Platforms and Liquid Networks

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According to Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come from, there are two key dynamics that drive innovation: platforms and liquid networks. Johnson suggests that the myth of the ingenious scientist working alone in his lab peering into a microscope that experiences a revolutionary ‘aha’ moment is less likely to happen in real life. Also, the image of a creative spark like a light bulb that flashes inside or above someone’s head is also not representative of a new idea coming to fruition. The anatomy of an idea, from its inception, looks more like a network that branches out from new neural connections. Johnson further argues that these new groundbreaking idea networks are more likely to be conceived and formed within dense, collaborative environments.

“The popular image of creativity is of the lone genius swimming heroically against an oppressive tide of convention pursuing ideas that no one has had before. There are numerous examples of iconic figures who have made groundbreaking contributions in their own areas of work. But the image of the lone genius can be misleading. Original ideas may emanate from the creative inspiration of individual minds, but they do not emerge in a cultural vacuum,” says Sir Ken Robinson. He further states that, “Individual creativity is almost always stimulated by the work, ideas and achievements of other people.”

David Kord Murray explores the notion of copying ideas, combining them with other ideas, and creating new ideas from them. He illustrates this dynamic at length in his book, Borrowing BrillianceHis book, as well as Johnson’s book, and the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, Harmut Esslinger, Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and many others, have obviously influenced the ideas in my book. The new ideas that were conceived through this process are my converged and refined innovations, concepts such as creativity in the cloud (the innovation platform), metacognition (innovation psychology), personal innovation, brandcognition (the art of differentiation), and my exploration of personal mythology to strengthen the imagination and reach new creative potentialities. Sir Ken Robinson would also posit that the creative unconscious is often the platform in which new ideas are born.

“Being creative is not a purely intellectual process. It may draw on all areas of human consciousness: on feelings, intuitions and being playfully imaginative, as well as on knowledge and practical skills. Creativity often taps into areas of consciousness that are not regulated by conscious thought. Our best ideas sometimes come to mind without our    thinking consciously about them at all. If we can’t work something out, it is often better to sleep on a problem or put it to the ‘back of our minds’ where our subconscious mulls it      over in ways that we can’t control and may deliver a solution to us unbidden.”

Innovation occurs on many levels. From a physiological level, an individual’s brain activates and connects to new networks through synaptic activity and distinct neural formations. As this happens a parallel process takes place on a psychological level. This is where creative transformation occurs. An individual’s stream of consciousness functions as a liquid network that creates new ideas. On an external and collective level new ideas are formed through vast networks of networks that connect with one another. Seeing the anatomy of an idea in this regard intrigued me—because it illustrated the connections and collisions of synapses and neurotransmitters parallel to conscious and unconscious creative processes. Perhaps this was what led to the inception of this book.

I wanted to explore this process on a microscopic or even atomic level and also how it functions on a macroscopic, collective, and universal level—including how this dynamic functions on a metropolitan scale and across multiple digital and traditional platforms. I also wanted to further explore Steven Johnson’s studies in regards to fostering innovation and how it might function on parallel planes—the personal, psychological, and collective levels of online and cloud-based connectivity. How do these connections and neural networks operate on a biochemical level? What happens when you extend these networks from biochemical reactions in the brain to bytes and packets being transferred through broadband pathways of distribution? How does this play out through interactivity on a massive scale on digital platforms within social networks in which others can participate in and contribute to the conversation? How does this dynamic get enhanced in a highly collaborative setting in which diverse individuals exchange ideas, share their opinions, or rally around a cause? My exploration takes Johnson’s ideas and applies them to solving practical business and marketing challenges, or any challenges for that matter—leveraging the creative and design thinking innovation process to drive results and achieve your goals. This is what I call design intelligence.

