How to find a wonderful idea | OK Go

TED
16 Jun 201717:36

Summary

TLDRThe video script is a performance by the band OK Go, known for their innovative music videos. Damian Kulash, the band's frontman, discusses the creative process behind their videos, which often involve complex and surprising concepts. He shares how ideas come to him, like finding patterns in visual chaos, and emphasizes the importance of wonder and surprise in their work. The script also delves into the challenges of planning and executing complex projects, illustrating the low odds of success when relying on high reliability from many components. To overcome this, OK Go immerses themselves in 'sandboxes' of untried ideas, playing and experimenting until they find a concept that is both surprising and reliable. The video concludes with a live performance of their song 'The One Moment,' which was created by exploring the 'sandbox' of ballistics and math.

Takeaways

  • 🎢 The band OK Go is known for their elaborate music videos that often involve complex choreography and unique concepts.
  • 🌟 Damian Kulash, the lead singer, describes the process of creating their videos as a process of discovery rather than invention, emphasizing the importance of finding ideas.
  • πŸ‘€ Kulash shares his personal habit of playing with perspective, which he believes contributes to his ability to visualize and create the band's innovative videos.
  • πŸ’‘ The band seeks to evoke a sense of wonder in their audience, which involves finding ideas that are not only good but also surprising.
  • πŸ”’ Kulash discusses the mathematical challenge of reliability in complex projects, explaining why sticking to proven ideas can be a limiting factor.
  • 🎲 To overcome this, OK Go invests resources into exploring 'sandboxes' of untried ideas, trusting that the process will reveal which ideas are both surprising and reliable.
  • πŸ› οΈ The band's approach involves a significant amount of experimentation and play, rather than strictly following a plan from the outset.
  • πŸ“ˆ Kulash used a large spreadsheet to plan the video for 'The One Moment', demonstrating how they combine creativity with meticulous preparation.
  • πŸŽ‰ The video for 'The One Moment' involved a real-life ballistics display, showcasing the band's commitment to making their ideas a reality.
  • πŸ•’ The key moment in the 'The One Moment' video was just 4.2 seconds long, highlighting the precision and timing involved in their productions.
  • 🀝 OK Go's process is about collaboration, creativity, and a willingness to take risks in order to create memorable and impactful art.

Q & A

  • What is the name of the band that Damian Kulash is a part of?

    -OK Go

  • Since what year has OK Go been together as a band?

    -1998

  • What type of videos has OK Go become known for in the last decade?

    -Elaborate music videos, including Rube Goldberg machines, zero gravity dances, and obstacle courses made of musical instruments.

  • What is Damian Kulash's compulsive habit that he believes contributes to his creative process?

    -Playing parallax and perspective games with his eyes.

  • How does Damian describe the process of finding ideas for their music videos?

    -It feels like finding ideas rather than thinking of them, by lining up disparate parts or chunks that are floating out there.

  • What is the specific feeling that OK Go is usually looking for in their music videos?

    -Wonder, which includes a component of surprise.

  • Why does the traditional process of making things have a bias against surprising ideas?

    -The process involves planning and double-checking ideas, which tends to favor ideas that have already proven to be 100 percent reliable.

  • What is the mathematical problem with having a complex project with many moving parts?

    -The chance of success decreases exponentially as the number of parts increases, even if each part is 99 percent reliable.

  • How does OK Go approach the challenge of finding reliable yet surprising ideas for their videos?

    -They identify sandboxes or areas filled with untried ideas, invest resources in exploring these areas, and play around to discover which ideas are both surprising and reliable.

  • What was the sandbox for the music video of the song 'The One Moment'?

    -Ballistics and math, which involved creating a giant spreadsheet to plan the video.

  • What does Damian Kulash mean when he says that writing music feels like repeatedly going through the idea-finding process?

    -It involves looking for the right combination of sounds, grooves, or chord progressions, and finding the perfect piece that fits like a puzzle.

  • What is the significance of the line 'this too shall pass' in the context of the script?

    -It suggests the idea of letting go of burdens and not letting challenges or negativity weigh one down, as they are temporary and will eventually pass.

