Whiz ... bang ... eureka! The automation of creativity.
You're on deadline. You've developed a new "smart" world atlas, bound to make a splash because of its unusually clear text and graphics. Tomorrow, you're scheduled to unveil advance copies to die press at a major trade show.
But today's headlines have made several maps obsolete, including the one on the cover. Do you cancel die exhibit? Pretend there's no problem? Or is there a better solution?
You need answers fast, so you leap into the driver's seat of your subconscious and turn the key in the ignition. You hear a weak click, a sickening whine, then nothing.
Your brain needs a jumpstart.
So you call on one of die new problem-solving computer programs for emergency assistance. Your computer crackles on. Then: whiz ... bang ... Eureka! The world's first subscription atlas is born, using a loose-leaf format which your company can update as frequently as maps change. With some slick binders, a few hours of scissors work, and a new cover proclaiming, Your map is in the mail," you Mm crisis into opportunity. The partnership between computer and communicator is growing closer all the time. A few years ago, most of us blithely ignored the machines, which were busy storing data, crunching numbers and solving complicated engineering problems somewhere far away.
But, in recent years, we have come to rely on computers for more and more: inputting copy, checking spelling, creating graphics, laying out pages, editing videotapes and exchanging electronic mail messages.
Now, a new generation of software promises to put the computer on even more intimate terms with communicators, offering to jumpstart what is often thought to be one of the last quintessentially human functions creative thinking. From speech writing to strategic planning The new software is designed to boost a wide range of creative-thinking functions: brainstorming, setting priorities, negotiating, reaching consensus. And communicators are in the vanguard of people using this software.
John Hamm, chief speechwriter for the director of the Illinois Dept. of Children and Family Services, Springfield, Ill., says he uses IdeaFisher, from Fisher Idea Systems, Inc., Irvine, Calif., once or twice a week, on his personal and laptop computers, mainly to help develop speeches (see sidebar, page 20). He also uses it to develop sermons for the Westside Christian Deaf Church in Springfield, where he is a minister.
There are two main things I like about IdeaFisher," he says. "First, its ability to find common ground between two groups, for instance, between judges and social workers or between real estate professionals and politicians. And, second, its ability to take a theme and find a wide variety of particular associations."
IdeaFisher also proves useful to Allan Federer, regional vice president, Central Canada, Ramada International Hotels and Resorts, Montreal, Que. He has been using the software since late 1990, also on his personal and laptop computers, to write press releases and develop new products and themes. He says he uses the product several times a month.
Currently, he is in the process of using the software to help develop an article about hotel advertisements, which he hopes to have placed in several hospitality publications, and which he is evolving into a book.
Federer says that IdeaFisher is useful because it coaxes to the surface ideas that users already have, but just can't get to.
"I've never had a 'Eureka!' moment," he says. Rather, it synthesizes things I already know."
And IdeaFisher is just one of many programs designed to boost the creative process.
Greg Ness, president, G.L. Ness Advertising Agency, Fargo, N.D., uses a product called MindLink, created by MindLink, Inc., North Pomfret, Vt.
Ness purchased MindLink in August 1991. In the first month, he says, he has used it on at least 20 projects. For instance, he is now calling on it for help in a series of projects involving strategic planning for his company.
"When you're thinking alone, you tend to get into a groove," Ness says. "MindLink helps bring out different points of view. It's like having someone who is fairly intelligent asking questions that should be asked."
When Gregary Franck, manager of internal communication, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Johnston, Iowa, was president of IABC/Iowa, he used a computer program to help his executive board set annual objectives for the chapter.
"Strategic planning is something we're relatively new to at IABC/Iowa," he says. "One of the hang-ups a couple of years ago during a retreat was reaching consensus on priorities."
So, Franck arranged for a facilitator to come to a board meeting in March and help board members use a program called The Innovator, from Wilson learning Corp., Eden Prairie, Minn.
"I was very skeptical at first," says Franck. "I saw it as gimmickry. But after going through it, I'm a believer. It got us around the log jam we had run into before with strategic planning." Brain boosting is a booming industry In the last several years, a host of programs has emerged designed to increase human creativity, all differing somewhat in terms of method and market niche.
IdeaFisher features IdeaBank, a database organized into 28 major categories and 386 topical categories, allowing users access to more than 60,000 words and phrases. This database is designed to allow users to make associations between words, sometimes quite unexpected associations. IdeaFisher also includes another feature, called QBank, which contains more than 3,000 questions to clarify, modify and evaluate thoughts.
