Electronic Engineering, Real time programming

Innovation and Inspiration ... an opinion

Creativity is (arguably) the most important element in new design work. Given the amount of creative input, it is probably of most importance in new software design work. Exploring the possible solutions is really the only way to be satisfied that you have the best solution - and a creative mind can map through the possible solutions to a problem more quickly.

Creativity needs a peaceful head. All the facts get poured in, then when the head is full :-) they can start sloshing around and getting connected in new ways. Therefore it follows:

  • Creativity demands a fair bit of focus - most people focus only if not distracted or interrupted
  • Creative work on one project precludes intensive creative work on another project (No room in head :-))
  • A reasonable amount of time is needed to gather information before the ideas can start percolating
  • Get the facts right to start with - if the specification is wrong, you are wasting the creative time

Each person is different, ofcourse, but if you look for the signs you might find some of the following statements apply.

This is just one person's opinion, but the two greatest hurdles to fostering excellent creativity in employees are: lack of a suitable environment, and: restrictions on time spent gathering information.

At Group L, Stoffel oversees six first-rate programmers,
a managerial challenge roughly comparable to herding cats.
-- The Washington Post Magazine, June 9, 1985

For five seconds you're a genius, the rest of your life a bum. Write it down. -- Lawrence Miller

People really do have inspirational moments. It is a bit of discipline to "think on paper", but it reduces the reliance on short term memory which seems to fade somewhat after perhaps 25 minutes. Having a record on paper also gets over the attention wandering hurdle which can happen every so often - there is something written to go back and refocus on.

Finding a Creative solution in a particular field requires a lot of "input" - usually reading material associated with that field. The introduction of new ideas is an ongoing process, ofcourse, and if it stops for too long the person can get a bit stale. Sometimes small companies hire someone who is excellently creative, but expect them to work, not read... unless the designer keeps up the "input" in their own time, they can start to lose their edge.

The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it! (It's rather like getting tenure.) -- Daniel Dennett, _Consciousness Explained_, p. 177 :-)

Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it. --Robert Heinlein

Again, each person is different, but some people respond very well to a worthwhile challenge that they have set themselves. Challenging someone else to achieve probably won't work - but if the challenge exists for other reasons, and someone takes it on of their own accord, that produces results.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. -- Matthew 7:6 KJV

A person should use their good judgement when revealing their ideas (in metaphor, "your pearls") to others. Some types delight in nipping creative ideas in the bud, while others will build on suggestions. Part of this, also is about choosing a time to present the ideas.

Bring in ideas and entertain them royally, for one of them may be king. -- Mark Van Doren

Creatively discussing ideas for a project is worthwhile enough to be given its own time. While considering the ideas will probably take several days (and it is very hard to get everyone started on the "creative process" in sync) discussing the ideas deserves more than just time over a cup of coffee. A "brain-storming" meeting is good, but it shouldn't be combined with the weekly progress report meeting.

It seems that the creative faculty and the critical faculty cannot exist together in their highest perfection. -- Thomas Macaulay

When "brain-storming" it is really important to switch off the critical faculties somewhat. New ideas shouldn't be shot down in flames. The people present at the meeting should also understand why this is so - People are letting the new ideas have free reign for a minute not because they are too polite to point out the glaring reason why the technique will fail, but because they have to be less critical to eventually let through the good new idea that really will work.

New ideas need to get a fair hearing, even if there is a glaring reason why a technique will fail, perhaps new technology has a way round the glaring reason - it needs to be examined.

Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further development. -- Julies Sextus Frontinus

Everything probably has been "invented". Everything seems to be patented atleast! The truth is we will probably be finding new ideas for a long time. In any case the important thing is to find solutions to problems, and not get tied up in invention and creativity for its own sake.

The KISS principle: - Keep It Simple, Stupid -

Reducing algorithms to principles, or a simple method with complex parameters, is usually a powerful way to solve a problem, especially useful in the computing and electronics industry where everything seems to gain tremendous complexity between initial idea and final implementation.

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