Text of a talk I gave on MY experience of my own creative process…

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…and systems and stuff (in work).

I ended up veering of this script completely, but here’s what i had written down.

Good morning it’s interesting to be asked to do this talk because I’m not famous I’m not excessively rich and I’ve not been hugely successful in terms of building major international businesses

What did interest me and make me want to contribute to this event and do this talk was that Alexandra was particularly interested in certain key aspects of my career and how I approach creativity and how I face and deal with being adaptable. I’m currently a principal digital architect in transformation, a role that is very different from my degree in fine art. And those aspects really are related and emergent from my background in creativity.

I am from a very poor working-class background. I came from a family of coal miners and we six of us shared two rooms, but I was very lucky I benefited from the creation of the British welfare state. I was able to go to school and learn to examinations and then crucially go to university college for free I didn’t have to pay. And what that allowed was for people like me to take time and find out what you were able and capable of doing.

I studied at four different art schools primarily studying fine art I then went on to have an initial career as a teacher of art and music. Now, it was during that time as a teacher that I was gifted a computer, and this was the late 1980s. And I began to use that computer to help teach my peoples art and music and this got me interested in how I how I could use the computer myself to make heart. At the time I was doing painting I had come out of art school and I was still painting at exhibiting but I began to use the computer to make animations and sounds and music. By playing with the computer and trying to do something from another discipline in this case art on this brand-new medium I began to face certain challenges. Those challenges were basically around how I could be genuinely creative on this beige brown box. There was very little useful software and the Internet was just something you could read about in practical engineering magazine but they was clear that there was a great deal of things that could be done because I could also see the pop musicians of the late 80s and early 80s using computers to help them make music so I thought why couldn’t I use computers to make art.

I ended up finding one of the very few early master’s degree courses that taught artists how to use computers. Now because there was very little software on the Internet was new, we had to learn to program the computer, in C, form a standing start. We also had to learn to use mathematics, physics and understand lighting and shading models, what files actually were, networking, and things like what pixels are. This approach meant that once I left that course, I was able to manipulate computers at a base level not just use someone else’s software but actually tell the machine directly what I wanted it to do. Now this is a very interesting point of my life because the first thing I learned when I went to art school in the first place, was how to make paint. A tutor at the art school felt that we needed to understand our medium down to rocks oil and pigment; they said if you can understand how paint is made you can understand how it should be used.

This is exactly the same approach that was taken with the computers on that master’s degree. Now maybe the biggest surprise is that in the early 1990s this master’s degree course was not in a computer science department it was actually in the art department of Middlesex University in London. There were no computer scientists teaching this they were all artists who had learned to code in the wildlands of the 1980s and were committed to making art and new forms with it. It turned out that I was a pretty good mathematician and programmer, something I never thought I would be.

What is interesting and what is crucial here, is that I studied both fine art and then computing, disciplines that before that had been seen as separate, but I was taught to deal with the two radically different disciplines in the same way; that is ask questions and understand the context of those questions. Ask questions and take apart what it is you’re trying to do. Ever since then I’ve had a very successful if not famous career I’ve worked at some of the largest companies in the world I’ve worked at Microsoft Xbox I worked at the Royal Shakespeare company I worked at the BBC and so on it all in creative technology spaces doing different aspects of creative technology. I’ve also founded a university department in digital arts and was a co-founder the College of creativity and help visiting professorships and so on.

My career has entailed me being a programmer a game designer and programmer, a creative director in advertising and much much more. Now I am currently working in a day job as a principal digital architect enmeshed in transformation, where you design and piece together new systems to transform businesses.

Alexandra asked me to talk about myself and how I approach creativity across disciplines, and you can see from the examples I’ve spoken about that my creative process has been applied across disciplines and that is because it comes down to one or two simple things. The first thing about creativity and the basis of all creativity is curiosity. If you’re not curious about the world about yourself about everything out there you will not be a genuinely exciting creative person. Like scientists true creative‘s and artists try and strive to answer questions and solve problems; the processes are not different, the scientific method and the artistic process or to me to sides of the same coin. The second thing about creativity for me is simply that you should ask out loud “why?” If you sit at a desk and there is a cup sitting there are you the type of person who picks it up and looks at it from different angles to see what it really looks like? Or are you the person who just ignores the cup, uses it and gets on with your job at hand.

To me, the true creative is always asking why they’re always asking why is it like this what does it do why does it do it like that?

In many ways this is how I’ve managed to have a career that has spanned a number of disciplines and that has shown that I am highly adaptable and have been capable of adapting to new situations new industries and new sectors while still remaining true to what is driving me and still is based on my educational experience.

You are in a situation where the world hopefully as we move through the 21st-century will become more and more a world where technology can solve a lot of your practical hands-on problems. Robots can already do things for you that in the past you would’ve had to train to do. They can build things for you to a high specification. You no longer need to be a craft person. If you want to be a musician there is software on your iPhone that will allow you to write a symphony. If you go to a computer there is software available that can do much more than help allow you to write a symphony can help you write a symphony and in the future it will write the symphony for you to the rules that you set.

To me this is a golden Nirvana state this is the point at which society suddenly says here are tools that can do anything now do something with them. We can program an artificial intelligence to make art of a kind. But it has to be based on human input and it has to have the existence of human culture behind it to drive those images. There is not a point in the near future where a robot will decide to make art of its own volition to its own aesthetic. This will need humans to moderate and help develop the art that the machines make. And this is the point this goes back to what I said at the start of the talk,  when I learned to make paint and when I learned how to make a computer work from the bottom up, that was just a reflection of creativity and enquiry, curiosity and systems. For me great creativity is and emergent property of systems, not divine intervention. The point at which Edison invented a light bulb was the emergent point of his years of experimenting with other things, combining them and then, pop the bulb emerged.

My creative process is not special all I do is ask questions and ask how can I use these things to produce this output. And to me I don’t care whether that’s a computer program, and AI, a set of knitting needles, a piece of paper and a pencil, or a massive IT network that I’ve installed. It doesn’t matter to me what the actual job is, my satisfaction comes from applying my creativity to all of these problems in exactly the same way.

Many times in the past I’ve been asked about my resume and how I have managed to get a resume that has so many different things on it. They have then gone on to ask how do you think you can fit into our business how do you think you can do this project and what have you done in the past that proves that? The reality is my resume speaks to one thing and one thing only and that is the creative linking of disparate things, which leads to adaptability. It speaks of the ability to look at a problem and to examine all available opportunities to solve that problem and to be able to craft the solution using the different tools and media available to me whether those are computer media or art media.

You’re the first generation that has access to all the tools that most artists grasslands and scientists had dreams about throughout history you can make and do absolutely anything physically. But to make something truly wonderful you have to start to look at associations, treat it as a system. As I described above you have to be the curious person that asks why this is like it is and also then asks how can I solve this problem in the most appropriate way you also crucially have to be a person who looks outwards.

Every “solution” at every stage of the creative process is a set of questions. When you going to an art gallery and you see an artist’s works on the walls you are not seeing finished pieces you are seeing the next set of questions that the artist set themselves. Each painting is a summation of a problem that the artist has tackled and it in itself gives you many more questions that drive you to the next piece and that is true creativity.

Adaptability come from being curious and curiosity comes from asking why? Whys is this like this? Why is this happening like this? Why am I being asked this? As the workforce of the future you will need to be adaptable and curious and systems driven to succeed?