Today engineering creativity is one of my passions, but I grew up on construction sites, my dad is an Engineer, and I often got the opportunity to run around and take a really good look at different buildings as they were being erected. There were modern homes, churches, shopping centres, factories, synagogues and a host of other architectural masterpieces.
What struck me most was how I could run around the building sites one day and witness the foundations in progress. I was fascinated by the deep holes, steel supports and large layers of green coloured plastic sheeting that all had a role to play. Come back the next day and none of this would be visible at all, covered by thick layers of rock- solid concrete slabs.
You might have driven past a construction site or had the opportunity of building your own home recently and can attest to this. If you miss some parts of the building process you are unable to see them again. In fact if you know nothing about construction you would probably not even know that they exist in the first place.
You can see the wire, layers of plastic sheeting and concrete slabs while construction is in progress, but pretty soon all you will see is the finished product. We are quick to admire the interesting homes, churches, shopping centres, factories, synagogues and other architectural brilliance but we are unaware of what lies below the surface.
The foundation disappears from view, but it's there and it keeps the whole structure up.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda-affiliated hijackers flew two Boeing 767 jets into the twin towers in New York City, one into each tower, in a terrorist attack.
The South Tower erupted in flames and started burning, people were jumping out the windows, screaming hysterically and trying to find their way to the stairs to start the 110 floor descent.
The tower kept burning and after 56 minutes it collapsed, killing everyone inside including the fire fighters who had entered the building trying to rescue the survivors.
30 Minutes later the North Tower also collapsed, the foundations inside the buildings were unable to withstand the heat. Almost 3000 people lost their lives that day.
Did this crumple the American nation?
Far from it, the process of clean-up and recovery started, designers, architects and engineers started planning and developing a new structure that would not crumble under such conditions again.
You may have been fortunate to watch the documentary on the World Trade Centre documenting this process. The Americans have amazed the world and pieced together a complex which is even bigger and better. It now includes to a memorial, museum, one world trade centre and three other high rise office parks.
The New World Trade Centre Complex wasn’t built over night it took years of planning and research to build something better, something stronger, and something that will not crumble under the same conditions again.
In construction this is definitely the case, but could strong foundations play an important part in the field of engineering creativity as well? Absolutely!
It is highly unlikely that we can stumble across innovative ideas with the capacity to disrupt life as we know it ad hoc. That would be like walking ground zero, soaking up the chaos and coming back the next day to see the newly completed World Trade Centre Complex.
If foundations are the secret to success as we claim, how do we build them in a virtual world of innovative thinking? Is this actually possible?
Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation states the following: “Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air, they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally contracts) over time.”
To ensure a constant flow of new ideas, we must construct a strong creativity pool built on solid foundations. How do we do this?
Laying the right foundations is actually a lot easier than you might think. In fact it is so simple that you might even question the effectiveness of such basic tools. These building blocks work, they seem simple but are extremely effective in laying the right foundations. The secret is to practise them daily and keep doing it. In my first book Ideas Like Shoes you can read about the wisdom Jerry Seinfeld, the successful comedian shares with a young and upcoming star, Brad Isaacs, who he meets backstage one day. Jerry shares this simple piece of advice that he claims is the secret of his success, write every day. Cross off each successful day on a giant wall calendar and you will see a chain start to develop. Don’t break the chain and you will succeed.
Writing every day might be the secret ingredient to a successful life as a comedian but is it essential in the virtual world of innovation and creativity?
A BIG YES, thinkers have idea books, notepads, journals even iPad’s, in which they record everything that catches their attention, questions that need answers, drawings that appear to them in dreams, ideas and ways to improve existing products, thought provoking quotes and random musings. Idea journals are a unique collection of random thoughts and ideas. Every book is different. Every innovative thinker has some way of recording his own thoughts and ideas.
Keeping an idea journal is an essential part of building a rock solid creativity foundation. What else can be done daily to build creativity pools?
Become an avid reader, carry a book with you wherever you go and read every day. Connect with people in different career fields and from a mix of different backgrounds. Set aside time in your daily schedule to kick off your shoes and unwind and partake in some kind of relaxing activity that has nothing to do with work and finally learn to take a look at things more closely. Simple things that you stare at every day might be exactly what you need to steer your thinking off in new directions. Learn how to see things differently.
In a virtual world of innovative thinking we build strong creativity foundations that ensure a constant flow of new ideas.
1. Keep an idea journal.
2. Read every day
3. Connect with people
4. Take your eye off the ball
5. Look at things more closely
6. Don’t break the chain
"A drop of ink may make a million think." -Lord Byron