Outlines

00:00

🎡 Creativity and the Process of Finding Ideas

The first paragraph introduces the band OK Go and their unique approach to creating music videos. Damian Kulash, the lead singer, discusses the challenge of coming up with innovative video concepts and how they feel more like discoveries than inventions. He describes the band's history, their elaborate music videos, and the common question they face about the source of their creative ideas. Kulash shares his personal habit of playing with perspective, which he believes contributes to his creative process. The summary emphasizes the band's philosophy that ideas are found rather than thought of and sets the stage for further exploration into their creative methods.

05:00

πŸ” The Search for Reliably Surprising Ideas

In the second paragraph, Kulash delves into the nature of idea generation, comparing it to playing parallax games with his eyes. He explains that ideas are like disparate parts that, when observed and aligned correctly, can create a sense of wonder. The process of planning, however, often works against the discovery of surprising ideas due to its inherent bias for reliability and past successes. Using mathematical probability, Kulash illustrates the impracticality of relying on a high number of components, each with less than 100% reliability, to execute a complex plan successfully. The summary highlights the need to find untried ideas that are both surprising and reliable, which requires a different approach to the traditional planning process.

10:01

πŸŽ‰ Embracing the Sandbox Approach to Creativity

The third paragraph describes OK Go's strategy to overcome the limitations of conventional planning and tap into the wellspring of untried ideas. The band seeks out 'sandboxes'β€”environments conducive to exploration and playβ€”to discover ideas that are both novel and reliable. Kulash shares examples of such sandboxes, including optical illusions, dancing on moving surfaces, using a laser cutter to make toast, and zero-gravity experiences. He emphasizes that they invest a significant portion of their resources into these sandboxes to play and experiment, trusting the process to reveal viable ideas. The summary underscores the importance of embracing chaos and unpredictability in the creative process to find unique and reliable solutions.

15:04

πŸ’₯ The One Moment: A Ballistics and Math Experience

The fourth paragraph showcases the band's music video for the song 'The One Moment,' which was created using a unique sandbox of ballistics and math. Kulash reveals that he spent a month constructing a massive spreadsheet to plan the video, which involved intricate timing and coordination. The video, which lasts only 4.2 seconds, is a testament to the band's innovative approach to music and video production. The summary highlights the meticulous preparation and the creative use of a spreadsheet as a 'playspace' to orchestrate a visually stunning and brief moment of performance. It concludes with a live performance of the song, emphasizing the significance of capturing the perfect moment in both music and video.

Mindmap

Keywords

πŸ’‘Parallax

Parallax refers to the phenomenon where objects appear to move differently against a background as the observer's point of view changes. In the video, Damian Kulash describes playing with parallax using his eyes, which may have influenced his creative process in finding and aligning ideas, similar to how he would align objects in his high school bedroom.

πŸ’‘Rube Goldberg machine

A Rube Goldberg machine is a deliberately complex contraption that uses a series of devices to perform a simple task. The video mentions that not all of OK Go's videos are Rube Goldberg machines, but they are known for their elaborate and complex music videos, which often involve intricate sequences of events, similar in concept to a Rube Goldberg machine.

πŸ’‘Zero Gravity

Zero gravity is the condition where physical objects are free from the force of gravity. OK Go is noted for a music video filmed in zero gravity, which represents their willingness to explore unconventional and surprising ideas in creating their music videos, aligning with their pursuit of wonder and the unexpected.

πŸ’‘Perspective

Perspective in the context of the video refers to the way objects are represented in three-dimensional space and how they appear to the viewer's eye. Damian Kulash's habit of playing with perspective is a metaphor for how he pieces together ideas, which is central to the band's creative process and the creation of their visually stunning music videos.

πŸ’‘Drone

A drone, in the context of the video, refers to an unmanned aerial vehicle used for filming. OK Go used a drone to film a choreographed dance with hundreds of people holding umbrellas in an abandoned parking lot outside Tokyo, showcasing their innovative approach to music video production.

πŸ’‘

πŸ’‘Sandbox

In the video, a sandbox is a metaphor for a space where the band can experiment freely with ideas. OK Go looks for sandboxes to play in, such as optical illusions or zero-gravity environments, to discover surprising and reliable ideas for their music videos, emphasizing the importance of exploration and play in their creative process.

