Bang on a Can, My Box is Full of Holes


Great Ted Talk by Tim Harford on how messy problems can inspire creativity. He draws from cognitive psychology, complexity science, social psychology, and rock ‘n’ roll.

When things are a little harder, more random, or more unpredictable, we slow down and come up with different answers. Because we don’t like things to be hard or random or unpredictable, we minimize the instances these situation occur in our daily lives. Unfortunately, we also minimize these situations in our creative and professional lives as well – to our own peril!

Harford warns of the dangers of small incremental change toward perfection as a slow and steady march to death. Death of an idea, loss of passion, a wearing down of the creative process. Instead, he nods to Brian Eno, an inventive creator and muse to many. Eno and a friend came up with a process to prompt creativity that is disruptive and disconcerting – but it works.

Aptly called Oblique Strategies, Eno has made a deck of cards from which he draws at random a directive –

“Look closely at the most embarrassing details. Amplify them.”

“Make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable action. Incorporate.”

It’s not enough to start with a good idea and execute it really well. The creative process lasts the entire time we are engaging in a work of art including long after it is finished. If our goal is to be informed by the work, we need to let the process lead.


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