Happy Little Accidents

Good creativity is the result of hard work. Smart creativity is knowing when and how to put your creative energy to good use. 
Some years ago I attended a course by Tamar Chelouche and Shlomit Tassa, two wonderful ladies from the insitute for Systematic Inventive Thinking. SIT has developed a unique approach to creativity. SIT’s thinking tools were developed largely by Jacob Goldenberg, professor at the Jerusalem School of Business Administration.

I won’t bore you with too much detail but basically SIT is a simplified, rationalized and updated version of  the Teoriya Resheniya Izobretalskikh Zadatch (Theory of Solving Inventor’s Problems) more commonly known as TRIZ. TRIZ was originally developed by the soviet engineer Genrich Altshuller in the 1940s. And it shows.

Like TRIZ, SIT provides us with a very rigorous step-by-step approach to creative problem solving: it’s smart, it’s systematic and anyone can learn how to use it. Being an engineer by training myself I can highly appreciate this approach.

Of course I had to ask them: “What should I do if SIT doesn’t work? Can I cheat by trusting my guts and instincts instead?” In response Tamar and Shlomit related a short story about the Israeli Air Force. During their training Israeli pilots are drilled to always trust their instruments. When in doubt – for example in case of vertigo – the pilots are taught to always go with what their instruments, not their guts or their senses. For it is their senses that may fool them, not their air speed indicator or their artificial horizon. Their instruments will always and objectively speak the truth – after all they were built by engineers.

I have a confession to make; I like it when my senses cheat me. Relying solely on instruments is a bit like worshipping screw drivers. It makes perfect sense until you realize it makes no sense at all. Whether you’re writing, drawing or just talking about your ideas you inevitably invite mistakes and misunderstandings into the process. Noise, smudges and mispronunciations aren’t just a source of confusion they are treasure troves for those willing to delve in. To prove this point I’ll share an anecdote.

Years ago I gave a short presentation after a workshop about improving the safety and atmosphere in and around dutch train stations. I had decorated the wall behind me with rough sketches our group prepared on large flip over sheets. Half way through my enthusiastic talk about comfort, easy access and electronic train tickets I noted many nodding heads in the audience. Thing were going well.

Suddenly the client interrupted me. “That’s the best idea I’ve seen today!” he proclaimed, pointing to a few tiny scribbles on one of the sheets. To him these wobbly lines clearly represented a smart cell-phone-navigator-system that could assist people find their way safely through a busy train station.

Was this man fooled by his senses?
I didn’t bother to correct his mistake.

Happy Little Accidents is what the late Bob Ross would call these events. His advise: don’t try to avoid them; use them to your own advantage instead. In a way these Happy Little Accidents are like tiny versions of Nicholas Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans. Black Swans are unexpected events that seem small and inconsequential at first but turn out to have great impact. Black Swans are the outliers on a graph, they are the data that doesn’t make sense to our rational minds. Black Swans are impossible to control. Black Swans cannot be predicted (except of course post factum). Black Swans are bound to happen more often than we think.

Taleb admonishes us not to try and avoid Black Swans (you can’t) or to trust they engineers, bankers and politicians who say they won’t happen (they will). Instead we should expose ourselves to their positive effects as much as possible. I believe that when we’re brain storming we should even take it one step further. Lets expose ourselves to as much happy little accidents as we can.

Lets have our senses fool us just a bit more. It’s what they’re good at!

2 Replies to “Happy Little Accidents”

  1. I think it’s good to trust on your feelings – but not when there is to much fear or negative feelings involved.

  2. Good point, Sammy.
    Fear is no good counselor.

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