Supporting Creativity from within the Concept

The four step theory of creativity widely cited in the creativity theory literature is a good place to begin thinking about computational approaches that can augment and supplement the process.

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination
  4. Implementation

This kind of thinking usually happens in the context of problem solving. It is usually not an open ended creative context, such as the scenario of abstract art I have discussed before. However, on this side note, the abstract art previously discussed enters into this phase after a perceptual logic has been constructed.

Preparation consists of formulating the problem and conducting background work on this topic. One posible hindrance here may be specialization and its resulting fixation. Usually enhancing a thinkers ability to efficiently solve problems, a specialist develops detailed schemes and heuristics for problems types, resulting in a quick identification and problem strategy. Only a few elements are required for the mind to recognize a familiar problem category and initiate a frame for dealing with this kind of problem. A frame ( manifested in many domains: Linguistics and Semantics: Fillmore 1979; Artificial Intelligence: Newell & Simon; McArthy) a cognitive mechanism for efficiently interpreting and navigating through a scene based upon previous encounters. A frame activates subsets within each type of memory, procedural (how to navigate ones body), semantic (interpreting the scene, including relevant symbolic information) , and episodic (abstracted representation of the situation).

Experts have finely developed frames. For example, this is a blog, it is a new context for me to write on. I am used to writing academic papers and worried about citing individuals, etc. However, I am trying to get across and idea, which is the problem I am currently facing. My expertise in the area is forcing me to explain concepts which are necessary, but already known within my mind. The issue I am dealing with in this new medium is that I am writing for two audiences at once: myself, and you. I am writing for myself in the sense that this blog is a sketchbook of ideas and as I put them on paper it becomes an important resource for myself. A searchable database of musings. At the same time, I have to consider the fact that it might be read and that I want people to read it. Thus, I want a certain level of academic rigor and integrity. So there is an issue with the granularity with which I am approaching the problem. This scenario is an open ended creative problem. It does not closely follow with the four step model above but rather more closely follows the two step model mentioned before, in the process article. By writing this paragraph, I have aided myself in moving out of the technical jargon of my field and to stop worrying about the dates and citations and purely scholarly issues to actually get some solid theoretical scholarly work done. In order to be more scholarly, I have to become less scholarly. Interesting.

This is one of my points on creativity. Namely that of scope. And the appropriateness of when to apply various scopes. My issue in the context that I was facing earlier was that I was doing fine grained detail work when I should have been formulating my thoughts and putting them all out there in full. Next, go through the work and make sure it is well referenced and logically coherent and articulate. To remedy this solution, I propose a sort of goal tracker to organize intention at various levels in the creative process. More on that later.

The four stages mentioned earlier do not happen in a straightforward manner, and it could be that writing them in that order may only confuse the matter. However, we will explore this grouping, if only for a little while, because cutting up a concept in a structural manner has its merit. I will explain why cutting up a structure has its merit. It has to do with the scope. To dissect a concept is to think deeply about it–it is to follow a foundation of logic and build what we percieve to be this concept up from that logical foundation. In the case of creativity that we are currently dealing with, we could conceive this as four pillars, and we are constructing the creative process as incrementally adding to these four pillar. We can amass different data and theories relating to each pillar and keep stacking until our constructed concept becomes larger, and this is good, it is a lens with which to see that which we seek. This is what I refer to as vertical thinking. Applying one logical schema to a domain, usually the one that is closely associated to the frame and building the concept up by looking upon each of the details of the theory and flushing them out. It is effectively zooming on on certain aspects of the theory. Instead of viewing the creative process as one mysterious thing, we view it as four somewhat more manageable cognitive steps that we have information on. Then, we proceed to gather information we have on each process and create a pile.

Each step of creativity is like one of these pillars. The more we research it, the more detailed and elaborate it becomes. As the details progress, the pillars become more formidable and can be said to ‘hold weight’, and the concept can now be considered a structure. Researches contributing to it become specialists, thus science progresses in a logical way from a steady foundations of ways to view a concept.

Researches that familiarize themselves with this structure and contribute to it become specialists. Thus science progresses in a logical way from a steady foundations of ways to view a concept.However, there comes a time when a problem arises, which cannot be easily answered. And no amount of building can ever answer this question. In fact, the entire problem space needs to be redefined and the actual representation used for the concept needs to be restructured.

