because mostly what gets done or discussed does not make any sense (as far as adults are concerned).It is alwys amusing how simple these little children’s life is, yet so fulfilling.
This morning, I noticed in the car that she was holding a tube of glue in her hand. I suggested that she put it inside her bag; for she might spill it on her dress. “No dad, I will hold it”, she refused.
A while later, as we stood waiting for the bus, I make another attempt to persuade her to put the tube inside her bag. She refused again and then I decided not to push it further. Probably she wanted to show it off to her friends, I thought (which, I realized immediately may not true, because it was after all a tube of glue).

Girl holding a glue stick in her hand

Girl holding a glue stick in her hand


The bus was late today and as we stood waiting for the bus, I noticed that my daughter was holding the glue tube in her right hand like a mike and was silently singing. She was so involved in the act that I am sure she was singing somewhere on a grand stage to a very large audience.
Perhaps she wanted to play with it, I thought.

A while later when I looked at her, she had stopped singing and was holding the tube horizontal right in front of her right eye, like a binocular and looking around through it.

Something went shattering in me. What was a simple tube of glue that did not matter, had to be kept inside the bag because it might spill, as far as I was concerned was NOT a tube of glue at all for her. It was a mike that took her to some imaginary stage somewhere, it was a binocular (probably she was imagining her to be in army or so). And I am sure by the time she reached her school today; the glue tube would have assumed many other forms.

Here was I, the intelligent and rational, who is familiar with several techniques for creativity and Innovation and who is proud that he has understood the fundamental mechanism behind creative thinking. And here was this little girl, with all innocence, had the least idea about any of these concepts was simply creative.

The difference was striking. For her the world was not what it was, it was what she wanted it to be.
And this small difference explains why all the techiques for creative thinking simply does not work.

Grass root Innovation

In India, kids enjoy a long summer vacation; typically for the whole of May and June. This is the time the kids and their mothers go to their native place leaving the husbands alone in Bangalore.
While some people find this forced solitary life unbearable, I find this very interesting. The most interesting part is that I get a glimpse of a life with ‘no strings attached’. Usually this is also the time I do lot of introspection and sometimes simply space out.
When I am alone, there are few daily chores that I need to attend to. This involves some amount of exploration around the house, especially in the kitchen. And it is when I come across some simple innovative ideas that amuse me. For e.g,
1)our washing machine is in the work area and that’s where naturally the washing powder is kept. But then you don’t always wash in the washing machine, sometimes you wash certain things (like socks) in the bath room. To your pleasant surprise, you find washing powder is also kept (though in smaller bottles) to cater to such needs. This eliminates the need to walk to the work area just to get the washing powder.
2)Things in the kitchen cabinet are arranged in such a way that all those things that are used frequently (sugar, salt, tea powder etc) are ketp in the cabinet that is closest to the stove.

Working in large corporations, we generally tend to look down upon our wives as the ones who mechanically do the same things over and over again. But I am afraid that’s far from truth. If you aren’t convince yet, here is a simple illustration.
I had put the cloths in the washing machine yesterday. Since in a tropical hot climate like in India, the collars and cuffs become dirty and they need to brushed once before washing in the washing machine. I looked around for the brush and found something interesting. My wife had affixed a small piece of soap on the other side of the brush.
Washing Brush
Now, imagine the situation. The cloths are in the washing machine, and one needs to pick some of them, apply soap to the collars and cuffs (and some other places where there is extra dirt) and then brush them. If you were to use a soap and brush separately, it will involve lot of work to pick the soap, apply it, keep it back, pick the brush and brush it. All this extra effort is eliminated by this simple solution. All you need to do is just reverse the brush to apply the soap and turn it around to brush..
Washing Brush
I do not know if such a brush is available in the market, if not it is a good idea..

I think to see real practical innovations, one need to go not to the corporates (with all complex techniques for Systematic problem solving), but in to homes (more in to the kitchens) and you will simply be amazed at how the housewives have optimized everything possible.

No wonder you get your bedcoffee, breakfast, ironed cloths etc on time everytime.. They have optimized better than any CMM 5 companies..

Even a police man will know this

The phrase ‘even a police man will know this’ is used often to ridicule someone’s ignorance on some trivial matters or if they are slow to grasp something. For some historic reasons that I am not aware of, policemen are considered somewhat slow in their head.

But I think it’s time to give this a second thought.. Here is a very creative poster on road safety from Bangalore.

