Creativity and innovation, cornerstones of scientific and artistic progress

It’s World Creativity and Innovation Day today. In fact, the whole preceding week, 15-21 April, is celebrated as World Creativity and Innovation Week. To quote the website, “World Creativity and Innovation Week, April 15-21, celebrates the unlimited potential of people to be open to and generate new ideas, be open to and make new decisions, and to be open to and take new actions that make the world a better place and make your place in the world better too.”

The importance of creativity and innovation can hardly be overestimated. Throughout the history of science and art, progress was sparked by the innovations of those individuals who nurtured and positively exploited their creativity.

Creativity and innovation - weighty subjects that impact on every aspect of our lives, from art to science, from mathematics to literature. (© All Rights Reserved)
Creativity and innovation – weighty subjects that impact on every aspect of our lives, from art to science, from mathematics to literature.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course loads have been said about the art of innovation, and many clever people have devoted their lives to the study of creativity. Yet these remain elusive subjects, with much disagreement as to what constitutes creativity, and how you can increase/improve your own creative abilities.

I’ve featured many inspirational individuals, who have been responsible for amazing creativity and innovation, on this blog in the past, and hope to feature more in future. Rather than attempting to turn this post into a meaningful, comprehensive overview on the science of creativity (which would be pretty much impossible anyway), let me rather simply applaud all those innovators who have dazzled the world with their creative contributions, however big or small – may the river of human innovation never run dry, and may every day be a creativity and innovation day.

Celebrating art and creativity on World Art Day

In commemoration of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci (15 Apr 1452 – 2 May 1519), the 15th of April has been declared World Art Day. The idea was born at the 2012 General Assembly Meeting of the International Association of the Arts (IAA) in Guadalajara, Mexico.

As the World Art Day website notes, “the turmoil our world is currently living through, needs the power that freedoms of thought, and speech can bring to this tumultuous world. And who better to lead this effort than the artists of this world.”

It is hoped that the day will help in spreading an international awareness of the arts.

Art, making the world a better place. (© All Rights Reserved)
Art, making the world a better place.
(© All Rights Reserved)

By having World Art Day coincide with the birth of da Vinci, rather than any number of other equally renowned and deserving artists, the day also hints at the importance of the arts, and artistic thinking, beyond the strictly fine arts domain. In addition to being a brilliant painter and sculptor, da Vinci excelled as a philosopher, mathematician, architect, engineer and inventor. The great Renaissance Man, da Vinci showed that greatness could be achieved at the intersection between art, science and technology. As such, da Vinci’s birthday is the perfect day “to commemorate the role of art in the contemporary world, with its complex artistic, social and political layers.”

So join me in taking some time to remind ourselves of the key role art plays in our lives, and to show appreciation for the artists who make the world a better, more meaningful and more aesthetically agreeable place. I don’t even want to begin imagining the emptiness and poverty of a world bereft of art.

Some amazing feats on Backward Day

It’s the last day of January 2013, which means today is Backward Day. Similar in a way to Opposite Day we celebrated not long ago, and yet another day to rattle your comfort zone a little.

You can opt to simply have some fun – put on your clothes backward, walk backward or even (this may be a little more challenging) speak backward.

If you want to walk backwards, you should dress accordingly!(© All Rights Reserved)
If you want to walk backwards, you should dress accordingly!
(© All Rights Reserved)

Or you can take it as a serious challenge – there’s a whole range of backwards running world records to challenge. But I have to warn you beforehand – these are serious records! Imagine running the 100m in reverse, and still doing it in a time of 13.6 seconds, as Roland Wegner did in Germany in 2007. Wegner also holds the world record in the 200m, so his reversing muscles must be perfectly tuned.

At the endurance end of the scale, the world record for the greatest distance run backwards in 24 hours is an incredible 160km, run by Yves Pol from France, in 1990.

In fact, backwards running is a big thing – there are even some national backwards running associations, for example in Germany, Austria, Italy and the UK.

If you’re less physically inclined, perhaps you’d rather opt for a mental challenge. How about seeing how many palindromes (words or sentences that are spelled the same forward and backward) you can think of. What is the longest palindrome sentence you can create? As with the backwards running, people have achieved amazing feats – in 1980, David Stephens published a palindromic novel, ‘Satire: Veritas’, consisting of an incredible 58 795 letters forming a giant palindrome, while Lawrence Levine’s novel ‘Dr Awkward & Olson in Oslo’ (1986) contains 31 954 words arranged as a palindrome.

