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Pure Process: Picking the Creative Brain

What coffee, ironing and crying newborns have to do with the birth of an idea.

UPDATED: The Creative Process Illustrated: How Advertising’s Big Ideas Are Born is now out and we highly recommend it.

What if we knew how great ideas were born? Do great minds really think alike, or is the creative process as unique as our DNA? Can insight into another person’s process help you enrich and polish your own?

Creative academics and researchers Glenn Griffin, PhD and Deborah Morrison, PhD set out to answer these questions and more in an exploratory project-turned-book-deal dubbed Pure Process — an investigation into the minds of the advertising industry’s greatest creative thinkers. In a series of experiments, the researchers analyzed the “process drawings” of these top creative professionals — a visual answer to the question:

 What does your creative process look like?

Illustrated with a Sharpie on what Griffin and Morrison call a “process canvas,” the creatives revealed the routes they take to finding and catching ideas. The results: Just as incredibly diverse, wild and, yes, messy as you’d expect them to be.

So far, the lineup includes all-stars like Alex Bogusky, David Kennedy, Luke Sullivan, Kevin Roddy, Nancy Rice, and David Baldwin, among others. But they’re still looking for submissions — so if you live and work in the larger world of ideas, and you’d like your own creative process dissected and shared with the world, shoot them an email to be considered for inclusion.

It’s important to spend time NOT thinking of ideas. It often comes together when I’m neutral and quiet like in the shower or sound asleep. ~ Danny Gregory, ECD of McGarry Bowen

Pure Process is set for publication next summer by How Books. You can follow Glenn and Deborah on Twitter for updates on the project.

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A Typographic Visualization of Every TED Talk, Ever

9,306 hours of culture’s biggest brain cloud, condensed into a tiny word cloud.

We love TED. We love data visualization. We love fun. So we had some fun with crafting our very own semantic representation of TED talks.

The data comes from this excellent spreadsheet of every TED talk available, compiled by an anonymous author. (We stumbled upon it somewhere down the Twitter rabbit hole months ago.) We used Wordle for the cloud visualization and pulled the words from the official title of each talk — a fairly reliable representation of what the talk is actually about.

Although this model is certainly limited and not at all representative of the full breadth of what TED stands for, an essence begins to emerge — it’s highly concerned with innovation and the future, it’s about tackling global issues, and design is a big part of the solution puzzle.

Share and enjoy.

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Monday Music Muse: Haley Bonar

What Dolly Parton has to do with today’s hippest indie rock scene.

Minnesota-based singer-songwriter Haley Bonar is a fascinating intersection of indie rock, pop-punk and folk. Channeled in a sweetly melodic voice, her lyrical sensibility flows from playfully light to deeply insightful in the stroke of an acoustic chord.

She’s part Aimee Mann, part Neko Case, part your favorite NPR Live session. And unpeggably novel at the same time.

If Haley’s voice sounds familiar, you may have caught her doing back vocals for another indie favorite of ours, Andrew Bird. But her latest solo album, Big Star, is a force all its own. Our top track: Better Half.

Among the singer-songwriter’s musical feats is a stride-stoppingly excellent cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene.

And bonus points to Haley for her gig on our long-established favorite, Daytrotter, where you can snag the entire session for free.

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Truth, Beauty, Math and Crocheting

Why your grandmother’s favorite pastime proves mathematicians are a bunch of clueless hacks.

Science writer Margaret Wertheim and her twin sister Christine are on a crusade to correct the longest-running errors of science through art. Their weapon? Crocheting.

They are the founders of the Institute For Figuring — an exploration of the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics. It’s part mathematics, part feminine handicraft, part marine biology and part environmental activism. And it also happens to be a defining pillar of our mathematical understanding of nature.

So why crocheting?

For a very scientific reason, actually: The peculiar structure typical of corals and sponges is a special form of geometry known as hyperbolic geometry, which just so happens to be the bane of mathematicians’ existence — it’s near-impossible to model on a computer, and the most accurate way mathematicians have of modeling it is through crocheting.

And even that took scientists nearly 2 centuries to figure out — until the discovery of hyperbolic geometry in the 19th century, there were only two kids of space conceivable:  Euclidean, or flat space, and spherical. But it wasn’t until 1997 that the crochet modeling method was discovered by  a mathematician at Cornell, disproving the most fundamental axiom of mathematics — Euclid’s Parallel Postulate.

So here in wool, through domestic feminine art, is the proof that the most famous postulate of mathematics is wrong.

In fact, species like sea slugs have existed for millions of years, happily violating the very principle Euclid claimed was impossible to violate — something mathematicians had previously chosen to conveniently overlook. Crocheting these structures offered not only a new model of geometric representation, but also a whole new model of thinking: This sort of non-euclidean geometry is actually the very foundation of the theory of relativity, thus the closest thing we have to an understanding of the shape of the universe.

The project began in 2005, the first year that global warming really became an issue of global concern for both the science community and the enlightened general public. Coral reefs, which are incredibly delicate organisms, are among the species most severely affected by global warming — any rise in sea temperatures causes vast bleaching events, which inevitably kill entire coral colonies.

But perhaps most fascinatingly, the project serves as a brilliant allegory for the evolution of life on earth. Originally a centralized effort by the Wertheim sisters, the IFF began to attract outside contributions from people all over the world. Today, it has evolved into a global collaboration of science-minded craft-masters, who have contributed tens of thousands of hours worth of human labor totaling thousands of coral models — a truly grassroots exploration of our collective understanding of marine biology and mathematics.

Algebraic representations, equations, codes… We live in a society that’s obsessed with presenting information in this way, teaching information in this way. But through this form of modeling, people can be engaged with the most abstract, high-power, theoretical ideas.

Werheim is particularly passionate about the play-based explorations of concepts, stressing the importance of creating “play tanks” in a society dominated by think tanks — great minds who think about the world and write grand symbolic treaties about it, but don’t engage with great ideas on the highest abstract level.

Watch Wertheim’s fantastic TED talk, where she reveals a glorious intersection of beauty and math.

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