If you were to use the law of concentration to curate a series of ideas—relevant or non-related, cultivate them in a meaningful and focused way, and transform them into refined and purposeful content, could this drive innovation and create value for a brand? Could you leverage these principles and create your own innovation platform? And what happens when vast networks of this nature start to form new networks? What would this new creative cloud look like? Perhaps you could leverage this power of the wisdom of crowds to drive even more value for your company, listen intently to what your customers want, or create your own movement.

Platforms don’t just help the process. They exponentially amplify it. Innovation is found in these environments of what Johnson calls the adjacent possible. These environments are not just two times more innovative. They are seventeen times more innovative. They recycle and amplify the processes and organization of new species as well as push the limits of possibility.

Jack of Trades: How Cross-Disciplinary Skills Enhance Creativity

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According to Sire Ken Robinson, “Being creative is not only a matter of inspiration. It requires skill, craft in the control of materials and a reciprocating process of critical evaluation.” I was always more of a jack of all trades. Most jacks have talent but lack focus. In retrospect it might have been my bliss keeping me at the periphery of my vocation. It still baffles me to this day: how did the choices I make throughout my career lead me down this path and how I was able to leverage all of my experience into something meaningful and focused? The truth is that I wasn’t, until I started finding focus by writing this book. But I wanted to know how. That certainly is the idea that I’ve proposed to explore. I’m still not sure I have complete focus. But I have a vision. Perhaps the dark side of having a visionary mind is self-doubt. I was good at many things but I was always afraid of failure. I yearned to be a master of various domains but I could never complete anything great. The advice I was given was to plod along until I figured something out as if my vocation would emerge from the depths of my psyche. Sounds poetic but I don’t know if that’s how it happened. Or was it? Did my vocation find me? Regardless I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew that I wanted to be great and to evolve my creativity.

Like many people I went through the motions of going to college even though had no idea what I wanted to major in. What I did know was that I wanted to do something unique. But like everyone else I was also pressured to learn a practical skill set—something that I could actually use after school to get a decent job. I didn’t want to major in business because it didn’t interest me enough at the time. I was interested in girls and partying but there weren’t any courses on that so I majored in something that was somewhat creative, somewhat practical, and just downright easy—Communication. This allowed me to learn about media, journalism, and the way people collaborate with one another. I learned about countless theories of mass-communication, interpersonal communication, and sociology. It all pointed to the same concept no matter how much I intellectualized it. Subject A, the sender, delivers a message to Subject B, the receiver. Apparently there were about a thousand ways to say this and we had to know every single theory to pass our tests. Social networking didn’t exist so I was forced to make practical connections to these lofty theories.

Around this time I became interested in personal development. I began to read Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Napoleon Hill, among many others. I started to make it a priority to know myself. I was always a soul-searcher—interested in expanding my mind through philosophy, psychology, and exploring the meaning of consciousness. I was also very interested in the idea of destiny. This is why I have always been so fascinated with mythology and superheroes.

It was also important for me to work in an environment in which I could develop my writing skills. The university environment was of course ideal for this. I enjoyed writing papers because I appreciated the process of critical and analytical thinking. Putting words to paper in meaningful ways made me feel smart. I remember writing term papers for my roommate in freshman year just because I wanted to prove to that I had the skill set to think in creative and analytical ways and perhaps to be a pseudo intellectual. By putting myself in a growth-mindset I naturally started to get more interested in the courses that were offered. I didn’t think that I was meant to do something meaningful with my life. I just enjoyed exploring meaning. I was always more of a tortured and conflicted soul, always pondering the purpose of my existence and beating myself up about mistakes or bad decisions I made. Little did I know there was tremendous value in this—value that could be created from a universal need to understand the world. In a sense a brand’s value can be enhanced by understanding universal similarities between all people. I did not know this at the time but it was the connections we created between ourselves and others and the values that we share with one another no matter what technology platform or smart-device we utilize that drives value for any brand.

I was always creative but I never found the right medium to express my creativity. Writing was a fine medium, but I didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness to even finish a short story. I did write a thirty page autobiography in a mentorship course that showed some promise according to my professor. “You have a unique writing style—extremely visceral and engaging,” he wrote.