Palindromes also exist in music. For example, parts of the 3rd movement in Haydn’s ‘Symphony No 47’ are musical palindromes, where the second half of the piece is the same as the first, but in reverse. They can also be found in popular music, with bands like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Husker Du, Stone Roses and Sigur Ros having employed palindromic themes.

To get a bit more scientific – palindromes can even be found in biological structures. To quote wikipedia, “The meaning of palindrome in the context of genetics is slightly different, however, from the definition used for words and sentences. Since the DNA is formed by two paired strands of nucleotides, and the nucleotides always pair in the same way (Adenine (A) with Thymine (T), Cytosine (C) with Guanine (G)), a (single-stranded) sequence of DNA is said to be a palindrome if it is equal to its complementary sequence read backward. For example, the sequence ACCTAGGT is palindromic because its complement is TGGATCCA, which is equal to the original sequence in reverse complement.”

As you can see, the range of applications for Backward Day is almost without limit. However you choose to celebrate it, have fun!

Do the opposite!

The 25th of January is Opposite Day. Or perhaps it’s the opposite of that, making it non-opposite day, which would be just another normal day, or… but if I keep going down that track I will just get confused and start wasting precious blog space.

Anyway, so today is all about opposites – black and white, light and dark, sharp and blunt, hot and cold, fast and slow. It’s the day to acknowledge and celebrate the yin and the yang. The great thing about opposites is that the one is often critical in your appreciation of the other. As John Steinbeck once said, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

Appreciating opposites - black and white, light and dark, hot and cold.(© All Rights Reserved)
Appreciating opposites – black and white, light and dark, hot and cold.
(© All Rights Reserved)

A few days ago I wrote about getting out of your comfort zone in order to really feel alive, and it feels to me like Opposite Day is the perfect opportunity for doing just that.  By doing the opposite of what your automatic comfort-zone action would be, you will definitely force yourself into some uncomfortable, or at least unusual (and potentially rather amusing) experiences.

Right-handed? Then why not brush your teeth with your left hand today? And how about having breakfast at dinner time? Have a warm beer with a cold pizza. Sleep at the opposite side of the bed, or facing the opposite direction. Walk backwards. Call your job and tell them you’re taking the day off because you’re feeling healthy.

I’m sure you can think of many more fun opposites without needing to revert to anything dangerous, like driving on the wrong side of the road (not a good idea!). Opposite Day can be particularly fun when you get your kids to play along. Get them to think of things to do the opposite way – I can almost guarantee they will come up with some mind blowing ideas, simply because their minds are still completely open, and their creativity still fully intact.

Go ahead, make the most of the day – live a little (or live a lot)!

Celebrating imagination and creativity on Kid Inventors’ Day

Today we celebrate the youth. More particularly, clever youngsters through the ages who have come up with great inventions at an early age.

17 January is the birthday of Benjamin Franklin (17 Jan 1706 – 17 April 1790). We all know Franklin as one of the founding fathers of the United States, but what is perhaps less well known is that he is also the inventor of swim fins (what became flippers), at the tender age of 12. In recognition of this fact, 17 January is celebrated as Kid Inventors’ Day.

Childhood - when our minds are open, thinking is uninhibited and the world is a place of wonder.(© All Rights Reserved)
Childhood – when our minds are open, thinking is uninhibited and the world is a place of wonder.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The Kid Inventors’ Day website states some interesting facts. Apparently about half a million children and teens invent gadgets and games each year. Some of the brilliant inventions by youngsters include braille (1824, Louis Braille, age 15), earmuffs (1873, Chester Greenwood, age 15), popsicles (1905, Frank Epperson, age 11), water skis (1922, Ralph Samuelson, age 18), the trampoline (1930, George Nissen, age 16), and of course Benjamin Franklin’s swim fins. The site also claims the television as a child invention, but I’m not too sure about that, especially since there’s such disagreement as to who actually deserves the credit for this invention.

To be honest, I am not surprised that so many well known items were invented by children and teens. In fact, if it wasn’t for the admin around patenting etc, I am sure more inventions may have been credited to kids who probably thought about many concepts before the more famous inventors credited with the eventual inventions.

Given their limitless imagination, uninhibited creativity and sheer energy, young people appear almost destined to come up with great ideas. I believe the great inventors through the ages were probably those people who managed to retain some of this innovative spark into adulthood, somehow managing to avoid having their creativity and imagination curbed by the conventions, norms, biases and prejudices (and medication!) clouding most grown-ups’ minds.

