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Night Flash and Other Sources of Creativity

Night flash is that moment when your dream is so intense that you wake up from it. In particular, this blog will focus on the creative moments of night flash as well as other venues of creativity. Night flash is also an industry term about an automotive screen backlight “flashing” during bootup. This is a no-no that typically occurs when starting an automobile. During my LED driver career, night flash was not tolerated like many other “required but not willing to pay for” features. Those south of the 38th parallel were particularly demanding in this area.

As with most of my blogs, this one is an introduction to a subject with the goal of audience participation via the responses and comments. As engineers we are paid to be creative. While pondering this subject, it became apparent that very few occurrences of creativity actually took place on the job. Instead, many of them occurred while away from the office. I’ll be interested to see if that’s the case in the responses by other engineers.

If you’re like me, you’ve had an idea come to you during a dream and awoken to continue the thought process for hours. This “night flash” episode often results in creative thinking as you seek to expand on the idea. Ironically, there are emotions tied to this situation where the idea seems monumental at the time yet later on it bores you to a point where you ever wonder why you wasted the time on it. In other words, it seemed like a good idea at the time. My paintings are often like this. When I first create them, they captivate me and I’ll sometimes stare at them for hours in amazement that I was the source of such a vibrant sight. During this phase I plan the layers of dark and light was well as the contrasts between the colors and additions such as vegetation, people, vehicles, buildings, and the like. Then suddenly I lose interest or just don’t seem to have the inspiration to work on it further. My walls and the back of the Scout are strewn with such canvasses in various stages of completion.

Unlike many people, I rarely come up with an idea in the shower. Maybe it’s because of the many years I spent improving efficiency as a power electronics engineer. After all, a shower is an energy consuming act and conserve I must. I get them over with quickly.

Windshield time is another venue of creativity. It can however be dangerous. In a manner similar to talking on a cell phone, designing while driving can result in my arriving at a destination without ever remembering the journey. Perhaps this venue of creativity is best left to times when one is a passenger. This is especially true where I live in Colorado as focusing on a design tends to limit one’s ability to take in the scenic beauty of the landscape, sky, and abundant wildlife. Said abundant wildlife in the form of elk crossed in front of me in the dark just last night and I avoiding hitting them. The elk here in the Rockies are the size of horses and capable of just as much if not more damage.

My workouts are often a source of creativity. Although I exercise in very scenic places such as Red Rocks amphitheater and on the many hiking trails of the Rockies, I either close my eyes during the more intense activities or totally miss the scenery I’m hiking through like I do when creating while driving.

I am also creative while listening to live music. In fact, I just got back from a killer show where I developed most of this blog (and two others) while listening to a band play their hearts out for free on a Thursday in hopes of getting hired for a paid weekend appearance. This particular creativity venue has backfired on me a few times as I’ve caught woman scowling at me. Apparently my game face during creative thought is a scowl and women are reflecting what they see. I must scowl a lot as there are deep, permanent lines on my forehead from this constant activity. The look of anger associated with the scowl along with my larger physique due to my fitness craze have proven to be a reliable source of birth control. If only I could have a game face that included a smile and flashed the baby blues too.

Ironically I’m not very creative while writing and editing patents. There are two reasons for this. First and foremost I’m under NDA (nondisclosure agreement) to not divulge the idea or in industry terms, the disclosure. Therefore, I can’t expand on the idea for myself as I must protect and instill trust in the client. Second, I’m not permitted to invent further. My role is to put the inventor’s thoughts into words that convince a patent reviewer that someone skilled in the art can recreate the idea through my structural and functional description. Of course like anything involving lawyers, things are twisted a bit. Patent lawyers call engineering block diagrams schematics. Seems to me that most ideas can be recreated from actual component based engineering schematics however far fewer can be recreated from block diagrams or “schematics” as they are referred to in patent lingo. I won’t ever become a lawyer because I don’t care to twist things (other than a throttle control on a handlebar).

I don’t watch much TV however documentaries such as “How It’s Made” and “Modern Marvels” often get my creative thoughts flowing. Also, YouTube videos and online articles inspire creativity in me.

As far as the office and lab goes, I often had to get motivated in much the same way I do when overcoming writer’s block or starting/continuing a painting. Often times I get so involved when painting in pubic that I hardly even look up at people. The same was the case in engineering. Once I started, I’d continue past exhaustion.

I’m in awe of people who just create through experimenting first hand by building physical prototypes. Jim Williams of National Semiconductor was good at this. Whereas my design career started with equation based proofs, Jim would just wire things together physically and optimize them from there. He would then back it up mathematically. Eddie VanHalen did this physical development as well when he couldn’t afford pedals for sound effects. Instead, he wired some components together in a Yuban coffee can and the result was his unique sound that set a precedent in the music industry. Eddie speaks of this in his recent interview while being inducted into the Smithsonian.

I used to create a lot during Motorolas (my word for meetings due to the many time wasting gatherings which some made into a profession at that company). Most meetings stifle creativity and waste time by having content that is only 10% pertinent. They are however great sources for management to pretend they accomplished something by finding out what you’ve been up to and regurgitating it to superiors.

In closing, I’d like to hear your venues for creativity and how effective they are. Please respond in the comments section. Who knows, you could inspire a whole new method of enhancing one’s creativity.

3 comments on “Night Flash and Other Sources of Creativity

  1. francoo41
    September 23, 2016

    it is also at the heart of a flash night I understood that I had to redouble their efforts to make known my work … in short, it is a boost as another that is to be used with wisdom!

  2. Hooey0
    September 28, 2016

    Scott – Am I the only one who is insulted that you refer to yourself as an “EXPERT”?

    Who annointed you with that word?

    You're the only one on the Planet Analog Blog who uses that word. As a matter of fact, I can't remember seeing ANYONE use that word on any Blogs that I frequent.

    I have been successfully designing high reliability power circuitry for over 50 years, and I wouldn't even consider referring to myslef as an expert.

    You can use a healthy dose of humility.

  3. Effective-Technical-Writing dot com
    September 28, 2016

     The title was given to me.  I do consider myself capable of solving issues in power electronics or having the ability to create cost effective circuits that meet the spec.  As for the level of expert of Ridley, Cuk, Middlebrook, Lee, Robert White, Dixon, Mammano  etc….. I wouldn't put myself in the class of their ability to innovate and explain via complex math however I would do my best to contribute to a conversation.  These gurus live the technology daily whereas I step back a little more with a business (marketing, ugh) view as well as an everyday look at life for overall improvement of an engineer, with a bit of bias for analog of course.  

    I have softened a bit in my views over the years by seeing more of the potential in software and digital.  However, by remaining analog, I believe my value has improved as the supply dwindles.  Like anything, it comes back into style.  There is room for contributing whether or not one is an expert.  As long as someone is willing to compensate for the effort, a title is just a title (and it won't put food on the table).  I think I'd rather get an “E” for effort than I would for Expert.  BTW I dropped a grade during every test.  I'm a problem solver if given enough time.  Pressure only reduces that ability.  So I'll grade myself with an “E” as I never give up on a problem however typical grading on a test might not be my shining moment.  As Vince Lombardi put it, you never lose, you just run out of time.  

    As a final note on grading, I had straight A's.  My B's were a little crooked.

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