The link between maths and creativity

This was the subject of a cool talk by Jon Leach for the Account Planning Group last night. Jon is a planning guru and maths geek yet also entertaining. Spooky I know.

The bit I remembered most this morning was the formula he shared regarding creativity (he said it came from Doug Hall, the American marketing/innovation guy):

C = D x S / F

The Creativity in the room equals the Diversity of the people multiplied by the amount of Stimulation, divided by the level of Fear. Makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? And I think it gets more powerful when you try out some numbers, as Jon did.

Assume D, S and F operate on a simple three point scale – i.e. if Diversity is low we give it a 1, if it’s high we give it a 3 and so on. You will no doubt quickly appreciate that on this scale the maximum Creativity is 9: Diversity 3 x Stimulation 3, divided by Fear 1.

And the minimum Creativity is Diversity 1 x Stimulation 1, divided by Fear 3 = 1/3. So a difference of 27 times between the most and least creative situation you can set up. Which is a lot.

Imagine the typical workshop where you’ve made a bit of an effort with Diversity (e.g. you’ve got someone from R&D, maybe an ‘outside expert’) and brought together some half-decent Stimulus so you allocate both of those a score of 2 and get 4.

But if the Fear in the room is reasonably high and also 2  (the client-agency relationship is at a low point, the big boss needs an answer by the end of the week, …) your Creativity ends up being only 2, so quite rubbish. The Fear is a real killer, no matter how good your planning.

Another interesting bit was about the creativity of groups. Working with others increases creativity because each person brings their own ideas and presumably they are multiplicative rather than additive since the ideas can be combined in different ways. But the trouble is that the more people in the group the higher the Social Cost: the challenges of getting along with each other, doing the difficult and emotionally vulnerable work of creativity together.

With three people there are three Social Units: the dynamics between each pair of people and between the threesome. With four people there are 11 Social Units (I think) because there are six possible pairs, three possible threesomes and one foursome. So the Social Cost will go up rapidly and counteract the additional Creativity.

Jon Leach reckons that creative output is optimized at about 4 people, or 5 if they know each other really well – i.e. the number of people you can into a taxi. So for meetings where we are doing (or presumably reviewing) creative work we shouldn’t have loads of people present. Maybe we should have the meetings in taxis to enforce the discipline.

And it explains why in workshops we tend to break people into groups of about 4 for doing teamwork. I’ve realised for a while that any bigger than that and the teams don’t cohere and work together well (you get factions, or a non-contributor or two) but this explains it mathematically. How very pleasing.



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One Response to “The link between maths and creativity”

  1. jon leach Says:

    thanks for the write up!

    glad you enjoyed it

    may your creativity multiply and your enemies be divided


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