368. Where Do Good Ideas Come From?
A previous episode number three sixty seven. If you're cutting was about the future of meat, one of the people helping determine that future is via chemists named Pat Brown. He founded a company called impossible foods whose mission is whose mission is to completely replace animals as a food production technology by twenty thirty five the science behind Brown's idea is fascinating impressive and all that. But it has also to me at least it's also an act of remarkable creativity. Well, just in principle, it should be possible to produce food that deliver all the qualities that consumers. Want more sustainably from plant making me out of plants was not Pat Brown's first creative breakthrough years earlier as a Stanford researcher. He created a genetic tool called the DNA micro array that lets you learn how the genome rights life story of Sal. As interesting it was to talk to Pat Brown about both the DNA, micro array and impossible meat. I found myself thinking about an even more interesting question, or at least a much broader one whether we're talking science or the arts or business where do creative ideas come from. So today, unforgiving straight. He'll we resume our occasional how to be creative series with that question. Some ideas as will here are made possible by new technologies, and that's what enabled the revolution in our ability to map the universe. Some ideas are imposed by deadline when you have a lot of restrictions. Also have something to struggle with to fight against in some ideas. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, you think? And then it turns out that they came from the future, and we're should you look for inspiration inspiration is for amateurs the rest of just show up and get to work. And then. From Stitcher and productions this is freakonomics radio the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host, Stephen Duffner. Up to this point in our series on creativity. We've looked at some myths like the connection between creativity and dysfunction. It's false many creative people do have dysfunctional families, but not every creative person as a dysfunctional family. We looked at the connection between creativity and school schools end up focusing on the things that are most easily assessed rather than focusing on the things that are most valuable for kids. So what we need to do is to focus more on trying to assess the things we've rather than valuing things that are most easily assess. But we haven't figured out yet. How to answer the question. You may ask whenever you see an enormously creative thing whether to sculpture or movie or a scientific leap, how do they come up with that idea? The idea, of course is just the beginning. I'm sure you've heard the famous saying generally tributed to Thomas Edison genius is one percent inspiration ninety nine percent, perspiration, still. What about that? One percent. Where does it come from? And how can you get more of it? You know in the evening when I'm listening to music. That's when ideas come it's very important to feel free. I don't think there's any way you can be creative without failing free. That is the pioneering astrophysicist Margaret Geller. I like to say that I've spent my life mapping the universe. Giller is responsible for discoveries about the disk. Bution of galaxies in the universe. The fact that they're offering clumps and not distributed evenly to reach that. Understanding Geller had together. Many observational of distant galaxies, essentially, take pictures of them. And the thing that enabled us to do. What we did was a big change in the technology. Giller started doing this research around nineteen eighty so at that time what happened is that people went from photographic plates to what we call solid state detectors now that may be a confusing term, but every single person has one of those in their pocket. So your cell phone the detector in it, the thing you take pictures with is a so-called charge coupled of ice, and it's about as big as your fingernail, we use those same things and astronomy bigger ones. And that's what enabled the revolution in our ability to map the universe. The galaxies Geller wanted to observe. We're. Many light years away. I think it's amazing to think about that that these photons these particles of light travel through the pretty empty universe for hundreds of millions billions of years. They don't hit anything till they hit these tiny detectors on this tiny speck of dust. We call the earth we interpret those signals to figure out what the universe looks like. And how it came to be. So the question was are there patterns in the universe? Are there features? Is there some geometry? So that's where Geller's pathbreaking idea came from. I there was a new technology that afforded a much better view of the universe. Then the big question that hadn't been answered what is the underlying geometry of the universe? So then the question is the universe is big in life is short. So how do you address this question if you have? A small telescope and you want to get done. So I began to think about the earth and the patterns on the surface of the earth. So what are the biggest patterns? It's the continents and the oceans, so suppose, you're an alien, and you wanna know whether the earth has continents and oceans, but you can only see a tiny fraction of it say the fraction covered by Rhode Island. What shape do you take for the sample that you're allowed to see? Well, if you take a patch, you're not gonna learn much because most of the time it'll land in the ocean, but you can take a very thin great circle around the earth. And there are a few great circles that pass through only oceans, but those are few most will cross both the landmass and the ocean, you'll find out that the earth has two kinds of patterns both big now the universe, of course, is not a two dimensional surface. It's three dimensional place. So the anals. To this great circle is a slice in three dimensional space. So that's we did we map galaxies in this three dimensional slice of the universe. So Geller and her fellow researchers took a three dimensional slice of the universe and mapped. The galaxies contained inside it turned out that the survey we made the slice was just thinking off, and it reached just deep enough in the universe to see what turns