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9.1.3. Sensing: Attentive Creativity


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 9. Managing in a Complex World > 9.1. Sensing > 9.1.3. Sensing: Attentive Creativity

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One of the tricks of being creative is to knowing how to pay attention. Artists and photographers learn to master their visual senses and when looking at a scene will see far more than the rest of us. They see texture, light, shadow and a myriad of hues that we barely begin to notice. Authors and storytellers pay greater attention to words and how they sound, both individually and in combination. In the same way, an inventor pays attention to the detail of a problem that other people pass by.

In 1819, Hans Christian Oersted was demonstrating electricity to some students, when he noticed the needle of a nearby compass flicker. Rather than ignore it, he investigated further and hence discovered electromagnetism.

Swiss inventor George de Mestral went hunting one day in the late 1940s and noticed how burrs from a plant stuck to his clothes, but could also be removed without damage to the clothes. Many people would just find this an annoyance, but de Mestral was so fascinated, both by how it happened and the potential for a clothes fastener, that he studied the plant closely and then spent several years perfecting what is now known as ‘Velcro.’

Another very important trick is where to pay attention. Defining the problem means defining where you are going to pay attention and consequently where you are not going to look. Ask questions like ‘What is the real problem?’ and look hard at the situation in different ways. In this way a completely new formulation can change your attention, for example if you changed ‘build a better staircase’ into ‘transport people to another floor’ or ‘make the hall look imposing’. You can also find a closer focus by considering detailed problems such as ‘how to cantilever into a thin wall’ or ‘how to create a sense of light solidity’. Zooming in and out of the problem and mentally flying around inside it can give you different perspectives that can lead to new and effective ideas.

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