Book review: The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy by Greg Orme

Posted on: April 20, 2020
Book review: The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy by Greg Orme

This book “The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy” by Greg Orme (London Business School, founder of the Centre for Creative Business and with clients including Accenture, EY and Arcadia) is both fascinating and inspiring. Most of us (lawyers, accountants, surveyors or marketers) worry about the potential impact of artificial intelligence on our jobs. This book brings hope and comfort that our most human abilities – consciousness, curiosity, creativity and collaboration – are those that will enable us to thrive. I hope this review motivates you to read the book – to go on the journey yourself.

Part One – Man vs Machine

Orme starts by urging us to become a “more human” human – leveraging our brain which is the “the most complicated entity in the whole universe”.

There are mind-boggling details of the march of AI into every aspect of our lives. There are predictions that around 14% to 47% of jobs will go over the next 15 years and research results showing that 72% of American employees are worried about AI.

To defend against “jobs that rely on cognitive skills are now fair game for automation”, we need to re-imagine the future. The answer, he argues, is to stop competing with and start differentiating from AI. He outlines the growing future-fit value divide. He notes that for the first time, creative thinking is on the same playing field as people management, complex problem-solving and critical thinking.

There’s an interesting analysis of the difference between Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and Artificial Superintelligence (ASI) and both the history and latest developments in these fields. He then moves on to dispelling myths about creativity. He argues that as most children are creative geniuses, to become more creative we have to unlearn.

The five levels of creativity – according to Irving A Taylor – are: expressive, productive, inventive, innovative and emergent. Orme argues for the need for a practical process of creativity and mentions Brendan Boyle of IDEO.

Part Two – The human edge

He provides a thorough review and practical exercises through his methodology and its “dance steps”:

Consciousness
o Focus
o Seek
Curiosity
o Question
o Learn
Creativity
o Energise
o Spark
Collaboration
o Connect
o Experiment

Consciousness

The author talks about the power of purpose with “meaning is a North Star to guide your decisions when life gets complicated” and “meaning is the new money”. He explores the difference between pleasure-seeking happiness and profound satisfaction. There’s an overview of ideas such as Ikigai, Csikszentmihalyi’s flow and positive psychology.

Then he addresses focus. And there’s some damning evidence of the impact of open-plan offices. He urges people to guard time jealously and quotes interruption science to show that multitasking is a myth.

He suggests segmenting your day into three or four sprints of two to three hours and quotes evidence that meditation and mindfulness help with your ability to focus under pressure in stressful situations.

It was interesting to learn about Bill Gates’ “Think Weeks” – we can do something similar under lock down.

Curiosity

Albert Einstein argued that he had no special talents, apart from being passionately curious. Neuroscience reveals the driver between curiosity and your ability to learn. Curiosity combines thinking and feeling which is why it’s been labelled the “knowledge emotion”.
The author identifies four types of curiosity:

• Diversive curiosity – need to seek stimulation to escape boredom
• Knowledge curiosity – impulse to learn more
• Specific curiosity – desire for a particular piece of knowledge
• Perceptual curiosity – seeking real-world, physical impressions

Which, when combined, lead to four activities: roam, sample, surf and focus.

He argues for “everyday learning” and quotes the CEO of AT&T who said that those who don’t spend at least five to ten hours a week learning online “will obsolete themselves with technology”.

There’s support for the idea of Renaissance Man, polymaths and T-shaped people. I enjoyed his exercise to analyse the people who are radiators and drains in your life.

He then moves on to the power of questions to drive curiosity, avoid bad decisions and challenge preconceptions. He argues that fear of looking stupid prevents those in power from asking questions.

He looks at the different approaches to problem-solving between “Solvers” and “Searchers”. He argues that the most creative people are those who put time aside to ask the right question. There’s a great story here about how Instagram came into being. IDEO’s “How might we?” question features.

Creativity

This section is about creating habits in your life to boost creativity – From noting ideas to noticing the unusual.

He uses four metaphors for different cognitive modes: lighthouse (searching for inspiration), laser (focus), kite (day-dreaming) and observer (being aware of how you’re thinking).

There’s support for the role of empathy in creativity. And the importance of your environment – suggesting that you need to change the places where you think. There’s evidence that people who spend some of their life living outside the country of their birth score higher on tests for creative thinking. Apparently, creative thinkers sleep more too.

Half of all breakthroughs, in every walk of life, are generated by the top 10% of people in that speciality. Because they have more ideas – Quantity over quality. He uses the great metaphor of “melt your ice cubes” to show how you need to blend ideas from different domains.

It was good to see an analysis of divergent (Ellis Paul Torrance) and convergent thinking too and support for humour to spark creativity. Forced association and analogies make an appearance. He argues for the need to make things simpler – revealing the essence is a vital stage of being creative.

For further information on Leonardo da Vinci’s creative methods.

More on creative competencies.

Collaboration

“Raising ugly babies” is how the author sees the process of nurturing new ideas as they emerge and mature. He argues that without collaboration it’s impossible to combine the required diversity of experience and knowledge to navigate the twenty first century and he addresses Dunbar’s number.

He touches on office design and the need to increase the likelihood of chance encounters – to plan for serendipity. And he modifies the perceived wisdom of brainstorming  and urges people to work alone first.

One of the final chapters urges us to “Think big, start small and learn fast”. There’s strong support for action-based experimentation (validated learning). And he points to the generational difference that younger people “don’t plan, they improvise”.

Favourite quotes:

• Gallup polls consistently show 7 out of 10 employees feel disengaged and uninspired by work
• Around 85% of companies think AI will offer a competitive advantage – yet only 5% are employing it extensively right now
• The best way to move past fear is to face it
• Max Tegmark “We humans win hands-down on breadth, while machines outperform us in a small but growing number of narrow domains”
• Marcus Aurelius: “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts”
• The average office worker now spends more than 30% of his or her time simply reading and answering emails
• In two recent studies, young adults were found to use their smartphones more than 80 times per day
• Alarmingly, six times more children and young people in England have mental health conditions than a generation ago
• Ex-Google strategist James Williams describes social media as the “largest, most standardised and most centralised form of attentional control in human history”
• “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” – Cicero, Roman statesman and master orator
• Harvard researchers found that most people spend 47% of their time thinking about something other than what they’re doing
• “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” Alvin Toffler, Futurist
• Goddard: “Businesses decline as the production of new insights declines”.
• It’s been shown in employer-employee disputes that if both sides repeated what the other side had just said before peaking themselves, conflicts were resolved 50 per cent faster.
• Cultural anthropologists believe the very first laughter occurred just after danger had passed and people felt safe again

Amazon link to The Human Edge

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