MindLink features four main parts, each more complex than its predecessor. First, there is The Gym, a series of self-paced warm-up exercises to strengthen users' creative skills. Second is Idea Generation. Here, users describe problems and list possible solutions in a simple structure. The third part is Guided Problem Solving, an introduction to the process of solving problems (making wishes, listing ideas, noting the possible benefits and drawbacks of ideas, exploring options and next steps and developing possible solutions). Fourth is Problem Solving, a more comprehensive way of generating and organizing wishes, ideas and solutions.
The Innovator is designed for use in group situations. It encourages ideas by using strategic questions. Participants engage in group or individual exercises. Then, they register anonymous opinions by using keypads. Group responses are tabulated and instantly displayed.
Decision Pad, from Apian Software, Inc., Menlo Park, Calif., allows users to create worksheets for figuring out what decisions they need to make, who will be involved in processes, what criteria they are using, how important these criteria are, and what the alternatives are. The worksheets also are used to rate alternatives, analyze results and recommend actions.
Idea Generator from Experience in Software, Inc., Berkeley, Calif., takes users through a series of structured, interactive exercises designed to help them develop and evaluate ideas. First, users define problems and goals, and list people who will be involved in the problem-solving process. Next, they participate in seven idea-generating exercises, titled: "Similar Situations," "Metaphors for the Situation," "Other Perspectives ... .. Focus on Your Goals One by One," "Reverse Your Goals,"
Focus on the People Involved," md "Make the Most of Your Ideas." Last, users evaluate their ideas: prioritizing them, performing cost-benefit analyses and determining repercussions.
Thoughtline, from the same company, uses artificial intelligence methods to help writers think through projects, involving them in a type of electronic self-interview.
The Art of Negotiating, also from Experience in Software, Inc., asks questions and offers suggestions about negotiations. It is designed to help users set objectives, understand issues and "control the emotional environment" of negotiations. This product is available in English, French and German.
For details on how more of this software is used to facilitate decision making in groups, see pp. 25-27, March 1991 Communication World).
Limitless potential? Loredo Sola, president, MindLink Inc., says his market is: "anybody who needs to come up with new ideas and anybody who needs to think of better ways to communicate old ideas."
Marsh Fisher, president, Fisher Idea Systems, Inc., says he sees "unlimited potential" for his product.
The right niche for us is anyone who is a mover, a shaker, a creator, a planner, anyone who needs to be a creative vs. an analytical problem solver," he says.
For instance, promotional materials from his company say that IdeaFisher has been used by ministers to solve inter-personal conflicts, by attorneys for developing alternative solutions, by financial firms to hire employees and by a Macintosh users' group to decide whether or not to stay together. The company recently released a Strategic Planning Module, a program containing more than 700 questions to help users develop and implement strategic plans.
Although now only a handful of people outside the U.S. are using English-language versions of IdeaFisher (in Australia, Canada, England, Germany and Japan), he plans to develop versions in French, German and Japanese. Don't throw the brain out with the bathwater Even with all their bells and whistles, can these new software packages really improve upon the thought processes of the incredibly complex human mind, which has taken millions of years to evolve?
A noted expert on the role of technology in modem life, Theodore Roszak, Ph.D., professor of history, California State University, Hayward, urges us not to let enthusiasm for these new products overshadow our appreciation for the human mind (see sidebar, page 21).
"All of these exercises, no matter how ingenious, involve going into the same room, sitting in the same place, staring at a screen," says Roszak. "It's a remarkable reduction in the quality and quantity of human experience."
In contrast, he-says, human thought is embedded in a complex gestalt of experience which cannot be duplicated on video display terminals.
"Thinking is so broad, it's an open-ended potentiality. It includes sensory experiences, bodily experiences, memories, relations with other people," he says.
Roszak reminds us that computers aren't a prerequisite for scaling the heights of creative genius. Reaching back in history to illustrate his point, he asks: "How did Milton write 'Paradise Lost'? He didn't have a computer. He was blind, so he couldn't even use a quill pen." Simulation, stimulation and synergy But, developers of these new software packages are quick to insist that their products are not trying to compete with the human brain. They go to great pains to reassure potential customers that their products are designed to stimulate the thinking process, not simulate it.
Promotional materials for Idea Generator say: "The Idea Generator Plus thinks with you, not for you.
Writing about his product, Thoughtline, in the Experience in Software newsletter, Dan E. Burns writes: "Yesterday's 'giant electronic brain' has shrunk to the size of a briefcase, and with it has shrunk our awe of the machine. People no longer fear computers as rivals that challenge our human supremacy. Instead, we see them as tools. Thoughtline, for example, does not replace the writer; it is a tool for thinking and writing. Users know that the program has little intelligence of its own; rather, it extends human intelligence the way radio extends hearing and television extends sight."
MindLink's Loredo Sola says that, like any good partnership, the relationship between mind and his product is synergistic, allowing the computer do what it does best - organize information - and allowing the mind to do what it does best - think creatively. A generation of Einsteins and Michelangelos These new computer programs, software enthusiasts emphasize, are just so many new tools among the many already at our disposal. 'Creativity should not be left to the gods. Because the gods might court you and not me.'
