The Algorithm is Killing Creativity. Here is how to save yours.
It is no wonder that one of the major advances of our species was to develop systems to measure and quantify. With these metrics, it was possible to know how many animals, food, and resources we had available and how many people lived in our community, which made our lives more manageable and controllable.
Currently, algorithms help us with these processes, offering an invisible help to optimize our lives. But at the same time, it created some difficulty in seeing what is beyond or even behind the data. There is often no way to accurately predict the opportunities or difficulties that will arise, and we are stuck on pre-stated evidence. In other words, we adopt a posture of “if there is no data, it does not exist or it is not possible”.
Quantifying gave us a sense of dimension and, with Big Tech and the popularization of social networks, came the illusion of productivity and success. For actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, our creativity is increasingly becoming a means to an end — and that end is to get attention.
We fell into the trap where our creations started to be dictated by the metrics of the “algorithm” — which is a set of algorithms that measure different variables such as likes, shares, comments, impressions, etc. Thus, we stop creating what we like to create and become hostage to a creation focused only on results and performance.
Creativity is not measured by the number of followers.
How many times have you thought of amazing content to share, but because it didn’t perform well, it ended up falling into oblivion? Or who has never heard of the “golden rule”, where you must post every day on social media if you want to have better results?
I do no doubt that it will bring results — after all, that is what the algorithm wants — but at what price? We are trading quality for quantity; and quantity will soon be the work of machines — there are already sites where an AI writes blog articles for you, ready to publish. We are fighting a battle that is already won. The algorithm tells you what it wants you to do, and you do it.
How can we create something creative if we keep doing more of the same?
For Patrick Burgoyne, CEO of Creative Review, it seems that most companies want their brands to be elegantly efficient, with no surprises, and offer customers only the promise of ease of use. In other words, we keep creating the same things over and over to satisfy the rush to consume something easy to digest.
All this compulsive creation is taking us away from what matters. We do not respect our own time, and this behavior is reflecting on our health, whether physical or mental. We live in stress, never stopping and reflecting. And the more we do the will of an algorithm that desires indicators and performance, the more we distance ourselves from the true essence of being human: to cooperate and create meaning. The richer we are in quantity, the poorer we are in quality.
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” — William Bruce Cameron
Most algorithms work by suggesting things you might like based on what you already like, which ends up creating a worldview where everything converges to what we are already familiar with. But this lack of diversity of thoughts, visions, and perspectives generates frustration in the long term because we live in a bubble where we are rarely contradicted.
We already live in a world where algorithms control much of what we do, and very soon supercomputers and artificial intelligence will take over that responsibility. But when that moment comes, we will need people who can look at the data and not only interpret it, but also have the ability to ask good questions, think about possibilities, and imagine future scenarios.
“I accept cookies and I agree to the terms.”
It’s no use pushing a button and taking the situation for granted. While the passive consumption provided by the algorithm leaves you untouched and unchanged, conscious and intentional creation develops you, refines your skills, sharpens your knowledge, and builds your character. Consumption breeds indifference; creation generates empowerment.
Our reality is defined by the way we choose to connect and relate to everything and everyone around us. We create ourselves out of our curiosity, interest, and ability to make interdependent connections. Algorithms should be able to help us find even better solutions, bringing together data and creativity. That is, it should help you create your world instead of just consuming it.
Create more, consume less.
To escape this cycle, here are three of the main symptoms that make your creativity sick and how you can counter them, to start using the algorithm in your favor and develop your creativity.
Symptom 1: Immediacy
In today’s society, there is a constant rush to consume, evolve, advance, be promoted, learn, achieve enlightenment, to be the best version of ourselves. We are always impatient and eager for things to happen, preferably fast. But the only thing that all this rush generates is insecurity and frustration.
Apparently, we need the sensation of visible and immediate progress, in a logic of “winning now is better than earning twice as much later”. But seeking only an immediate solution limits us to the lowest levels of creativity — because just knowing the recipe doesn’t make you a chef.
It may seem radical, especially for those who believe in shortcuts and quick fixes, but you must be willing to spend most of your time in incubation to develop significantly. In other words, keep practicing and developing even when it seems like you’re not moving forward. When we talk about durable (that you actually learn) and flexible (that can be applied in different situations) learning, fast and easy is precisely the problem.
Learning deeply means learning slowly. If you want to be more productive and creative, you need to dedicate time to the future, even when there are seemingly more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediate return for your efforts. Your future self will thank you.
Symptom 2: Superficiality
Following the previous symptom, we believe that everything we do must always have a use, otherwise, it is useless.
With the acceleration of our daily lives, stimulated by the absurd amount of information we consume, it seems that we only want to acquire knowledge if it delivers something “useful” or that can be used the next day. Perhaps this is leading us to a practical result, that is, we think that getting more knowledge and delving deeper is not worth the effort — and we are satisfied with a scheme of superficial knowledge.
Content that makes us reflect instead of simply offering answers can be interesting to get out of passive consumption because asking questions is also a way of thinking. The more you know about something, the more you can ask about it; an ability that is intrinsically linked to our curiosity.
Curiosity, in turn, is the gateway to creativity, because it allows us to open our minds and seek insights, learning, possibilities, and solutions. You need to use these moments of reflection and questioning to experiment, adjust, explore, and work on your creations. So don’t limit yourself to just consuming content in the hopes that it will work as you expect. Consciously create your path.
Symptom 3: Excess
During World War II, fighter planes returned from battle with multiple bullet holes. Upon landing at the base, these aircraft were analyzed to understand which parts were most commonly hit by enemy fire, to strengthen armor and reduce the number of planes shot down. Interestingly, while some parts were riddled with holes, others were largely intact.
That’s when mathematician Abraham Wald pointed out that maybe there was another way to analyze the data: the reason certain areas aren’t covered in holes could be because the planes that were shot in those areas didn’t come back. This realization led to the reinforcement of armor in the parts of the plane where there were no holes and, consequently, reduced the number of planes shot down.
In a metaphor, we can understand bullet holes as the information with which we are bombarded daily, most of which are superficial and of immediate effect — as we saw in the previous symptoms — and to combat them we need an “armor”, that is, a filter that helps you eliminate these excesses.
Good ideas are born from observations of the world. The story behind the data is arguably more important than the data itself. Or, more precisely, the reason behind the lack of certain data may be more significant than the data available.
Don’t just listen to what is being said, but also what is not being said. An attentive ear is enough to trigger a whole creative process toward the next big innovation.
If the passive consumption caused by the algorithm leaves you full of bullet holes, creativity is in knowing where to reinforce your armor.