Innovation and Creativity as they are

by Dmitry Kirsanov 9. October 2011 14:22

As a foreword

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” (C. Darwin)


There is a number of characteristics in Innovation which makes this thing rare and hard to swallow for some. One of the keys to understanding innovation is to understand the difference between machine and human being.

Innovation is a process. It’s not your asset or something you have granted. It’s not your new iPhone or any other innovative gadget you may have. Instead, Innovation was the process of designing of that iPhone and making it unique, never seen before thing and array of processes.

Innovation is not solid, it’s rather composite. There are few other things that composes the innovation, and Creativity is one of them.

Another feature of Innovation is it’s antisocial nature. Yes, forget the team spirit, corporate values and read Atlas Shrugged instead. Remember the great recession in USA in 30s? It was mainly because human labor was replaced by mechanisms. Millions of people lost their jobs and that was inevitable. And that was good. And that is the face of Innovation, it’s inevitable consequence, which doesn’t allow you to passively float on the waves of some basic knowledge you’ve acquired long time ago. You need to evolve in order to survive the Innovation.

That’s what we see today. Cloud computing renders IT departments useless. Not completely, because you still need your best specialists, but you could get rid of others. Rapid Application Development tools and techniques helped software development companies to get rid of lazy “coders”. But while IT is suffering the cutting down, some other professions are about to extinct.

Remember conductors in city buses? They were replaced by ticket machines. E-ticket these days. Even those people who were printing and selling the tickets were replaced. Remember regulators on roads? They were replaced by automated lights. Remember cashiers? They are being replaced by automatic cashiers in large supermarkets. Remember… Just think about it.

Who’s next? Lawyers will be substituted by computers before Artificial Intelligence is invented. Bus drivers. Baby sitters. Cooks. Especially cooks. Translators, politicians, journalists – they all are standing in the row, waiting for next Steve Jobs to raise the plank. Waiting to be replaced by computer programs.

So, that was about antisocial behavior of Innovation. However, it doesn’t end here. Not only Innovation hits the society, but also it’s not a teamwork on the first place. Usually it’s something done by a bright individual or a small group of individuals, rather than companies. Yes, innovations are often bought by companies afterwards, but they are born in the garage or in a small café rather than in the cubicle.

So, the Innovation is a process. Quite simple one – first , you have a problem. And you get idea to solve it. And you design the solution. And you or someone else implements it. Simple as it sounds, yet the solution may be of enormous complexity or simple as “all genius things”.

And now we’ve come to the composite nature of Innovation.

There are two most important things you must have to succeed as innovator. Creativity and Knowledge. They are not the only ones, still, you can’t innovate without them. While Knowledge can be acquired through the learning process, (which already renders most of people as non-innovative) and through the personal experience, the Creativity has much more complex nature.

Yet, it may be acquired as well.

Creativity, by definition, is the ability to approach problems in new and unique ways, outside of established ideas or rules.
Have you heard the “outside the box” thing? Some people are calling it “out of the box”, which, in turn, is completely different thing. Well, both has nothing to do with creativity. But be prepared to hear about it during corporate trainings led by incompetent salesmen.

Do something differently, not like anyone else before you. And that would be creative, not necessarily effective. Do it in a more effective way, by applying your skills (which are your knowledge and experience combined) and you’ve just made your innovation.

So, the key to innovation is creativity, right? And you may have doubts on whether you are creative enough. While it’s not necessary that you are, chances are good that your potential is deeper than you think.

The nature of creativity is not solid. While I doubt there is such thing as “natural born creativity”, most likely it’s about early acquired one. Some time during the first year or years of life. So if you are naturally creative and you’ve always been such, that’s achievement of your parents or environment. However, most parents don’t care about raising creative children and it’s usually up to that children to acquire creative behavior as early as possible.

Regarding the natural creativity, I think it may be connected to changes in early life, like relocation, lots of events and impressions. Even listening to wide selection of music counts. But still, I’m in the process of figuring it out with my own child.

