The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. - Socrates
When you meet graduates of computer science programs from twenty years ago, you often encounter a resistance to creativity, a disdain for ideas or thinking "outside the box." There's often such a strong emphasis on nomenclature (naming of computer terms), but a lack of understanding in how to create anything new! These individuals can hold management and leadership positions often in academia where they are good at doing repeatable tasks, just like the computers they are working with, are programmed to do. They however consistently fail to see the bigger picture or even allow themselves the opportunity to imagine more.
Imagining The Personal Computer
This is funny though when you look back at the computer itself and how it was first imagined in the minds of Charles Babbage, a mathematician and Ada Lovelace, a very talented young lady with a keen aptitude for both mathematics and poetry.
Charles Babbage, considered the father of the computer, built a Difference Machine and an Analytical Engine with the goal of having a device that could do simple mathematical computations for general purposes. Ada loved his work and took this idea further, envisioning a machine that could do complex math like algorithms.
Ada imagined and described in detail a general-purpose machine that could not only do specific preset tasks, but also perform a new programmable array of tasks that could constantly be changed. This immediately opened up a lot of possibilities for how the machine could be used. She also helped define a computer 'operation' to be any process that could alter the mutual relation of two or more things.
Ada recognized that you could take any symbol including words, logic or music and program it into the machine. This brilliant insight became the core concept for our digital age where any piece of content, data or information - whether it is text, music, numbers, symbols, sound or video - can be programmed or expressed in a digital format that can be stored and manipulated by machines.
Thinking Differently and Connecting the Dots
Ada connected the dots, seeing a bigger picture for Babbage's machine than he could see himself. She also wrote the first code for this machine. Ada envisioned the idea for the modern day computer, a machine that would be built 100 years later. As Ada explains in an essay in 1841:
"What is imagination? It is the Combining faculty. It brings together things, facts, ideas, conceptions in new, original, endless, ever-varying combinations...It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science."
Computers: Our Partners in Unleashing Potential
Ada's contribution, while criticized and dismissed by the scientific establishment of the day, helped pave the way for a broader understanding of what personal computers could do and how processing power could be used with any type of information. She was able to imagine a future where computers could become partners with human imagination, building something greater together. This is happening today, 100 years later! Today we live in such an exciting time where companies like Apple and many others are making it easier than ever to connect art and science. This is apparent in amazing apps and websites that are being built by individuals and companies in use all over the world.
Design, the Differentiator
The rapid spread and improvements in technology in just the past decade alone has lowered the cost to create software infrastructure. Software has become marginal in cost. Most of the innovation that we are seeing today is at the top of the stack or the interface with end users. Innovation is happening where technology meets design. We believe that the remaInder of the 21st century will be defined by entrepreneurial designers and design-led companies who grasp this and work hands-on and collaboratively to create the best user experiences possible.
Curiosity and an Incurable Desire to Improve Things
Designers and creative people who are curious and have a desire to improve things, now have the ability to improve the quality of people's lives on a daily basis as software usage becomes easy and commonplace, for the better. We have the ability to transform how people live from eating, communicating and traveling to solving longstanding global problems such as the ways cities are designed and the resources people have access to (water, healthy foods and more, for example). Our ability to experiment and to communicate while reaching people across the globe has never been faster or easier. Thinking creatively is spreading like wildfire - a fire that we hope is never contained and continues to grow and inspire new thinking and new doing.
We live in an incredible time. Art and science intersect in new, profound ways. Technology has also become more accessible, allowing for the widespread adoption of new ideas faster than ever before.
Like many other tech founders, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, could have kept his company solely within the technology space. Instead, he said that a great business lay at the intersection of liberal arts and the sciences. This vision and foresight is so apparent today at Apple through its product line that has helped unleash the creative power and potential of so many individuals across the world.
For anyone interested in a creative career, the swift changes happening today as art and science mesh and interact in new ways, is also very exciting.
Having the ability to create - whether it is writing, designing, drawing, coding, teaching, research, playing music or inventing a new product or service - is a wonderful gift. Being able to apply that in a way that is meaningful can also offer you tremendous fulfillment.
The creative class, a term coined by Richard Florida, accounts for 1/3 of the workforce and earns over 1/2 of the nation's wages.
An economist and social scientist, Richard Florida came up with the term creative class in his book The Rise of the Creative Class to constitute people who were working in professions where they constantly create and "fully engage in the creative process." (2002, pg. 69). This includes a large variety of occupations including science, computer programming, engineering, research, education, arts, design and media.
This class is also responsible for creating entirely new jobs that did not exist even five to ten years ago. The demand for these positions is accelerating today. In fact, an extensive study by the World Economic Forum revealed that as high as 65% of children entering primary school today will be in jobs that do not yet exist.