I received my B.A. in Communication and eventually my M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco. Good school. At the time I didn’t know why I was enticed toward writing but I followed my bliss and my education ended up being the foundation of my innovation platform. It was probably one of the more challenging phases in my life. This is because I was working full-time for an international broadcast media company called ABS-CBN International as an Account Executive selling advertising and integrated marketing promotions. It’s ironic that I was selling television campaigns when my passion was always in creative production. This is where I learned about the media and advertising business while I took evening courses, reading voraciously while working on my thesis. I was just trying to find my way in a highly competitive industry. Perhaps there was a reason why my vocation remained in my periphery. At that time I didn’t know what that even meant.

My master’s thesis was a postmodern novel about spiritual, personal, and metaphysical transformation told in the style of a grand epic mythology and modern allegory but set in the present day underworld of Los Angeles, California. I was honing my creative writing skills everyday—not only by going through the rigors of writing five to ten pages a day but also by reading other student’s work as well as countless masterpieces written by literary geniuses. This fueled my creative passions and the experience of writing this novel was a profound exploration of the depths of the unconscious and the realization of one’s destiny. It was one of those cases in which I lived through the narrator I was writing about. I was able to explore my own spirituality through my protagonist’s trials and tribulations.

During this time I became aware of my creative rhythm—when I was most productive, when I would hit creative walls, and when I was deeply in the zone. I also made an important discovery, that by studying mythology and depth psychology, I was learning how to tap into my unconscious, learning how to dialogue with the work that inspired me and leveraging that which inspired me to strengthen my ability to produce work with more depth and authenticity. The more I understood that myths were symbols of transformation, meaningful archetypes, and images from deep within our unconscious minds, my creative imagination was enhanced and I was clearly inspired to create remarkable work.

I also learned how important it was to workshop and collaborate with other creative artists and to develop a respectful culture of innovation through these workshops in which we would critique each other’s work. People who don’t write books don’t understand how brutal the process of ruthless iteration and revision can be. This process is just as arduous as it is fulfilling. Workshops are an extremely important setting to break through and overcome creative challenges and I conduct them to this day and recommend it to any organization as a format to innovate their brand and business processes. In these workshops it was extremely important to point out what was working with each creative piece that was shared in the group. I absolutely hate it when I ask for feedback for a creative project and all I get back is corrections and questions about things that don’t seem to be working. When you create a workshop environment it is critical to provide each person with feedback about what is working—which is sometimes far more important than telling them what is not. I got my MFA in Writing from USF, but it was really more like a Masters in Creativity. I kept wanting to explore this essence of innovation–how creative materials manifest from the unconscious. I wanted to dig deeper into the imagination.

I’d been working on the book in small stints since about 2007. But it really started to kick into gear in December of 2010, when I decided to focus my efforts on building a platform with a collection of all of my ideas, all of my favorite quotes and musings, and pretty much all of my insights about creativity through the years. The experiment was to see if an overarching idea would manifest through the process of curating hundreds of great ideas about design, the creative process, and the psychology of branding and innovation. This was a slow hunch that had been simmering in me as far back as in college, when I first read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

There was something about this archetype of how ideas travel from the unconscious, into the imagination, and get expressed onto the world. Strip away the form, and you still have its essence. This process is metaphysical in nature, and it fascinated me–how ideas jump from physical to psychological to digital planes, and beyond. I needed to understand this invisible essence, how the process works, and how it shapes business, industries, the world, and ourselves. Mindshare evolved from brand awareness–which is merely the result of four other essential elements: creative commerce, collective intelligence, consciousness, and optimal experience.