out to be the characteristic pattern in the way galaxies are arranged in the universe. So galaxies surround huge regions that are dark essentially devoid of galaxies. That are tens of millions of light years across and the galaxies are in thin structures that surround these kinds of empty regions, and that turns out to be the characteristic structure that people now call the cosmic web, and what's. And what's like to be able to look into the sky and see the deep structure of the universe. It's a kind of thrill that you never forget. I think there's a kind of all I think that there's an artistry in nature that has a beauty that we're all wired up to appreciate. So Margaret Geller's idea happened like this. She started from what was already known and unknown. She looked at new capabilities technology gave her she formulated a big important question and found a smart way to answer that question using the new tools at her disposal. Sounds like a rational way to come up with an idea. Lease in retrospect, there's another deeply rational sort of question that can lead to good ideas. It goes like this. Isn't it ludicrous? So many things we encounter every day are designed so poorly. Rather arrogant way of putting it. That's James Dyson professional. I do go around looking at things critically to see if the a good idea of the Caban improvement all how I would improve it. I think I think radio almost all engineers do that. If you not really an engineer Dyson along with Elon Musk is among the most famous living inventors, but unlike musk dreams up hyperloop and Mars missions Dyson has worked on wheelbarrows in hand dryers and most profitably vacuum cleaners. It turns out he's been fairly obsessed with the vacuum cleaner since childhood. I mean, I remember is my container at home in the early fifties. Screaming away, making us NAS to style smell of dust and not really picking things up. And I remember it wasn't very good machine. The please to use it. And I think it was the electrical device we had in the house. We didn't have sockets on the wolves in those days. So you got to take out. The light bulb spent on. And connect into the light bulb soak it not pull to hug with the cold later on Dyson had his own family and a home with its own dust. And I thought what was supposed to be the most powerful that contain ever made. And I noticed I had the same old problem about by at had paper bags relevant cloth bags but same screaming noise. Same smell of style dusk. It's not picking things up a bit. Now being an engineer. I took it to biz and realized that all the F flow had to go through the bag. And of course, the bag has little holes in it. And they get blocked by the very first dust that goes into the bag. So that that complainant bag is full not because it's full, but because it's a little bit of Dustin it that blocks little holes in it. And I I'm angry about this. Actually, I felt this is this is bad. A light bulb gives you a hundred balls until it goes Paul will call guys along subdue Mosleh would've is to get in until it breaks down. But a vacuum king has a reducing performance. And that's not really very satisfactory. They didn't act on his frustration. Immediately. At the time us busy manufacturing different invention of his called ball. Barrow? Abol barrow is a wheelbarrow. But rather than the small wheel up front that can be hard to maneuver and get stuck in the mud. It has fearful wheel a ball atop its metal frame, and we had to put in a powder casing plant code the frames, and we had a a screen cloth screen while the lack of Katina bag that kept getting clogged with the powder and discover efficient factors used to think to cycling, which is about thirty foot high. Which spun the powder out by central falls, rob of having clogging filter. So I decided to make one a couple of weekends now under stand you copied one from a sawmill. Yes. Yes. What Berlin leaked to the the faith fine powder? All day long clean-air pit come out of the gymnast top of it and the clogging problem with going away. And I wanted as I was welding this thing up whether the in miniature you could put one evacuating. So raced home and ripped the bag off my vet continue and I made a call bull shit. We've gotta Tate. And Kabul and push it around my house, and it appeared to work it appeared to work, but not well enough. They says he Bill five thousand one hundred twenty seven prototypes. Over five years today. The Dyson vacuum is one of the world's bestsellers the Dyson company, which also makes air purifiers and hairdryers has annual revenues of more than three billion dollars and Dyson himself has a net worth of more than five billion dollars. He's also been knighted. So that worked out pretty well for him. But what if you don't have five years to tinker with an idea what if you have more like five days or five hours? Hello. Good to see you. House family. Good growing that that's an old friend of mine an old collaborator. My name is christoph- Neiman, and I'm trader and author Neiman is German but lived in New York for years now, he's back in Berlin. And so was I last summer visiting his studio you may recognize his work more than two dozen New Yorker covers his abstract Sunday column and much more from the New York Times also children's books his illustrations often turn on a clever transformation. A pair of bananas that represent a horse's hindquarters. Poppy seed bagel is repurposing into a man's chin, mid shave, even when the topic is serious Neiman has a playful streak like the New Yorker cover. He made after the Fukushima nuclear disaster against a black background Neiman. Drew the branches of cherry tree the blossoms of familiar pink. We're in the shape of the international radiation symbol, the tree foil. Well, when I started out it was fairly easy, easy in the sense of like simple. I would get a call from a magazine or newspaper, and they would say we have a story on the stock market some political event, we have a certain space. We here's the headline. Here's the article we need a visual equivalent to the headline. How many? My record was forty five minutes for time's up at page because the Pakistani decided to tester nuclear weapons at three thirty and the paper went to print at five once they had to decision. I had I think thirty minutes to actually do the entire drawing usually from day to a week. Sometimes