In this way, a diagram, a simple tools used to represent and convey a concept, can be both a blessing and a curse. In the same way a word, or a common linguistic convention for discussing a concept (including the metaphors and analogies commonly used), can also exist as a blessing and a curse. Both symbolic devices help to formulate the thought into a tangible entity and make it easy to transfer the thought from one mind to another, but both also serve to solidify it and make it more difficult to conceive it in a new way.

To bring this back to our initial discussion, which is actually very real and concrete  (sometimes I am too abstract,  I have this problem with scope, you see….), is that of the creative process being conceived as four steps. If we change our initial point of departure (and subsequently our logical foundations), and think of the creative process in terms of my two step model (and also coincidentally similar to the two stage model of Poincaré), then we find that the concept of creativity looks rather different than it did in the four step model. Changing the logical foundation of a concept is just like altering the foundation of a building, it changes what can be built upon it; it restructures the problem space.

Let us now test this theory by presenting the two step model of creativity and examine how discussing creativity in this manner, regardless of whether or not it is exactly accurate, looks qualitatively different than the four pillar concept, and may lead to new discoveries and the tools with which to solve problems (such as building computational tools to aid creativity)

  1. Unstructured creative freedom; liberation,
  2. Analysis and deduction of logic; deliberation.

As I stated in an earlier post, the process oscillates between these two poles, and as the perceptual logic (of the painting) is formulated, less creative freedom exists.

Let us consider this model in a different domain, that of design. In the initial phases of design, it is good to have many different approaches and the medium for communicating these approaches is typically a sketch. Sketches are just that, sketchy, they have maximum creative freedom with little attention paid to the detail; they are for communicating an idea. Each creative expression requires a critical evaluation with feedback, both from other people and from one’s self. The act of bringing the idea out into the world in a concrete form changes the idea. As I said earlier, the representation with which one chooses to present an idea solidifies that idea. Each time a sketch is made the author chooses to highlight a certain angle of the idea, for the individuals ideation as a whole can not be communicated, but one can give a hint to another individual using the sketch + linguistic communication. This is why sketches are so effective, because oftentimes they are accompanied by speech and an understanding of what the situation is. The interlocutor is expecting an idea about the problem so they are especially receptive, which eases the communication and allows the sketch to be general. Thus, the creative liberty is high, until the act is complete, and then an evaluative period ensues.

The idea has now taken a concrete form. In our fictitious design meeting, one member has decided to attempt to communicate their vision of a product and she has chosen a concrete (albeit sketchy) manifestation of the idea. It can be an inkling or a hunch or whatever, but the point is is that it is out there in the world now, however unsure one is about the idea. It is there to be evaluated.

From there, the logic of the idea is deduced. In terms of design, the internal logic of the proposal is compared to the overall logic of the goal and evaluated relative to this parameter. In painting there may not be this overall goal, at least not in the beginning (for as the painting progresses there are sub goals and each region of the painting may exhibit a certain internal perceptual logic that plays a role in the larger perceptual logic of the whole piece). This period of viewing and deliberating provides some clues on where to go next. If the design team decides that this is a valuable insight, they keep the foundation and build upon it (they have laid the groundwork for the concept/idea they will develop). Each new contribution will be on top of that foundation. Each new problem will present a subgoal that requires a certain amount of creative liberty to conjure up a small solution, but the overall project displays an internal logic and has a definite direction. As the process progresses the magnitude of changes dampen and the fine grained details present many smaller problems until eventually the end of the project is reached and the finishing touches are put on the project.

The overall gist of this idea is that creativity happens in conjunction with and is inexorably bound up to evaluation and deduction. And this relationship can be modeled, roughly, according a dampened oscillation with each vertical point corresponding to creative insight and evaluative response.

Would you now agree that we have build up the idea of creativity in a different manner? Or at the very least, highlighted, emphasized, and developed one aspect that was somewhat malnourished in the previous model? As a result of this revaluation of creativity, the end result has very different. In fact, comparing the diagrammatic representations of each can clearly show this difference.

One of my points, or at least something I feel is important to mention, and this gets back to building computational tools to aid creativity (and also gets back to dealing with scope), is that in order for a science to progress, there needs to be periods of building up ideas and developing them, as well as creative liberty to restructure old problems in new ways in order to keep things fresh and inspire active discovery, alleviate fixation, and provide the flexible thinking that can solve real problems in any field.


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