Computers don't have a heart; humans do.

If you understand this one simple fact, you can learn to unleash your creativity to spark your best ideas in a world increasingly dominated by robots, automation, and artificial intelligence intended to replace humans in nearly every task. 

One of the best ways to explain why humans will not be replaced by computers anytime soon is to look no further than at a staggering leap of imagination--the Broadway musical, Hamilton, which composer and actor Lin Manuel-Miranda is starring in again to raise money for Puerto Rico. 

When I was researching a new book on persuasion, Hamilton fever was in full pitch. My daughters had just gotten their first Alexa speaker. Since we were all fans of the musical, we tried an experience. We asked: "Alexa, who is Alexander Hamilton?" Alexa responded: "Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States."

I turned to Siri on my Apple phone and asked the same question. Siri's response: "Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States,"

Siri and Alexa use artificial intelligence to do their job well--understanding a query and retrieving information at the blink of an eye. Miranda's job is different. His job is not only to inform, but to make you feel.

According to neuroscientists who I interviewed for my book, Five Stars, there's a reason why no computer algorithm has figured out the secret to connecting to the human heart. One prominent AI researcher told me, "We can build an algorithm to recognize human emotion, but it doesn't have human emotion."

A machine doesn't have imagination. A machine doesn't see a better future for itself. A machine doesn't dream of things that have never been and asks itself, "Why not?"

Finding Your Light-Bulb Moment

Whatever you call it--an epiphany, a light-bulb, or a shower moment--there are ways to  unleash your brain's unique creative process. According to neuroscientists, the secret is to bombard the brain with new experiences, associating ideas that have never been connected before.

It means to get out of the office, take a trip, read a book in a genre you normally wouldn't read. Better yet, read the book on a trip like Miranda did.

The musical's origin story is now famous: Miranda walked into a bookstore and randomly chose Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton to take along on vacation. He couldn't put it down.

He imagined a connection between Hamilton writing his way out of poverty and into the American Revolution and contemporary hip-hop innovators writing their way out of poverty and revolutionizing a musical art form. He imagined a musical about the founding fathers--white men--played by a diverse cast reflecting contemporary America. 

No computer algorithm can create Hamilton because it's something that has never been seen before. A computer doesn't have imagination; entrepreneurs do. 

Steve Jobs Had a Lot in Common With Lin Manuel-Miranda

Steve Jobs used a similar approach.

Since Jobs and Steve Wozniak pretty much invented the "look" for modern computers, Jobs had to find a parallel for what he was trying to accomplish outside of his field. He found it in calligraphy--which translated into modern computer font.

He found another parallel while walking through a kitchen appliance section of a department store, which is why a Cuisinart food processor served as the model for the Apple II. His parallel for the first Apple store was a luxury hotel he once visited. That's why there's a "genius bar" at the back of every store.

Your best ideas will often occur when you connect ideas from two different fields. You can begin by reading the weekly New York Times and Wall Street Journal book reviews--and then reading one of the featured titles. Pick a novel one week, a business book the next week, and a history book the following week. Take short trips to unfamiliar places. And surround yourself by a team of people with diverse experiences. The original Macintosh team had historians, artists, photographers designers, and anthropologists who also knew computer science.  

Your imagination is your competitive advantage. 

Published on: Jan 11, 2019
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