it's actually years for very open assignments give me just an example to be short long. Big small of a particularly difficult problem that you had to solve with an 'lustration well for me the difficult. But also, the fun problems were always the ones where you have to tell a boring story through an interesting visual when you have an interesting story to say, somebody cures cancer or they land Times Square. There is no can't add great layer with visuals. Because with the aliens, you just want a photo of the aliens. There's no smart metaphorical. Illustration to be done if somebody were to cure cancer. I just one like a big fat headline. There's no smart image of somebody celebrating. There is nothing to add there. So I think these visuals often were the best when you have a subtle story, or maybe even a boring story or a story that's being told a million times, the equivalent and pop music would be I love you. It has been said and sung legs zillion times two questions. Can you? Do it. Interesting again. So I often found it boring economic stories were thanks. No great way to tell an interesting story. Not by saying this is completely new information. But while think about that in different way. And as for years, I was strain in the New Yorker financial Columbine, James Wiki brilliant column. And I remember one was about how. Small companies updating their technical. Machinery Hodak an indicator for for something. And of course, that's not a very sexy fem-. So it was really about. A small accounting for buying new computers and how often they do that. And of course, I didn't want to draw counts. Computers. So I actually drew the grim reaper, and he looks into shop window to shop window. There's a there's a big sickle. And then there's a lawn mower and then an electric lawnmowers same kind thinking about whether he should find the upgrade. And of course, you have to you have to know the metaphors requires a bit of a leap with a story like that. It's much. Interesting to them at a visual layer. So Neiman routinely needs to generate ideas on demand often on a tight deadline. How does that happen? I guess with these kind of metaphor 'lustration what I do is. I try to these images or like words, and like written language it requires that the writer and the reader speak the same language. So when I think of a simple to think what symbol is known. When you have like Cest pushing the wrong, I have to assume people know image if they don't any pun. I would make based on that one work. I think that's very important skill set for for for designers to be very aware of visual language, and what's known, also, especially what's what's not known. I'm so busy. Then what I do is. I try to go. It's almost like running through wheel of every possible symbol. And then starting the second wheel with twisted image, and then trying to combine two symbols say do something on money. And then you go to okay dollar sign graph. The. Physical dollar Bill. And then maybe it's about money in sports basketball football baseball, and you try to take all these symbols and mix them together. And then nine hundred ninety nine times, it means nothing. And then all of a sudden, there's tennis graph and go what if I take the graph and weave it into tennis, Rick, which is I'm sure been done gazillion times of great idea. But basically, it's just running these two wheels against each other. And then being very. Very attentive. And seeing what clicks, and this usually happens in the process of drawing and to have that on the paper because in the act of drawing things than a little different than you would imagine in your head. And then all of a sudden, you wait a minute. That's I had idea in my head. But now did a put down on paper something is off. And that moment words off usually only then an interesting use eviction comes to life. There's a point we should make about the kind of ideas that Neiman was coming up with they were generally in response to a commission, basically a buyer contacting him with a request to generate sellable idea. So his ideas were the most part extrinsic Louis motivated wasn't sitting around intrinsically dreaming up by D as it turned him on. What do we know about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation when it comes to creativity? There's a lot of research we went over in detail earlier in the series episode number three fifty five if you wanna hear it research showing that extra motivation tends to diminish creativity both in quantity and quality Christoph Niemann, interestingly has been able to shift over the years from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, partly because he's been so successful which gave him more opportunities to create what he wanted to create. But also, the shift was necessitated by changes in technology and the economy, my approach has changed. But also because media has changed and this whole deadline driven imagery is not that relevant anymore, and I feel it's more about storytelling. It's more about. Subjective point of view. And that's why I've started doing a lot more work. It's originated with me. So it's not me waiting for cue from from a story, but me going out there, and creating the story and then finding images for it involved. A lot of letting go trusting myself a lot more with my traditional work on the one hand it's harder because you have to time pressure. You have a lot more restrictions to fight against the good thing is I like to call it the Stockholm syndrome for for art when you have a lot of restrictions. Also have something to struggle with to fight against. And it's almost like holding you up you can lean on these restrictions when you have no brief it's on one hand fantastic on the other hand. It's redid this orientate is create creative freedom where you just sit down as a kid and you start drawing because you wanna draw was more under Ning, something all designers in my experience. Almost regardless field is. Sort of feel that they have some sort of intrinsic urge for self expression. That's the graphic designer Michael Barut. He's done a lot of work you'd recognize for MasterCard. The New York Jets sex Fifth Avenue, many others, so most designers he thinks have strong intrinsic urge what about Baru sometimes when I've actually examined myself, really. Honestly, I've I've I've come to think that I'm