So while natural creativity is the strongest among them and while it’s fun to build and exploit, you can’t apply it to yourself now. So we’ll speak more about creativity enhancement techniques for adults.

First, let’s talk about thing called Learned Helplessness. Have you ever heard – “I can’t do it, because I am X, not Y!”. Like – “I can’t do graphical interface, I am a programmer!”, or “I can’t drive a car!”? Sure you did, or even said that. That’s what we call the symptoms of learned helplessness (LH, for short).

Usually that’s when you have feeling that your brain is filled up with knowledge and you simply don’t need to learn anything new. And the reason for not learning, the fake one, is that you can not do that. The truth is – your brain is not filled up. Not even 50%. And no, you can. Unless we are talking about light athletics and you are 50 years old.

Unfortunately, the Learned Helplessness can only be defeated by strong will. If you haven’t done that yet, watch the movie “Yes man” with Jim Carrey. It’s about a man who started to say “Yes” to even weirdest pleas and opportunities. What I mean is – you have to say “yes” when you are about to say “No”. And vice versa – say “No” when you are about to go the “avoid that stuff” way.

Learned Helplessness is the biggest enemy of Creativity, remember that.

The second enemy of Creativity is called the “Comfort Zone”. Have you seen rednecks who lay in front of TV set with bottles of beer and chips? They reside in their comfort zone, nothing is troubling their mind and their creativity is plain zero as well.

However, there is an exception to “Comfort Zone” and that’s what I am calling the “Creative Zone”. There might be situations / environment features / whatever else that puts you to the state of brainstorming. Phase when you generate bright ideas and can work twice more effectively than before.  Personally for me that’s evening in a pub with 0.33l of dark Belgian beer and tablet or smartphone. And indeed, that’s part of my comfort zone as well.

There is a good illustration to the comfort zone problem. Take a look at the “Social Network” movie. The moment when Zuckerberg is sitting with beer and writing his first social website, while others are having party. At that moment, we see that everyone is enjoying their comfort zone excerpt for one guy who is about to become a millionaire soon, even without intention.

How this applies to you? Take a look at your behaviors. Whether you prefer to enjoy social events like darts and ping pong game with colleagues, or you would rather sit and learn new technologies and work on a project which would give you, personally, some uncertain benefit? In first case, you are in the comfort zone – you are spending your free time on pleasure rather than building your skills.

Another sign of comfort zone is when you look around and see a lot of folks who are professionally better than you. Even worse if they are younger. And I am not speaking about being CEO in early 20s, but about being better specialist than you are at the same of younger age. While there is some portion of luck for others to get to positions better than yours, there is nothing but training and experience that makes them a better professional.

So, how to put yourself out of the Comfort Zone? That’s the question. Disconnect from cable network or disconnect all but science channels. Don’t read general news more than once per week (I am not speaking about professional news). Don’t ride with your friends more than X times per Y. Cut your pleasures and devote that time to less pleasant things, like reading books and watching videos. Whatever that will objectively increase your professional knowledge and experience. It’s not for the rest of your life, it’s for now and a year ahead. Don’t forget to look back when that year will pass.

Next thing, which can be either friend or foe, is your Environment.

You should really prepare it for innovation. What’s your cellphone? Is it even smart phone? Oh, you don’t need a “smarter” one, do you? Just go and buy one. And make sure you learn each and every function it has.

Are you still working on Windows XP because it’s “faster” than whatever the current OS is? If you are working in IT, make sure you have the latest stuff. And make sure you understand the difference – read about it, watch training videos. And suck the knowledge out of it.

Look around you and try to realize when and where you could concentrate better. People are different, so I won’t advise on that, but personally, when I need to brainstorm some new project, I am taking my netbook or tablet and go to the night café in the center of old town and in that dim environment there is no one and nothing that could interrupt me from taking 100% of my brain power and putting into the way I need.

And yes, going out of home is also going out of the comfort zone for some. Unless you have your personal cabinet in your house / apartment.

Mindset is the next milestone you have to reach, and it’s the easiest target.