Design Integration

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According to Walter Isaacson, in his biography about Steve Jobs, “Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system.” The products that Steve Jobs created transformed the world, but those products were an extension of him. There’s a great passage in Isaacson’s book about Steve Jobs’ inception. It was a transformative realization that clearly illustrated his genius and affinity toward aligned and seamlessly integrated products:

One summer Paul took Steve to Wisconsin to visit the family’s dairy farm. Rural life did not appeal to Steve, but one image stuck with him. He saw a calf being born, and he was amazed when the tiny animal struggled up within minutes and began to walk. “It was not something she had learned, but it was instead hardwired into her,” he recalled. “A human baby couldn’t do that. I found it remarkable, even though no one else did.” He put it in hardware-software terms: “It was as if something in the animal’s body and in its brain had been engineered to work together instantly rather than being learned.

I found this passage fascinating because it explored the way he perceived that moment in the way only a visionary would. This shaped Jobs’s philosophy on integration and convergence. Brilliance comes from alignment between your internal and external worlds. Actors are great examples of this. They radiate with charisma and an ability to innovate themselves throughout their careers. Writers are pure innovators too, but they are not as charismatic. Charisma comes from being attractive and having a magnetic personality. But the art comes from withinDesig

Social Innovation: How Play Enhances Creativity

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According to Peter Sims, “Creating an atmosphere that allows for playfulness and improvisation is one of the most effective ways to inspire the experimentation that leads to the best ideas and insights.” In Little Bets, Sims illustrates how some compelling research has revealed the neurological basis for how improvisation can unleash creativity. I encourage play in all forms as a way to develop creativity—through games, music, dancing, painting, writing, or just about anything that taps into your imagination. But I’d like to explore how being in social environments can create a platform in which you can learn how to be more engaging and more remarkable.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.” When I get stuck in a rut, I was always a firm believer in ‘uncorking’ every now and then. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy—as long as you don’t go overboard. My friends used to think of me as the prototypical partyboy. They still probably think of me as that guy. There’s a reason for this of course—it’s because I was always the one that was throwing the party. In college, I was the President of my fraternity, Omega Phi Alpha. I’ve just always been a social person.

Now, when my wife and I go out anywhere in San Francisco, we get special treatment. My wife loves music and loves to dance and to be around our friends. We get invited to the hottest parties in the city, we never have to wait in line, and we often don’t have to pay for drinks. Being VIP has its perks, no matter what anyone says or how pretentious it seems to be. Everyone wants to get special treatment. Did this happen immediately? Of course not. I’ve spent a lot of time going to San Francisco nightclubs, waiting in line, and paying cover charges. My wife, not so much—because beautiful women always get special treatment. But this allowed me to gain some important insight into how social circles function.

In Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, he discusses early adopters at length. He also calls them ‘sneezers’—those who are more likely to spread your ideas and adopt innovative new platforms. You want people to adopt your ideas so you have to pull them behind the velvet rope. You have to provide them with information that you just won’t give everyone else. You have to treat them well for following you and being a part of your concentric circle. Pulling your audience behind the velvet rope early on is the key to building your brand and your audience cloud.

My wife really enjoys the club scene and listening to energetic house music. We enjoy drinks and dancing more than a lot of people. I would argue that partying is good for creative innovation to an extent. This is because dancing and socializing is improvisational—and there is an element of creativity involved in moving to music and having engaging conversations. There have been many occasions in which I’ve gotten too caught up in my work, so much that I would hit a slew of creative obstacles and I couldn’t plow through them no matter how much I wrote or read.

These are times in which you must be cognizant of your creative energies. You must establish your own creative rhythm and force yourself to take breaks. In Todd Henry’s book, The Accidental Creative, he makes an interesting connection between the ‘negative space’ in art, design, and music—meaning that the negative space is just as important as the space we fill with content. Negative space in music is important because it establishes rhythm. Negative space in art establishes tone and dimension.

