A.I. is democratizing imagination

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” –Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, by his own admission, must have been a world class thief. And you know what every other “artist” or “creative” is? A thief. Gathering, stealing and plundering ideas that they absorb from the world around them throughout their lives. So I find it utterly self-interested nonsense to hear “artists” whining that AI image generation systems are somehow unethical systems scraping and stealing their precious “proprietary” ideas.

The real story here is that AI image generation is democratizing imagination. And like most democratic revolutions, the revolution is stripping power away from the ruling class.

It is absolutely thrilling to see a whole new world of imagination being shared widely by a huge new range of people exploring creative visualization. I myself hold two degrees in architecture and have made a professional career in innovation and product development. But that doesn’t mean I have the time, capacity or interest to produce the number of visualizations that I can dream of and wish I could share. AI image generation is simply another tool for any artistic-minded person to scrape the reality around them and recombine that reality into new “art” in a dramatically efficient method.

How efficient? For me to make a compelling architectural or product visualization sketch, I could sit down and make a 3D model, render it photo-realistically or bring it into Photoshop for a more conceptual/artistic sketchy style. To make one image would typically take me a full day, maybe more. Using AI: In two hours I can produce 100+ images, then curate them and take maybe 10 really great images for use in a mood board. So for me personally (as I’m not trained as a professional storyboard artist or conceptual artist), it means the difference between 2 hours of AI time versus 10 days of traditional production time.

Just look at the wealth of images I generated just for the purpose of promoting myself on LinkedIn. The cost of making all those images was too cheap for me not to take advantage of it for social media.

Plus AI image generation produces a tremendous flow of serendipity, or random accidents that can dramatically reframe the concept.

fear and loathing amongst the “professionals”

Of course, like any other technological revolution before it, AI image generation threatens to open up new skills and capabilities to those who previously didn’t have access. And you know who hates technological revolutions the most??? “Professionals” whose monopoly power on certain “craft skills” will be rendered useless.

Think about for a second what “craft skills” really are: All the processes, tricks, hacks and other drudgery required to achieve an end art. Like the Japanese lean-process concept of “muda“, if what you really want is the end artistic product, then all that precious “craft process” is really just a form of waste.

Indulge in craftwork if you want a nice hobby project. Take up block printing, fine hand wood working, oil painting, architectural sketches, repairing analogue electronics, fixing up antique cars/bikes/tractors/trains, whatever. But if you want to run a profitable business, work to eliminate as much “craft” waste as you can in pursuit of the end product!

And the losses of these craft monopolies are almost always expressed as some form of artistic or professional snobbery. How many so-called “artists” still to this day refuse to accept any digitally-generated content as real “art”? George Lucas was absolutely skewered by other Hollywood professionals when Lucas pursued using digital cameras and a complete digital dev-flow for his movies. There were literally vicious editorials from the Hollywood legends denouncing him. Disney’s vaunted animators hated and feared early efforts at digital animation, fearing that computers would replace them. Think about film photographers versus digital photography. Think about architectural hand drawing versus Autocad. Or 2D Autocad versus Revit. Or electric cars versus combustion engines. Or horses versus combustion engines. Or spreadsheets versus leger books.

In every industry, you can look back at some technical innovation causing consternation and fear amongst the ruling “professionals”. But in reality, all their whining was never really about the end product: The fierce resistance always boils down to the loss of a professional monopoly on technical craft process. Such resistance almost never has any real concerns for the actual art. It is always about money, honey!

the flood of A.I. generated content will force better innovation process management

AI image generation will also change the process of innovation for successful product or project launches.

I have dozens of folders stuffed with AI-generated product visualizations, just waiting for clients and projects to come. A tsunami of potential revenue. That is, IF anyone wants to take those sexy-but-fuzzy ideas and drive them all the way to revenue. That’s a big IF.

Those AI images are still just a “mood board”, like any other mood board used at the start of any other creative process. It still takes skilled professionals to lead a proper innovation management process to vet those ideas, assign realistic costs/returns, prioritize them into a legit development roadmap. And then actually develop whatever the concept is into a real world product or project installation.

AI, like so many other technical revolutions before it, will upend the professional power structures of creative industries and open up the process of creativity to whole new worlds of people. It will open up creative programs for huge swathes of “non consumers” – people, professionals and companies that couldn’t or wouldn’t afford creative services previously. But this will create tremendous pressure on an organization’s front-end innovation processes. Most companies are terrible at the overall process of innovation – they will be drowned with ideas they don’t know how to curate if they don’t start understanding best practices in innovation.

Check out my video “Innovation Isn’t Magic” or my blog post “What’s the Value of Innovation Management” exploring the fundamentals of sound innovation processes.