Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Are We Getting Better at Thinking?…and Innovating?

For all the talk of the evils of the web in terms of driving us to attention deficit/ dispersal, a few areas I’ve been reading have glued together in my head which may make a case for the opposition:

First, in a fantastic book on writing powerfully for business: We, Me, Them & It,  John Simmons makes a point, ‘For as long as I can remember I’ve used writing to sort out my thinking’

I’ve been toying round with a way of prioritising my time – personally and at work – around 5Cs: Create, Connect and Collaborate, Communicate and Consume. So in that order, I try and allocate any time I have to ensure I’m not just consuming or communicating. Since I restarted writing and refocusing on creativity nearly sixteen months ago, I’ve probably never been happier. I’ve argued to others that it makes my brain feel fresher and more flexible. The act of creation is satisfying, and I feel that I think better as a result of forcing myself to articulate things better – even when I play with words or ‘dump’ thoughts without much structure. I find this unblocks my thinking.

I then thought about WordPress.com’s ‘freshly pressed’ stats today: ‘The best of 233,618 bloggers, 225,512 new posts, 302,519 comments, & 54,364,681 words today on WordPress.com.’ and was just left with the simple thought: surely all this act of creation – even factoring for a high % of dross (mine included) – is a development on nothing. Add in the forums, commenting, reviewing and straight building of sites and content.

Then taking it a step forward, tonight I read an article in the Rotman magazine by Gregory Berns, Chair of Neuroeconomics at Emory University, called ‘Iconoclasts (his definition: people who manage to achieve things others say cannot be done): Great Minds Think Different‘. He identified three roadblocks that exist in the wiring of the brain to stand in the way of truly innovative thinking:

1. Perception to come up with a new idea: ‘even though our brains are fed information at the same rate through our eyes, this is not how we see the world, because the brain is constantly making predictions and interpretations about what it sees. The problem is that these predictions are based largely on past experience: our brains make their best guess as to what they are seeing based on what we have experienced up to that point’. Iconoclasts’ key insights tend to be triggered by visual images that ‘enable them to see things in different ways (to) increase the odds of new insight’

2. Overcoming the human fear response: the fear of failure/ fear of feeling stupid

3. Social skills to persuade others of the strengths of your new idea

I was struck by how the use of the web assists each of the above. See what the following lead you to in terms of interpreting the web as a fomenter of iconoclasm:

1. Berns refers to ‘seeing like an iconoclast is to look at things you have never seen before’….. ‘new acquaintances can often be the source of new perceptions’

2. ‘It was very important for our ancestors to belong to a community, both for the sake of survival and reproduction’.

3. ‘Social skills come into play because our brains were built for social environments’

How writing enhances and promotes thinking and innovation is obviously massive, but from simple seeds of thoughts grow…….

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