This summer I have been reading a lot about the design process in preparation for my new fall seminar--Entrepreneurship, Design and Thinking. One criticism of the design process and design thinking that I read critiqued the process because it did not produce "creative" ideas. My immediate reaction was that no process produces creative ideas and many of the notable developers of business processes, such as Michael Porter and Alexander Osterwalder, never discuss the best way to think to utilize their process. Further thought lead me to investigate how one should think to produce original ideas.
To better understand how to think better, I read four books:
- The Science of the Artificial by Herbert Simon
- The Emotion Machine by Marvin Minsky
- Strategic Intuition by William Duggan
- The Art of Design by School of Advanced Military Studies
Simon and Minsky write about thinking from the prospective of their early work in artificial intelligence. Simon is a Nobel Prize winner and Minsky is a legendary professor at MIT who founded their Artificial Intelligence Lab. Duggan's book is the easiest read and outlines a new way to think about strategy. The Art of Design is perhaps the most comprehensive book on thinking creatively and covers subjects like critical thinking in an easily understood way. All of these books are worth reading but if I had to pick one it would be The Art of Design. Go Army!
The common themes in all the books to think better and more creatively include:
- Ask the right question--one cannot solve a problem well until one frames it properly. Remember Einstein's response to how to solve a life threatening problem in an hour, "spend 55 minutes on identifying the correct question and then 5 minutes on the solution".
- Question the key assumptions and "facts". Facts reflect the predjudice of the observer, which raises doubts about how accurate they are.
- Creativity is a process of discovery where previous experiences are put together in new ways.
- The ability to draw on experiences across multiple disciplines frequently produces the new idea. Simon won his Nobel Prize in economics but then investigated artificial intelligence and ended his career as a professor of psychology.
Underlying all of the writers' thoughts is the concept of humility. Both Simon and Minsky are acknowledged geniuses and the author [unkown] of the Art of Design is one of the best academic writers I have ever read. Yet they all caution against the danger of previous learning in favor of an approach that requires a problem to be addressed in a way that is free of assumption. Interesting to me, all the writers reference Buddhist thought, which perhaps explains their underlying belief in the importance of humility as the foundation for better thinking.
None of the four ideas above are original and their origins can probably all be traced back to Plato, Socrates and another hundred subsequent genius like thinkers. It is, however, noteworthy that so many geniuses have thought about and written on thinking and creativity and the conclusions are very similar.