Patent Trolls: Good Riddance

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a decision that might be the most important for innovation than anything else that happens this year. They ruled unanimously that patent trolls can’t file lawsuits anywhere they want. For years, anybody with a patent, that wanted to file a frivolous lawsuit against a big corporation, would take them to court in the Eastern District of Texas. Why? Because the judges there were perceived as more friendly to these “patent trolls” than anywhere else in the U.S.

About 40 percent of patent cases last year were filed in the tiny town of Marshall, Texas, which has only 25,000 residents. An amicus brief in the lawsuit said about Texas that “local practices and rules depart from national norms in ways attractive for incentivizing settlement for less than the cost of litigating the early stages of patent cases.” What that means is that the big companies often settle out of court, essentially paying extortion fees to the patent troll, simply to avoid the expense of defending themselves in Eastern Texas, knowing that the courts there usually side with the plaintiff. It’s called “venue shopping.” And with this decision, it stops.

Patent trolls block collaboration and innovation. Take a look at why, in my book Group Genius.

GROUP GENIUS: New and Improved!

A new version of the book Group Genius has just been published! I’ve updated every chapter and page, and I’ve written a new chapter on how social media drives collaborative creativity.

Group Genius, first published in 2007, showed that creativity is always collaborative–even when you’re alone. Back in 2007, it was pretty radical to claim that collaboration drives innovation. The accepted wisdom was that brilliant people came up with creative ideas all by themselves. Business leaders competed to hire the most creative professionals—offering free lunch, day care, and ping pong tables. They were convinced that they needed special geniuses to generate innovation. Most creativity advice books told people how to come up with better ideas.

Now, ten years later, the evidence for the creative power of collaboration is overwhelming. In 2015, a majority of executives say more collaboration leads to greater profits. In 2016, the Harvard Business Review reported that employee collaboration time was way up in the last two decades—from 50 percent to as much as 80 percent. In 2016, the New York Times wrote that “teams are now the fundamental unit of organization.” Today everyone agrees that collaboration is the key to innovation.

But there’s a problem: It turns out that it’s hard to collaborate successfully. Brainstorming is a good example: Numerous studies have shown that this popular technique is usually a waste of time. There’s so much ineffective collaboration and bad teamwork that there’s been a backlash. Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet argues that when people spend time alone, they’re more effective, more creative, and more successful. She calls the increasing emphasis on teamwork “The New Groupthink.” The truth is that, despite the proliferation of advice in the business press, many companies don’t know how to foster creative collaboration.

Here’s where the research comes in. My research has shown that only certain kinds of collaboration work in the real world—improvisations that are guided and planned, but in a way that doesn’t kill the power of improvisation to generate unexpected insights. Fortunately, today’s research tells us how. For example, I show that improvised innovation is more likely to work when a group experiences group flow—the group equivalent of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous “flow” state, when we perform at our peak and lose track of time. Most teams never experience group flow; knowing the research will help you attain this peak experience. And I show how to build brainstorming groups that realize their full creative potential.

Today’s Internet tools make collaboration easier than ever: Slack, Google Plus+, WebEx, Basecamp…the list grows longer every month. Critical business functions have migrated into the cloud, allowing everyone to work together more efficiently and access the same data. Social media like Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest expand our social networks and bring us together in groups that include millions. More than ever before, we need to understand how to harness these tools to foster creative collaboration.

While doing research for this second edition, I bought so many books about collaboration that I had to buy another bookshelf. Just last month, another book about collaboration appeared, with almost exactly the same argument: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. But while reading these books, I discovered that some of the most exciting research on group creativity goes unnoticed. That’s why I’ve written this second edition—to share the surprising insights of the science of collaboration. In this new edition, I bring together research on face-to-face collaboration, everyday conversation, and even jazz, theater, and basketball teams, as well as the latest science of Internet-based collaboration. This research shows how we can use social media and business productivity apps to bring us together in ways that build on our deeply human need for collaboration.

Take a look at the new book: http://www.groupgenius.net

A Writer Is…

William Stafford, on “Writing,” has this to say:

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

This quotation appears in a book by Carol Burke and Molly Best Tinsley called The Creative Process, filled with exercises for writers they’ve taken from their own workshop for writers. They go on to write:

The perfect stanza or paragraph does not leap fully formed from the writer’s brain; rather it is the result of much experimentation–tightening and expansion, rewording and reordering, through draft after draft. (p. 6)

The writer might put it this way: I don’t know what I’ve got to say until it’s down on paper, but I can’t start getting it down on paper until I know what I’m going to say. (p. 7)

Keep Creativity Alive in Children

I just stumbled on a fascinating essay about creativity in schools. It could have been written yesterday! Read to the end to find out who the famous author is, and what year it was written:

How can we keep creativity alive in children?

