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June 01, 2018 Friday 12:34:51 PM IST


Creative Living

In the early days of the now ubiquitous computers, the warmth of their electrical components attracted many bugs, such as moths, flies, and insects, the latter, in turn, often causing short circuits, leading to computing outages. Grace Murray Hopper, a US Navy Officer, is said to have identified the first-ever ‘computer bug’. It was back in 1947. Hopper was repairing a Harvard Mark II computer that had broken down. To her great surprise, she found that the malfunction was actually caused by a moth stuck in a machine relay. She entered the Mark II’s logbook thus: “First actual case of bug is found”. In the following years, bug-logging became an important activity of computer engineers and software developers!


In modern parlance, a ‘bug’ stands for any problem an individual or institution encounters. “That bugs me” means that “that affects me badly”. Thus, identification of what causes distress can be called “buglogging”, a documentation of everything that ‘bugs’ something or someone. The occasional buglogging is essential for an individual or institution’s growth and development.


Buglogging and ‘debugging’ are today vital functions in the field of software development. In popular perception, however, bug loggers are regarded as people specialising in fault-finding and are stigmatised as “pessimists”, who could be bothered only about the down side of things. For pessimists, a half-filled glass is always a half-empty glass! Such an attitude does not foster positivity, people complain. It does not transmit “positive energy”!


However, the ability to find fault — or be a pessimist — is the stepping stone of progress. Only those who could “perceive” that something was not “right”, would have set out to find creative solutions in order to surpass those bugs. Those who merely cope with everything, including inefficiencies, inaccuracies and injustices, cannot become reformers! They would not want to assume the roles of prophet or critic. At best, they would maintain status quo by resisting change. Equally, they would desist from asking questions or looking for solutions. In the event, they suppress the bugs rather than surpass them!


So, a pinch of pessimism is warranted on the part of creative minds, who are essentially evolutionary or revolutionary reformers, social engineers, statespersons, or prophets. An institution, on the other hand, needs

to accommodate ‘prophets’ into its core team for the sake of continuous advancement! An institution without ‘custom-breakers’ can only stagnate.


According to Hendry Petroski, Professor of Civil Engineering and History at Duke University (USA), analysis of failure lies at the root of invention. He writes in his 1992 book The Evolution of Useful Things (ISBN 978-0-679-74039-1): “Faultfinding with the world around them and disappointments with the inefficiencies of the system are common traits among inventors.”




Buglisting is a technique meant to capitalise on this natural human tendency of faulting things around us and the ‘trained’ skill of surpassing them. In 1987, James Adams wrote a path-breaking book, Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, which developed insights into how the natural human instinct to be pessimistic could be utilised to generate creative solutions. He called that creativity technique as “buglisting” to distinguish it from “buglogging”.


Buglogging is a nagging activity that focuses on repairing a faulty system. On the other hand, buglisting is meant to help surpass the faulty state by generating novel ideas for re-creation.


Bug listing incorporates elements that help one to overcome the perceptual, emotional, cultural, environmental, intellectual, and expressive blocks that stand in the way of progress. In other words, bug listing enlists faults, not to repair them, but to surpass them.


The process of surpassing faults, however, calls for the use of further techniques that force the individual’s creative juices to flow.


Another key difference between buglogging and buglisting is that while buglogging follows strict timelines, buglisting does not. Buglisting is an entirely open-ended exercise, aimed at generating creative solutions for problems.


Bug-listing exercises could be done at an individual level like a solo researcher on the lookout for pitfalls in a given system, or as a team collectively combing for faults in the system.




One could think of a four-step process to carry out a group-based bug-listing session:


Step 1: Identify things that bug you. Each person in the group identifies 5-10 bugs that irritate him/her. Care needs to be taken to define the topic of buglisting in a specific manner. If the topics are too broad, people will pour out all their emotions and personal grievances, making buglisting a vague exercise. For example, instead of asking, “What bugs you about the (in) efficiency of our institution”, one could ask “What bugs you about the (in)efficiency of the parent-teacher association of our institution”.


Step 2: Consolidate the listed bugs. Bugs that appear in multiple lists are pooled together and the list is prepared with suitable weightage, but without repetitions. The list may still be long and messy, often requiring curing by sifting, sorting, and editing. Prepare the buglist in such a way that it makes some sense.


Step 3: Vote on the consolidated buglist. The group is further requested to have a fresh look at the consolidated list and to vote for the most severe set of bugs that demands immediate attention.


Step 4: Brainstorm for creative solutions. This is the most crucial phase of buglisting as a creative tool. A suitably developed buglist itself is expected to trigger creative solutions. Given below are some classical creative bugs and their corresponding creative solutions for reference:


Bug 1: “The bookmark keeps falling out of my book!”

Solution 1: Use a post-it note.


Bug 2: “I cannot help changing the blades of my razor often!”

Solution 2: Use an electric Razor.


Bug 3: “I hate carrying lot of batteries for my trip!”

Solution 3: Carry solar-powered appliances.


Let us list our bugs just to beat them!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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