The Runaway Species


Excerpts from The Runaway Species

by Brandt & Eagleman © 2017

I read constantly.  The ideas and research on creativity are growing exponentially with each passing year.  Sometimes what I read impacts what we do here at SPARK! Periodically I offer bits and pieces for others to ponder.  A few months back I read The Runaway Species by Brandt & Eagleman. They’ve captured so much of what we believe and practice and they use other words to describe it.  Rather than translate or even present a book review, I’d like to share their words, as I highlighted them in reading.

Even their dedication resonates:  

  • “To our parents, who brought us into a life of creativity…our wives, who fill our lives with novelty…and our children, whose imaginations summon the future…”

In the introduction I was drawn to these thoughts that summarize the need for programming such as we offer at SPARK!:

  • …our inventiveness typically runs in the background, outside of our awareness.
  • As important as creativity has been in our species’ recent centuries, it is the cornerstone for our next steps.
  • …the world has found itself transitioning from a manufacturing economy to an information economy.
  • We are already seeing the first glimpses of this new model; the creativity economy.
  • Synthetic biologist, app developer, self-driving car designer, quantum computer designer, multimedia engineer – these are positions that didn’t exist when most of us were in school, and they represent the vanguard of what’s coming.
  • …corporate boardrooms everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to keep up…
  • Only one thing allows us to face these accelerating changes: cognitive flexibility.
  • This mandate for innovation is not reflected in our school systems.  Creativity is a driver of youthful discovery and expression – but it becomes stifled in deference to proficiencies that are more easily measured and tested.
  • If we want a bright future for our children, we need to recalibrate our priorities.
  • A balanced education nurtures skills and imagination.

Not only is creativity inherent, but, as they titled it: Chapter 1: TO INNOVATE IS HUMAN

  • The new rapidly evolves into the normal.
  • Smartphones revolutionized our communications, but new tech becomes basic, universal, and invisible before our eyes.
  • …magic of human brains: we relentlessly simulate what-ifs.
  • Hope is a form of creative speculation: we imagine the world as we wish it to be rather than as it is.
  • Creativity is an inherently social act.
  • Thanks to our appetite for novelty, innovation is requisite.
  • The innovative drive lives in every human brain…
  • The drive to create the new is part of our biological make-up.

In Chapter 2: THE BRAIN ALTERS WHAT IT ALREADY KNOWS Brandt & Eagleman dive into the first of our “Ations” Inspiration:

  • Steve Jobs…Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it.  They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while; that’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.
  • Human creativity does not emerge from a vacuum.  We draw on our experience and the raw materials around us to refashion the world.
  • …modern science historian Steven Johnson puts it, “We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.”
  • Creativity relies on memory.
  • …our exceptional sociability compels humans to constantly interact and share ideas   

Brandt & Eagleman present their own definition of the creative process that resonates with the SPARK! definition through the steps of Inspiration and iteration.

  • …we propose a framework that divides the landscape of cognitive operations into three basic strategies: bending, breaking and blending.

Chapter 3: BENDING

  • Bending can remodel a source in many ways.
  • …bending is a makeover of an existing prototype,
  • …human culture incorporates an ever-expanding series of variations on themes passed down from generation to generation.

Chapter 4: BREAKING

  • …something whole…is taken apart, and something new assembled out of the fragments.

Chapter 5: BLENDING

  • In blending, the brain combines two or more sources in novel ways.
  • By enabling different lines of thought to breed in novel ways, blending is a powerful engine of innovation.

Often we talk about the importance of allowing children to take risk.  Risk taking not only in their play, but also in their learning. Our schools today don’t encourage risk, and testing is set-up so that failure is a frightening prospect.  We must allow children to take risks and we must refrain from penalizing them when they do so. Brandt & Eagleman dedicate an entire chapter to this concept; then they move on to talk about what we hope will be the school of the future.

Chapter 10: TOLERATE RISK

  • …new ideas take root in environments where failure is tolerated.
  • James Dyson invented the first bag-less vacuum cleaner.  It took 5,127 prototypes and fifteen years for him to nail the model that would finally go to market.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Like so many other human endeavors, creativity is strengthened with practice
  • FabLabs, Makerspaces, and TechShops are burgeoning, with their communal tools for making artwork, jewelry, crafts, and gadgets.        

Chapter 12: THE CREATIVE SCHOOL

  • …but too many classrooms offer little to be digested, instead proffering a diet of regurgitation.  That diet threatened to leave our society hungry for future innovators. We’re stuck in an educational system born during the industrial Revolution.    
  • The model doesn’t prepare our students to remake the raw materials of the world and generate new ideas.       
  • An education in creativity lies in the sweet spot between unstructured pay and imitating models.  The sweet spot gives the students precedents to build but it doesn’t condition or constrain their choices.              
  • Praise efforts, not results.
  • Any problem with an open outcome promotes risk-taking.
  • To produce a thriving society of creative adults, it is crucial to inspire risk-taking students who don’t cower in fear of the wrong answer.
  • Giving students a chance to solve real-life problems is an inspiring way to spur creativity.
  • Creativity is the fuel for our species’ runaway progress.
  • …young minds need art.
  • …the arts…are the most accessible way to teach the basic tools of innovation.
  • Every facet of the creative mentality can be taught through the arts…
  • Students learn the experimental method in science class, but the experiments they conduct are often aimed at a predetermined result: as long as the students follow the right procedures, they will arrive at the expected outcome.  In the arts, students learn the experimental method, but without any guarantees.
  • …all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  
  • …all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  Otherwise, society provides an incomplete education.

And in summary: Chapter 13: INTO THE FUTURE

  • If we don’t cultivate creativity in our children, we won’t take full advantage of what’s unique about our species.  We need to invest in imagination.

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