Creative children are likely to be unusual children. They get bored with the idea of Jack’s always going up the hill with Jill. They do not accept things as they are; they do not easily settle down to their lessons as they are given to them.

The good teacher may be genuinely searching for creativity in her pupils. But she is continually defeated in her efforts by the demands of her supervisor, the politics of the local school system, the lack of space, the lack of materials, the lack of assistance, the size of the class. Given these obstacles, she is unprepared to cope with the child who uses his creativity to defeat her. The child who constructs questions that will arouse the boys to raucous laughter, whose raised hand she must therefore distrust; the child who invents secret clubs and ciphers and signals and ceremonies that turn the classroom into something strange and unpredictable.

We fail to see obstructiveness as an aspect of creativity. The teacher cannot risk disrupting the precarious balance of her overcrowded classroom. The best teacher has little time or energy for any kind of creativity, and none for the disruptive sort. But we can remedy these things quite easily and inexpensively. We can build enough schools. We can hire clerks and janitors and guards to take much of the burdensome load off the teacher’s back. We can pay our teachers well enough to keep as teachers all those who really want to teach.

We want people who are original, creative, spontaneous, innovative. But we want them to be produced by teachers whom we condemn in a hundred ways to be overworked and uninspired, unrespected and underpaid. We would like the children of America to be creative, to learn about creativity, while we make the best change they have to learn, to respond to teaching, as uncreative as possible. There is only one sure way to develop creativity in all the different kinds of children in schools. We must cherish the creativity of all those who have elected to become teachers because they want to teach.

If we are to give more than lip service to creativity in children, we must actively support the creativity of the teacher. We must come to recognize fully the creativity of good teaching.

Year: 1962

Author: Anthropologist Margaret Mead, author of the famous book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

This article was published as “Where education fits in” in Think magazine, Nov-Dec 1962, pp. 16-21.

Teaching is an Art (John Dewey)

I’m re-reading John Dewey’s 1934 book Art as experience in connection with an article I’m writing. This passage, near the end (p. 347), jumped out at me:

It is by way of communication that art becomes the incomparable organ of instruction, but the way is so remote from that usually associated with the idea of education, it is a way that lifts art so far above what we are accustomed to think of as instruction, that we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art. But our revolt is in fact a reflection upon education that proceeds by methods so literal as to exclude the imagination and one not touching the desires and emotions of men.

In the first 346 pages of his book, Dewey argues that art is an experience that a person has while interacting with an artwork. It is not the object, the work of art; it’s the interactive experience. Great teaching is interactive and improvisational, and when it’s effective, the interaction has the characteristics that Dewey calls “aesthetic experience.”

Videogame Design as Art

I was going through some old files this weekend, and I found a journal I kept while designing videogames for Atari in 1982. My journal ends on December 22, 1982. I’ll never read the whole thing, but I scanned the first and last pages, and here’s the final paragraph on the last page:

Though I can’t speak for all of the designers here, I myself approach game design as a very special, almost sacred art. I treat it, in many ways, as any artist would treat his work. The immediacy, plasticity, and interactiveness of the videogame design medium heightens all of these traditional artist feelings beyond what static art can provide.

It’s a little self-important, I have to admit, but I’m blogging this anyway–because even though it all seems so obvious now, back in 1982 no one took interactivity or videogames seriously–they were just toys. (And note that “interactivity” wasn’t even a thing; I called it “interactiveness” because in 1982, there wasn’t a word for it.)

To Be Creative, Read a Lot

You’ll be more creative if you fill your mind with a variety of information. It helps you make those distant combinations that lead to bigger and more surprising creative ideas.

So I loved reading this new article in Science Magazine, by Julian West, a doctoral student in organic chemistry at Princeton. I’ve excerpted the passages that resonated with me.

I aggressively curate and monitor the notifications I receive about newly published papers, and I read those that strike my interest, even if they’re not directly related to my research. Perhaps the biggest question is why I make the effort. The short answer is that I read widely to prepare myself for whatever might come along in the lab. My biggest fear is the one that got away, the important discovery that I missed because I couldn’t see it for what it was.

Reading only in my subdiscipline would limit the kinds of connections I can draw.

Time and again, strange observations in the lab reminded me of a paper I had read in some far-out journal, or a seemingly irrelevant visiting speaker’s talk suddenly led me to understand a result that had been bugging me for weeks.

My advice: Read widely and voraciously.

One of the key lessons is that it’s not easy. It takes time and effort. It’s easier to stay focused on one thing, to work on what everyone else is working on, to read all of the same articles that your colleagues are reading. But creativity? You’ve got to work at that, to do things your colleagues aren’t.