An open mindset is a must have for generating really valuable ideas. You should be very objective at anything and everything. Open to suggestions. Don’t think that something sucks because it sucks. For example, that Nokia phones are worse than HTC and always will be. While it might be true that currently their models lack some features that HTC don’t, tomorrow they may create something better. So don’t refuse their next model just because it’s Nokia. Be objective.

Never say “never again”, don’t reject opinion of younger people or of your foes, if you have any. Stay open to the world and the changes in life. They are not always good, but you should judge on the fact, throw away the prejudice. Seriously. Now.

Besides, the skeptical mindset is a must have. But what skeptical mindset is?
It’s not about doubtful of anything new. Instead – it’s the ability to find holes in otherwise perfect ideas and solutions. While the opposite to fanboy is a hater, the skeptic is somewhere in between. You have to find out the weak points and possible ways to circumvent them, before investing more time and money into something.

I’ve seen many software titles which took many hours of work from their creators, but were totally useless, because they don’t solve any problem. Perhaps because there was no problem on the first place.

Intuition is what should be counted on when you are generating the ideas. While I am not going into talks about unconscious part of the mind, just make sure you don’t discard what your intuition is saying – always listen to it and at least write down your thoughts before they are forgotten.

Now, as I’ve said before, the Innovation is a process of solving the problem. And the problem is solved by someone. You, perhaps. And you have some luggage of experience and your own point of view from which you view that problem. That’s when we encounter the term of Perspective.

A Perspective is the way in which a person approaches an issue, and his background as it applies to the ideas he generates. So that means – try to look at the problem from different angles. Not just from the perspective of solution developer. Also from the point of view of potential user of your solution and perhaps from those who would loose something because of your idea. Usually you’ll have to deal with more than you think about at first.

Trying to analyze things from various perspectives helps gaining a skill of creativity.

Just as I said before, Innovation is a unity of Knowledge and Creativity. However, Knowledge by itself is a topic which shouldn’t be covered here, perhaps some other time. It’s more naturally understandable, though, than Creativity.

One less book in a pile

by Dmitry Kirsanov 2. October 2011 18:35

How many books you have in your current pile? Or do you have a pile of books waiting to be read? I do.

Just now finished the “Human.4” by Mike Lancaster. For the first time I bought a brand new fiction book at Amazon, where by “brand new” I mean something that wasn’t read and recommended by previous generations. You know, it’s not a classical book of Stephen King or some sort of old school Sci-Fi or even something from previous centuries. This one was first published in 2011 and is mentioning things like YouTube, Red Bull, Facebook etc. Overall, it’s between the “13th floor” and “Langolliers” with influence of Matrix. However, it’s rather short and I manager to complete it in two days, since I’ve only began yesterday. Maybe that’s fine for a Sci-Fi novel.

What’s left in the pile? It’s Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 2 editions – one in Russian and one in English. A girl with dragon tattoo in both English and Russian and two other books by Stig Larsson in English. Also there are Chronicles of Amber by Zelazni and blue beard by Kurt Vonnegut, both in Russian but they don’t count, as I’ve read them already years ago.

Oh, yes, also there is “Como el rio que flue” by Coelho, which is in Spanish, but just like any other book of Coelho it’s not entertaining at all and I read it time after time just because it’s well written.

The point is – don’t restrict yourself in artificial borders, expand!


by Dmitry Kirsanov 18. September 2011 23:21

12 hours + 3 bottles of beer = new ASP.NET website with bright future.

That’s for database, WCF back-end and what they call “architecture”. GUI will take couple more hours, but not today. Will show that project this week. However, although it’s purely not commercial, I wonder what it takes from a good developer with dedication to establish something he would be proud of.



Skipping bits

by Dmitry Kirsanov 8. September 2011 11:26

Most of us consider ourselves professionals in what we do. Systems Administrators, Software Developers, whoever else, once we start considering ourselves as professionals, whether it is because others told us so or because we were promoted – that becomes a milestone and an impediment for further development.

