Is creativity the next debacle?

Posted by Tandarin Nike Sunday, July 17, 2011 11:58 AM 2 comments
I read someplace that the brain needs some boredom during the day to process thoughts and generate creativity. That sounds right. My best ideas always bubble up when I'm bored. And my period of greatest creative output was during my early living abroad when I had very few friends.

So what would happen if everyone in the world stopped being bored? You might be there already. I know I am. If I have access to my phone, or my computer, I'm never bored. If I'm watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials.

If I'm standing in line at the store, I can check email or play Angry Birds. When I go for my daily walks, I listen to my mini player cum radio (MPCR). I wake up in the morning and walk straight to my MPCR to browse the headlines while my coffee is brewing. The last thing I do before shutting my eyes at night is browse the news again on my MPCR.

As recently as a year ago I would drive my car in silence and cook up all sorts of ideas on the go. Now I have satellite radio and can always find some auditory diversion. The only reliable place to be bored these days is in the shower.

Now let's suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it's fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world with declining boredom and therefore declining creativity?

I'll take some guesses.

For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don't have time to think for yourself, and think creatively, the easiest opinion to adopt is the default position of your political party, religion, or culture. Check.

You might see more movies that seem derivative or based on sequels. Check.

You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Check.

You might see the bestseller lists dominated by fiction "factories" where ghost writers churn out work under the brand of someone famous. Check.

You might see almost no humor books on the bestseller lists except for ones built around a celebrity. Check.

You might see the economy flatline for lack of industry-changing innovation. Check.

You might see the news headlines start to repeat, with nothing but the names changed. Check.

You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. Check.

You might find that people seem almost incapable of even understanding new ideas. Check.

To be fair, there might be lots of reasons why the world appears to have less creativity. Some of it is simple economics. A movie studio can make more money with a sequel than with something creative. A similar dynamic is true in every industry.

And also to be fair, sometimes things seem to be getting worse when in fact you're only noticing it more. It seems as if folks are more dogmatic than ever, but maybe that's not the case.

Still, it's worth keeping an eye on the link between our vanishing boredom and innovation. It's the sort of thing that could literally destroy the world without anyone realizing what the hell is going wrong. If it reaches critical proportions, we probably won't recognize the root cause of the problem. A lack of creativity always looks like some other problem.

Do you think the world is becoming less creative?

Too much of winning could kill you

Posted by Tandarin Nike Friday, July 8, 2011 7:50 AM 2 comments
Research shows that winning, especially on the home field, boosts your testosterone levels. And research shows that high levels of testosterone can cause health problems such as raising your bad cholesterol, accelerating some types of cancer, and increasing cardiovascular disease.

Hypothetically, too much winning could kill you.

Okay, okay, I know that the testosterone boost one gets from winning is temporary. And I know most of the people who compete and win are young whereas the people most at risk for cancer and heart attacks are old.

But could it be true that modern society creates too many opportunities for winning, which in turn boosts the average testosterone levels of both men and women to ranges that humans haven't yet evolved to handle?

If so, what's the downside?

In cave-dwelling days, I'm guessing that only the chief of the clan had high testosterone. Research shows that leaders generally have a bit extra. In those times, when survival was the main agenda item, the rest of the clan had few opportunities to do anything that felt like "winning." And no one was worried about cancer and heart attacks because the life expectancy then was 25.

Fast-forward to today. We surround ourselves with artificial situations that cause us to feel like winners. School kids get medals for simply participating. Parents praise kids for any little success. Childhood is designed to build high self-esteem.

Throughout life, almost everyone plays some sort of game or sport. And we gravitate toward the competitions we win more than we lose. If you golf, your handicap is designed to allow you to win against better players. If video games are your game of choice, you can play at whatever level that ensures you will win more than you lose.

In modern times we don't have just one leader. You can be the president of a club, the captain of your team, the manager of your department, or run your own business. The options for being in charge of one thing or another are endless.

And being in charge of just about anything boosts testosterone.

If being in charge isn't your thing, you can acquire a sort of symbolic power by getting lots of Facebook friends or lots of Twitter followers. Any sort of status, and any sort of special attention, no matter how trivial in real importance, probably boosts testosterone. Society has accidentally evolved into a testosterone delivery system. That makes sense because higher levels of testosterone have been associated with feelings of well-being.

Perhaps humans are literally addicted to the hormone.

If we assume that nature has distributed testosterone normally across humans, with some people having too little, most people having just the right amount, and some folks having too much, what is the impact of so many temporary boosts in testosterone? Are the people who already have plenty of testosterone getting poisoned?

Doctors can test for testosterone deficiency, but does anyone test for testosterone overload? And how important is it anyway? If you Google "testosterone behavior” you can see a number of experts weighing in on the question of how testosterone influences behavior.

I've recently learned that lots of educated people believe biology doesn't have a decisive influence on human behavior because we have the power of reason.

To others, that view falls somewhere between superstition and ignorance. To be fair, sometimes the biology-doesn't-count view is more of an advocacy-based position, which is entirely reasonable to the degree that it helps accomplish something useful to society, such as reducing crime.

We humans have an instinct for sorting things into categories. We like clean boundaries. For example, we like to imagine that all of our thinking is done by our brains.

But I wonder if it would be more accurate to extend our definition of "brain" to include the endocrine system.