The creative gene pool

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal”.

So goes the oft-repeated quote, normally attributed to Picasso, Wilde or Eliot.  In researching the quote last week whilst preparing my final internal talk at Sky which reflected on my time here (to be posted shortly), I found this fascinating investigation into it’s providence.  The full quote, it transpires, derives from a piece that TS Eliot wrote:

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

TS Eliot.

This ties in neatly to a principle that I have followed throughout my creative life, both in technology and in writing music:  The gene pool for inspiration in any creative endeavour needs to run broad and deep.  Replicating directly from within one’s peer group leads inevitably to watered down ideas and shuts off any possibility of producing original work.  I’ve never understood those that only listen slavishly to one style of music, or those that repeat design tropes again and again because they are told that it is a ‘standard’.  It has also shocked me how many times in creative brainstorms somebody has presented a portfolio of competitor’s work and said ‘we could just do this’.  It is useful to refer to pre-existing work as a touchstone or mood-setting device, something to direct the conversation and provide a reference point, but to simply steal an idea and execute it with your client’s branding is unforgivable.

Some time ago I saw Contrast  give a fascinating talk about expectations and convention that I still refer to on a regular basis.  The slideshare seems to have disappeared but there’s a good rundown of the talk here.  Key to innovation, they claimed, was the breaking of conventions.  A wireframe IA derived from accepted wisdom can only really be designed and coded one way.  Whilst this gives us consistency and a certain recieved robustness, it can also hold back progress and removes any possibility of new, better paradigms emerging (until somebody like Apple, with no regard for convention, comes along and does it anyway).  Though there are clearly use cases for conventions, such as the symbol for a  play-button or a traffic light system of colour coding (there was a lovely example of a ticket machine that chose to flag a successful purchase up with a bright red flashing light!), there are also clearly times to break such convention, particularly if one is moving away from that convention’s native environment and into a new context (c.f. my hatred of skeuomorphism and relief that Microsoft are bucking the trend with Windows 8).

Influence and inspiration are key factors of the creative process to be embraced, but they are at their most powerful when they are abstracted away from the task in hand and netted from the widest possible array of sources (authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest), then the concepts behind them transferred into the creative ideas as they emerge.



So long, and thanks for all the flash

fotb 2011

fotb 2011

I’ve attended every one of the 6 Flash on the Beach conferences. It has been a yearly fix of inspiration, connection to an industry which I’m often isolated from in the corporate environment and straight up good fun. This reached it’s zenith in 2009 where I came out of the Brighton Dome hypnotised and dizzy with the possibilities of the medium. I’ve often equated it to the first time I encountered the web in 1994 which fueled a passion for the creative opportunities for technology that I carry with me now. That was an incredibly important event for me and it also marked the point at which Flash on the Beach had ceased to become purely a technically-focussed exchange of techniques and practices in Flash development, and instead became a creative propagator – a shot in the arm for a jaded developer.

Fast forward to 2011 and it’s very obvious that, a: we’ve come a long way baby and b: that FLASH on the beach is a definite misnomer. For instance, Flex is notable for it’s absence (I don’t think there’s a single session on it in fact) and the talk of RIA’s and the Flash Platform which were in vogue until the Jobsian witch hunt kicked in is not to be found. Flash is talked about only in terms of enhancing web content, and gaming, which is clearly the technology’s stronghold. HTML5, design principles, type, motion graphics, filmmaking, Processing, ofx all merit focus and one gets the impression that showrunner John Davey has been steering towards this point all along. It’s of no surprise to me then when he announces at the end of the conference that this will be the last event under that title.

I did make extensive live notes which I publish here in full (strictly only for the very curious and more for my own record than as a public-facing document), but here are some highlights, links and salient points.
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Innovation, Creativity & Leadership – Research and Practice

I have been invited to speak at the grandly named Interdisciplinary Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice next week at a research day they are doing which sounds fascinating. The department is an adjunct of City University that I wasn’t aware of until a colleague mentioned their lecture program to me and I’m very much looking forward to both speaking and experiencing the extremely diverse program they have planned. Far too often these things become tech or media industry focused and I’m looking forward to the sessions from people outside of my sphere of experience.

I’ll be talking about my experiences of research within the corporate media environment, expanding on some of my TEDx talk themes.

It’s free to register and open to all:

Full details here