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    Entries in creativity (21)



    From the Wikipedia page on Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)

    Perhaps one reason Sibelius has attracted both the praise and the ire of critics is that in each of hisJean Sibelius is not hearing any of your crap. seven symphonies he approached the basic problems of form, tonality, and architecture in unique, individual ways. On the one hand, his symphonic (and tonal) creativity was novel, but others thought that music should be taking a different route. Sibelius's response to criticism was dismissive: "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic."

    You are either a creator or a critic.

    Choose wisely my friends.

    Have a great weekend!


    The three questions to ask when you're thinking of creating something

    These notes, taken by Blake Masters from Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel's Computer Science class on startups, are completely worth reading - whether you work in a startup, are thinking of joining a startup, are thinking of creating your own startup, or just thinking.

    Of the many interesting nuggets and insights in the notes, (the difference and difficulty of taking a brand new idea from 0 to 1, versus taking an idea from 1 to n - with n being infinity and the different stages of technological progress and advancement), I wanted to call out from Masters' notes Peter Thiel's three questions you need to ask when evaluating your idea.Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema No. 348, 1958

    Here is Thiel's take:

    The path from 0 to 1 might start with asking and answering three questions.

    First, what is valuable? Second, what can I do? And third, what is nobody else doing?

    The questions themselves are straightforward. Question one illustrates the difference between business and academia; in academia, the number one sin is plagiarism, not triviality. So much of the innovation is esoteric and not at all useful. No one cares about a firm’s eccentric, non-valuable output. The second question ensures that you can actually execute on a problem; if not, talk is just that. Finally, and often overlooked, is the importance of being novel. Forget that and we’re just copying.

     The intellectual rephrasing of these questions is: What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

    The business version is: What valuable company is nobody building?

    Earlier in the week I posted about the proliferation of tablet devices that are primarily designed for and used to consume content, rather than create content and the implications of this growth for career management. In a world where people want to consume and consume and consume, I argued, that to have real lasting and sustainable value and advantage that you want to be a creator, not just a consumer. I still believe that, and I also believe it can be really hard for lots of folks to actually create things - blog posts, presentations, podcasts, videos - whatever.

    And after reading the notes from Thiel's talk, I think these same three questions about startup formation and practicality of an idea can even be applied to more mundane, or day-to-day scenarios like content creation.

    What is valuable?

    What can I do?

    What is nobody else doing?

    Try thinking really hard about those question and you have a start at least or a guide to moving from consumer to creator. And the good thing is for most of us the 'right' answers to those questions can be drawn from a much narrower context than Thiel was probably thinking about (the entire world). 

    You can probably get by with just finding what is valuable, achievable, and novel in your own company, or city, or industry, or even your group of friends for that matter. 

    You can be a content creator, and I think, you and definitely your kids, need to become creators too.


    I've got some suggestions for your screenplay

    Not really, and unless you are up to something on the side, you probably don't even have a screenplay (or a short story or a book for that matter). But what you might have, still, is that problem of folks in the HR and even IT game have been lamenting just about forever - no 'real' business people take you all that seriously.

    For whatever reason the people in the organization that get to decide the 'what' of what people do are more important and 'strategic' than the people that (largely) are responsible for finding and hiring those people in the first place (HR), and identifying, procuring, deploying, and maintaining all the technologies that the people rely on every day (IT). That is probably true in most organizations and it's also true that it's unlikely to change unless HR and IT start to think a little differently about the problem.

    I was thinking about this over the weekend when I read this piece in the New York Times, Solving the Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data, about a new method or process where Hollywood film scripts are evaluated, and suggestions for improvement given, based on data-driven analysis. How does the process work? From the NYT piece:

    Netflix tells customers what to rent based on algorithms that analyze previous selections, Pandora does the same with music, and studios have started using Facebook “likes” and online trailer views to mold advertising and even films.

    Now, the slicing and dicing is seeping into one of the last corners of Hollywood where creativity and old-fashioned instinct still hold sway: the screenplay

    A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese — “the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood,” in the words of one studio customer — has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. What do you like? What should be changed?

    Pretty interesting and still in this age of data trumping everything kind of unusual. Although even as I recently wrote about here, data and algorithms and machine learning approaches encroaching on formerly 'creative' endeavors are starting to pop up more and more.

    Applying intelligence, Big Data, and more powerful technologies for improving movie screenplays does more than just fix up the dramatic scene in Act III, it allows a guy like Vinny Bruzzese, who as far as we can tell had no 'real' movie experience, to become an influential participant in the movie-making process.

    His data, team of analysts, and statistically-backed conclusions and suggestions, now put him more and more 'at the table' (sorry), where formerly only writers and movie producers used to meet. It doesn't really matter that he didn't go to film school or he didn't spend the 80s directing episodes of Full House, his data-driven solutions make him a Hollywood player.

    Influence in business seems to be becoming more about who can gather, assess, and make data actionable, than who has the 'right' degree or experience. And the background of the people who can do that might be a lot different than who normally used to have that kind of influence. 