Ganesha in Traffic poster Bangalore

Ganesha in Traffic poster Bnagalore

If you don’t quite get it, you may want to read the story on How did Lord Ganesha get elephant’s head? here.

Grass root innovation

I was in Sabarimala over the weekend for the annual pilgrimage. Sabarimala is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots in South India, attracting over 50 million people every year and undoubtedly one of the largest human gatherings in the globe. The temple is situated on a hill-top and has been facing difficulties accommodating devotees who pour in at the rate of about 90 people per every minute. Several initiatives have been taken by the authorities in the recent past the manage the increasing crowd, de-congest the place to make space for the pilgrims. One such initiative has been to relocate the shops beyond the periphery wall.

This naturally should have hit the sales and the shops are invariably forced to think out of the box to boost sales. Here is one such shop

Sabarimala

What you see below is a pilgrim shelter the boundary of which is indicated by the yellow line. There is a shop that sells steel vessels (used by pilgrims to carry the offerings back home) above the boundary wall  indicated by the red arrow. The pilgrims spent time in the shelter and it is likely that they would buy the vessels there than to walk up the row of shops above.

So this shop people have figured out a way. Firstly, they have displayed all the vessels on the walls for pilgrims to choose. Then there are two people sitting on the wall mid way. The pilgrims can communicate with them – choose a vessel, enquire the price, bargain etc. Once the deal is fixed, the transaction is carried out using a bucket and a rope

The money is put in to the bucket and the change and the vessel is delivered back.

Sabarimala_1

This is called grass root innovation.

A policeman who saw me taking this picture simply smiled, because the law only forbids selling anything within the shelter and the wall definitely was not covered under the rule !

Boredom and creatiivty

I decided to pick a coffee during a meeting today. Since the office boy wasn’t there, I had to pick the coffee my self from the vending machine.

When I went to the coffee vending machine, something on the wall caught my attention. There were these beautiful flower designs and on a closer look, I realised that they were made of paper cups.

These were quite attractive and as I later figured out they were the handwork of the ‘office boy’ who manages the vending machine. This guy’s only job is to serve coffee/snacks at regular intervals whenever there is a meeting (and they don’t happen everyday). So he has lots of free time at his disposal. But, at the same time he is expected to be around the vending machine always.

I think that’s where these creative designs come from.

So most likely, boredom alone doesn’t lead to creativity, but it should be a combination of boredom and inability to escape from it.

I didn’t meet the guy though, but this is a tribute to that unknown designer

Superstitions and Intuition

This is an afterthought from the previous post….

Superstitions involve some beliefs that aren’t logical but yet you believe them to be true. If you observe, that’s the same case with Intuition. In intuition, you know something but may not know how or why.

There are two aspects to such ‘illogical’ beliefs. One is the ability of the mind to believe in it and second is the outcome and the environment. It’s likely that it is the same quality of the mind that believes in superstitions and also intuitive thoughts.

 What distinguishes them is fear

 Fear works in two ways. Fear comes when you already know the outcome of something. Fear restrains you from doing that activity because the outcome is unacceptable/unpleasant/dangerous. This fear is sometimes good because it helps you avoid danger and survive

Fear also works the other way. When the future looks uncertain (or the probability of success is very small), certain blind beliefs could help to reduce the anxiety. In India most superstitious people are film stars, politicians and business men; because all their professions involve a lot of uncertainty.

 But when the uncertainty is acceptable, intuition dawns. In the case of blind superstitions, you are trying to make your uncertain future predictable, while in the case of intuition, you are not conditioned by the fear about the uncertainty.

 If you basically have the quality of blind beliefs, it is likely that you can become very intuitive. It’s said that consciousness exits at three levels: Instinct, Intellect and Intuition. At the level of instinct the thinking is conditioned by fear, at the level of intellect, the thinking is conditioned by intelligence and when these conditioning are removed, you become intuitive.

 

A Nonsense story and Creativity in Children

 “Papa, I have something interesting for you”. My daughter said and I could see that mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“I will ask you some questions first”, she said

Do I have a choice?.

“Who is your favorite actor?”

“Amir Khan”

“Who is your favorite actress?”