Like Roszak, Fisher reaches back into history to illustrate his point, but with different results. If we have been creative without the assistance of such software, he asks, what heights can we reach in the future with the help of these new tools?
"When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he had just two tools: a sable-haired brush and a scaffold. We're a tool-using animal. The computer is just another tool," he says.
He sees his program as a kind of democratizing agent, able to improve the lives of those of us who aren't Miltons or Michelangelos ... or Einsteins.
"We might not all be Einsteins," he says. "But we can all be trained to be creative. Creativity should not be left to the gods. Because the gods might court you and not me."
Sola points out that his product is not just technology for technology's sake. MindLink, he explains, is based on the findings of Synectics, Ltd., Hemel Hempstead, U.K., an international "innovation management" firm that has conducted more than 16,000 client sessions in the last 20 years.
"We see MindLink as complementary to our skills, not competitive," says Vincent Nolan, a consultant to (and former chairman of) Synectics Ltd. "It's greatest value is probably as a learning aid and ... as a supplement to courses."
And, say software developers, there's no arguing with success. They point to rosters of customers who are satisfied with their products and who are convinced that they have at least some role to play in the creative process.
To show the value of IdeaFisher, Marsh Fisher says that, before his product was released, he ran tests which showed that most people are not usually able to come up with more than about 60 associations for any given word, for instance, "red." On the other hand, he says, IdeaFisher provides more than 700 references for red.
No matter how good your memory, you can't possibly remember all the things we have in here.... Ideas come faster and faster with IdeaFisher."
For Fisher, the bottom line is: "An hour with IdeaFisher is better spent than an hour without it." Who's jumpstarting whom? Developers of the new software seem eager to disassociate themselves from the more ambitious claims of artificial intelligence enthusiasts, who say that computers will one day rival or surpass the human brain in all functions, including creative thinking. However, they keep trying to stretch the limits of what their products can do.
Fisher, for instance, is now at work making his program even more powerful, able to stimulate the human mind with graphic images and sounds. He jokes about the program reaching right off the screen and grabbing the user.
And with each inch of ground ceded by the communicator to the computer, old questions arise about which of us is the means and which the end. So, the next time you fire up your computer, try asking yourself: "Who's jumpstarting whom?" Kyle Heger is associate editor, Communication World.
SPEECHWRITER WINS SILVER QUILLS WITH BRAINSTORMING SOFTWARE
John Hamm, chief speechwriter for the director of the Illinois Dept. of Children and Family Services, Springfield, Ill., has won two awards of merit in the IABC District 4 Silver Quill awards program for speeches he wrote using the IdeaFisher computer program, mainly its IdeaBank feature. Hamm bought the software in September 1989. The first speech he developed with IdeaFisher was one of his Silver Quill winners. The speech was a keynote address at a large conference with the theme "Windows of Opportunity in Social Work." After a 20-minute search through IdeaFisher, he found a list of 44 types of windows, and based his speech on five windows of opportunity in the social work community: the bay window of research projects, the stained glass window of public/private sector cooperation, the kitchen window of social service in the homes of troubled families, the computer window of technology and the cashier window of legislative financial support. The human mind is far from obsolete - "Computer scientists ... believe they can stimulate our originality on the computer working out programs that include a randomizing element .... Because this makes the output of the PrOgram unpredictable, it b- been identified as creative., But there is an the difference in the world between such contrived randomness and true originality.... In the human mind, an Original idea has a living meaning; it connects with experience and produces conviction. What the computer produces is 'originality' at about the level of a muscular spasm; it is unpredictable, but hardly meaningful." -"Human memory... is the invisible Psychic adhesive that holds our identity together from moment to moment. This make, it a radically different PhenOmenon from computer memory.... It flows not only through the mind, but through the emotions, the senses, the body. We remember things as no computer can- in our muscles and reflexes: how to swim, play an instrument, use a tool." -"The ingredients of a lifetime mix and mingle to product unanticipated favors...What emerges from the concoction can be genuinely astonishing. Which is only to observe what all culture tells us about ourselves: that we are capable of true originality. History teems with such marvelous examples of invention and startling conversion. Paul of Tarsus struck blind on the road to Damascus rises from the trauma to become the disciple of a savior he had never met... Gandhi, driven from the white-only compartment of a south African train, renounces his promising legal career to don a loin cloth and become the crusading mahatma of his People. This is experience at work, mysteriously shaping new ideas about life in the depths of the Soul." - from "The Cult of Information," by Theodore Roszak, professor of history, California State University, Hayward, published by Pantheon Books, New York.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 1991|
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