Out of order

Out of order - image for article by Greg Alder

We live in a world that likes order. Everything has its place.

Spaces are defined by boundaries – yards by fences, countries by coastline or river or wall.

Road lanes are marked and speed limits set by road safety authorities.

Governments create laws to control their citizens.

We expect products we buy to taste and perform consistently day after day, year after year.

In most cases we have created this order for convenience rather than absolute control. We’re pragmatists. Absolute control is generally impossible. Rivers will change course. Drivers will speed. Laws will be broken. Products will fail.

Of course, there are some things that just won’t conform to rules. Nature is one of these.

Determined to attempt to bring order to the uncontrollable chaos of certain aspects of life, mathematicians and scientists have attempted to find predictable patterns in apparently random numbers. This is chaos theory.

“Chaotic systems are predictable for a while and then appear to become random. The amount of time for which the behavior of a chaotic system can be effectively predicted depends on three things: How much uncertainty we are willing to tolerate in the forecast, how accurately we are able to measure its current state, and a time scale depending on the dynamics of the system, called the Lyapunov time. Some examples of Lyapunov times are: chaotic electrical circuits, about 1 millisecond; weather systems, a few days (unproven); the solar system, 50 million years.” (Wikipedia)

For all the advances in technology, for all of the weather records at our disposal, weather forecasters still can’t get the forecast right. But that doesn’t stop them from having a stab at it.

There’s another area where chaos reigns. That’s creativity. The original idea that comes to you in the shower is the result of the random collision of two seemingly unrelated pieces of knowledge stored in the neurons of your brain.

That’s what makes creativity so exciting (for practitioners) and infuriating (for observers).

One of the world’s most successful companies was founded by chemists. When confronted with creativity (in their marketing communications), they did what you’d expect chemists to do. They tried to create a formula for successful creativity.

They introduced a policy called Search & Reapply. If they found that a particular phrase in a commercial in Turkey resonated with the audience, they’d use it in other markets. If a striking product performance shot from South Africa worked well, they’d insert it into commercials in France or Mexico. (I once saw a 140-page instruction book on how to recreate the flick of hair in a shampoo commercial.)

The result wasn’t better creativity. It was a dog’s breakfast.

You can’t order creativity. It won’t happen exactly where and when and how you’d like. The best you can do is create an environment conducive to creative thinking, develop an attitude that you are creative and learn some tools to facilitate creativity.

Some creative thinkers seem to work in an environment of complete chaos. Others seem to thrive in monastic simplicity. Don’t be deceived. Even in these bare rooms, these creative thinkers have brains with highly developed senses of chaos. Thoughts fire with unfettered randomness, colliding with others in complete promiscuity.

‘Creative accounting’ is often associated with dodgy financial activity. However, even the most prudent and professional accounting firms benefit from an injection of creativity. There isn’t a business that creativity can’t make better.

How innovative your business is depends on how successfully you foster creativity.

Creativity isn’t created out of order. It is the child of chaos.

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