Negative space in writing scenes establishes narrative tone and pacing. Pay attention to these creative spaces. I’m not saying that partying provides empty space although it can be empty if used simply for the sake of indulgence. But use this space to maximize its full effect on your creative repertoire. There’s a way to catalyze innovation no matter where you are. So use it as an incubation period of discovery. In social situations I’ve learned to put on various lenses and wear different hats. There is a strong element of creativity that occurs not just when you are at a party but when you are out and about your day among other people. A social scene heightens this experience and it’s interesting to observe how people behave. This is because you have a level of freedom and restriction pulling at you simultaneously. You feel like you should be talking to people but sometimes you just want to sit in a corner and drink your beverage. Or maybe you are the life of the party and need to be under the spotlight as often as possible. Either way, I look at social situations as great platforms to exercise your creativity and innovation.

The next time you’re in a creative rut—I dare you to go out, alone if you have to. Or perhaps even during the day. You can go to pretty much any public space—a shopping mall, a bookstore, a restaurant, a coffee shop. Simply start a conversation with someone. Ask a question. Ask someone what their opinion is about a pressing matter you have in your head. You will be surprised at how willing people will be to talk to you. This is because we are social beings and people have a natural inclination to converse. But I would challenge you to engage them. Be interesting. Don’t just ask them what time it is. Start a conversation that may lead you to understand something deeper about that person.

Neil Strauss, a world-famous pick up artist and the author of The Game, explored social engagement by immersing himself in an underground community of pick up artists. Among them was a master pick up artist but the name of Erik Von Markovic—better known in the community asMystery. Mystery developed a whole ideology of seduction which he calls The Mystery Method.Strauss’s book explores the process of attraction at length and demystifies various social myths and tactics to attract women, such as complimenting a beautiful woman to start a conversation, buying them drinks, or revealing your intentions on the outset. Mystery teaches Strauss that attraction is not a choice but a series of phases in which you have control over any social situation. Some of these tactics include:

  • The opener—simply starting a conversation by asking a woman or a group of women their opinion on a certain subject
  • Demonstrating higher value through the stories you tell
  • Building attraction through playful banter and poking fun at your target
  • Providing provocative observations about your target through certain techniques to read and analyze behavior, attire, or other characteristics

I mention these tactics because they are interesting and effective principles that you can apply in any social situation and not just for seduction. The underlying principles here are that in order for people to be interested in you, you simply have to be interesting. You have to be remarkable. By engaging people in unique ways and starting conversations that are fun, thought-provoking, and exceptionally unique, you provide yourself with a wealth of content to build your brand platform. You learn how to be engaging and how to be remarkable.

When I go out, sometimes I wear the ‘charmer’ hat—the social entrepreneur—the guy that works the room and makes everyone feel at home in a public venue. I do this because it’s fun and I am naturally interested in other people. The key element here is authenticity. The Game teaches you tactics and strategies, but it all comes down to being an authentic individual, even though many people in the community were not. I am strange however, as other times I get quiet and merely observe people in different surroundings. I’m sure you’ve done this too—been the social ‘voyeur’, the people watcher, the party interloper that catches glimpses of social interactions.

When you put on this hat, pay attention to the way people operate. Watch the way people initiate discussions. Watch people that have a history with one another. Watch people that just met. Watch the games that people play. There are so many interesting and engaging interactions and behaviors that take place in these situations that could catalyze your creativity. Again, I mention these things because it affects your ability to not only be more creative but to be more engaging. Your attitude, your frame of mind, and your knowledge, like everything else—your ability to engage your audience and transform your cloud is the result of the unique combination of ideas and skills you bring to the table. Just keep in mind that there’s a limit to amplifying your creativity in social settings. Don’t party every night and don’t do things that may rub people the wrong way. Social settings, especially settings at night, involve people that have been drinking and alcohol always makes situations even more unpredictable. I would even recommend going out and not drinking at all. If you’re practicing social innovation in the right way, you will have a ton of fun simply talking to people.