Promotion or awe is what puts us into the comfort zone, state of mind when we can easily believe that we are supreme and that will last forever. False sense of security, idea that current state of technologies will stay the same even tomorrow or that we are using the best out of something. And that’s the pitfall.

When you think that you are using only the best features of some technology and that will be enough for today and tomorrow – you are wrong.

So, what this post is about? It’s about the behavior of people who are trying to learn something new, but skip parts they already “know” or won’t need in foreseeable future. First of all, you think you know, and second – you will need the most complicated part of the technology when you least expect it.

As an example – me and WCF, which is Windows Communication Foundation.  During my training  I skipped the security part, as I already knew WSE, I perfectly know Security+ and CISSP, what could be wrong? It took me 2 days to fix a “complicated” configuration of WCF web service at client’s highly secure area. The whole topic would take 3 hours during the training.

Learn or Die

by Dmitry Kirsanov 1. August 2011 06:28

Sometimes I re-read my old Twitter posts, in which I just memorize some ideas that comes to my mind, in order to write follow-ups here.

Today it is about my First Postulate, which states that once you've stopped learning new stuff - you're dead. So, what do I mean by that and why I am so sure about it?

And I am not speaking about IT training here. It's about everything in life. Don't ever stop asking about everything and anything new around you, even if it's not interesting. You may be not watching TV, but you should know that there are LCD, Plasma and LED TVs, that there are receivers for 3D movies etc. There shall be no area in which you are complete zero. Learn about modern styles of music even if you don't understand them. Use one hour per week for reading and try some authors or genres you wouldn't do otherwise. This way, you will help your brain to last longer. To survive. Or even bring yourself to a new level of quality. I mean - the quality of life, as all knowledge has this as a primary target - to improve the quality of life for those, who share the knowledge.

I will expand this topic later when will speak about creativity and innovations later on.

Total Recall

by Dmitry Kirsanov 30. July 2011 03:38

Once upon a time, I made a web project together with a project manager wannabe, and for various reasons it failed. After having a disagreement with my ex-partner, we decided to leave the project to him, as I would even pay to see how he would handle that project alone. He didn't, but this story is not about that.

He was not a developer, and still he is not, but he wanted to edit the project according to his beliefs, so he hired a small company to continue development. The project was ambitious n-tier application using all technologies I knew at the moment. And that was 2007. A small company didn't have ASP.NET developer, so they hired one, without telling service buyer that he doesn't have a clue how to do what he is asked to.

During the first months beautiful front end was changed and moved to DotNetNuke. I didn't look into the internals of business logic part, as my ex-business partner didn't fulfill his duty to pay for my share in the company, but I believe changes were merely cosmetic and not the good ones.

Anyway, the story is not about that as well. It was just a preamble.

During 2008 I started to teach people software development and systems administration at New Horizons training center in Riga. I loved that job and enjoyed it better than anything before it. I was the one who established IT training in Riga and quickly enough we defeated the monopolist player in the market, "Baltic Computer Academy" (which is not an academy at all, that's just the name). We even dared to move into their office when they were not able to pay for it anymore.

A part of the job was to discuss training program with the future student, so I, as a trainer, would be able to deliver the most relevant training. And one day I met a guy from the mentioned small company, the one who had no clue about ASP.NET software development.

Now imagine the situation, when you were not even paid for the project that you considered a project of a lifetime (that was naivity, but honest nevertheless) and now you meet someone who could complete that project for your dishonest ex partner. That was fine for me, but then he mentioned that project and said that he was the one who architected the whole thing and created it as it stays now and he just needs to learn some advanced bits of ASP.NET in order to complete it.

Well, at that moment I understood for sure that the project is dead, buried and won't be resurrected ever, no matter what. Because you can get knowledge if you don't have it. You can get experience in process. But if you are spoiled with wrong attitude, which is part of you - don't waste your time.

I haven't seen that guy anymore, as the price for training was too high and his little company didn't want to invest into training. Who knows how it would be if they would.



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