The Creative Curve by Allen Gannett

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

There is in fact a science behind what becomes a hit and that today’s neuroscience gives us an unprecedented ability to decode and engineer the necessary moments of “inspiration” to create popular work

Chapter 1: The Making of a Dream

  • Inspiration theory of creativity: the idea that creative success results from a mysterious internal process punctuated by unpredictable flashes of genius.
  • On the other hand, most of us believe that if we lack the raw talent or innate genius, these moments will never strike. The inspiration theory of creativity is only relevant for those born with so-called genius.

Chapter 2: Learning a Lie

  • Much of the phenomena we observe that seem organic or unique are actually the result of repeating processes and systems.
  • It is a mistake to think that creativity is just about creating something different or original. It also has to be valuable, meaning that a group of people, large or small, have found importance or usefulness in that creative product.
  • People crave the familiar, yet seek the novel.

Chapter 3: The Origin of the Myth

  • Genius was viewed by both scientists and the public as an innate, hereditary trait that cannot be fostered or amplified (other than by getting sick). At the same time, genius became tightly and negatively coupled with insanity and madness.

Chapter 4: What Is Talent?

  • According to academics, divergent thinking—where the goal is to come up with numerous solutions to problems—is correlated with creativity: the more divergent your thinking, the more creative you are. By looking at the number and originality of your responses, they believe they can accurately assess a person’s creative potential.
  • There are two main flaws with the 10,000-hour rule. First, it neglects to mention that it’s not simply how many hours you spend that’s important, but how you spend those hours.
  • “Automaticity is the enemy of growing your expertise,”
  • Instead of simply practicing a task over and over again for 10,000 hours, Ericsson’s research shows you have to engage extensively in purposeful practice. This is a particular type of practice where you work on one small skill repeatedly, with a clear goal and a feedback mechanism.
  • This concept, that our brains’ physiology adapts to situations and experiences, is known as brain plasticity.

Chapter 5: What Is a Genius?

  • The truth is that when people talk about creativity, they are usually talking about a creative output that is widely adopted or accepted
  • To create something novel, you must know what already exists.
  • If you cannot attract the attention of the gatekeepers, you might very well be “original” and “technically skilled,” but the truth of the matter is you will not be considered creative.
  • Part of being a successful artist is being a persuasive salesperson for your own brand. You must be able to generate and capture attention. This goes against the notion of the reclusive, angry artist.
  • The result is that when you study the history of creative geniuses, you find people who had the opportunity to learn the right skills, the time to master those skills, and the ability to persuade others that their work had value.

Chapter 6: The Creative Curve

  • Mere exposure to one of the Chinese characters made the respondents in the study perceive it more positively. Zajonc later called this phenomenon the mere exposure effect.
  • Familiarity does not make us like things more. Rather, it makes us fear things less.
  • The actual role of dopamine in our brains, he says, is to determine when we should approach something to learn more about it.
  • the point of cliché, where novelty seeking peters out at a group level, the brand in question becomes overexposed and overfamiliar, and each additional exposure reduces a group’s overall interest in the product, idea, or concept.
  • A good novel needs more than novelty; it also needs familiarity.
  • In David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect, Zuckerberg is quoted as telling the author that “the trick isn’t adding stuff, it’s taking away.”
  • an idea that is too novel has a much harder time appealing to a broad audience.
  • It turns out that when we consume something superficially, whether it’s an advertisement, song, or work of art, our brains process it in a different way than they do when we consume something in depth, or over time. A process that neuroscientists call perceptual fluency takes hold.
  • When you process things deeply, you take time to evaluate them, and your competing emotions involving familiarity and novelty come into play.

Chapter 7: Law I: Consumption

  • Pattern recognition relies on two mental models,
  • The first is a prototype—but not the kind of prototype that might immediately come up in most people’s minds. In psychology, a prototype is an abstraction of any concept’s fundamental properties.
  • The second mental model is the exemplar, which is basically a specific example of a category.
  • As entrepreneurs gain experience, most start to accumulate concrete examples of a variety of concepts, and over time they rely more and more on exemplars. Using exemplars speeds up idea processing. After all, entrepreneurs don’t have to slow down and recognize the individual, distinctive elements of each and every new idea that’s presented to them. Most simply accept that this or that new idea matches an exemplar and is familiar.
  • I call this the 20 percent principle: by spending 20 percent of your waking hours consuming material in your creative field, you can develop an intuitive, expert-level understanding of the level of familiarity of an idea—where it lies on the creative curve—even without real-world experience.
  • “You can’t have insights about things you don’t know anything about.”

Chapter 8: Law II: Imitation

  • “The covenant that a romance writer has with their readers is that there will always be a happily-ever-after. This allows readers to lean into fear and risk while knowing that there is a safe landing at the end.”
  • You may think that breakout success comes from breaking the pattern. In reality, it is only by following a pattern that you tap into the right level of novelty.
  • What I call the Franklin method involves the careful observation and re-creation of the structures underlying successful creative work. Creators use the Franklin method to understand the formulas or patterns that have proven to be historically successful. Along the way they’re exposed to a baseline of familiarity that their audience would know. Then, on top of that structure, they can add novelty while maintaining the necessary familiarity.

Chapter 9: Law III: Creative Communities

  • Even though over the course of writing this book I found that creativity is very much a team sport, our cultural mythology, at least in the United States, remains extremely focused on the individual.
  • I found that creatives had four different types of people in their networks: a master teacher, a conflicting collaborator, a modern muse, and a prominent promoter.
  • Master teachers serve two essential roles: They teach constraints, and they assist with deliberate practice through feedback.
  • As more and more tech companies migrate to the neighborhood, more people seem to want to follow their path. Engineers want to be near other engineers. CEOs want to be near other CEOs. Sociologists call this effect clustering.
  • Ideal collaborators balance out each other’s weaknesses and provide different perspectives.
  • Modern muses: people who provide material for a creator to use as well as practical motivation.
  • In previous chapters, I wrote that to be considered a “genius” you also need to be recognized. It’s not enough to work hard, or to create technically competent work—you also need social acknowledgment that you’re credible. For this reason especially, the last essential member of your creative community is a prominent promoter: someone with credibility who is willing to advocate for you and your work.
  • This is because the people on the fringe give the establishment figures fresh ideas, and the establishment figures provide the necessary reputation and credibility. If you are already successful, this finding underscores how important it is for you to bring new and fresh voices onto your teams if you want to maximize your creative success. You need that source of novel ideas. And if you are an up-and-comer, you need a prominent promoter for recognition.

Chapter 10: Law IV: Iterations

  • All commercial creativity in the end is about the same thing: creating products that will match—and intersect with—an audience’s taste at a particular point in time.
  • Instead of seeing creativity as a series of eureka moments and sudden epiphanies, successful creatives who use data-driven iterations are far more likely to master the creative curve.
  • By this point, you know the history of creativity, the driving forces behind trends, and the four steps you can take to maximize your odds of creating things that have a chance of going big and wide.

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