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The Creative Pathway

Sources of Creative Ideas and Artistic Development

A Demonstration of the Veech Innovation Model


Creativity is not the result of being free.  10,000 unrelated ideas have no value.  Value exists in a few critical ideas integrated into a product or service that is useful.  Integration takes time, you can't "make it happen." Integration is the result of living with a set of ideas in your memory and your experience until they modify and make sense of each other.  Then suddenly you "understand".  You are likely to discover over time that there are more and more layers of "understanding" that slowly reveal themselves.  There is always a gap between what you imagine is possible and what you can achieve.  The curse of our lives is that all our experiences are fragmentary, disconnected and linear.  To make sense of our experience we have to find the pattern. The process of discovering the pattern demands the keeping of records, taking measurements, making plans, trying out ideas and seeking "to find the pattern that connects." (Gregory Bateson)  In spite of our best efforts this process is never under our absolute control.

Any new knowledge is always hard won and must be paid for in advance.  We pay in time, commitment, and effort.  The cost is the other things not done, the cash diverted from something else, the time spent developing interpersonal links with a circle of peers who encourage you and may perhaps be helpful.  All this effort for what?  New Knowledge has unknown value, it's not possible to evaluate the potential of something you don't understand.  That is why these projects MUST be driven by a project champion, by a believer, by someone with a vision.  Immediately this becomes a dangerous opportunity for other people.  It's virtually impossible to share the vision.  Writing business plans and project proposals will not prove the case one way or the other.  Try as I might, if you tell me about your project, I still have only my knowledge about it, my real knowledge is nil plus what you told me.  So the key point is do I trust you?  To know more about your project I need to invest time in it, to take the time to walk in your shoes for a while.  To do that I have to divert time and money from other things to invest in my own learning.  Most people faced with this choice back away.  To do more is costly and few people are ready to pay the price.

Veech Innovation Model

Nothing exists until it is discovered by you, there are no shortcuts. The hand and the mind work together in the process of discovering the world. Everybody has this experience, but few people examine the world or themselves intensely enough to break new ground.  To learn to dance in a new way you have to give up old habits of thought and action.  Few people want to make the committment, it's too hard, it may take years.  (Certainly years if learning to dance is your aim.)

In the same way teaching yourself a new understanding demands effort, and maybe at the price of giving up things you've always believed.  If these stable trusted and familiar ideas are "unreliable" then who am I, where will this lead, how far will this deconstruction of my life go?  I'm frightened, so I self censor my thinking, I choose to remain "safe".  The cost of real change just too great for most people to willingly undertake.  Essentially this is why we can't innovate. We censor ourselves to preserve the values and ideas that we cherish.

Creative people are constantly tinkering, doing lots of things, they may find nothing is more exciting than work.  If someone finds those critical few ideas that fit together and develops something of value it's always the result of a labour of love.  In an ideal world this would also be one's job, but the world is not ideal. 

In the real world a person developing an idea that looked achievable is often frustrated by a hiding hand.  An unexpected negative result.  Does one accept a failure?  Or do you find the resources to try again?  When does the desire to try again become an obsession? If you abandon accepted priorities and objectives in order to find resources for the "project" other people may be highly critical.  This is the route to the wilderness.  It may be the route to great success or massive failure and only the people involved are in a position to judge if the cost is too great.  Most innovators work on their dreams part-time, are underfunded and work for a long time before they achieve success.

Unless a creative product is integrated with the real world it will bring disaster to it's creator.  The Veech Innovation Model is a general tool developed originally in a different form in the 1980's to help high school classes understand the success and failure of people in history.  The tool has had several versions as my thinking has developed.  This is the 1996 version.  I think it sheds light on what people must do for success in the present. 

The Veech Innovation Model has five parts;

                      (1) Personal Effort          | (4) Information | 
                  - -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --- ---|----------------------->(5) Outputs
                          (2) Community Support    | (3) Resources  | 

The model illustrates the idea that any persons success is never solely the result of that person's effort.  The vision of the heroic solo artist is a myth.  In the text below the numbers of the quadrants in the model are used to help relate each point to the model.  Any feature of the model may influence the outcome in a positive or negative manner.  Every project is subject to external events which I call the "hiding hand". The "hiding hand" can be positive (serendipity), but the negative events are the one's we remember because they hurt the most.  When we are forced out of our comfort zone it's the pain of failure that drives us.

We live in community, and the community enables the efforts of some and disables the efforts of others.  Each project has a personal and community context and combines readiness, courage (resistance to fear) and chance.  These three are the key to opportunity.  Control over the outcome is not possible. 

The problem of giving credit to the right people is not unique to NZ.  Remember what happened to Philo T Farnsworth, the inventor of the electronic television in the USA.

To succeed the creative person may need to work hard, to fight for a principle, perhaps to spend time in the wilderness.  The innovative person may have to develop new skills (1), to involve other people as mentors or peer support (2), to find sponsors and resources (3) and to use the best ideas and information (4).  Even when one person has done every thing one person could be expected to do, failure is still highly likely (-5).

In spite of success, like a working model, the world can deal harshly with creative people. The project is still likely to be under funded (-3), and the future vague. 

In the world of creative endeavour there are infinite ways to lose and only a few ways to win.  To succeed you have to choose a task that can be integrated with the life ambitions of others, with the current availability of resources and with ideas that can be readily understood.  Most creative projects fail as soon as they begin to look for funding (-3). Good ideas are of little value, and novelty has no value at all.  Value lies in a tight integrated group of ideas (4) that not only produce a useful product (5), but also make it available at a profit.  To be of value the production must be needed now, by people who can afford to pay for it, and should be superior in important ways that ordinary people can understand. 