“Kareena Kapoor”

“Choose a number between 0 and 10”

“3”

“Which your favorite pet”

“Dog”

After a short pause, she tell me the following story. “One day, Amir Khan and Kareena Kapoor comes to your home. You ask them how many children they have. They say three. Then you ask them how do they look. And they tell you that they look like dogs”

The way she told me this, she was thoroughly enjoying and looked quite satisfied. Though it looked too silly (and nonsense), I had to pretend that I enjoyed it.

Later as I think of this, it conveys something profound. There has been several studies done on creativity in children. But what prevents us (grown-ups) from being creative like them? In this world we are taught to make sense in what we say and do. Things need to be logical and needs to convey something etc. We are concerned about what others think of what we do or say. And it is this ‘need to make sense’ that doesn’t allow us to be creative..

If we just stop making sense (at least for sometime), perhaps we can get a glimpse of what a creative state is. But that may not be easy. Just try cooking up a story that absolutely makes no sense and telling it to someone, you will be surprised to see how tough that is.

Creative thinking

Someone sent me this picture; it’s really amazing how creative children can get.

It reminded me of the barometer story of Niels Bohr. When he was a student, he asked to answer the question – how to measure the height of a building using barometer. He came with numerous answers (very interesting ones) except what was expected as the right answer. Finally when the teacher asked him whether he knew the conventional (right) answer for the problem, he replied ” Yes I do, but I do not like they teaching me how to think”

Read the complete story here: http://www.word-gems.com/knowledge.bohr.html

Purposelessness

There is a person I respect a lot; someone living in knowledge. We will call him V, to protect his identity. I first heard of him through a friend who narrated the following incident to me. Once V had been to the US Consulate in Chennai for a visa interview. The place was crowded as usual, and people were impatiently and nervously waiting for their turn. The US Consulate had the reputation of declining Visa without giving any reason. And it was an ordeal for most till they finished the ‘interview’.

There was a coffee shop around where people drank coffee and left the empty cups on the side walls and tables. Then V began to do something strange. He started picking up those cups and deposited them in to the dustbins. No word spoken. More people came and left more cups around. And V continued this till he was called in for the interview. He went inside with not a trace of nervousness.

 This story was the main motivation for me to meet V about 8 years back.

This incident came to mind recently when ‘purposelessness’ came in to a conversation. As the logical mind becomes stronger, it becomes extremely difficult to do something that does not make sense. ‘Let me understand’ is our common reaction especially to new things. And we discard many things in life because they make no sense.

But actually doing something that is ‘purposeless’ can be a profound experience. There is a joy concealed behind them. Ability to do something ‘purposeless’ is a sign of wisdom. This can help someone step out of the logical mind. But it is extremely difficult to do it as the mind will do everything to talk you out of this.

 Here is a simple exercise. When you meet someone either in the office corridor or on the street, just tell them a sentence (for e.g “it is better to be a vegetarian”). Nothing more, nothing less. No introduction, no waiting for a response. Just move on and may be tell the next person too…

Have fun!

Thought in its purest form

In the previous post I have said that a ‘creative thought’ (if I can call it a thought..) is one that is not influenced by the past. It has no continuity from the past events and does not bear a cause-effect relationship with anything. I stick to it, but thinking further, this is only one side of it. A ‘creative thought’ is also not influenced by the future. This means that it does not have a result beyond it or does not lead to something else.

This is to say that the element of time cease to exist because all the continuity exists only linearly. One is taken out of the dimension of time (may be briefly) and in the new dimension of space that emerges, flowers a new thought.

Also, this thought is not influenced (or conditioned) either by what it belongs to nor what it contains. And the thought itself is not influenced by its own past and future. In other words the ‘creative thought’ does not evolve or transform. It simply exists. Rather it chooses to.

Its identity is not derived from anything that is there or that will be there. One can’t know it, it is beyond the logical mind to relate to..

 This is thought in its purest form…

Logic

It is commonly believed these days that ‘logic’ is what prevents one from thinking creatively. Strangely, if you were to ask a spiritual master what is the obstacle on the way to freedom or realization, you might get the same answer. We have a villain and since ‘logic’ is an abstract concept, it is easy to blame it. I too have made fun of the ‘logical mind’ in several posts in this blog.

But one level deeper, do we really understand what exactly is this demon called ‘logic’? How does it influence our thinking? How to get over it? Or are we too busy inventing techniques to overcome ‘logic’? (It is like the concept of ‘sin’ in some religions. Once you can make people buy in to this belief, it’s easy to create a whole industry out of it)

Here is an insight that came along on this.