So, on this day, let’s celebrate the great inventions created by kids, and let’s all try to foster and regain some of their ability to live, think and create without inhibitions.

Copyright Law and the rights of the creator

Today is Copyright Law Day. Not the most exciting of topics to start the New Year off with (except for copyright lawyers, I guess…), but still a pretty critical topic to ensure that everyone gets his or her dues, that fair remains fair and that order prevails in the world of intellectual property.

As I’ve often mentioned, many great inventors lost out on great amounts of money simply because they lacked the necessary patenting and copyright savvy to ensure that they kept ownership of their innovations. And similarly other inventors, those who did manage to patent and copyright their work, gained wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

Copyright law - an important subject to keep in mind when creating art for commercial purposes.(© All Rights Reserved)
Copyright law – an important subject to keep in mind when creating art for commercial purposes.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course in my line of work, being a photographer, photographic copyright law is particularly important.

When looking at New Zealand Copyright Law as it applies to photography, the situation is reasonably simple. In terms of ownership, the default scenario is that the person who takes the photo is the first owner of copyright of the material. However, there are two important exceptions:

  1. Employees – if a photograph is taken by a photographer in the course of his/her employment, the employer is the first owner of copyright, unless there is agreement to the contrary.
  2. Commissioned material – if a client commissions and pays for a photograph to be taken, s/he become the first owner of copyright unless there is agreement to the contrary.

Point (2) above, known as the ‘commissioning rule’, has long been a matter of debate in copyright law worldwide, and is currently under review in New Zealand (see “The Commissioning Rule, Contracts and the Copyright Act 1994: A Discussion Paper”, at

In a number of other countries, including the UK and Ireland, the commisioning rule has been removed from copyright law as it pertains to creative artifacts. Australia and Canada are also moving towards the situation where copyright is retained by the photographer, independent of commissioning.

Importantly, Copyright Law can be overridden by an additional contract/agreement between the photographer and client. As stated in the law, the employee rule and commissioning rule apply ‘unless there is agreement to the contrary’. So if you’re commissioned for a job, but it’s going to take sufficient intellectual and creative input from you as a photographer, that you would want to keep copyright of the image(s), you can set up an agreement with the commissioning party granting you copyright.

Whether there is a specific agreement in place regarding copyright and the allowed use of a photograph or not, an additional factor that comes into play in creative works is the ‘moral right’ of the creator. Artists are, by law, granted certain moral rights pertaining to their creations. Specifically, the artist has the right to be identified as the author of a work when it is published/displayed, and has the right to object to derogatory treatment of a work. In the photographer/client agreement, moral rights may also be defined in more detail, and penalties specified for cases where the moral rights of the photographer are not upheld.

Whichever option one goes for, it is important to remember that copyright and ownership of a photograph is an important matter, that needs to be addressed when contracting a photographer. Whether the photographer or the client retains ownership of the photo, some agreement should be in place to (1) give both parties sufficient rights to the image, and (2) protect both parties from misuse of the image by the other party.

So here’s to a great 2013 – may your creativity be plentiful, and may you reap the just rewards for everything you do! 🙂

Look inwards and get creative on Make Your Own Head Day

So today, according to the holiday websites, is Make Your Own Head Day. Bit of a clumsily named day, if you ask me, but apparently the day is all about getting creative, with a bit of self-reflection thrown in. Grab a pencil, or a heap of clay, or whatever material strikes your fancy, and start creating an image in your likeness.

If your drawing looks more like a particularly abstract Rorschach test than a self-portrait, don’t worry – it’s all about self-expression, and there’s no prizes for the best artwork. After all, if you subscribe to the American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, spatial intelligence (‘picture smart’) is just one dimension of intelligence. This type of intelligence – the ability to think and express yourself in three dimensions – is shared between the creative types who express themselves spatially, like artists, architects and designers, and people who are skilled at orienting themselves spatially like pilots, sailors etc.

OK, a bit of a cheat from my side – this is not my artwork, but at least it is my head (as drawn by my spatially intelligent better half).
(© All Rights Reserved)

If spatial intelligence is not your thing, perhaps you have naturalistic intelligence, musical intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, linguistic intelligence, intra-personal intelligence, or even existential intelligence.  There are many sites containing in-depth discussion of these, but for a simple, succinct summary of Gardner’s different intelligences, have a look at The Nine Types of Intelligence.