really on the extrinsic side of that spectrum. I don't actually have ideas that I want to get out that I think are personal that. I'm I I'm motivated by some need to get them in front of the world the root thrives on getting a brief from a client. Those briefs do however range from specific to amorphous in one case, I might have an assignment where I'm doing signs in a building that identify the. Through m- or the fire exits? Now, those things are meant to be functional. They can be attractive. They can be static. They can even be playful sometimes, but getting to the bathroom is an urgent matter getting to the fire exit in some cases is a life or death matter and those have to really do their job. They're very efficiently on the other hand, sometimes people Westman design a logo for their business or enterprise, and in those cases, like a logo can be more open ended, it can be and in many ways, more creative. It can be open to interpretation people can impose different meanings on. And I think the very hard of it. Indeed. Is that moment where you make something from nothing? There's a moment where you sort of have to do the magic bit of alchemy that transmits all that into something. Interesting compelling and memorable and and. That's actually the moment that all creative people live for. And I think many of them, you know, reluctant sometimes to admit how rarely that moment comes. You know, if that connection really happens three times a year, that's a landmark year for me, you know, and there's a quote from Chuck close that I've heard many people, quote, which is inspiration is for amateurs the rest of just show up and get to work. And I think that that's really true you sort of have to just be ready. So that when you kind of encounter that magic moment, you've got the muscle memory and the experience and the instincts to let you grab that opportunity. So Baru Neiman have given us some views from the creator's side of the commissioning process. What's a commission look like from the commissioning side. We spoke with an Pasternak director of the Brooklyn museum when the oldest and most prestigious art institutions in the United States. Hi, Stephen at a museum. The Brooklyn museum pasternack doesn't get do much commissioning. But in her previous job, she ran a big public. Art group called creative time did lots of big in Dacia commissions among the best known tribute. In light the nine eleven memorial made up of two shafts of light projected into the night sky. I mean, there were probably altogether about one hundred and twenty giant lights that had come from. Italy was new technology think about like a searchlight, but a really meccas light. It was actually a very enormous installation at takes weeks to actually set up the lights, and then you also need volunteer Birdwatchers to make sure that you know, birds are safe, and that they're not disoriented and flying into buildings, and there was there was a lot of stuff that was invisible to the public that had to be realized pester neck had another opportunity for a big commission when she was contacted by the owners of an enormous old building the former Domino's sugar factory on the Brooklyn waterfront it was going to be turned into a park. And the owners thought creative time like to do something with the space before it was time for demolition. I immediately reached out to an artist. I always wanted to work with CARA. Walker who was never interested in any of the ideas that I have presented to her grandson. Station, whatever spaces as working and CARA was not so interested in my said CARA, you know, come out and see the space you don't live far away. And at the very least you'll see this incredible historic site. And it was just about eight inches of molasses on the floor molasses dripping from the ceilings, it was such an incredibly intense experience. It just activated all of your senses your site, your your touch. I mean, literally you had to wear big rubber boots. When you went in there, and they would fall off because they get stuck in the floor, and the smell the smell and the heat and the moisture anyway, so I thought that space was so enormous that maybe Kehro we would do group exhibition, but I wanted to bring care of their first and Keira said to me at the end of it. You know, I I want the whole space, and I just laughed at her. I thought it was no way one artist on the, you know, micro budgets that create a time was working on could actually do something that would really work within that space. And the next morning I woke up, and I think there were over sixty different proposals. That she had sent to me literally all these drawings. Just she must stayed up all night long just one wrong after another and I loved every single one of them. And I said, okay, whichever one you want to do. But over the next four or five months. She just kept coming up with more ideas. And finally, the idea of the big giant sugar Spinks that she created was that one idea. I didn't understand. I wasn't really sure what it was or what it meant. But I trusted the artists so much. I said this is the one you want to do then we're going to do it care Walker titled this piece of subtlety or the marvelous sugar baby. She described it as an image to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of domino sugar refining plant. It became a sensation. Did you come to understand? And it differently or better. Oh, yeah. Once once I was in the space, and I saw the great sugar Spinks that if she was standing tall, she would have been as tall as the statue of liberty. And I realized she was his great symbol of an of an African woman of great power and monoral -bility and strength. And it was just so heartbreaking so powerful. And now, I see it's about how we don't see. And we do see black women and all of their beauty and all of their power and all of their courage, quite frankly, I was in tears over and over again. So the sugar sphinx wasn't an pasture next idea. But she was the Commissioner the facilitator jed idea about what kind of artist might respond well to that kind of space, and that to me at least seems like a creative act in self. Well, I guess that sounds maybe a little narcissistic on my part. But I think I think maybe that's true about having a sense of who are really great artists who say something, I believe important about the times