 The mind made up of thoughts. In the absence of thoughts, there is ‘space’ which the mind is uncomfortable with. Therefore the mind needs something to be going on continuously. In order to achieve this, mind has devised a mechanism which consists of two distinct things:

  1. There is a process that keeps dumping thoughts continuously in to the mind (to the next empty space to be really precise)
  2. There is an ‘algorithm’ that chooses what will go in to that space from a choice of millions of possibilities These two together keeps the mind engaged and active.

The second one follows and supports the first. And the second one is what is called the logic.

Contrary to what many say, the ‘logic’ might actually be good. The issue comes from the fact that at some point both the above acts become unconscious. This is where the problem lies. Even before you see something fully, you have already named it, categorized it and may be made an opinion on it, because in the little space that follows the act of seeing, the mind fills the details from your past experience.

When we talk of a creative thought, we are actually talking of that one which is unconditioned by your experience, memory, perceptions etc. It’s almost like the thought is not yours. And just because of the fact that it comes not from the conditioned mind, it can be anything – a new insight, a new poem, a new solution, a new dimension, a new potential or may be God himself.

In order to go beyond logic or transcend thought, there are two ways. One is to look in to the second act – to see how the logic can be refined to produce the best output. This is what most of the creative and innovation techniques try to do. There try to define frameworks and techniques which can orient the mind in a particular direction. This definitely might produce thinking that’s superior to normal, but then you aren’t really talking of that idea that’s born beyond the mind.

The other approach is to tackle the process of filling the mind with thoughts. This is what many spiritual traditions attempt to. This is done by the simple technique of being comfortable with space or nothingness. And the moment you are comfortable with the space, the need for the logic is gone. Space where there is neither thinking nor the need for thinking exists.

 Then in this space might arise that new insight or the thought that is not stained by the logic..

Thoughts and possibilities

I was sitting over a cup of coffee with a friend of mine and he mentioned to me that he was leaving to Thirupathi that night (For those who do not know, Thirupathi is the abode of Lord Venkateswara and is the richest temple in the world). I didn’t feel like engaging in a conversation, so we just had some loose talk till we were done with the coffee. But interestingly, I could see that there were lots and lots of thoughts that came up in the mind in response to the topic of discussion.

As we walked back to the desk, I was thinking about this. Probably because I did not speak, the compulsive need to pursue a thread  wasn’t that significant, and this must have allowed all these different thoughts to come up in mind.

I tried to list some of these thoughts here:   (what is in the main bullet is the primary thought trigger and what is in the second level bullet is the secondary though trigger which comes from the primary)

  1. I haven’t been there yet, I would like to go
    • Is this the right time to go there? When is the rush less?
  2. Is this your first trip? Do you go often?
  3. It’s the richest temple, I read that there is a special ’chakra’ installed there to attract money
    • I read recently that the temple of Shirdi is the second richest temple
  4. I normally go to Sabarimala everyyear
  5. In Kerala, we do not worship Balaji
  6. Infact I have not been going anywhere for a long time
  7. I s it better to drive? I want to go when I get my new Car?
    • I will plan to get the new car in June
  8. Is it necessary to shave the head?
    • My sister had been to Palani recently to shave her daughter’s head
  9. It’s interesting that all the major temples of South India are on hill tops

 These different thoughts in fact stem from different aspects of our mind and personality. For e.g thoughts 3, 5, 9 come from the point that I want to show that I know these facts (probably this will enhance my sense of self as a ‘knowledgeable person’). Thought 7 is a dangerous one and can hit my self-esteem big time. Thoughts 4,5 justifies my not going there, so that my sense of self is not diminished etcetc.

 This is infact a practical illustration of the concept described in the post The act of mindful watching. In normal scenario we do not see so many thoughts for a single trigger. We probably have one or two. This depends on our personality, mood and state of mind. For e.g if at this moment I am nurturing a feeling that my life is a failure, the likely hood of me getting only thought 6 is very very high. And since each of these thoughts can take the conversation/further thinking in a totally different direction, we are most likely to take one of those thought paths than to look at more thoughts coming up.

Needless to say, more reactive the mind is lesser the options we see Many times there are those negative feelings within us waiting patiently to react to any thing that would engage them. This is the reason why everything looks negative when your mind is in a negative state.

As we discussed earlier, if we can overcome the compulsive  need to react to a trigger, more options simply arise and this is the most basic quality for a creative mind.

