Transformational Ideation vs. Original Ideatation

Or: Why ’80s Pop Bowie Is Better than ’70s Glam Bowie

David Bowie is one of the most important musicians in my personal pantheon. And I’ve always liked the pop music he made in the 1980s better than the glam rock that made him famous in the 1970s.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to define why I like ’80s Bowie better than I ever liked ’70s Bowie. Part of it is because I’m a child of the ’80s and that’s the pop music I grew up on. But there’s more to it than just that. And it leads me to an interesting insight into the nature of ideational work.

Our modern culture prioritizes innovation to the point of fetishizing it. Because of this, we assign the greatest value to people who can come up with new ideas. This is an immensely valuable skill.

But it’s not the only skill necessary for us to do our best ideation work.

I’ve known people who weren’t any good at coming up with new ideas but who were brilliant at exploring the ideas of others. They can take your idea and discover potential in it you never saw. They can develop your idea into something better than you ever envisioned.

I’ve known people who were geniuses at connecting ideas together. They can take your idea and match it to some other idea you never would have thought related, and together these ideas become better than anything you imagined.

To borrow from the language of copyright law: There’s original work and transformative work. Some people are brilliant at doing the transformative work even if they’re not skilled at doing original work.

This sort of exploration and development work is as important as the work of coming up with new ideas. This is the work that transforms ideas into their best possible versions.

Continue reading “Transformational Ideation vs. Original Ideatation”

Book Review: The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan

Cover of the book The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan
The Best of Greg Egan
by Greg Egan
Subterranean, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist in August 2019.

**STARRED REVIEW** Egan (Perihelion Summer, 2019), a master of short form science fiction, has collected twenty of what he considers the best of his short works from the past thirty years. By presenting these works in chronological order, the collection highlights the growth of his skill as a writer: readers see his style become more elegant and subtle, his characters more nuanced and empathetic, his stories more incisive. As satisfying as each story is on its own, the greatest reward of this collection is witnessing Egan’s development as a storyteller. It also brings his obsessions front-and-center: the workings of the human mind (“Axiomatic,” “Reasons to Be Cheerful”), reason and identity (“Learning to Be Me,” “Closer,” “Uncanny Valley”), humanity’s relationship to technology (“Appropriate Love,” “Bit Players”), artificial intelligence (“Singleton,” “Crystal Nights”), the relationship between science and faith (“Oracle,” “Oceanic”), and his deep fascination with mathematics (“Luminous,” “Dark Integers”). This retrospective is sure to be treasured by Egan’s many fans, and it presents an excellent doorway for new readers to discover and explore his work for the first time.

Book Review: The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

Cover of the book The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham
The Cruel Stars
by John Birmingham
Del Rey, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist in August 2019.

There is a rift among the humans who have spread throughout the galaxy: a divide between those who embrace genetic and technological enhancements to their bodies and those who reject them. The unenhanced lost a war and were exiled into the depths of space. Centuries later, they’re back and intent on destroying those who would pollute human purity. Now the fate of humanity depends on a new military officer with something to prove, a pirate and her crew, a plucky princess, a condemned criminal, and an obnoxious living legend and his companion AI. Birmingham’s series starter has everything going for it: interesting characters, immersive world building, a believable backstory, high-stakes conflict, visceral action, and credible villains. It’s exciting and funny with just the right amount of tension and violence. This is what military space opera should be. Even the slightly contrived climax does not take away from the satisfying conclusion. The Cruel Stars is sure to be popular with military-science-fiction readers and fans of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series.