The Most Creative Game

Or, Why Studying Math Is The Best Thing You Can Do

In the hallway the Academy of Management conference last week I ran into a colleague who mentioned that he’s been following CRTVTY (hurray!). But he was surprised. “You’re a math guy,” he said. “What’s a math guy doing with a blog on creativity?” Well, aside from all of the research linking math to music and art, this brings up an interesting question: can math itself be a creative exercise?  Continue reading

How Not to Make a Catapult

With a soaring twenty-foot throwing arm, a hulking wooden frame, and three hundred pounds of sand hanging pendulously in its belly, our catapult made for an impressive school project. Mike and I had been working for weeks, but despite the machine’s fearsome appearance there was still plenty of work to be done. The latch that released the projectile was in particular giving us no end of trouble, alternately flinging its payload into the ground at our feet or sending us scampering for cover as potatoes and cantaloupes rained down from above. We put in countless afterschool afternoons and no small amount of engineering effort, but in the end were defeated.

Where had we gone wrong?  Continue reading

Making Working From Home Work

On any given day, you’ll likely find me hunched over my laptop at the dining room table or on my laptop at Maxfield’s House of Caffeine. Summers tend to be quiet times on college campuses, and the hour commute to an empty office makes going in a tough proposition. So I spend most of my days working at home, which often leads folks to ask, “how do you stay productive?

Short answer: it isn’t easy. Staying productive is a lot simpler with an office full of like-minded colleagues buzzing away on similar tasks. At the same time, many of the 6 million Americans who work from home on a given day are writers and artists and coders who don’t have that option; they need to stay on top of their creative game without that external help. Doing so turns out to be completely possible, but it takes a bit of strategy and a lot of discipline. Here are some of the things I’ve found helpful in trying to stay productive (and creative) at home:  Continue reading

Why My Daughter Will Study Computer Science

Let’s say you’ve got a great idea. How do you make something of it?

Chances are, that idea is a few words on a page, or a vague concept with a lot of promise. It needs refining, and clarifying, and improvement. It probably needs some feedback, and it definitely needs money. In short, it needs a lot of work.

The best way to get all of that done is through prototyping. This isn’t a new idea (look for 20.5M+ Google hits), but it’s surprisingly hard to do. Our ideas are precious, and we want to shelter them and improve them until they’re ready to face the harsh light of reality and the cold critiques of our peers. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is exactly the wrong way to go about doing it. Innovators might do well abide to by the slogan “prototype early and often.”

The intuition is that physical prototypes simultaneously reveal the weaknesses and gaps in our thinking while also effectively communicating the idea to others for feedback and extension. Building on that, it’s no surprise that the most effective prototyping is quick and dirty; the drawers at Stanford’s design school are brimming with post-it notes, pipe cleaners, and modeling clay. The emphasis is to convey the idea simply and inexpensively, but not for the reason you might expect. Continue reading

You Should Go Home Early Today

I’ve been told we’re in the middle of “the most important five day weekend of the year”, but for the millions of us that are back at work this morning that won’t ring very true. And for the millions more who, like me, don’t have an office to be in but rather just the omnipresent crush of work to be done, that will sound decidedly unfair. Life is busy. Crazy busy.

Tim Kreider, author of We Learn Nothing, had a great NYTimes Op-Ed on that subject earlier this week. “Busyness,” he wrote, “serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” And these hectic schedules are often self-imposed. We aren’t combat medics or case detectives; we’re students and consultants and coders and volunteers and athletes and a million other things, all voluntarily and often simultaneously. As a result, we’re busy. Crazy busy.

And the funny thing is, we don’t necessarily even want to be, but we see people around us working themselves to the bone so we assume that we should be too. We’re engaged in some sort of sisyphean arms race, keeping busy to stay busy. Who among us wasn’t a little bit jealous when France mandated a 35-hour work week? I find myself enjoying the occasional headcold, just because it forces me to slow down for a day.

And that’s admittedly pretty crazy. The effects of stress on the human body and mental health are well documented, running the gamut from headaches to heart problems to depression. At the same time, stress doesn’t do much for our creative lives either. As I discusssed in an earlier post, creativity takes time, focus, and freedom. We aren’t as creative under pressure, or in hectic, distracting environments. The space and quietness that idleness provide, as Kreider suggests, are a necessary condition for the “wild summer lightening stikes of inspiration.”

As we get busier, we get more done, even though we know that doing so may not make us any happier. I wonder how being so busy affects our ability to create, to creatively explore, and to find beauty in the world. Maybe today would be a good day to take the afternoon off.