    At least the creative jobs can't be taken over by robots. Wait, what?

    I know I have beaten the 'robots are coming to take our jobs' angle pretty much to death here over the last few years, and I really want to move on to other things like what we can learn about leadership from Kobe Bryant and the Mamba Mentality, and why Jasper Johns is America's greatest artist, something about the automation of formerly human jobs keeps sucking me back in.

    Check this excerpt from a recent piece on Business Insider titled How Facebook Is Replacing Ad Agencies With Robots, about some of the behind-the-scenes machinations that result in those often eerily smart advertisements you see on your Facebook timeline and newsfeed:

    Facebook is working furiously to find more ways to make ads work better inside its ecosystem. Many of those ads, however, are untouched by ad agency art directors or "creative" staffers of any kind. And a vast number, from Facebook's larger e-commerce advertisers — think Amazon or Fab.com — are generated automatically by computers. 

    If you're an e-commerce site selling shoes, you want to serve ads that target people who have previously displayed an interest in, say, red high-heels. Rather than serve an ad for your brand — "Buy shoes here!" — it's better to serve an ad featuring a pair of red heels specifically like the one the user was browsing for.

    The ads are monitored for performance, so any subjective notions of "taste" or "beauty" or "style" or whatever go out the window — the client just wants the best-performing ads. There's no need for a guy with trendy glasses who lives in a loft in Williamsburg, N.Y., to mull over the concepts for hours before the ad is served.

    It might be easy to miss in that description, but the key to the entire 'no humans necessary' ad creation and display process is a technology that is called 're-targeting' - Facebook (via some partners it works with), knows what products and services you have shown interest in out on the web, and then the algorithms try to 'match' your browsing trail with what the advertiser hopes will be a relevant ad. Since the volume of people and data and browsing history is so immense that a person or people couldn't actually create all the possible ads the process might need, the algorithms do all the work. 

    So if you stopped at that Rasheed Wallace 'Ball Don't Lie' shirt on the online T-shirt site this morning, don't be surprised if you see an ad for similar on your Facebook feed tonight. 

    Not a big deal you might be thinking, it's the web after all, and algorithms and machines run it all anyway. 

    The big deal if you are a creative type person in advertising or media planning is this - if these kinds of re-targeted and machine generated ads show some solid ROI, more and more of the ad budget for big brands will follow. Budget that could be used for TV spots, print campaigns, or even more innovative games and contests on social networks, (that still, for now, have to be hatched and launched by actual humans). If machine-generated ads drive more revenue, (or drive revenue more efficiently), than traditional and expensive creative, then we'll see that impact in staffing. 

    Traditional ads often run in media where it can be notoriously difficult to determine success - how valuable and how much revenue for a brand like Budweiser can be attributed to an obscenely expensive Super Bowl ad?

    But these computer generated Facebook ads? The system can see in real-time how they are performing, which versions of a given campaign are more effective, and they can learn and adapt in reaction to this data. They are smart, so to speak. Almost everything about them from an ad standpoint is 'better' than the creative ad in a magazine or on TV.

    Except for the fact that hardly any people are needed to create them. Depending on your point of view of course.

    Be nice to the robots.


    What do cat videos and unauthorized outsourcing have in common?

    Let's review two recent stories of shall we say, extremely 'creative' approaches that individual workers have taken in order to get their jobs done more efficiently:

    One - Collections agent develops software program to automate 95% of his job, uses his free time to play cube wars with his colleagues and watch Office Space

    Two - Software developer outsources his work to a Chinese firm for a fraction of his salary, spends most of his 'workday' surfing Reddit and watching cat videos.

    Pretty amusing stories, and they justifiably made the rounds across the tech news sites when they hit. Everyone, particularly occasionally too smart for their own good techies, love a good Dilbert-esque story of managerial incompetence, developer/employee creativity, and the absurdity of corporate life.

    But dig just a tiny bit deeper than that and what do we see in these examples? What's the common denominator across these tales?

    Well to me, they are almost completely classic examples of management (or leadership if you think that reads better), lack of attention to, respect for, and appreciation of the talents, ideas, and abilities inherent in their teams.

    In the case of the collections agent, it was obvious that even a cursory attempt to streamline and automate the existing work process would result in both cost savings and increased collection rates. And in the case of the software development outsourcing, again, clearly it was a business strategy that resulted in equal or better product quality and significantly reduced costs.

    Both these novel and creative approaches were so apparent and easy to uncover for these two workers on the front lines that they were able to implement them on their own, without the need of a big project team, some kind of formal process or model, without a fancy consultant coming up with the idea, and perhaps most importantly - unencumbered by corporate hierarchy, politics, and 'We have always done it this way' syndrome.

    The ideas your organization needs are not locked up in some guru's head or just floating somewhere in space. They are probably right in front of you - in the workarounds, shortcuts, and 'unauthorized' arrangements that your most creative workers have already taken. 

    You'd be better off trying to get these ideas more out in the open, rather than continuing to perpetuate an environment where great ideas have to hide.