Having Your Cake, Eating it and Turning it into Ideas and Tech, Really!
Cake anyone? Except their was a price. A chance to be realise how Cake helps visual storytelling, critical pattern skill recognition and dissertation writing.
I’ve a class of 50 odd Masters students. With the exception of a group of seven, everyone was denied a piece of cake. For the group that received it, I made sure they knew this wasn’t any old cake, but a Chocolate Gateau and only they knew. It was out of everyone else’s sight.
When the exercise was over the groups with no cake had on average seven ideas. The group with the cake had around 35 — almost 5x as much. How?
Each group was tasked with coming up with how to make a cake as as story to be featured in a newspaper. The instructions were vague to start off.. Hence for one group is was simply: How to make a cake. The instructions became layered so the last group were given: How to make a Chocolate Gateau for a school leaver in Cardiff celebrating her birthday and is allergic to nuts. Questions were encouraged. Some didn’t see any connection, but were requested to go along with the exercise which would last 15 minutes. They prevailed.
Often when trying to get a point across as knowledge, information can appear abstract. You don’t often notice it because you make assumptions about what is meant. If you study the way generally we speak it’s full of ambiguity. In design, branding and storytelling, this can cause problems with the final product.
Abstract thinking requires cognitive skills that sculptors architect into concretised models. Abstract idea-making is regarded as higher order thinking. Art, poetry, architecture, maths… just a few that rely on a skill to provide knowledge as much to receive it.
Think of Steve Jobs, taking a complex model that didn’t exist, but most likely had analogies. Its outcome should be easy and as resistance-free to use.
In the late 1800s the first time impressionists, Manet, Monet, Cezanne et al made available their paintings to art judges and public, they were slated. They were referred to as “slime” and “pus”, drawings made by children. Why because the concretised model of the world of art was framed by a way of seeing which was Euclidean geometry (images needed to be proportional and in mathematical perspective).
Anything outside of that was unacceptable. A large part of education follows a model of thinking how things should be the way they are because, “well that’s how they should be”. And too often the people in charge seek to impose these classic orders.
Jobs was renowned for visiting art and design galleries. It would have helped, notwithstanding his own intellect and artistic temperament, in building his conceptual skills.
Generally, if you’re approaching a task earlier on in your career or problem solving based on existing models, abstract ideas for solutions can appear, well, abstract. You don’t know that which you don’t know. So you grapple in your mind for what it means.
The idea that today’s Neonatal incubator came from seeing how well Hens laid eggs when warmed at night under a light bulb, was abstraction at work for the Doctor who took on the idea from his farmer friend.
To the cake then. It was both a physical experience and an analogous one. I asked the group afterwards who had the Cake in front of them, ate some slices how they came by so many ideas and instructions for the task — making the cake.
Their response was they could physically see and taste the cake. They’d also asked more targeted questions compared to other groups. But the exercise really wasn’t about Cake. Now came the “abstract jump” in its relationship to their design/ storytelling.
The Cake would be morphed into the product they sought, and somehow their senses re-adjusted to the job in hand. If they could see it, smell it, eat it, it helped them conceive it. They were joining the dots for their own problem-solving, now fully aware how they needed to interrogate the process.
The brilliance of the mind is you can guide behaviour through an experience. We know that! It’s given names, like Positive Mental of Visual thinking. Watch as Bob Sledders or golfers go through their approach recreating conditions in their mind. Never mind the chemical releases when you eat a cake too, its pleasant, rewarding, and triggers a reaction when later when they meet a problem, I’d mentioned “cake”. The response was knowing and immediate.
If you don’t like cake it won’t work as well. I had another option for that. Significantly as fed back in discussion, analogous thinking was being designed, and the source of experimenting gave agency to participants.
Consider this, for instance below. And the state of our politics.
As a former artist in residence at the UK’s flagship venue for the arts the Southbank Centre, I’ve become known throughout my career for innovation and creative approaches. I was a former creative director for one of the UK’s most revered admen Jon Staton ( former head of TV at Saatchi and Saatchi). and have spent year across design, and storytelling e.g. working at the BBC/ Channel 4 News etc.
Incidentally, my first degree was in Maths and Chemistry and I became really disillusioned towards the end of my studies about how it would help my career transferring to storytelling. It soon became obvious. Maths and Chemistry are great levellers for thinking abstractly. Think Kekule — the man who devised the elliptical shape of the Benzene molecule. Abstraction par excellence.