How Sculptures Are Becoming Spaceships

How Sculptures Become Spaceships

For decades, the gravity defying sculptures of Kenneth Snelson have risen to the skies with a unique state of energy. These expansive nests of cable and steel rods possess a tranquil and rhythmic aesthetic quality linking geometry with art. It’s a process Snelson has perfected over the years. His sculptures are always a hit with the art-loving community and the not-so-art-loving community. He calls his combination of tension and compression, “tensegrity.” He and Buckminster Fuller seem to have come up with the idea together.

But as things go, good ideas have a multitude of applications. And now there is a new use for tensegrity—spaceships. NASA is now planning to build tensegrity robots called Super Ball Bots. These flexible robots are to roll like tumbleweeds around on the surfaces of planets sometime in the near future. NASA plans to drop the robots from high altitudes and just let them squish on the surface of the planet. Once they’ve done that, they’ll flex back into form and be good as new. Their combination of tension and compression makes these structures both flexible and durable. Without a central body, they basically look like a ball of sticks. Each little stick has its own brain and motor. Each brain works fairly independently and gang together to create an interesting system of interconnected computers that can continue navigating the robot even if some fail. The bots navigate by the each motor tightening or releasing tension in the cables.

How Sculptures Become Spaceships

It’s interesting to find useful solutions in one domain and then see those same principles jump to solve problems in other domains. You can call it synthesis, emulation, association or whatever. But in general, it’s creativity.

Four insights from Kevin Carroll’s lecture

Four insights from Kevin Carroll lecture

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing Kevin Carroll to a packed auditorium of students and faculty. Rarely have I seen a speaker maintain the focus of hundreds of students for that long a time. They even stayed through the entire Q & A session. He brought down the house. If your company is looking for an inspirational speaker for creativity and innovation, I strongly recommend Kevin. His story is incredibly engaging, and he is definitely a positive agent of change. His website is here.

A few memorable lines from Kevin are:

  • A closed mouth don’t get fed: speak up for yourself if you want someone to listen.
  • Haters are my motivators: let the pessimism of others inspire you to act.
  • Be a catalyst – an excitatory agent that speeds up or changes a process, help others change their ideas into reality
  • Be a doer, not a talker: a lot of us talk about making a difference. But few of us actually go a head and do it.

Be a Catalyst for Change

Be a Catalyst for Change

Kevin Carroll is an inspirational speaker promoting creativity and social change. He’s got a great message and stage presence. Check out his TED Talk, from a while back. He’ll be speaking at SCAD this week. What really impresses me about him is that he’s promoting action over talk. We need to start doing what we are talking about. Additionally, he’s pushes the concepts of play and curiosity as motivators. His web site is here.

Using Metaphor as a Creative Strategy


Metaphor as a Creative Strategy

Creativity is valued in businesses these days because creative problem solving leads to larger solutions that can drive innovation. Since many of the problems facing companies are ambiguous with many potential solutions—some good, some not so good—creativity is necessary in developing solutions for larger scale issues.

Creative people are broad, conceptual thinkers visualizing the world through metaphor. They tend to see the forest over the trees. The use of metaphor is an effective strategy for seeing the world differently. Visualizing problems through metaphors assist in the process of finding creative solutions.

Take a moment to visualize what you think a corporation looks like. Is it big, or is it small? Is it run by nice people or mean people? How does your idea of a corporation change when you visualize it as a machine? See how changing that metaphor can change how you begin solving problems. Now change your corporate metaphor to a prison, a carnival, a brain, or an organism. With those in mind, how would you increase productivity for each of those metaphorical visualizations? See how the metaphor changes the way in which you choose to solve problems.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, A Curious Path: Creativity in an Age of Abundance.

Are there really any boring problems?

Are there really any boring problems?

Creativity starts with a problem. As one who teaches creativity, I advise starting with an interesting problem. It’s seems logical that interesting solutions come from interesting problems. But when you think about it, are there any boring problems?

Often times, the determining factor of a boring or interesting problem is in the way you look at it. If you think a certain topic is of little interest, problems associated with that topic are likely to seem that way too. But if you put your brain to work, seemingly dull topics can become interesting. Like many things, once you identify hindrances to clear thinking, it becomes easier to view problems more objectively. Here are some barriers to clear thinking that get in our way.

Egocentrism – we have a self-serving bias when viewing topics. So if we don’t like it, we may think it’s boring.

Sociocentrism – this is defined by group centered thinking. If the group doesn’t think it’s interesting, it isn’t.

Unwarranted assumptions and stereotypes – we often take things for granted. The topic of accounting might not interest a lot of people. But there may be a lot of interesting problems within accounting where innovation could take place.

Relativistic thinking – this is when we believe that truth is a matter of opinion. Last year, I had students describe simple tools in depth to prepare for a pitch. One of the students said, “Why are we describing a screwdriver? Everyone knows how to use one.” Then a student next to him chimed in and said she didn’t.

Wishful thinking – sometimes we believe things to be true because we wish them to be. Maybe that accounting problem seems boring because we don’t want to work on accounting problems to begin with.