One of the most difficult tasks for innovators is knowing when to hold on, and when to let go of the project.  The requirements of production and marketing are so different from the skills of the innovator, that hands on control is seldom desirable (-1).  I've talked to many innovators who demand up front cash plus retention of 51% of the company from financial backers.  That's unrealistic dreaming.  The project needs people with new skills and new money.  Those who join the team are investing part of themselves, yet they are heavily reliant on the innovators prior and future efforts.  That may prove to be a great benefit or a huge handicap.  At the time they become involved there will be no reliable answer to that question.  The first outside financiers, managers and staff are demonstrating trust in the project and in the innovator.  The future support of the innovator can also be critical to success (+1) and the deal needs to treat the innovator justly.  I'm told that deals struck in the U.S.A.  often give the inventor 10-20% initial stake in the venture, provide a small income during startup, and for an increase in the innovators stake in the company once certain sales and profit objectives have been met.  In other words the innovator gets support but is in turn giving the investor some guarantee of fidelity. 

Fortunately for the innovator market failure is never the end.  Valuable lessons are always learnt (4).  You live to play again, with better skills. Even when you lose the main prize there are other winning posts, and alternative uses for the skills you have developed.  These discoveries are only made and understood by the innovator.  Managers, supporters or investors may gain some insight into the work, but the territory ultimately belongs to those who have direct knowledge and experience.

Example: Richard Pearse - NZ's pioneer aviator

Pearse was building an aircraft in NZ at the same time as the Wright brothers in the USA. Pearse may have flown first, but his flight was short and lacked control. Pearse considered it a failure, but his aircraft have several advanced ideas for which Pearse was granted patents.

The most brilliant and hard working people only have direct control over their personal actions (1).  Faced by community opposition and disinterest (-2), and huge difficulties of isolation from the mainstream of aviation ideas (-4) .  Pearse was disappointed with his effort, he needed somebody to tell him how well he had done (2).  The cultural cringe in NZ (-2), created an inability for the NZ public to recognise what Pearse had achieved.  He was seen as a crackpot.  It could be argued that Pearse himself did not understand what he had accomplished, and did not try to sell himself to the community (-1). 

There are people like Richard Pearse in every town.  They are told over and over the importance of positive thinking and of persistence in the task.  They are never told what they need, in addition to hard work and a good idea, to be successful.  The myth of the "lone hero with a piece of No8 wire" is perpetuated.  When we fail to acknowledge the need for a team approach we make the creation of effective teams more difficult. 

The "hiding hand", the accidents of history, are hugely important in the success stakes, and are beyond the control of any individual.  The "hiding hand" can appear in every part of the Veech Innovation Model . All any individual can do is develop skills (1), try to interest other people in the project (2), seek sources of money and resources (3), become informed about the best ideas (4), and try to achieve practical results (5).  An inventor can be responsible for his or her own motivation and action (1), but success finally depends on the motivation and action of other people and events beyond direct control (2)(3)(4)(5). 

Reading about the success of others can add to the mythology.  Viewed in hindsight, the developer of a new concept is likely to explain it as a fairly linear process.  The myth of a great man who knew exactly what he was going to invent by "visualizing every detail" is perpetuated. People are not curious about all the wrong turns, all the silly ideas one had, in how both successes and failures changed ones mind-set.  People want a simple story, the truth is complicated and boring.  Success stories make better copy, but they implant pseudo information.  In fact new ideas and products start vague and fuzzy and only slowly become something one understands. How can it be otherwise?  Creativity occurs in the prepared mind (1).  The connection is made between the present task and past knowledge and a possible solution reveals itself (4).  Even then, one may not be able to explain it to anyone else (2).  In my own experience an image or a relationship suddenly becomes important, and the project develops out of that "vision". Finding the words, creating drawings, building a prototype are all successive stages in a continuing revelation.  New possibilities, meanings and potentials continually appear (1).  I have this new idea, I may explain it to you, but I can't be sure that I understand it yet.  Creativity is sustained by optimism, the love of the project and the conviction that this effort is leading somewhere. 

Nobody can be successful with the only ideas of other people.  You have to add something of your own.  The integration of other people's ideas with a practical current objective is frequently a route to success.  An American, Howard Gruber, studied creative people from history through their journals and notebooks.  A journal is a work book that people write in to record data and to develop one's own ideas (+1).  Gruber found that new ideas took a long time to develop.  The seeds of a successful idea may appear in a journal 20 years before the idea is finally exposed to the public.  Those who think of a new idea often dismiss it (-1), but some images keep coming back.  Fear of public ridicule or official disapproval (-2) frequently caused people to hide their good ideas.  Gruber also says that each person seems to develop shorthand methods of drawing diagrams and making notes.  Each person also seems to develop favourite methods. Gruber says that these "patterns of wide scope" are useful tools for giving an idea structure (4), and that these tools appear early in the journals and are used over and over for many different tasks. 

Despite the many agencies to support the arts, design and business innovation: and much government support too; effective help to business innovation has not been provided anywhere to my knowledge.  There are many who will claim success, but I think all such claims are open to challenge. 

[New text 2006] I've recently reviewed 22 modern innovations. Only SEVEN of those involved a new product. On the other hand SIXTEEN involved either a new service or a significant improvement in a service. The model stands up well. But the recent study does lead me to a broader understanding which I explain here. [End]

John Veitch

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