Given the above, perhaps we should expand Make Your Own Head Day to incorporate the other intelligences. If you’re a mathematical whizz you can calculate the volume of your head, or model it’s shape (and don’t go for the ‘Let’s assume a perfectly spherical head’ cop-out!). If you have body-smarts, perhaps you can express your personality through dance.  The musical types can write a self-referential song, the linguists can create their self-portrait through poetry or prose, and so forth.

And those with existential intelligence can just sit back and think about it all.

Whatever you do, enjoy this day of self-reflective creative expression!

Having fun without breaking the bank on Frugal Fun Day

Following hot on the heels of World Smile Day comes Frugal Fun Day, celebrated on the first Saturday of October. As far as I could ascertain, Frugal Fun Day – a day to engage in fun activities that are either free or very inexpensive – is the brainchild of Seth Horowitz, author of “The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty With a Peasant’s Pocketbook.”

The idea of the day is to try and come up with original, imaginative ways to have fun without breaking the bank. Build your own kite and try to fly it. Pitch a tent in the garden and ‘go camping’ for the night. Go play in a sand-pit (or better still, the beach, if you’re lucky enough to live near the sea). Lose yourself in a good book from the library or bought at a secondhand shop. Hold a family concert. Visit museums and art galleries in your region. Go support a school sports event, even if your kid isn’t playing. Use the power of social media and arrange a flash mob.

Want some frugal fun? Invent a new game or sport! Uhm, anyone up for some beach ballet?
(© All Rights Reserved)

If you strongly feel you want to spend your time more constructively, you can have your frugal fun by helping others. Find out about volunteering opportunities and activities in your region and get involved. Few things leave a more lasting good feeling than doing good to others.

If you let your imagination run free, the possibilities are endless – I am sure you can think of many more exciting things to do than I’ve come up with.

Focussing our creative energies on simple, constructive fun is a great way to get away from the stresses of modern life – you probably need less than an hour watching the news of the world to be convinced just how much we all need it. And focussing specifically on the cheap and free side of things is a good reminder that money is not always a prerequisite for enjoying ourselves.

So the challenge is yours – any suggestions?

World Sauntering Day

(© All Rights Reserved)

blindly, aiming only where I’m not
full heart, empty mind
thinking freely

guided by footprints in the sand
sandy path, path of light
light diffracted, fractured, structured
structure birthed in chaos
infinite possibilities
synapses firing infinitely

connecting with strangers, friends forgotten
fragments of conversations
focused, defocused, defined
concepts conjured

eagerly, aiming whence I came
animated by sparkling prospects
calculating courageously

(© 2012)

It’s Drawing Day – time to get creative

Happy Drawing Day, everyone! (Or perhaps I should say Happy Pencil Day – there seems to be some disagreement on the correct title of this day.)

To participate is easy – simply grab a pencil and start drawing, and most importantly, share your artwork with as many as possible. And don’t fret if you think you’re not artistic – this day is not so much about great art as it is about nurturing your creative side, and about sharing.

You can share your doodles with friends, or you can even go global and upload your drawings on the Drawing Day website.

Come on, drop that daily chore, and get drawing – it’s good for your soul.

Despite the apparent ease of drawing with a pencil, artists often prefer to work with graphite sticks as it allows a greater range of creative expression.
(© All Rights Reserved)

By the way (this is Sciencelens, after all), did you know that the “lead” inside a pencil that makes it write is not lead at all, but a mix of graphite (a type of carbon), clay, wax, and chemicals?  Coloured pencils work the same, except that they have colour pigment added to the mix instead of graphite.

Pencils are manufactured by mixing ground graphite (or colour pigment), clay and water, and squeezing out this mixture into long spaghetti-like strings.  These are cut into pencil lengths, baked, and then covered with a wax coating to make them write smoothly.

So how do they get them inside the wood? The wood around a pencil may look solid, making it appear as though a hole was drilled through the wood to insert the graphite, but that sounds like some extreme manufacturing.  In fact, most wooden pencils are made from blocks of wood cut into slats.  Grooves, half as deep as the graphite string, are cut into the slats, and the graphite strings are placed in these grooves. Another grooved slat is glued on top of the first, encasing the graphite in the wood.  The slats are then cut into individual pencils, sanded and painted to give it the appearance of a solid structure.

Pencils are sharpened to reveal the graphite inside, and when you write, fiction causes a small amount of the graphite from the core of the pencil to be deposited on the paper, creating your images or words.