I’m playing every position, as is my opponent: goalie, sweeper, forward, and back again. Next I know, we’re playing a game that somewhat resembles hockey with multiple soccer balls, then a game with inflatable tubes often distributed at sporting events, and finally mini-golf. My opponent, and referee, is a 7-year-old German girl who doesn’t speak English. I don’t speak German.
We must look funny, I think, and a thought sparks as my mind begins to wonder, then wander, before I check it with a mental bookmark and finish our game(s).
The moment’s thought is pertinent in a world where ingenuity is necessary: Children are incredibly creative. In a nutshell, a young human brain has trillions of connections, which get pruned by the hour, day, and year until an adult brain is left with about half that. The number and type of connections shape creativity, knowledge. A child’s vast number of weaker connections enable creativity: “Why can’t an inflatable plastic tube be a hockey stick, or a car run on water?” An adult’s smaller number of stronger connections characterize knowledge: “Allow me to demonstrate rocket science.”
Our brains prune connections so they can strengthen the ones they use. That’s great, but it also means adults have a bias towards that which they know and have done, which can put a damper on ingenuity. It’s not black and white; adults are not incapable of creativity – and they do have a lot more knowledge to work with, which can aid problem-solving, too – but their creative abilities are limited by their knowledge, assumptions, and connections.
As a society, the more capability for creativity we can harness, the greater capacity for progression we’ll have.
But I’m not going to tell you to be more seven, at the moment at least. We have adult brains now, so how do we produce the same creativity as a seven-year-old? Let’s talk novelty and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Let’s get weird. Go far. Adjust scopes and angles. Seeing and experiencing new and different things increases creative abilities. You’ve probably noticed the effect of having “abnormal” social interactions, going new places, and looking at things with the zoom much farther in, or much farther out, from your average perspective. Ideally, you’ll have no average.
Since our brains prune according to what we use, any two individuals may have many developed abilities in common, but also many apart. Specialists have an importantly pointed perspective that is both empowering and restrictive. It’s not just that another perspective might have another solution that might work better; it’s that every single little piece of the solution might work better if it were assembled in a different order, with a different combination of pieces, and/or in a different place, etc. That clarifies something: interdisciplinary oversight is not enough. Interdisciplinary collaboration is. If we can’t fit those trillions of loose connections in a single adult brain, let’s connect specialized brains and let ‘em loose. I’m talking chemists, plumbers, economists, climatologists, farmers, engineers, and historians — all problem-solving together.
But that might be a bit of an extreme pipe dream. Even if you could get them to work together, how could a single project possibly pay all these specialists? You can always start small: For the average Joe, talk to people you wouldn’t normally, or, for the CEO, include a few unexpected members on your new project’s team. But, across a society in general as a larger scale, more interdisciplinary interaction necessitates specialists working on many projects at once, so how could they focus on such a myriad of tasks?
It might sound strange, but the effect on our brain of the last decade’s explosion in social media use may be preparing us for such collaboration. Never in the history of human life have our brains been pushed to digest and disseminate so many different pieces of information so quickly, and all at once. It’s said it exacerbates what MDs increasingly diagnose as ADD, but it could also be described as breeding the best generation of multi-taskers ever. If, that is, we can harness our popcorn brains, and shape our work lives to fit the new, and very different type of productivity we have pruned our brains to achieve.
I’m not suggesting that we all work from computers. Productivity, creativity, understanding — you name it — are all more effective in-person. I am suggesting more collaboration across organizations; I’m suggesting more movement.
That brings us to money: How would all these people get paid? As they contribute smaller pieces to a larger number of places, their income might come from a larger number of places too. Or, within a large corporation, maybe they could move more freely through departments, spurning a graphic design that the design team never would have thought of, but an engineer imagines as a visual interpretation of his totally unrelated project. Monetization questions go beyond this blog post, but for now, the point is: interdisciplinary collaboration encourages creativity.
So, go where you don’t usually go, take inspiration from a seven-year-old, and adjust your scope. Let’s get creative; let’s get weird.