Social innovation is about exploring your creativity in conversation and your ability to engage people. Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in the ‘scene’. Throughout my twenties, I was really caught up in the scene. I was going out four nights a week because I was successful at work and thought that I was invincible. Even though it was a lot of fun, it wasn’t entirely productive. Moderation is always the key when it comes to being social. It’s always all about balance. My wife and I still go out every now and then, and when I do, I enjoy myself by talking to people and connecting with them on various levels and being authentically interested in who they are. I engage them by picking their brain about creativity. I’m simply curious about everyone’s creative process. Having a genuine interest in other people is the key to success.

Social innovation is not about being an opportunist. It’s about being authentic and providing value to others by having an engaging presence. You need to be more than just comfortable in your own skin. You need to make others comfortable in theirs. Finding ways to innovate in social interactions is extremely important in cultivating your creativity. It comes down to how people value your character. The more value you provide others, the more value you create for yourself. This is good for your psyche, and this will help you innovate your life and be remarkably creative. Creating this magnetic energy field will attract good people and good fortune.

Rethinking Creativity

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Sir Ken Robinson illustrates his own take on creativity and innovation in his book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Originally written in 2001, the book has been completely revised to explore creativity with more depth, breadth, and relevance to this critical period in our time. He discusses how creativity and innovation function in work and practice, which he elaborates as three separate ideas:

“They are imagination, which is the process of bringing to mind things that are not present to our senses; creativity, which is the process of developing original ideas that have value, andinnovation, which is the process of putting ideas into practice.”

This fundamental approach provides a good framework to explore creativity and innovation. I will continue to explore these themes within this context, as creativity and innovation seem to overlap quite a bit in various ways. One can pontificate for days on the ‘value’ of various innovations, or the ‘originality’ of a creative idea, or how a particular innovation is actually put to good use. Robinson’s take on segmenting imagination from creativity and innovation also speaks to a key distinction between internal processes of the mind and the external ‘work’ that takes place when an idea comes to fruition. You can imagine a purple elephant wearing a tutu and swing dancing—it’s another question altogether how to execute this idea even though there are countless ways you can do it. Creativity is often associated with radical free-flowing ideation sessions that are unfocused and unrestrained. There is certainly value in liberal creativity but for the purposes of business you must employ not only a wide variety of these creative exercises to achieve goals but you must execute through succinct action-orientated strategies.

Creativity takes place on multiple levels, internally and externally, and can be amplified by creating new networks of ideas. Companies and organizations can manifest this by creating a unique culture of collaborative innovation, awareness, and instilling a succinct and structured creative innovation strategy. By enhancing your creativity on a personal level, you not only grow more intelligent but you also become more innovative. You learn to improve your performance. You start to come up with more ideas and the quality of those ideas improves as well. You learn to become indispensible—a linchpin, as Seth Godin calls it.

For instance, my book started out as a commonplace notebook—a fragmented matrix of ideas that piqued my interest and allowed me to explore creativity. I was interested in all aspects of communication, business, psychology, art, entertainment, music, films, literature, mythology, and innovation. It was just a platform that helped me understand my own creative process while improving my creative skills and evolving my career as a producer, marketer, business executive, leader, and writer.  I continue to be fascinated by the creative process in all forms. It led me to get my M.F.A in Writing and to pursue a career in advertising and media. At first all of my notes were so fragmented. Notebook after notebook of aimless rambling. Perhaps it was a slow hunch that became a slow burn in my head. I went deeper, immersing myself in every aspect of creativity, leadership, and personal development.

But then a real challenge presented itself to me. I wanted to produce something that leveraged all of my work experience, concentrated all of my interests, and explored all of the things that fascinated me in life. I was always a philosopher so the question of my purpose and existence in this world was always on my mind. Why not explore this as well? I wasn’t about to leave anything off the table. If you’re reading these words, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I figured it all out. But I’ve definitely attained some extremely valuable insights. Writing my book has provided me with profound revelations about being more innovative and executing ideas through concise and collaborative strategies.