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Saturday
Jul042009

Build your own skunk works

Creativity requires having either more information or a different perspective than the rest.

The rest define the status quo. They aren’t looking for improvements really. So your new idea must be really novel to catch their attention. That’s another problem- the wow factor needed. Maybe a less showy solution would work better?

To be creative you need to build your information base and be able, if possible, to be able to come at problems from a skew whiff perspective. Richard Feynman solved the space shuttle disaster problem by looking at it from one of his favourite slants: the naïve observer. Because he had a nobel prize he could carry this off, just as Einstein could. For those who have to ‘prove themselves’ we run the risk of being called an idiot.

Those with the qualifications get through the door. They have the same perspective and they are unlikely to come up with something new, or, better, really useful. The ‘idiots’ some of whom are actually idiotic- just to make things more confusing- hang around waiting for their emails to not be replied to.

The skunk works is a famous research facility used by Lockheed. Situated on an old sewage works site- hence the name- it was far removed from the admin part of the company- and its crazy inventor staff answered only to their boss and not the bean counters. The key to their amazing output was effective isolation from people with trivial (ie. day to day business) concerns and a huge collective information base undiluted by being spread all over the place with ‘executives’ administering you.

But mostly corporations are manned by people anxious to further their own career. Such thinking is not good training for thinking up really new and useful stuff. So you need to have your own internalized ‘skunk works’- a way of being invulnerable to the crappy mundane suggestions of executives. Or the crappy mundane executive within you.

It’s very hard if you are normal, and not austistic or greatly egocentric, to isolate yourself from the desires of others.

The skunkworks in your head must be isolated by being stocked by different information.

If you read and watch what everyone else reads and watches your ideas won’t be yours- they’ll be the same as everyone else, and someone with the ear of the president will get there first. Plus, as what gets made and done is fairly crap your ideas will be crappy too.

So stock your brain with stuff that others don’t have.

Second- get at least three different perspectives. These have to be real, not simulated or imagined. To get a new perspective you have to spend time with people whose concerns are NOT yours. That means elderly people if you are young, children if you are old, indigenous peoples if you live in a city, farmers if you hate the country, millionaires if you are poor. And so on. You need to ‘catch’ their different perspective for a while. It has a strange effect- especially on the bus journey home when you may have your best ideas. If you don’t ride in buses get someone to drive you in your car. Driving alone isn’t as fruitful I find. Likewise- walking beats bicycle riding.

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