Here's another posting derived from my ever growing list of items to blog about. This one springs from an article I read in the IEEE Spectrum back in Jan 2007.
Did I mention I’m behind in my postings and the list is growing? However on the plus side I like this delay because it acts as a check on just how relevant and useful things are. If it stands the test of time, it gets posted, and this one passed the test with flying colors.
The title of this posting “Great Thoughts” is the same as the article by Robert W. Lucky (IEEE Fellow), now retired. In it, he wrote:
“There is a theory of creativity that holds that creativity is most often the product of the unexpected intersection of two previously unconnected thoughts. If you are thinking very hard about one such thought, perhaps you are suppressing the other thoughts that could connect with it. On the other hand, if your mind is a perfect blank…”
This is an interesting conundrum: not focusing too much on one thing yet not shutting out all thought, something that my ADD riddled brain can't even comprehend!
But for me, the takeaway here has more to do with the question of what constitutes “new” these days? What makes something original? What constitutes plagiarism or copying? What is at the heart of innovation and creativity in the world today?
In this era where more and more things are mashups, a new assembly of previously existing things, is there any such thing as an original idea, song, drawing, text, etc.? The answer is more "yes" than "no", I think, but it is worth noting that most of the time what is new and what makes something unique is not the bits and pieces that it is made from, but the selection of certain items and the way they are assembled into a new whole. And most often, the value of this new assembly is much greater than the sum of the parts.
This concept is nothing new really. Think of some fundamental examples such as text, where we have almost all existing words available in the dictionary (although the list is growing and evolving all the time), yet from this finite set of letters and words we can create an infinite number of written documents (e.g. articles, books, poems, and scripts). Or music where we have another finite set of notes and chords that enable us to create an infinite number of new songs, melodies, and even ring tones!
This combining of existing things to create new things, the heart of the Snowflake Effect is what makes it a scalable model. Not that we won’t also be creating new bits and pieces along the way, such as the new words which are added to dictionaries every year, but for the most part I think most of what is new and valuable, most of the innovation and creativity we are and will be seeing, comes from the serendipitous intersection of two or more previously existing things, be they thoughts, ideas, notes of music, letters and words, lines, arcs or circles.
So here’s to celebrating and fostering the creativity in all of us by focusing on being the unique snowflakes we all are and designing more and more new original ideas and “stuff” from what we already have around us.