in which we live in my desire to wanna work with them. And being able to pick out. What is a good idea? And one of the things I have learned is that artists tend to like everybody else like some structure, sometimes I would turn to artisan say, so and so you're just such a brilliant artist. Do anything to work with you? What do you want to do? And that's just to open for them. So let's say you are not commissioning massive public works of art. Let's say you're maybe a middle manager in charge of a team that has to produce some creative ideas, but say the team has ten people on it. First of all he wanted to get rid of five of those ten people because tennis too many people to have on a team. That and much more about generating creative ideas coming up right after this. Okay. Here's where we left off. Let's say you manage a team of ten employees. Maybe they're marketers or educators or engineers and your job is to inspire them to think creatively. Okay. Theresa a mob. Yele is a social psychologist at Harvard Business School. I study motivation creativity innovation and in her work life, a mob Yele has done a lot of research inside firms to see how creative work actually gets done. So for a team of ten. What's the best approach? You want to gather all ten to brainstorm wanna send them all off to come up with on their own or maybe some combination. First of all you want to get rid of five of those ten people because tens too many people have on a team. There's there's a lot of research on that five to seven tends to be the best side. Is so really solve a complex problem later on when you have to implement the solution, obviously, you can have much larger teams in you need them. So let's say you've got five people. They're all good. They have skills you'd probably do best to have them work together. Initially and talk about the problem in explore that problem in what some different angles might be make sure they kind of understand what mountain they're trying to climb. Let them go off in individually try to figure on different routes for climbing the mountain, but then bring them back together have them share their ideas. And ideally, they will have that level of trust and openness to each other that they can really bring together the best pieces of thinking, and you'll sometimes see solutions emerge that later literally cannot be traced to any one individual, but they were true hybrids of ideas of multiple individuals and what about brainstorming. Is that indeed effective way to generate good ideas? The practice of brainstorming seems to have originated with an advertising executive, Alex Osborn. He was the oh in the famous advertising firm BBDO Osborne wrote about rainstorm in nineteen forty two book called how to think up popular opinion often is at brainstorm is just sort of sitting around saying, whatever comes to your mind, but it's not, but Charlotte Nima university of California psychologist who studied creativity in organizations when Osborn talked about the brainstorming technique it had four very specific rules to it. And he thought they were very important ways to stop things tended to get in the way of generating originally is and so one of them, for example, was emphasizing quantity. Mainly just go for as many ideas. She can and don't you know, sort of stop and analyze whether they're good or not on ru. Is the notion that you should build on others ideas? But the one I paid attention to and that's that one which many people treated as the critical rule was do not criticize the ideas of others, and that has an intuitive plus ability because you think if someone's going to criticize you think, well, I'll just shut down, and we're not gonna say anything as a scholar Nima th is particularly interested in the role of dissent in organizations. So this cardinal rule of brainstorming. No dissent. Essentially, intrigued her she designed an experiment to test. Whether the criticism that Osborn warned against actually does shutdown creativity in a group what we did is we essentially change that one rule in one condition. We had the regular rules. Do not criticize in the other one. We basically encourage them to debate even criticize the ideas of others. They thought that, you know, there'd be no creativity. It would be like worse the novels. At all. And the reverse was the case when you permit debate even criticism you open that up. That were more ideas. And they were better quality ideas. When you welcomed criticism and debate me Muth also investigated the role of dissent in jury deliberations Asai listen to these tapes over and over and over and over again, what became clear is that when there was a dissenting viewpoint, particularly when that persisted is that the nature of the deliberation was just much better. They considered more evidence. They considered more ways of looking at the same so-called facts, they were more inclined to look at the downside as opposed to the upside for particular position. Someone was the spouse ING, and they evidenced all the things that really define good decision making and the kind of hope you can train people are do in. In dissent was doing that. Nima th argues descent is valuable in a decision making process, even when the dissenter turns out to be demonstrably wrong. Because even when it's wrong it actually improves the quality. Of thought in decision-making descent isn't important for the information that it gives it's important because it challenges you're thinking when you're interacting with someone who honestly believes something very different than yourself, and they're willing to persist and even pay a price. You can't easily dismiss them. Their challenge gets you to reassess your own position, Charlotte Nima th has a name for this kind of dissenter troublemaker. Her most recent book is called in defense of troublemakers. A lot of the creatives we've been interviewing for this series embrace the troublemaker title for some seems to be their animating principle like the Chinese artist. And activist. I way way he grew up in a labor camp his family having been sent into exile. Because of his father's poetry way has been one of his generation's most outspoken critics of China. He's been arrested beaten detained and finally gained his own sort of exile a much more comfortable in his father's. He now lives in Berlin. Which is where we