Does Diversity Fuel Innovation?

The Economist: “Ronald Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, has produced several studies which suggest that people with more diverse sources of information consistently generate better ideas … And internal surveys at Google have found that diverse teams are often the most innovative.”

However: “Diversity does not produce better results automatically … It does so only if it is managed well. (Source: David Livermore, author, Driven By Difference). The biggest challenge is to do with trust. Employees need to trust each other if they are to produce their best work … it is easier to establish trust with those you have a lot in common with … Diverse teams … are more likely to produce truly innovative ideas, but they are also more likely to fail completely.”

“A second challenge is to do with culture. Too many companies fail to rethink their management styles as they open their doors to new groups. They issue ambiguous instructions which presume that everyone comes from the same background … They evaluate people on their willingness to speak up without realising that some people—women especially, in many countries—are brought up to hold their tongues and defer to authority.”

“It is easy for companies to think that they have embraced diversity if they appoint the right number of people with the right biological characteristics. That can be hollow if they all come from the same backgrounds … Companies will find it hard to make a success of diversity if they refuse to recognise that it brings challenges as well as opportunities.”

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Is Creativity a Fruit of Dementia?

The Wall Street Journal: “There are several theories on the connection between dementia and artistry. The first involves the prefrontal cortex, contained within the frontal lobe, home of high-level analysis and planning. When the region is damaged in frontotemporal dementia, people stop filtering their behavior and let go of their inhibitions. In the absence of the prefrontal lobe’s self-monitoring, an underlying creative drive emerges.”

“By looking back at the brains of these patients, researchers have found that most of the damage is on the left side—leading to a second theory. Many studies have shown that while the left brain is more analytical and calculating, the right hemisphere is better at interpreting visuospatial relationships and, by extension, creating artwork. When the previously dominant left hemisphere is damaged, the visuospatial faculties of the right hemisphere rise to prominence.”

Also: “It turns out that psychologists have noticed the prevalence of artistic talent among dyslexic children. Studies of university students further reveal high rates of dyslexia among art students. Based on studies of the writing of Leonardo da Vinci, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, some scholars believe they were dyslexic.”

“With further study, we may come to confirm traditional lessons on how to harness creative potential—by releasing our inhibitions, not overthinking, and engaging in free association.”

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littleBits: Designing A Gender-Neutral Toy

C-Suite Strategies, a special supplement in The Wall Street Journal, featured an interview with Ayah Bdeir, founder of littleBits Electronics, makers of gender-neutral kits for building electronic toys — “snap-together electronic circuits, motors, lights and motors.”

“We want to help kids and adults understand the world around them further and reinvent it,” Ms. Bdeir, herself an engineer, says. In response to a question about how she creates gender-neutrality, especially in a category that is traditionally male-oriented, she responds:

“We are deliberately gender-neutral in the design of our product, packaging and communications, the colors we pick, the inventors we feature, the inventions we select [for publicity]. We promote creativity in art, in music, in design, not gendered hobbies. We market littleBits as a tool for invention, learning and play, as opposed to marketing it as a toy, which avoids placing it in either the pink or blue aisle.

The traditional association with robotics and vehicles is that they’re boys’ tools. So, we have bright colors that look like candy. There’s an extra effort to make the circuits look beautiful. And it turns out boys are not turned off. Anecdotally, our teachers tell us it’s close to 40% to 50% girls, which is unheard of in electronics.”

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The Design Science of Conversational Agents

“The challenge of creating a computer “personality” is now one that a growing number of software designers are grappling with,” reports The New York Times. “A new design science is emerging in the pursuit of building what are called “conversational agents,” software programs that understand natural language and speech and can respond to human voice commands. However, the creation of such systems, led by researchers in a field known as human-computer interaction design, is still as much an art as it is a science.”

“Most software designers acknowledge that they are still faced with crossing the ‘uncanny valley,’ in which voices that are almost human-sounding are actually disturbing or jarring … Beyond correct pronunciation, there is the even larger challenge of correctly placing human qualities like inflection and emotion into speech. Linguists call this ‘prosody,’ the ability to add correct stress, intonation or sentiment to spoken language.”

“The highest-quality techniques for natural-sounding speech begin with a human voice that is used to generate a database of parts and even subparts of speech spoken in many different ways. A human voice actor may spend from 10 hours to hundreds of hours, if not more, recording for each database.”

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Wired to Create: The Chaos of the Inventive Mind

The New York Times: “Creativity is a process that reflects our fundamentally chaotic and multifaceted nature,” write Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, authors of Wired to Create. “It is both deliberate and uncontrollable, mindful and mindless, work and play.”

“While creative people run the gamut of personalities, Dr. Kaufman’s research has shown that openness to experience is more highly correlated to creative output than I.Q., divergent thinking or any other personality trait. This openness often yields a drive for exploration … These are people energized and motivated by the possibility of discovering new information.”

“It’s the thrill of the knowledge chase that most excites them,” the authors write, while also noting that turning that knowledge into ideas can be an uncomfortable process: “Those murky, ambiguous places, as highly imaginative people well know, are quite often where the creative magic happens,” they advise.

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Does The Jump Shot Wreck Teamwork?

The Wall Street Journal: “It’s impossible to name any one creator of the jump shot, but once it appeared, it brought chaos to a previously controlled game. In the early 20th century, basketball offenses featured weaves and passes until an open player could fire a set shot—both feet firmly planted on the ground—with two hands … Many of the first jump shooters … redefined what was possible. They held the ball over their head as they leapt, making their shots impossible to block.”

“As the popularity of the jump shot spread, basketball turned into a high-scoring spectacle … Consider the impact of the shot on college basketball. Starting in 1939, the first 11 NCAA national championship games featured an average score of 49.1–39.2. By the following decade (1950-59), scoring had increased by an order of magnitude, with the title game averaging 74.9–66.2. Yet critics still ridiculed the tactic.”

“Hall of Famer Dick McGuire … believed that the jump shot gave individuals too much power, robbing the game of teamwork … Former Notre Dame coach Moose Krause … believed that basketball became too easy by 1957 and ‘gets less and less interesting every year.'”

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