On Connections Again..

 The way mind connects thoughts and memories is something I have been interested in deeply. Perhaps it can throw some light on how the memory is organized and accessed. Since as adults we have consciously/unconsciously altered our thinking patterns and we are very reactive in nature, it is difficult to see the brilliance of the mind. On the other hand children can give you lot of such insights, because what’s in their mind comes out without much of logical interference. Here is an incident that happened today evening.

We were waiting for a doctor’s appointment; and I was chit-chatting with my 6-year-old daughter. Somehow the conversation strayed in to topic of me getting old.

 “Will you look after me when I am old?” I asked her

“Yes” she says

 “What will you give me?”

 “I will give you Orange, Apple….” She pauses here for a moment and suddenly asked..

“Papa, will you buy me those love birds that we saw in the market other day?”

As she went on to describe how many birds she would like to have and what color etc, I was wondering at the abrupt switch in the topic.

Though it seems like that the topic of conversation changed all of a sudden, it is not really so. The two topics are in fact connected.

If you didn’t get it, here is what probably happened. Last week when we were at the market, we saw some pairs of love birds for sale. My daughter was very much interested and we had watched them eating, drinking and merry-making. Probably when this incident is stored in her memory, she has also stored the meta data around it. One such meta data was ‘feeding’- this was something that caught her attention the most.

During our conversation, at the point when she was promising to give me orange, apple etc, it is ‘feeding’ that must have been at the back of her mind(as a feeling or as an experience, I do not know for sure). And immediately the mind connected this conversation to a memory which was also related to ‘feeding’

What makes this even more interesting in children is that the associations are not done through language. This is a common problems we adults face, because most of our experiences are stored as words and sentences and the associations we trend to form generally are derived through word comparisons. But in children, since the language is not yet developed fully, some of these experiences are stored in abstract forms.

 This is also reason why children can think creatively….

PS:I was reading an article on the evolution of language and the author suggests that it in language lies the root cause for schizophrenia. I agree. No wonder silence is so much glorified in this tradition.

Stories and Associations

We have already discussed in depth how associations lead to creativity. Like most of the other mind structures, association happen at several layers right from connecting two thoughts/memories (in the process called thinking) to connecting to unrelated concepts.

One of the interesting expressions of the power of association can be seen in stories. You must have seen people who have a story or an anecdote for any situation which entirely captures the essence of it, but comes from totally different plane altogether.

I would like to illustrate two incidents that happened yesterday in office, each of them show how powerful the capacity of the mind to process things is.

1) As some of us sat chatting over a coffee in the evening, the conversation drifted to the recruitment drive that was on. Someone (he has recently joined the organization) remarked : “What is the need to recruit so many people like this, I do not see any need”. Some one else responded to this with the below story : Someone was trying to get in to a train. The compartment  was already full, so the passengers were ‘physically’ resisting anyone who was trying to get in. But our man somehow forces his way in to the compartment much to the displeasure of other passengers.

 “Don’t worry, I will also join you from the next stop” he tell them.

 “What for” asks an irate passenger.

 “To prevent anyone else from getting in to the train.”

2)  Any conversation these days ends up in us discussing about this particular manager, his manners, approach etc.  And when this happened for the umpteenth time, some one stood up in the bay to narrate this story :

 “Once upon a time, there was this small  boy preparing for an examination. He was expecting  an essay on coconut tree (the story is in Indian context, this is one of the common topics for essay  in primary schools..) and prepared a good one. But he was asked to write an essay on Cow instead. The boy had only prepared for the essay on Coconut tree. So he began “Cow is a very useful animal which gives us milk. A cow is normally tied to a coconut tree. A coconut tree…” He continued the essay with what he prepared about the coconut tree.

Later, when it was time for the next exam, he was sure that the topic would be coconut tree this time. But unfortunately the topic was Hen. He began: “Hen is a very useful bird that gives us egg and meat. Hen is not usually tied to a coconut tree. A coconut tree…” He continued the rest of the essay with what he had prepared about the coconut tree.

I believe that anything in the mind exists in several layers some in abstract form and others expressed in languages. If you see the incidents and the stories above, you can see that they are connected at a higher level. It’s a marvel how the mind is able to pick these two incidents, extract a pattern from them and connect them in a manner that makes sense for others.

Perhaps, this is the same quality that enables the mind to see patterns.