πŸ’‘Reliability

Reliability, as discussed in the video, pertains to the dependability of an idea or a plan. The band explores the concept that overly-reliant planning on proven ideas can stifle innovation. They argue for the necessity of including surprising elements in their projects, which may be less predictable but can lead to more impactful results.

πŸ’‘Spreadsheet

A spreadsheet is a digital document used for organizing, analyzing, and storing data in a grid of rows and columns. Damian Kulash mentions using a giant spreadsheet to plan the video for the song 'The One Moment,' which was based on ballistics and math. This shows the meticulous and detailed planning involved in creating their visually complex music videos.

πŸ’‘Wonder

Wonder in the video represents the feeling of amazement and surprise that OK Go aims to evoke in their audience through their music videos. They seek ideas that are not only good but also carry an element of surprise, which is essential in creating a sense of wonder and distinguishing their work.

πŸ’‘Execution

Execution refers to the act of carrying out a plan or idea. In the context of the video, it is the final stage after planning, where the ideas are brought to life. OK Go emphasizes that the traditional process of idea planning and execution can be limiting, advocating instead for a more exploratory approach to find truly innovative ideas.

πŸ’‘Chaos

Chaos, as mentioned in the video, is used to describe a state of disorder and unpredictability. The band views chaos as a necessary component in the creative process, as it allows for the discovery of new and surprising ideas. They purposefully create chaotic conditions, like filling their 'sandbox,' to facilitate the alignment of disparate ideas.

Highlights

OK Go is known as much for their elaborate music videos as for the songs they accompany

The band's creative process feels like they find ideas rather than consciously think of them

Lead singer Damian Kulash has a compulsive habit of playing parallax and perspective games with his eyes

Idea generation involves lining up disparate parts in the right place to create surprising connections

Writing music is a similar process of finding the puzzle piece that fits perfectly with a set of sounds

When an idea clicks, it feels like it was discovered rather than created

The goal with OK Go's videos is to elicit a sense of wonder and surprise

The traditional idea-making process has a bias against surprising ideas

Planning a complex project with many moving parts has a very low chance of success

To find surprising yet reliable ideas, OK Go creates a 'sandbox' and experiments within it

Examples of sandboxes include optical illusions, dancing on moving surfaces, using a laser cutter, and zero gravity

The band spends a significant portion of their budget on creating the right environment to play and discover ideas

Playing in the sandbox involves trying many things to create chaos, increasing the chances of novel connections

When the right elements line up, the resulting idea feels discovered rather than invented

The song 'The One Moment' was created by exploring the sandbox of ballistics and math

Damian spent a month building a giant spreadsheet to serve as the creative playspace for the video

The creative process involves a lot of playing, experimenting and chaos before an idea emerges

The resulting ideas and videos feel discovered rather than consciously thought up

Transcripts

00:21

(Dominoes fall)

00:27

(Toy car)

00:28

(Ball rolls)

00:33

(Music: "This Too Shall Pass")

00:39

(Singing)

00:51

You know you can't keep letting it get you down,

00:54

and you can't keep dragging that dead weight around.

01:03

If there ain't all that much to lug around

01:06

better run like hell when you hit the ground

01:14

When the morning comes

01:20

When the morning comes

01:26

You can't stop these kids from dancing,

01:29

but why would you want to,

01:30

especially when you're already getting yours?

01:34

(Xylophone)

01:38

(Singing) 'Cause if your mind don't move and your knees don't bend,

01:41

well don't go blaming the kids again.

01:45

(Xylophone)

01:49

(Singing) When the morning comes

01:55

When the morning comes

02:01

When the morning comes

02:07

When the morning comes

02:10

When the morning comes

02:13

When the morning comes

02:18

(Xylophone)

02:24

(Singing) Let it go,

02:28

this too shall pass

02:36

Let it go,

02:40

this too shall pass

02:47

You know you can't keep letting it get you down,

02:51

you can't keep letting it get you down --

02:54

this too shall pass

02:59

If there ain't all that much to lug around,

03:03

you can't keep letting it get you down --

03:06

this too shall pass

03:10

When the morning comes --

03:12

you can't keep letting it get you down,

03:14

no you can't keep letting it

03:16

When the morning comes --

03:18

you can't keep letting it get you down,

03:20

no you can't keep letting it

03:22

When the morning comes --

03:24

you can't keep letting it get you down,

03:26

no you can't keep letting it

03:28

When the morning comes --

03:30

you can't keep letting it get you down,

03:32

no you can't keep letting it

03:34

When the morning comes

03:42

(Paint guns fire)

03:43

(Applause)

03:52

Damian Kulash: Thank you, thanks very much.

