How the web is killing creativity…by suggesting it is easy

2nd July 2012

The web has had a massive positive impact on our capacity to collaborate and produce. The web allows us to communicate quickly and efficiently with others – ideas can be crowd sourced across communities and then brought to market quickly and efficiently with the aid of cloud computing.

We have quick access to almost any information we may (or may not) want and the keys to the door of a virtual library, chock full of fabulous already invented ideas. All this is available with the press of a computer key, or a quick ‘copy and paste’.

Additionally, this ‘super fast’ access to information means that we are less keen on the ‘hard slog’ of trying to remember for ourselves or ‘working things out’ – we are just ‘googling it’. The launch of Google Now takes this concept of reliance to the next level. This from the Huffington Post yesterday:

Google took a step toward enabling us to outsource our brains with a new feature that taps into our personal data to automatically offer advice on what we should do or know next. The couch potato is here, so just lean back and let Google take things from here.

An associated problem, with regards to information supply and idea outsourcing, is that search engine’s filter the information that they provide to us, based on our previous web behaviour. So for example, when I type ‘The Wall’ into Google, I get Brand Republic’s Social Media Blog and not the album by Pink Floyd. This is because I very often search for the former but not for the latter (although it is a very good album). If we are always being fed the same old stuff, this will result in a paucity of new information , which is the life blood of innovation. Bianca De Sousa, from Collective London, summarised this worrying concept in her excellent article here.

Not only are we outsourcing our memories, we are also outsourcing, or losing, our individual creative capabilities. Because information supply, and connection to other people is so fast and easy, we are becoming used to relying on technology, and others, to think for us. We are losing the capability to ‘think on our own two feet’ .

This quick and easy approach to ideas, is of course a mirage. Having a great idea is rarely easy. It takes time, hassle and no small amount of stress. If an idea comes to you too quickly, it won’t be the best solution to your problem.

Listed below are some examples of creative thinkers who all extol the virtues of time, space and damn hard work to be a successful innovator:

  • Salvador Dali found the space between waking and sleeping to be his most creative place. To access this, he would attempt to sleep sitting upright, with his chin on his fist. Once he slipped into slumber, he would lose balance and wake-up – thus being able to easily recall his thoughts or dreams.
  • John Cleese, in his famous 1991 lecture on Creativity, opined that ‘ Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operation’ . He spoke about the importance of taking time to solve problems and relishing the frustration of the creative process . He pointed out that the most creative people are those able to bear this creative frustration and discomfort, for longer than other people. He defined the ‘magic idea’ ingredients – as Space,Time,Time,Confidence and Humour.
  • James Dyson, the acclaimed British inventor, went through 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get his vacuum cleaner right. Between the first product in 1993 and the present day, there have been 35 iterations – all seeking to improve on the original, very good idea.- Ira Glass the creator of This American Life, tells a similar story of how time and frustration play their part in the creative process, in this fabulous kinetic typography video –

Importantly, when we talk about about providing the time and space for creativity , it does not have to be extended periods of time. It could be a walk in the park, a trip to an art gallery or simply mulling an idea overnight.

Digital channels can help with two of the three stages of the creative process. In the first stage, the web can act as a source for information and inspiration – which ensures that the innovation process moves forward with impetus and in the right direction. With the last stage, the interactive and social nature of the web can be used to assess, revise and improve on ideas generated. But the key central stage – that of idea creation itself, must be done away from the digital dazzle and interruptions of the internet. Here the creative individual or individuals must be allowed sufficient time and space to deliver that killer idea.

Nick Hammond is founder at The Digital Filter.

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