spoke with them. So I'll always want to break the borders open you area, even walk into. Could be dangerous so typical areas. So, you know, I'm I was born like this, you know, some unkind contrarian, you know, it don't want to follow the roofs that much, you know, always been that way. Since I was born. I would see as sung of the enemy of the people. This e you are dangerous this yours someone who could have a potential to to make big trouble. They were right there perfectly rights, but I try to leave up the towards that kinda conditions can not find the what I did your brother is he a troublemaker like you or. No, no, no there. They often worried about one troublemaker every day. You know, so, but when I asked way way about where his ideas come from. He didn't have much to say. And when it come to me one interview Alexis comes I don't I don't really think much of it. Maybe that's because he's been dissenting since he was a young child. It may be that troublemaking and the idea generation that comes along with it are by now second nature. There was another artist I visited in Berlin. Her name is your in devote. Linda. So let's go that way. Booked is a star on the German art seen her work combines painting, drawing collage and more including musical and scientific notation for years. She was a serious musician. And she's got a mathematical streak to pieces are breathtakingly, original and engaging. You should look it up. Her name is spelled J O R. I N D E V O G GT. I wanted to know where her ideas originate. So I started by asking about her daily routine today. I get up at five o'clock in the morning, then I want our kitchen and my God and drink coffee and saying about the day upcoming day, then I up my son and. Help them getting up get dressed breakfast. Does he seven almost Polin seven thirty belief the house that bring him to school, and then I drive down to the studio. So I'm Sean before eight o'clock. So can we go back to our in the morning when you just sit and think about the day? Are you thinking about how to execute your ideas? Or are you trying to think about what I d is you'll work on small. It's being awake. But it's waiting for myself and observing myself and observing pictures, Mitch come up in me. And then also questioning them like a rhythm like that. It's like I get rid from always has Peter on obstructions in my head. I wake up with. And then I have to find out why what it is. And. How which questions I ask a home? What kind of actions I could do to find out? What it is so weird to those images. Come from. Can only guess. Thing. Kind of language. Communication from the intuition. I guess do you think everyone could have such a men's or do you feel? That's a talent of yours. I haven't had this always when it started that I have it. I was very irritated. And I thought something's wrong. But then told me that just go don't be afraid and the nice since. Accepted it. And then it started to be really interesting. You really have to listen very strongly to those moments. That's the painter and illustrator. My Raquel Mun. She to relies on her sub-conscious ideas. I think that plays an incredible role and it's a little bit inexplicable. It's kind of instinct, and intuition what you feel in your gut that nobody can explain that. You don't know where it came from an idea that appears from nowhere while you're taking a shower or wandering down the street. Kelman's work is on the surface whimsical old world, ladies plumed, hats, clever dogs with knowing is. But beneath the whimsey, there's a reservoir of deeper feeling coming upon things stumbling upon things, and that's a very big part of my day, and my work, and my work is autobiographical. And it's really about what happens to me. And so I don't know what's going to happen during the day. But I'm keenly aware that many things might happen and do happen that will delight me and amaze me and enter into my work. Whether it's somebody that I see on the street or some kind of meeting of someone or the chance of things will it sounds like you're trying to as they say create your unluck, you're trying to create your own serendipity, which is a good way to be. Yeah. And I don't wanna try. So that sounds like a tricky balance to strike though, you wanna be open an observant and curious, but you don't wanna try too hard to be open. Observant can't do that you you know, you fall down and never get up. Again. You just have to kind of allow that. It's going to happen. And and see that's great. So my recount and gets her ideas from serendipitous encounters that she prepares herself to receive but not too much preparation. You're in the vote gets her ideas from images that present themselves in the early morning. I recently spoke with someone who needs to come up with multiple ideas every day. Hello. I'm Conan O'Brien. And I am fear radically an entertainer. Among your entertainment products, are what at the moment. I have a podcast Conan O'Brien needs a friend. And I also just finished in eighteen city life tour that healed the nation and I have a program on TBS at eleven o'clock called Conan. Don't ask me how I came up with the name. It was too long story and involved in our system. O'brien has been hosting a late night show since the early nineteen ninety s before that he was a comedy writer for the Simpsons and one season on Saturday Night Live in every case. There's a writer's room a bunch of people throwing around ideas shooting down. Most of them building up. The good ones coming up with is a job. Really? It is the job Mike all jobs get a little routine, but lately O'Brien's been stretching himself with a travel series called Conan without borders. There was a period of time when President Obama was interested in you know, friendly relations with Cuba. And we saw this opportunity to jump in there. And I don't think a late night host had been to Cuba since Jack Parr and their head writer. Mike Sweeney said, you know, what if we went to Cuba and the? Minute. I when I do hear a good idea. I it's almost like intuitive. Yes, not only let's go. But let's go right now. So we went with very little preparation. I guess that's Jesus on the left is that. Yes, you're right. Hey, you know, this this. Jesus christ. And this is chrome arts. I don't think March is a big relief. And I think what you can see there is me really in the act of discovering