03:54

We are OK Go,

03:56

and we've been together as a band since 1998.

04:00

But in the last decade,

04:01

we've become known as much for the elaborate music videos,

04:04

like the one we just saw,

04:05

as for the songs they accompany.

04:08

So we will play along with another one of those in a few minutes,

04:11

but in the meantime,

04:12

we want to address this question that we get asked all the time

04:16

but we've really never come up with an adequate answer for it,

04:19

and that is, how do we think of those ideas?

04:23

The videos are not all Rube Goldberg machines, by the way.

04:25

Last year we did a dance in zero gravity,

04:28

and once we set up an obstacle course

04:31

out of thousands of musical instruments in the desert,

04:34

and then played them by stunt driving a car through them.

04:37

(Laughter)

04:38

For one of the videos,

04:39

we choreographed hundreds of people with umbrellas

04:42

in an abandoned parking lot outside Tokyo,

04:44

and then filmed them from a drone a half a mile in the air.

04:48

So it's all of these ideas that people are curious about,

04:51

and the reason we've had so much trouble describing how we think of these ideas

04:56

is that it doesn't really feel like we think of them at all.

05:00

It feels like we find them.

05:03

And by way of explanation --

05:05

well, I have a compulsive habit.

05:08

I play parallax and perspective games with my eyes pretty much all the time,

05:13

and it's something I've been doing since I was a teenager.

05:16

And I think the big contributing factor may have been

05:19

that this is how I decorated my high school bedroom.

05:22

(Laughter)

05:23

And being a teenager,

05:25

what I did in there, of course, was just talk on the phone

05:27

for staggering amounts of time.

05:30

So I was in this visual maelstrom

05:33

just pretty much usually sitting in one place,

05:35

and I guess just the overload in general --

05:38

my brain kind of tried to make sense of it, and I would --

05:41

If I could move my head off to one side a little bit,

05:44

the edge of the desk would line up just perfectly

05:46

with that poster on the opposite wall;

05:48

or if I put my thumb out,

05:49

I could close first my left eye and then my right,

05:51

and my thumb would bounce back and forth

05:53

between Jimi Hendrix's left eye and his right.

05:56

(Laughter)

05:57

It was not a conscious thing, of course,

05:59

this is just kind of the equivalent of doodling while you're talking,

06:03

and it's still something I do all the time.

06:05

This is my wife, Kristin --

06:06

(Applause)

06:07

Yeah!

06:09

Woo!

06:11

And it's not uncommon that we are out at dinner,

06:14

and in the middle of a great conversation she'll just stop mid-sentence,

06:18

and when she stops is when I realize that I'm the one who's acting weird

06:21

because I'm like bobbing and weaving.

06:23

And what I'm trying to do is get that ficus back there

06:26

to stick out of her head like a ponytail.

06:28

(Laughter)

06:30

The point of telling you all this is that --

06:33

for me this is what it feels like to have an idea.

06:35

It's like they're made of these disparate parts,

06:39

these disparate chunks sort of floating out there.

06:41

And if you're receptive and you're observant,

06:44

and crucially, if you're in exactly the right place,

06:47

you can get them to just line up.

06:50

So if you get used to --

06:51

if it's your job to think of ideas this way,

06:54

they'll start beckoning to you

06:56

the way that Jimi's eyes beckoned from that poster,

06:58

or the ficus beckons from behind Kristin's head.

07:01

Writing music feels like that process just over and over again,

07:04

like you've got a bunch of sounds or a groove or a chord progression

07:08

and you're just looking for that thing on the other side,

07:11

that little chunk over there, that puzzle piece that clicks right in.

07:15

And when it does click,

07:16

it doesn't feel like you thought up that puzzle piece,

07:19

it feels like you found it --

07:20

like it was a set of relationships that you unlocked.

