Friday, July 25, 2008

Review of Inspired: How Creative People Think, Work and Find Inspiration

Markus Redvall has taken a closer look at the book Inspired: How Creative People Think, Work and Find Inspiration by Kiki Hartmann and Dorte Nielsen

Hartmann and Nielsen both come from the agency world and in this book they are traveling Europe to meet their peers and ask them about inspiration and creative process.

The book contains of 36 chapters where each chapter describes one person's experience of the creative process.

Many of the people are either designers or comes from the commercial agency world, but there are also photographers, painters, designers, musicians and architects.

Although the participants talk only about their personal experience it is striking to see that many of the concepts we work with in CPS and deliberate creativity, like taking risks (p. 96), diverging many ideas without considering their quality (p. 74), allow mistakes (p. 156), not stop at first good idea (p. 60), research and bring all the information out in the open (p. 190), are mentioned spontaneously.

There are concepts that the group don't' agree on. Several people say their best idea is usually the first that shows up. Several others say that good ideas comes from hard work.

The value of creative techniques is another issue where there are different opinions. Several of them oppose of deliberate techinques. Henrik Juul, Creative Director calls brainstorming pointless (p. 92). Marksteen Adamson, Creative Director, is describing a session with a creative facilitator in a very ironic way. He finishes by telling that the facilitator at one point is asking everybody what their biggest fear is. When it is Marksteen's turn he just says: "You.", meaning the creative facilitator (p. 9). On the whole it seems like very few are familiar with deliberate creative techniques, which is in line with my personal experience about this group of people.

Others feel otherwise about this. Henrik Birkvig, typographer, says: "If I get stuck I start with all the classic techniques: mind mapping, or those presented in Idea Index or Bob Gill's books." (p. 48) (Bob Gill is a Graphic designer who has written several books about the process, like: Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design, Including the Ones in this Book from 1981.) Marlene Anine Kjær is a Fashion Design Student and works with something she calls: "inspiration on command" (p. 104)

There are issues where most of them seem to agree. Many of them think that inspiration can come from anywhere; anything can be the starting point to a good idea. Most of them, but not all, collect inspirational material in scrap books and as artifacts standing in their workplace.

More than anything else they agree that ideas comes anywhere and anytime and actually mostly when they relax and do something completely different than try to solve their challenge. Several of them says their best ideas come in the shower or in the "loo" or when driving to work or on the bus or when they are just about to fall asleep at night or doing something else that is completely unrelated to their challenge. This is very much in line with my personal experience about my own creative process. Another word for it is incubation and I think it should be much more visible and put into action also in deliberate creativity.

Another interesting factor is that reading the testimonials from these people makes it clear that mystical beliefs about creativity have survived and are very much alive today. Several are talking about creativity as something you have or don't have. It is impossible learn how to be creative. Another common conception is that when you are in a creative process it is useless to try to rush the ideas. They will come in time. Per Arnoldi, Painter, says that: "I have the feeling that all ideas already exist somewhere. I make myself receptive to them by being naive, by emptying my head completely." (p. 28)

The weakness of the book is of course that there is this great bias towards the design and commercial world. Among the 36 participants there were 14 designers and 11 agency people. That is more than 2/3 of them. The rest were illustrators (2), painters (2), architects (2) interial architect (1), storyboard artist (1), entertainer (1) photographer (1), musician (1). It would have been a much more interesting book if there had been creatives from many different areas, including the scientific world. The explanation is of course to find in the origin of the authors.

Another thing that I would have found very interesting was to ask each of the participants to draw their creative process. It would have been exciting to look at 36 different graphical creative process models.

Even so I find this book interesting. It is inspiring to read about personal creative experiences and compare them with one's own experience as well as different formalized processes. I think it gives credibility to my own message if my sources are diverse. And I think that some issues in the book, especially incubation, is very much in line with my own experience about creativity and something that complements CPS in a good way.

Nielsen, D., Hartmann, K. (2005). Inspired. How creative people think, work and find inpsiration. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.

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