things discovering this place. I'd never been to before discovering these people as a comedian. I'm probably funniest when I'm reacting in the moment. And that's where I'm most comfortable. I liked to kind of know not know what's going to go on. And so it's this crazy in Yang of my career. Where I I am very cerebral and started my career as a writer, but I really what I probably love most is being out of control and unprepared. And so when you go to a foreign country are often forced into situations where you can't really know what's going to happen. I think as a comedian and his personality, I have a lot of humility. And it's well-earned some comics they come from a place of high status. So they they're telling us. An lecturing us about what the right way to think is. And I've I think I'm come from the opposite side of things which is like to be in situations where I'm not in the power position. And where the other person has the authority. So if I'm in Cuba, and I'm literally in a in a factory where they roll cigars all day. I will sit with one of the women and she will try and teach me and I'll be incompetent. And she gets the laugh, do, you know, she's in the high status position, and it's not in my bones to wanna go to countries and laugh at them. So Conan O'Brien gets fresh ideas by going to Cuba or Israel or Haiti the musician and writer Rosanne cash, sometimes gets her ideas in museums. Problems can be inspiring. Like if I can't work something out my life. I take it to language to take it to melody and sometimes well, it all can be, you know, going to the men standing in front of that painting of Joan of arc. That's that painting is inspired me. Sometimes they come out of nowhere. You think? And then it turns out that they came from the future. And I call those songs postcards from the future. Can we have an example my song black Cadillac? To view. I wrote the song, and it was about a funeral in death. And the soon as I wrote it I said to myself. Oh, no. It's like I knew I wrote it in March and my stepmother died in may. And then my dad died in September per dead was the country music legend Johnny cash actually before. My dad died that year I wrote a song called September. When it comes wrote the lyrics penned and he died in September. Oh. Lynn. And there have been other times. I'm not saying that unprecedent or that it some kind of new age, you know, peak into the future. But I always thought that creativity happens in a non linear way creativity is a lot of moving parts, you don't necessarily go from eight to be an directly, and you might go to H and Z first and then come back. What I love about watching baseball is that I get a lot of ideas for fiction while doing it. That's the novelist. Jennifer egan. She wanna Pulitzer prize for her book. Visit from the goon squad a sharp spiky novel with multiple narrators, and which has absolutely nothing to do with baseball. But Egan has kids. So she started going to baseball games beaver just at the Beloit snappers last week baseball is I was just reading actually, you know, about how there's this wish to speed up baseball, which I think is I mean in my humble, very uneducated opinion, a terrible idea because the whole point of baseball is that it's slow, and it's great people watching watching baseball all over the country. Just watching the people who go to the games. It's totally fascinating. Just to be clear. Baseball is not Eakins only source of ideas for her writing. I try to imbibe. But material that feels interesting to me, and then I'm sort of trusting to some unconscious part of me to respond to that in a way that will hopefully be fresh. So I guess I'm sort of trusting to both my unconscious in the sense of just leading me through a story leading me through characters first, and then a story, and then my conscious mind to recognize what feels familiar, and what doesn't the way I think about the relationship of my work to that other work is as as a conversation. I'll think okay, this book is in conversation with these other books. Visit from goon squad. Looking back is really in a conversation with certainly in search of loss time also serialized television, like the sopranos which had a big impact on me. And frankly concept albums that. I grew up on Quadrophenia Ziggy stardust, I mean, beautiful stories told in pieces. That sounded very different from each other. So they're all kinds of things that work can be in conversation with and should be really. But ultimately, you know, sheer repetition is not only not desirable. It is absolutely. The thing that I I can't tolerate for myself. People watching it. Minor league baseball games museum visits or putting yourself in strange surroundings, all sorts of ways to generate ideas, or ideas, come to you. Or maybe you like to ask the really big questions like what is the underlying geometry of the universe? That's what got the astrophysicist. Margaret Geller going the same sort of question can also work for poet. I'm Tracy k Smith Smith is the current poet laureate of the United States. Her father was an optical engineer who worked on the Hubble space telescope Smith's best known poetry collection is called life on Mars and usually have a large. I mean, a particular question in mind, maybe it isn't like what is the answer to this thing. But why do we do this to one another? Why is it so hard to really? Love another person, not just strangers. But the people we love why is it so hard to keep loving them. Sometimes why is it so hard to love ourselves. You know, those kinds of questions you can't get an answer to that. But it can certainly set you set you in motion. And then the way I often tend to write this to sort of speculate. Like what if I mean, my book life on Mars is really just a bunch of hypothetical questions. What if the universe is like this? What if it's like that I found that kind of getting those questions back down at earth can be useful in thinking about like the real World, Social or the political world. Those kids who just always want to know how the world worked in the owners manual. What has this whole operation happen, that's soul Pearl? Mutter who also wanted to ask big questions, and I guess the places that looked like they were asking those kinds of questions were physics and philosophy. And so I had to beginning. I always thought that I might