07:25

But with the videos in particular,

07:28

we're usually looking for this specific feeling

07:30

which is wonder.

07:31

And there's always a component of surprise to wonder,

07:34

so we're not just looking for good ideas,

07:37

we're looking for good ideas that surprise us in some way.

07:40

And this causes something of a problem,

07:42

because ...

07:45

the process that we all use to make stuff,

07:47

it actually has a very strong bias against surprising ideas.

07:51

The process I'm talking about is the one you all know --

07:53

we all do it all the time.

07:55

You think of an idea.

07:56

You just sit and think of your brilliant idea

07:58

and then you come up with a plan

08:00

for how you're going to make that idea happen.

08:02

And then with that plan in mind,

08:04

you go back and double-check your original idea

08:06

and maybe revise it,

08:07

and then bouncing back and forth between the idea and the plan,

08:10

the plan and the idea,

08:11

eventually you come up with a truly great plan.

08:14

And then once you have that, and only then,

08:16

do you go out and you execute.

08:18

And this is like --

08:19

this is sort of a flawless system

08:22

in terms of maximizing your resources,

08:24

because this -- super cheap.

08:27

Thinking usually costs very little,

08:29

but this is really expensive most of the time,

08:31

so by the time you get there,

08:32

you want to make sure you're super prepared

08:34

and you can squeeze every last drop out of what you've got.

08:37

But there are problems with this,

08:39

and math will help us reveal the biggest one.

08:42

Go back to that video that we just showed you.

08:45

That Rube Goldberg machine,

08:47

it had about 130 interactions in it.

08:49

That was 130 things

08:52

that we had to have go according to our plan.

08:54

So let's assume that we want to make a new video now,

08:58

similarly complex -- 130 moving parts.

09:02

If we're really good planners in that system,

09:05

it seems like maybe we could be good enough

09:08

to get every part of that system to be 90 percent reliable.

09:13

90 percent sounds good, right?

09:14

Well, it's not.

09:15

It's terrible actually. The numbers say so.

09:18

The chance of getting all 130 things to not fail at the same time

09:22

is .9 for 90 percent to the 130th power.

09:26

So calculate that out and you get ...

09:28

(Ding)

09:29

.000001,

09:35

which is one ten-thousandth of one percent,

09:37

so your chance for success is literally one in a million.

09:41

(Whistle)

09:43

(Laughter)

09:44

I mean that's not a gamble I want to take,

09:47

so let's ratchet up that reliability to 99 percent.

09:51

.99 to the 130th power is ...

09:54

(Ding)

09:55

.27 -- 27 percent.

09:57

Significantly less daunting --

09:59

like this might even be usable.

10:00

But really think about that.

10:01

How many parts of your lives are 99 percent reliable?

10:06

And could you really get 130 of them all in one place at once?

10:11

And if you really could,

10:13

doesn't it seem like you deserve to succeed?

10:15

Like that is --

10:17

that thing is going to work, right?

10:19

But no, it actually fails three times more often than it succeeds.

10:22

So the upshot of all this

10:24

is that if your project is pretty complex --

10:27

like, you know, every ambitious project is --

10:30

if you've got a lot of moving parts,

10:32

you're basically constrained to just reshuffling ideas

10:35

that have already demonstrably proven that they're 100 percent reliable.

10:40

So now go back to me sitting with my thumb in the air

10:43

trying to line up something surprising.

10:45

If the only things I'm allowed to consider in the first place

10:48

are ideas that have already been done over and over and over again,

10:52

I am screwed.

10:55

However, there are ways around this,

10:57

because we all know that there are tons of untried ideas still out there,

11:02

and plenty of them will turn out to be every bit as reliable as we need,

11:05

it's just that we don't yet know they are reliable

11:08

when we are at this planning phase.

11:10

So what we do is we try to identify some place

11:13

where there might just be a ton of those untried ideas.

11:16

We try to find a sandbox

11:19

and then we gamble a whole bunch of our resources

11:21

on getting in that sandbox and playing.

11:24

(Laughter)

11:26

Because we have to trust that it's the process in the sandbox

11:29

that will reveal to us which ideas are not only surprising,

11:33

but surprisingly reliable.

11:35

So some of the sandboxes that we've started videos with.