So how do you build a creative career that uses your abilities and offers you ways to make an impact?
We've got a few ideas. :)
1. Have Purpose
Work that has meaning, resonates with you. Having purpose in what you do, is both a grounding experience and an empowering one. From that place, you grow aware of your strengths and abilities and learn how you can contribute effectively. You also become part of something bigger than yourself. Purpose gives meaning to your work.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently shared in his commencement address to MIT graduates how working at Apple gave him purpose he was seeking. He also encouraged graduates to "use your minds and hands — and your hearts — to build something bigger than yourselves." Tim also asked this great question, "How will you serve humanity?"
2. Allow Yourself the Freedom to Experiment and Fail
It may be hard to believe but when Thomas Edison was in school, his teachers considered him not intelligent enough to learn anything. Edison thankfully did not take this to heart. His persistence in work was remarkable. Edison failed 1,000 times before he finally succeeded in inventing the light bulb, one of the greatest inventions of modern society. So many entrepreneurs and inventors have failed multiple times over a long span of time before they ultimately found success in their ideas. During his 84 years, Thomas Edison went on to acquire 1,093 patents, inventing the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb and one of the first motion picture cameras. Edison also created the first industrial research laboratory in the world. What would have happened if he just gave up?
At his commencement address at Harvard, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, "The greatest successes come from the freedom to fail." We like this a lot at Elf because this kind of mindset gives you the freedom to begin and to try out new ideas. The freedom to experiment is often where the best ideas and solutions come from.
3. Keep a Solution-Oriented Design and Engineering Mindset
We love designing at Elf. We also have found that having a design and engineering mindset helps us solve client problems. We go in with a clear goal to solve problems and to come up with winning solutions, and then we go and accomplish that. This mindset can be applied to anything though. It is not limited to digital creative work.
Often in creating intellectual property and designing innovative experiences for clients, we have discovered that we are also transforming their existing businesses. Looking at a problem in a new way can also help identify and then address previously unmet customer needs. This in turn, also engage new customers and help expand our clients' customer base and audience.
We think that many of the global problems that we see today are design problems - problems that can be solved! By using your mind in new creative ways, who knows - maybe you will be the individual who rises to the challenge and helps design and engineer a solution to an existing problem!
4. Be Original
Creativity demands originality. To do something original, you create something that has never been done before. It could be a small thing, spinning off an existing idea, product or service. It can also be a very big disruptive idea, resulting in businesses that completely upend industries through innovative approaches to meeting customer needs.
The sharing economy is an example of a big disruptive idea. AirBnB revolutionized the travel lodging industry by offering a way for people to rent out their homes without actually owning or controlling at least a stake in all the rental properties in question (like prior practice). Uber also changed the transportation industry in a similar way. This shift from an asset-driven economy to a sharing economy is happening across many industry sectors.
When you have got a big disruptive idea, you may not have any benchmarks or relevant industry data to learn from. You are essentially creating something entirely new that has not been done before. You need courage and determination to do this despite the unknowns that you may face.
You can also create a spinoff or variation of an existing idea that has been met with great customer success. The meal delivery service industry is a good example of this. Blue Apron was one of the first companies to offer packaged weekly meals delivered to your home, saving you time going to the grocery store while helping you stay healthy and teaching you how to cook. Since then, many companies now offer this. Some provide additional options like paleo, gluten-free or other dietary choices such as SunBasket and yet others provide even pre-cut vegetables like Terra's Kitchen.
5. Help Others
We've found in helping others, that we grow too. At Elf, we have a couple of different initiatives that we have done over the years. Our magazine Hayden's has grown significantly over the years since its founding in Dec 2008 to become a 9 M+ global community. By sharing the works of visual artists and musicians, we've learned a lot as well. It is an enriching and inspiring experience.
Additional ideas in the works include an accelerator to help graduating high school students build out new business ideas while they are at college and a hack-a-thon series that we are just beginning in 2017. We also host portfolio reviews periodically with Behance to encourage aspiring creatives within our local communities both here and abroad at our office in London, England.
Through all of our events and community endeavors, we've noticed some common threads. Creative people consistently seek out:
- high quality experiences
- opportunities to excel and collaborate
- open environments for learning
- opportunities to validate their creativity
- recognition and appreciation for their work
- opportunities to be creative in other ways (lifestyle and recreational choices)
- inclusive and tolerant environments
We have remarkable opportunities available today to us to create new innovations and to see things in new ways. The full potential of all these opportunities is yet to be fully realized or even fully understood. This also allows for more individuals to share their ideas and creativity, which in turn, leads to inclusivity and bringing people from different industries and backgrounds together.
We're excited by this and what we can do to contribute to our society and the world, in both big and small ways. We hope reading this inspires you to grow and to be all you can be.