Problem, solution, problem: why we still need thinkers and creatives

“You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
― George Orwell, 1984

There seems to be a belief that we are about to find an answer in our business. Our industry is looking for certainty even perhaps comfort. There is a tendency to hold onto the latest technology or system like it is some sort of panacea for all our ills. This is something that happens in an uncertain world. It is natural to crave certainty. Certainty and creativity however are not a great mix.

So I thought with the help of a Tinder, Tesla and a 15 year old physics genius I would try to demonstrate my belief in embracing uncertainty.

My belief has always been creativity is not a thing, it is a way. Or to put it another way, creativity is not an answer it is an endless series of answers. In an uncertain world that is forever changing, the solution is to replace the word fear with opportunity. If we lean into the fear perhaps we can move forward.

Leonard Cohen once said it’s the cracks that let the light in. Let’s see if that is still true.

This week I read an article about Tinder in New York. When Tinder came out it was a cool fun way to meet people. It was an app that made it easier to meet someone than hang out in a bar all night. In the article the author Nancy Jo Sales talks about how we are in an age of emotional alienation and how apps like Tinder have contributed to this. Her argument is emotion and sex have become totally divorced in the hookup culture apps have created. And this has become a big problem for many in New York. The Tinderellas, as they are called, are no longer enjoying the ball.

So, what you have is technology solving one problem and creating a new one. You could solve this by creating a swanky club in New York called No-Fi where cellphones don’t work and you go on old fashion dates. Or, perhaps a new app where you have to spend a week getting to know someone before you can swipe on. Not the greatest solutions, I know, but you get the idea. Creativity lives in the cracks and problems. That is where the opportunities are.

Here is another. It was recently revealed hackers were able to hack into a Tesla motor car. What you have is an amazing solution to the global fuel problem creating a new unexpected problem. Potentially, somebody can steal your car or make it unsafe with a laptop. So, perhaps in the future there will be parking spaces that can block hackers attempts or perhaps road signs that can detect if somebody is trying to hack into your vehicle.

Once again, problem, solution, problem, new opportunity. There is no single solution but a series of them. And they don’t come from reams of information or data but rather something we should do more often. Thinking.

Meet somebody who’s good at thinking. Jacob Barnett. He was diagnosed as autistic when he was young and was sent to special ed classes. Due to his mother’s bravery and intuition she realised this was not helping. She decided to take a different course. She let him focus on what he was interested in. There was a dramatic change. Today, he is 15 and is doing his doctorate in physics.

I mention him because he is a great example of the experts trying to find an easy answer. Or, certainty if you like.

In a TED talk he previously did, he spoke about about Newton and Einstein and how their greatest discoveries happened a certain way. When both men made their greatest discoveries they were unable to learn for various reasons. So, they had to think.

When Newton discovered his multitude of laws he was confined to his rooms because of the great plague. And there was period of time Einstein couldn’t go to University so he took a boring job in a patents office, which let him do one thing. Think. And this is where he thought of his theory of relativity. Barnett’s point with both examples is they were not learning at the time. They were thinking.

Learning is about what exists. And that is important and has a role. However, it is thinking that gets you somewhere new. Learning is about the past and certainty. Thinking is about the future and uncertainty.

Creativity is no different. It is about getting somewhere new. It is about understanding the way things are, throwing it out and starting again. Creativity is abandoning certainty. It is a beautiful dance between problem and solution.

When the world is shifting and changing I think many believe storing up on knowledge and having a lot of information will be the solution. It will give you an exact answer. The truth is that even great answers ultimately give you more new problems to solve. And tomorrow the answers will have changed again. That is why we need thinking and creativity. These are the abilities that not only keep up with time but let us travel ahead of it. And time is not a single answer. It is an endless story.

That is why there is no right. Only interesting.

  • Damon Stapleton is the chief creative officer at DDB. 
  • This post was previously published on his blog, Damon’s Brain

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