study the the to them until I discovered the course that either one of them would take up all your time. And which did he choose? I'm a professor of physics and I study 'cause Molly Pearl mutter is at the university of California Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley, national lab in two thousand eleven he won a Nobel prize for helping to discover contra the belief of earlier physicists that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. One possible explanation for the celebration, Dirk energy, allergic, unknown force that make up seventy percent of the universe. And this is meaningful to know why? So this is one of these. Really weird aspects. I think of basic science that almost every time we've learned something really deep about how the world works. It's ended up not only providing us with the, you know, huge philosophical your satisfaction. But we somehow makes us more capable we. We can do things differently as we learn these odd ways in which the world is actually building instructed. I mean, a good example of this is Stein's through relatively. It was talking about things like, you know, what happens when clocks travel near the speed of light. I mean, we're never going to get one of our clock stars. We know we're not gonna have any of your clocks near the speed of light. And. It seems like these the most abstract concepts that you could have been working with. And yet you every cell phone our pocket that uses GPS all those measurements have been corrected by what we learned mine Stein's three relatively because of those expirations, and you could never have guessed it right now, we cannot think of anything that talk energy is likely to to affect except our poetic vision of the world doesn't I mean for especially for someone who started out thinking about studying philosophy. I'm just curious whether that fact alone that dark energy comprises you say roughly seventy percent of our universe. And we have no idea what it is. Isn't that? Does that present you with a bit of if not an existential dilemma, at least a kind of mind scrambling question that is it? A little unsatisfying to go to bed every night. Not knowing. That is what I mean. It didn't bother me until you told me because I didn't know anything about it. But now, I feel like wait a minute. Seventy percent. We really don't know. And you actually know this stuff. So I'm curious whether it weighs on you in some way. I mean, weirdly enough I think for for me, it's it's one of the real pleasures of life. The idea that there are huge unknowns for us to to explore a lot of what you do. In cosmology, is is mind boggling, and you have to enjoy having your mind, completely buckled. That just the idea of imagining infinite space is already saying that I think we just have a very hard time getting our heads around and and then having an infinite space expand. So that you know, it's not that it's expanding into anything. It's just that. There's more distance between everything in that space, and that's bizarre to and for some of us. That's just scary feeling too. I have my siblings doesn't like to even think about this stuff. Gives her the willies. Whereas for for me, I just find those real pleasure in feeling like us puny humans working with the bit of the census that we have. Living in this happy medium somewhere in between the huge and really really microscopically and subatomic tiny have been able to use our little senses to figure out stuff that's happening on the dick Asli big scale and in these tiny scale and that the two have something to do with each other. I just find that it makes it feel like we're right in the midst in the thick of things that we're that. We're getting to play with the universe. I'm convinced. I love your way of looking at it because you're right. There is a there is a kind of potentially downside of that puniness. But the way you've expressed it. Punching way above our weight by being able to even ponder what's going on so many dimensions beyond. So that's encouraging. I was encouraged by Saul promoters, ability to somehow blend the incomprehensibly vast and the incomprehensively tiny into some sort of par that feels just right? I was also inspired by something else. He talked about his willingness to have his mind boggled. That's his route to coming up with creative ideas as we heard today. There are many routes asking big questions. Sure. But also paying attention to the tiny serendipitous details in your world, keeping an ear out for the dissenting voice. And sometimes being that voice. Figuring out how the limits that are placed on you might actually free up your creative thinking all of these are good ideas for generating ideas. There's no formula. But as we noted earlier the idea is just the beginning. And so coming up next time. On freakonomics radio. It's not as though you have an idea and tomorrow new right of paper and you submit to the journal, and it's it's done. That's the key thing. There's invention just for invention seat. And then there's problem solving where you invent something to solve real problems. And I think a lot of the effort is really drudgery. I'm the kind of inventor that's looking to make whatever amount of time. We have on this world better in so execution has always been part of it. After the idea the execution. It's coming up next time as we continue our how to be creative series talk to you that. Economics radio is produced by Stitcher. In w productions this episode was produced by Matt Frasca with help from Stephanie Tam, and Harry Huggins our staff also includes Alison Craig low, Greg Rippin, ANZAC Pinski. Our theme song is Mr. fortune of the Hitchhiker's. The rest of our music was composed by we scare you can subscribe to for comics radio on apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcast. 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Like, the winds are actually like more few and far between let's brag about those. Okay. Give me an example. So like to get your kids eat vegetables. Putting peas in a pest dispenser piece in a pet suspense glow. Sticks in the bathtub and family screams here about all of these winds on the longest shortest time. That's upset number one. Eighty four weird parenting wins for the win plus checkout. Hillary Franks new book, weird parenting wins it's available now wherever books are sold.