Monday, July 1, 2013

The art of invention

I take a certain pride in being an alumnus of Georgia Tech.

Without GT, there might not be WD-40 or Elmer's Glue! (Invented by GT guys) Good grief...

But, moving on from glue, the image at right is a nano-tube rendering of the famous GT logo created by a team at Tech’s Nanotechnology Lab. Nanotubes are cylindrical structures built of carbon; each “GT” is about 50 micrometers wide. (A micrometer is one millionth of a meter.)

Nano technology is great stuff, but greater still will be the practical inventions that come from it and may other budding technologies. But, who will do the basic research and the applied inventing?

By coincidence (which I pass along to you) I read an interview on this question, and shortly thereafter viewed a TED talk that are thematically aligned.

The interview was with Nancy Nersessıan, "... a Regents professor of cognitive science at Georgia Tech, .. who .. conducts ... research into the art of innovation—how scientists and inventors actually think."

Speaking of famous scientists and researchers, she says: "What we’re taught often is that you make a hypothesis, deduce a result and then test it empirically. But that’s not what they did. They went through a different process. I call it model-based reasoning. It’s the engine of creativity. It’s what drove people to their solutions."

And what is a model? (I get this question a lot): "A model is an integrated representation that provides an interpretation of the phenomena under investigation. Models are selective (you can’t model everything) and are constructed to exemplify what are considered to be the important features of phenomena, and so a good model focuses the mind on the cognitively relevant features and enables manipulation of these."

What makes a productive researcher/inventor? "A major one is cognitive flexibility—the ability to see something from different perspectives. ... I think philosophy is great training for any scientist. It teaches you how to formulate problems. It teaches you how to think—how to understand things conceptually. ... Music also fosters creativity more broadly. Einstein played the violin.

It's this last idea that brings me to TED. Ken Robinson has a very large library of videos on TED, and he is a prolific author with a new book just released. The video below is the all-time most viewed video on TED with over 4.7M views.

In this video, you'll hear this: "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original"
And Robinson's definition of creativity: "... original ideas that have value"

About the difference between (for example in our domain) a project model and a human factors model is the difference between what he calls the industrial model and human flourishing model. The former is characterized by: linearity, conformity, and batching. The latter by the antithesis of the industrial model with one important other feature: outcomes are not predictable.

Spoiler alert: some laughing may be required!

Check out these books I've written in the library at Square Peg Consulting