Eureka! The Secret Sauce Behind Creativity

Being creative is often just a matter of connecting the dots — though they better be the right dots.

Any bright ideas?
Any bright ideas?
Amanda Castillo

GENEVA — Employers have been placing an extra premium on creativity these last few years. They fight to get the so-called creative workers — those who are open-minded, bold, curious. Those who are active, outgoing and thrive on change.

But creativity isn't a mysterious gift for a select few. It involves a long and conscious process that can ultimately allow one to master the art of revealing hidden analogies. German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler explains that our best discoveries occur when data is suddenly connected with distant facts to shed new light. Put more simply, as Apple's iconic founder Steve Jobs once noted, creativity is about connecting things together.

The 20th-century writer Arthur Koestler once said that originality isn't about creating ideas from scratch — it involves pulling together well-established patterns and structures­. "The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament," he wrote. "It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole."

A sewing machine and stroke of genius

Louis and Auguste Lumière exemplify the "Eureka!" moment — the sudden shock when making a connection between two unconnected objects. In 1894, the Lumière brothers had drawn up plans and built several prototypes of a motion-picture camera but were facing a major obstacle: how could they keep the film moving?

"One evening, Louis came back early from the Lumière factory," writes Anne Vermès in "Entreprendre comme les frères Lumières" Be entrepreneurial like the Lumière brothers, and the story goes like this:

Louis heard muffled sounds and entered a linen room where a young girl was angrily kicking a sewing machine.

The machine's intermittent movement fascinated him: It included a needle that entered and came out quickly from the fabric in a jerking movement. That's when Louis Lumière had a stroke of genius.

Vintage advertisement for the cinématographe — Photo: Marcellin Auzolle

"Look," he told his brother, "if you put a two-sided perforated film in place of the fabric: it stops, then it restarts, it stops, it restarts, as the cylinder jerks… as fast as you want to."

A few months later, the Lumière motion-picture camera was born. He used a 35-millimeter perforated strip of celluloid displayed at a rate of 16 images per second.

Gustave Eiffel was inspired by the human body's bone structure

Nature has always been inspirational as it allows people to break down and rearrange the structures of their mental organization.

Pierre-Moniz Barreto, author of the book "Slow Business," writes that Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral invented Velcro by observing how burdock seeds clung to his clothes and his dog's fur.

Barreto also writes about how Gustave Eiffel, the inventor of France's Eiffel Tower, was inspired by the human body's bone structure.

"In the 1850s, anatomist Hermann Von Meyer studied the human skeleton's functions and noticed that the femoral head had an unusual structure. This allowed the body weight to be borne in a slightly off-center manner by the bones and legs," Barreto says.

When Gustave Eiffel started the construction of his famous tower in 1898, he replicated this complicated bone structure in the arches of tower's base.

"By using a series of wrought-iron braces and pegs, he managed to replicate nature's ingenuity. The result is remarkable, especially in terms of longevity. This 324-meter high tower — which was supposed to be dismantled after 20 years — has resisted for more than 120 years and has become a timeless icon in Paris."

More recently, a textile manufacturer designed a revolutionary swimsuit that reduces water drag by reproducing the spikes on the skin of sharks.

The first Eureka!

One of the earliest recorded Eureka moments was when the Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes was faced by a seemingly intractable problem. Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, had asked him to determine the weight of gold in his crown, having suspected it had been mixed with silver. Archimedes was faced with a complex problem. How could he estimate the amount of gold in the crown without damaging its engravings and watermarks?

"If he had been able to melt the crown and measure the liquid gold with a pint, or hammer it to create a block, he would have known right away if it was pure gold or not," writes Koestler in Le Cri D'Archimède Archimedes' Cry. "We can imagine Archimedes' thoughts going in circles, scanning his knowledge of geometrics, and finding all the paths leading to the solution closed and going back to the starting point."

And yet, the solution revealed itself to him at bath time. The familiar sight of the water level rising gradually in the basin as he entered it sparked a thought: the volume of water that was displaced was equal to the volume of his body's submerged parts.

"Never had Armichedes or anybody else thought about connecting the ordinary activity of taking a hot bath with the intellectual exercise of measuring solids," Koestler writes.

No, creativity is not some kind of natural gift. It's a process supported by an attitude open toward new and unexpected ideas. Above all, it requires the ability to think beyond just the problem that needs to be solved.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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