Truly inspiring: take a virtual stroll to enable new ideas

A few years ago, I stumbled across a post on Stuck in Customs about photography, specifically, HDR photography. I think I’ve told about a dozen ish people, in person, that they have some of the most amazing works online in the category. Then today, I came across this Blame the Monkey blog, which also features some amazing HDR photography. If you don’t already know, HDR stands for “high dynamic range imaging” (HDR for short) which basically merges a few different photos into one. The standard, afaik, is three photos from an SLR camera (some of the higher end SLRS will do it for you, automatically, but you need to hold incredibly still or use a tripod to ensure each photo is taken exactly the same). Sidebar: why do both of these guys have primates as their mascot? Is it because (gasp) since I’m a “pen monkey”, “business monkey”, or “marketing monkey” depending on the context, these guys are poking fun and positioning themselves as “photo monkeys?” :)

Back to the point of this post. A book  read on innovation said that you’re more likely to generate new ideas by taking a stroll, rather than sitting stationary. It makes sense, I suppose – new input = new output. Many, many years ago, I did a lot of research into artificial intelligence, expert systems and fuzzy state machines (if you do video game programming, you know where this is going). Thing is, our mind is a neural network….the best computer simulated version of creativity is Imagination Engines, run by a brilliant PhD that, if you are familiar with military technology, is probably well known to you. Basically, the input into the system is something, then two neural networks iterate over it in their creativity machine paradigm to produce genuinely new ideas. In sum, machine generated discovery. The potential is scary and wonderful, all built into a singal package.

What does artificial intelligence have to do with new idea generation?

Pretty simple, really. At some point or another, we’re all stuck in a circle. My wife likes to say that a lot of people find their rut, fall in and can never get out. I think unintentionally, a lot of people tend to do this, because they stop taking that metaphorical stroll. To change the game, you need to change the rules, the inputs you’re willing to accept have to be different, to enable new output. So even if you’re right all the time, it’s worthwhile to consider being wrong. Admitting failure. Making a mistake, acknowledging it and moving on to trying something brand new. Remember the post-it guy at 3M was a failure at making the better glue he wanted but the failure, itself, was a huge success in an unrelated field.

I think this kind of post is worthwhile for me, at least, bringing together the various inputs I’ve been exposed to over the years, and fleshing out how they apply to what I’m doing in a professional sense. Too many blogs I read are filled with rehashing and reposting of the same list, the same gimmick, the same story, day after day. Sigh. I try to read a few new ones, every week, to see if I can gain something by their discovery but I typically end up reading a rehash of the same half dozen. So this post, like the virtual stroll I’m encouraging people to do, is my way of taking a virtual stroll through new territory, remixing it in my own head and jotting it down to see what sparks fly as a result.

When I first read about HDR photography, I literally spent half a day browsing through photos. This was also the inspiration for my wife to rework many of our own photos, as you can emulate the effect with Aperture on the Mac, to create the different exposure levels, then blend the three photos back together. Every time we have a guest who sees our photo collection, they’re stunned. Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, San Francisco, Dubai, scuba and snorkeling photos all feature in the slideshow of our favorites (eventually, we need to group them by topic). The wonder, excitement and awe I see on people’s faces is priceless. It’s a new experience for them and everytime, I hear the same, fervent claim, “I’m going to Maldives.” The input clearly impacted them, and it wasn’t expected, planned or designed on their own agenda. But they take something from the experience that alters their path, their expectations and their beliefs.

I hope this blog does that for you, too – as it’s already doing for me. :)