In the tech world, the words “innovation” and “creativity” are thrown around like line items on a budget sheet. In fact, they kind of are: How much did you spend on research and development? Truth is, the creative process is the polar opposite of a complex mathematical formula.
I’m often drawn to stories that shed light on the creative process, perhaps because it is so elusive. Since I cover Apple, arguably the most creative company in the world, I run into this often. And what I’ve come to understand is that the creative process starts with simple ideas – ones that can help and hinder.
The late Steve Jobs, for instance, would combine the smooth, simple shapes found in calligraphy with technology. In the last year of his life, he studied the outwardly simplistic paintings by Mark Rothko, perhaps to hang on the walls of an Apple campus, that might inspire staff.
On the dangers of simplicity, here’s a fun video of famed Apple designer Jony Ive taking a look at backpack ideas from kids, on the BBC show Blue Peter. One of Ive’s interesting insights is that the simple name of things can limit people’s creativity without them even knowing it.
“If we’re thinking of ‘lunchbox,’ we [need to] be really careful about not having the word ‘box’ already giving you a bunch of ideas that could be quite narrow, because you think of a box as being square and like a cube,” he says. “And so we’re quite careful with the words we use, because those can sort of determine the path that you go down.”
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.