It’s hard to be impartial on all accounts. But if we give problems a chance, they can all be interesting. Sometimes by just focusing on the topic, it becomes interesting in itself. Take for instance, numbers deemed uninteresting. These are numbers that don’t fall in any type of loaded sequence like primes, squares or Fibonacci. To view these in these as uninteresting is actually a mistake, because the mere fact that they don’t fall in a sequence can make them interesting. See how in this video from Numberphile on uninteresting numbers.

What’s Your Creative Routine?

What's Your Creative Routine?

It’s interesting to see the daily routines of some of the most creative people in history. Here’s an infographic by R.J. Andrews on the habits of some of them. What It tells us, I don’t really know. You can draw your own conclusion. The related article, INFOGRAPHIC: SEE THE DAILY ROUTINES OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS CREATIVE PEOPLE, was written by Jennifer Miller.

Emulate the Masters, Ask Questions

Emulate the Masters, Ask Lots of Questions


In my mind, curiosity is the main contributor to creativity. That’s because curious people are compelled to seek out new things. Certitude on the other hinders creativity.  People who are certain, are sure they already know the answers. Therefore, they don’t seek out new information. See Adam Savage explain how asking questions helped Richard Feynman, Eratosthenes and Armand Fizeau in his TED-Ed,  talk, How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries.

Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be Invented

With all the 3D printers, flying drones and app designs getting so much of the attention related to innovation these days, it’s easy to think technology is the answer for all things creative. But on the contrary, there are still tons of low-tech creative solutions to be designed. Many times, because of the simplicity in many low-tech solutions, they are the most useful. And what an amazing rush to create something new from things like cardboard, yard sale finds, or just plain garbage.It just takes is some open-mindedness, experimentation and time. Take a look at these examples of low-tech innovation.

Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be Invented Plastic Bottle Light



Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be InventedRocket Stove 


Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be InventedCardboard Help Desk


Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be InventedPlastic Disaster Relief Shelter


Here are some related posts on some related creative strategies

Creativity and Innovation: Lead User Innovation

Creativity and Complexity: The Solution is Often a Product of How You See the Problem

Creativity and Curiosity: Doodle Your Way to Ideas


In In Good Collaborative Projects People Need Alone Time

In Good Collaborative Projects People Need Alone Time


It’s pretty obvious that collaboration is a key component of creativity. Most projects we deal with today are just too big and complex for one person to handle. Plus, the diversity of expertise and insight that groups offer is greatly beneficial in designing solutions. But collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean working together, all the time.

When teaching the dynamics of creativity and collaboration I greatly stress how important it is that collaborative projects maintain a pace.  One way to make sure collaborative projects move forward is for members to spend time working alone. It’s just more efficient. Waiting for people to arrive at meetings wastes time. Often times, you sit and wait for a half hour or more for everyone to show. Additionally, the first fifteen minutes is socializing. Plus scheduling and attending meetings takes time out of your day. If there is something you can do on your own, go ahead and do it. Share the results with the group via social media or the group’s online resource and then get feedback.

Group brainstorming is an occasion where working alone beforehand is hugely beneficial. Brainstorming sessions are times when group members get together to either create a lot of ideas, or to work through some ideas toward a creative solution. To make these sessions more productive, group members should work individually on the topic prior to the group meeting. Group sessions generate far fewer ideas than individual members making lists on their own. Also, when generating ideas in a group, group dynamics take over. Some people tend to participate more and others less, and the words on the board have sway over the words that will be on the board.

Another benefit of working alone while in collaborative groups is the benefit of solitude and deep thinking. If all the work is done as a group, individual members have a difficult time reflecting on the problems at hand. And therefore, they have a tough time thinking through the deeper aspects. Think about a time when you wanted to really concentrate on your work and went home to do it.

Why 100 is the Magic Number for Creativity?

Why 100 is the Magic Number for Creativity


You may have noticed that most creative strategies are designed to generate vast quantities of ideas. This is a component of divergent thinking. Developing divergent thinking skills helps increase your degree of flexibility and fluency with regard to ideation. During ideation, getting past the first few ideas is crucial if you want creative ideas. This is because the first few solutions to come to mind do so because they are closely associated or obvious. I call these ideas “low hanging fruit.” For more innovative ideas, you’ll have to push further. But what’s the optimum number of ideas?

I’ve found 100 to be the magic number of creativity. Each time I ask students to create lists of ideas, the best ones are usually about two-thirds the way down whatever list they make. So for a list of ten, numbers 6 and 7 are usually pretty good. Likewise, in a list of fifty ideas the best ones are generally between 30 and 35. It’s not an exact science, but the trend stands fairly consistent. But after 100 a law of diminishing returns sets in, and the ideas don’t usually get better after that. Think about it for a second, if you only generate ten ideas, you are missing out on idea #34 which statistically, at least in my experience, will probably be better.

If you have a coin collection, think of how many valuable coins you gain by continuing to add coins to the collection. When you had just a few, probably none of them were that unique. It takes a large collection of coins to increase the probability of having valuable coins. So in a sense, when generating ideas, quality is a probabilistic function of quantity. Therefore, the next time you come up with ideas don’t stop until you get to 100. Tom Monahan, author of The Do It Yourself Lobotomy, calls this 100MPH Thinking. Click here for more creativity tools.