3 Dangerous Myths about Innovators and Creators

If you believe in the myths that surround some of our most famous and beloved creators — Einstein, Jobs, or Edison, for example — you're setting yourself up for failure.

Tim Sanders: There are myths of creativity and these myths are usually propagated by people that have romantic notions about heroes, romantic notions about eureka moments. And these myths of creativity keep people from collaborating and it causes them to be a lone wolf. And the research says it causes them to fail. So let me talk a little bit about those myths of creativity. In the world of sales and marketing, I battle against three myths. Myth number one — the lone inventor. This is very dangerous because there is no such thing as a lone inventor. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of historical research that has debunked [Albert] Einstein specifically in terms of inventions. Henry Ford. Not a lone inventor. A classic example — Thomas Edison. In the invention community, Thomas Edison is a brand. It stands for 14 people. Yes there was a figurehead named Thomas Edison. His name is on 10,000 patents. He did not invent a single thing. He marshaled people together and knew how to spot innovations and put people together like a creative soup, if you will. Here’s a classic example. Steve Jobs. You ask the average person, say a millennial who uses a lot of Apple technology, who’s one of the greatest inventors of our time? They’ll say Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs once said I never created anything. All I did was notice patterns and put people together to finish projects. So think about it. If he doesn’t have [Steve] Wozniak, there is no original Apple, right. If he doesn’t have [Jony] Ive, there is no iPod. If he doesn’t have Tony Fadell, there is no iPhone and the list goes on and on. Got a good friend of mine, David Burkus, who wrote a really wonderful book about the myths of genius. And he was telling me that it’s a romantic notion. And I remember when I first read this research years ago, "No Lone Inventor," it did kind of hurt my feelings.

I’m a musician in my past. I thought I wrote a lot of songs, but according to the research I never wrote a song. I always collaborated with somebody. The song that actually made it to the record or made it on the radio had 15 to 50 hands on it. When I talked to David, I said, "When I read your research, it kind of hurt my feelings." And he goes, "It’s a romantic notion because we want to be heroes." We want to be as empowered as Ayn Rand. We want to think that we are The Fountainhead so this is how we tell the story. But until you believe that genius is a team sport, you will never give up control. And this is the problem for a lot of people in sales. They don’t want to seed any level of control over their process to somebody outside of sales world because they don’t value those voices enough. But the research is clear on this. Miller Heiman Institute researched the difference between good and great. They call it world-class organizations. They win. They sell 20 percent more than their nearest competitor. The only thing they have in common is they’ve broken this myth and they understand that every deal is about rapid problem solving and no one person can solve the problem on their own. Quickly the other two myths of creativity that must be dispelled is the eureka moment. There is no such thing as a big idea that changes the world. I know this is another one of those hurtful, but very true based on empirical research, points. There are little ideas that combine with other little ideas that improve themselves into game-changing ideas. And I’ve experienced this personally by who I consider one of the authorities on creativity, Ed Catmull, president of Pixar. I remember standing backstage a few years ago just gushing to him about John Lasseter, his VP of creative. I’m like, he’s the bomb. This is the guy who wrote Wall-E, the commercial. This is the guy that wrote the script for Toy Story, you know, telling the story from the toys point of view. And I remember Catmull looked at me, cut me off and not to dismiss Lasseter, he said Toy Story was a problematic idea from the start. Make an entire full-length feature film inside a computer. Do you understand how hard that is from a rendering-time standpoint?

Make the characters as human as human. They didn’t even have facial control or technology at the time for this. And tell the story from the toys' point of view when we’ve never historically had a toy have any narrative for us to draw on. Catmull explained that nine months in, they shut the film down after a meeting with Disney. They called it Black Friday. And the Catmull said something to me that shattered the myth of the eureka moment. Catmull said Toy Story, the movie you saw, was a thousand problems solved. And it was like a bolt of lightning. I was like I get it. When you do a million dollar deal in an ad agency, it’s not a big idea; it’s a hundred problems solved; 80 of them are inside your agency. As you move through every level of that sale, you get obstacles in front of you. And what this means is that if we no longer depend on the big idea to fall out of the sky and change the world, we meet more, we think more, we research more, we settle with small pieces of progress that add up to momentum. Finally, the third myth of genius or creativity that must be shattered if you want to be more collaborative is the myth of the expert. Now I believe in involving people in a dealstorm who we think are experts on the problem space. But if you notice, I don’t want experts on the solution space. Because most of the great solutions to vexing problems come from the edges of a domain, you know. People that don’t know what they don’t know. So they’re not limited by these false constraints that hold people back that are in the middle of this subject. So the way I like to think about it is if you could talk to a fish — if you could; if the fish could respond; if it could — and you walked up to a fish in a fishbowl and you ask the fish, "How’s the water?" The fish would look at you puzzled and ask you, "What’s water?" And that’s the problem with experts. People that are so steeped in the domain they don’t have the expansive perspective that allows them to recognize patterns and convergence. Because every invention, every solution is really about pattern or convergence recognition. And so it’s really important for us to follow the following mantra in collaboration. Ideas can come from anywhere.

As a matter of fact in Dealstorming, that is one of my four key ground rules. It’s just as important as stay on agenda and don’t distract the person next to you. Because the problem with the myth of expert is it leads to not invented here dismissal of good ideas. So when you’re in a dealstorm meeting and someone who’s on the edge of the domain — I’ll just give you an example. Someone out of finance that generally handles something as mundane as revenue recognition. They come to one of your meetings because you have a problem related to how you recognize the revenue of this deal or whatever. And you’re in the middle of this conversation about packaging and they come up with a really novel way to think about how it’s built. You might look at that person and say you don’t know anything about billing sales. You’re just a revenue recognition analyst. We know billing and sales. You’re about to shut him down for the rest of the meeting. And what you don’t understand is that he may have an educational background. He may have had previous jobs. He may have a significant other that is steeped in the billing expertise and he’s drawing upon all of that. The minute you tell someone only experts can weigh in with ideas, everyone who’s not an expert stops contributing. In my experience, it breaks down collaboration.

There are three specific myths that surround our most beloved creators, and if you model yourself on those myths, you're setting yourself up for failure. The myths are (1) the lone wolf inventor; (2) the eureka moment; (3) the myth of the expert. From new theories of physics and revolutionary patents to Toy Story and the iPhone, creators depend on their ability marshal the talent of large teams of people. Yet despite the readily available evidence that we tend to romanticize innovation, myths persist because we love telling stories in narrative form.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
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