11:38

Let's play with optical illusions.

11:42

Let's try to dance on moving surfaces.

11:44

Let's try to make toast with a laser cutter.

11:48

Or let's do something in one of those zero-gravity airplanes.

11:53

But then instead of actually trying to sit there

11:55

and think out what that something is,

11:57

we spent a full third of our budget getting in an actual Vomit Comet

12:01

and bouncing off the walls for a week.

12:04

So this may seem to you like testing,

12:07

but it really isn't,

12:09

because at this point we don't yet know what our idea is,

12:12

we don't have a plan to be testing.

12:15

So we're just --

12:16

we're just playing,

12:18

we're just trying everything we can think of,

12:20

because we need to get this idea space filled up with a chaos

12:24

like the one in my high school bedroom.

12:26

Because then, if we can do the bob and weave thing,

12:29

if we can put our thumbs up and get just a few things to line up --

12:33

(Ding)

12:34

chances are no one else has ever made those same things line up before.

12:39

And when we're done with that project,

12:40

people will ask us again how we thought of that idea,

12:43

and we'll be stumped, because from our perspective,

12:45

it doesn't feel like we thought of it at all,

12:48

it just feels like we found it.

12:49

So we'll play another video for you now and the song along with it.

12:52

This is for the song "The One Moment,"

12:54

and for this one, the sandbox was ballistics and math.

12:59

So I spent a full month putting together a giant spreadsheet for this.

13:04

It was like my playspace was 400 lines long

13:07

and 25 columns wide --

13:10

which I presume that if anybody is going to understand that, it's this crowd.

13:14

(Laughter)

13:15

Nothing is better than a giant spreadsheet, right?

13:17

(Laughter)

13:18

Well, thank you everyone, very much.

13:20

We are OK Go,

13:21

and this is called "The One Moment."

13:23

(Applause)

13:27

[The One Moment]

13:29

(Explosions)

13:36

[What you just saw was real

13:38

and it took 4.2 seconds]

13:39

(Video) Let me know when it's safe.

13:42

(Percussion)

13:43

[Here's the same moment ...

13:46

slowed down.]

13:48

(Music)

13:53

(Guitar)

14:17

(Singing) You're right,

14:20

there's nothing more lovely,

14:23

there's nothing more profound

14:28

than the certainty,

14:30

than the certainty that all of this will end

14:39

That all of this will end

14:44

So open your arms to me,

14:46

open your arms to me

14:48

And this will be the one moment that matters,

14:51

and this will be the one thing we remember,

14:55

and this will be the reason to have been here,

14:59

and this will be the one moment that matters --

15:03

Oh ...

15:04

(Guitar)

15:11

(Singing) So while the mud reclaims our footprints,

15:17

and while our bones keep looking back

15:21

at the overgrowth that's swallowing the path --

15:25

but for the grace of God go we,

15:29

but for the grace of God go we

15:33

But for the grace of time and chance and entropy's cruel hands --

15:38

So open your arms to me,

15:40

open your arms to me

15:42

And this will be the one moment that matters,

15:45

and this will be the one thing we remember,

15:49

and this will be the reason to have been here,

15:53

and this will be the one moment that matters

15:57

Oh ...

16:00

So won't you stay here with me

16:03

and we'll build 'til we've blistered our hands

16:08

So won't you stay here with me and we'll build us some temples,

16:13

build us some castles,

16:15

build us some monuments

16:17

and burn them all right down

16:19

(Music)

16:30

(Singing) So open your arms to me

16:34

And this will be the one moment that matters,

16:38

and this will be the reason to have been here,

16:42

and this will be the one thing we remember,

16:45

and this will be the one moment that matters

16:50

So won't you stay here with me,

16:51

we'll build 'til we blister our hands

16:54

And this will be the one moment that matters --

16:57

So won't you stay here with me and build us some temples --

17:01

This will be the one moment that matters --

17:05

Build us some temples --

17:07

The one moment that matters --

17:09

Build us some monuments --

17:11

The one moment that matters

17:13

Build us some temples --

17:15

The one moment that matters.

17:17

Build us some monuments --

17:18

The one moment that matters, oh

17:21

(Guitar)

17:26

(Applause)

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