Is it true? Do the most creative people generate ideas straight out of their heads without any outside help? That's what most people would tell you. But the reality is that the best innovators boost their creative output with the help of structured tools like patterns and even technology.
David Pogue wrote a brilliant article in Scientific American titled, "Should Artists Reveal How Much They Let Technology Make Creative Choices?" He cites numerous examples of how artists and entertainers use various types of aides to create their masterpieces. From the article:
Apple's GarageBand program for Mac computers lets you create fully orchestrated “compositions” just by dragging tiles into a grid. Everything sounds great, whether or not you know anything about rhythm, pitch or harmony. At the time of GarageBand's introduction, its product manager told me that even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing. It could inspire a novice to learn music, maybe take up an instrument.
Agreed. But how can we gauge artists' talent without knowing how much of the work was theirs? Should it affect how much we pay for their output? And what about when commercial musicians use GarageBand to produce their tracks—as Oasis and many indie bands have done?
Everyone knows that technology assists almost every creative endeavor these days, from the moment a four-year-old drips paint onto a turntable to make spin art. We also are aware that Hollywood uses computers for its special effects and that most pop songs are Auto-Tuned and pitch-corrected. But in those cases, the audience is in on the fact that machinery has helped out.
It's not the same thing when technology's assistance is concealed from us and is credited to the human. That's why lip-synching at live concerts is still controversial and why athletes are disqualified for secretly using drugs or other performance enhancements. Disclosing when our creative works have come from canned parts isn't just important for intellectual honesty; it would also make a better barometer for the rising tide of robots entering creative fields. (If you hadn't heard, robots are now capable of composing chorales and painting portraits.)
These days even professional musicians, artists and performers can substitute an on/off switch for human talent. Shouldn't the public know which is which?”
David's point about whether the public should know is well-taken. But in the grand scheme things, what matters most is how humans can elevate their creative output. Extensive research has shown structured approaches do more to boost creative output than to limit it. For thousands of years, inventors have embedded five simple patterns into their inventions, usually without knowing it. These patterns are the "DNA" of products that can be extracted and applied to any product or service to create new-to-the-world innovations. Using these patterns is no different than using a human-engineered technology. The technology has within it the wisdom of its creator that is then transferred to others to boost their creativity.
Humans have evolved to create. Stepping on the shoulders of others, be it through a technology or a pattern, is our next evolutionary path.
So where do great ideas come from? The answer might surprise you. Let’s look at the most successful rock band in history, The Beatles. In a biography of Paul McCartney he shared his secret: “As usual for these co-written things, John often had just the first verse which was always enough. It was the direction it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word, but it was the template”
Paul and John used a formula early in their careers to create many blockbuster songs. They’re not the only ones. Many artists, authors, songwriters, and composers also use templates of some form.
Agatha Christie, for example, wrote over 60 novels and has sold more books than anyone. She did it by using a very familiar template in each of her books. That template helped structure her thinking in a way that made her more creative. Interestingly, most creative people don't want you to know they use templates. It seems to take away from their creative genius, when in fact templates make them more creative.
Highly creative people aren't the only ones that use patterns. Innovators for thousands of years have used patterns into their inventions usually without realizing it. Those patterns are now embedded into the products and services you see around you. Think of them almost as the DNA of a product or service. Imagine if there was a way for you to extract that DNA and reapply it to the products and services that are important to you. This is the essence of a method called Systematic Inventive Thinking. We call it SIT for short.
With SIT, innovation follows a set of patterns that can be reapplied to any product, service, or process. What these patterns do is channel your ideation process. They regulate your thinking so that you can innovate in a systematic way on demand. Let’s learn more about these patterns.
Surprisingly, the majority of innovative products and services can be explained by just five patterns.
First is subtraction: this is the elimination of a core component - something that seemed essential at first.
Next is task unification: where a component of a product has been assigned an additional job. One that it wasn’t designed to do.
Then there is multiplication: many innovative products have taken a component and copied it, but change the component in some counterintuitive way.
Then we have division: where you take a component, or the product itself and divide it along some physical or functional line and then rearrange it back into the product.
And finally attribute dependency: this is where a product has a correlation between two attributes of the product and its environment. As one thing changes, another thing changes.
These five patterns are a crucial foundation to driving innovation in your business. Learn how to use these patterns to help you invent new products, services, and processes here: Business Innovation at Lynda.com.