Tag Archives: creativity

Originality: Sir Ken Robinson, W.B. Yeats and Sir Elton John

Sir Ken Robinson and I share many things in common, particularly with respect to viewing the crisis of education. There is a great need for our society to be filled with more people who love what they do and less people who just go through the motions, a shift that may be facilitated by moving away from thinking of education as being like an industrial process – that Ken likens to the “fast food approach” – and more like an organic, bespoke, Zagat or Michelin context for an individual to experience the conditions for them to flourish.

He ends his presentation at TED earlier this year with these words from W.B. Yeats:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

As I watched Ken reading, I couldn’t help but think of Elton John’s Your Song, a song that the late John Lennon described as “the first new thing that’s happened since we happened”. Just in case you don’t remember the lyrics, here are the first two verses:

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money but boy if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

So was Your Song original? Or did Elton read a little Yeats to Bernie one night before bed after a few bottles of wine, and have Bernie wake up the next morning with a flash of “inspiration”?

Perhaps Elton and Bernie have acknowledged the inspiration of Yeats in the past or perhaps the connection is only tenuous. Or maybe they came to this idea independently. Even if the ‘idea’ was from Yeats or even someone else, it was Sir Elton John that brought such a sentiment to the world in a form that we could embrace, love and enjoy today.

Creativity is sometimes strikingly divergent from the status quo. Sometimes it is a refinement. Other times, creativity might be more like a renaissance – a rebirth of older ideas so that they can find new life for another generation. This leaves the challenge for us to cultivate those conditions and contexts where those around us can find a way to express their uniqueness. And where we can express our own uniqueness.

Here is Sir Ken Robinson’s presentation at TED from earlier this year. I hope you enjoy it.

Who says the Earth revolves around the Sun?

If you were like me, you were probably taught that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that it takes one year – a bit over 365 days – for the Earth to complete one such cycle.

And you probably also learned that we didn’t always believe that.

You might have learned about Ptolemy, who believed that the celestial bodies revolved around the Earth. It seems impossible to believe now, but that was the established wisdom for thousands of years. People were executed for disputing this scientific “fact”.

When Copernicus came up with his idea of the Earth revolving around the Sun, it didn’t make sense. The scientists of the day disputed his claims and showed through “science” that he was ‘wrong’, by demonstrating that his theories couldn’t explain what was happening any better than the established wisdom. In fact, Copernicus’ model offered worse predictions than Ptolemy’s model.

But with contributions from Galileo and Kepler united under Newton, our world experienced a paradigm shift (in the original/ Thomas Kuhn sense of the term). And suddenly our textbooks were rewritten. And so “The Sun revolves around the Earth. The Sun has always revolved around the Earth.” became, “The Earth revolves around the Sun. The Earth has always revolved around the Sun.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we of course know that we know the truth.

And yet, do we? Perhaps one abusing ‘Relativity’ might posit that it all depends upon where you are stationed – that from the perspective of the Earth, the Sun does revolve around it and vice versa. And maybe they are both wrong.

Such is the nature of “science”: The perpetual quest to prove oneself wrong.

The special challenge falls on those individuals who lead periods of revolution. Scientific, cultural, social, linguistic. Whether they are the revolutionary leaders of climate change or economics or politics or even intelligence.

You see it in someone like Howard Gardner in positing Multiple Intelligences back in 1983. Or Edward de Bono’s “Lateral Thinking”. Or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. From ‘ridiculous’ to ’self-evident’ in but a short few years.

If we are going to support and facilitate the development of more of these game-changing Great Minds – people with “capital C” Creativity – what sort of systems, policies, procedures, experiences and opportunities might we want to create?

In the past two weeks, I watched my four-month-old son learn to blow raspberries. Inspired by reading that this would be good for his language development (seriously!), and knowing that his mother can’t blow raspberries, I made the sacrifice and regularly blew raspberries at him. He was surprised at the start, then he started laughing. Then he started trying it out for himself. It took a while, and he ‘fell over’ a bunch of times. Even now, his raspberries are particularly sloppy. But he watched me and he did it – today, he can reliably exit a room and blow me a raspberry!

Interesting skills are usually the most difficult to transfer. We can learn Newton’s Laws, but it’s another story entirely to learn to think as Newton thought. Those tacit and almost invisible skills that sometimes leave behind traces of brilliance are the ones where we lack the language to teach the skills. Often we lack the explicit knowledge as to what is being done at all. Yet an infant can learn without language. They just look out at the world with eyes wide open and a willingness to explore, experiment and experience.

Ultimately, most of what we learn is false. It’s our best guess, but at best it’s almost certainly wrong or flawed. We want to get to those moments of joy and pure experience when we can create genius.

I wonder what would happen if  we would just choose to put our desire to control to the side, and accept the ambiguity, the obstacles and the knowledge that even our best work will probably be wrong. And just keep blowing raspberries.

(originally from TheGeniusProject.com)

Higher pay makes us worse

Should we encourage people to be creative? The correct answer is probably “yes”.

Should we reward people for being creative? Again, the correct answer is probably ‘yes’.

The trouble is that rewards don’t work for creative tasks. When we are being rewarded for doing better, we tend to get trapped in our existing ways of thinking and pursue solutions within our perception of the ‘rules’. And creativity is so often about breaking the rules – about thinking outside the box.

In the video clip below, Dan Pink cites researchers from the Fed Reserve finding that while tasks involving only mechanical skill would yield better performance with higher rewards, but where “even rudimentary cognitive skill” was involved, higher rewards led to people doing worse. Low and medium rewards yielded the same level of performance but high rewards led to worse performance.

Higher pay makes you work harder. But doesn’t make you better.

Higher pay leads to worse performance if you have to think.

It might have something to do with functional fixedness. Stemming from gestalt psychology researchers, this looks at how trapped we are at thinking of something as having a single function. Like being able to use a box as a platform rather than just as a box. Functional fixedness, it seems, is exacerbated by extrinsic rewards.

Maybe it’s a good thing that Australia’s Prime Minister has decided to not give himself a pay rise.

High performance comes from work where we enjoy autonomy, where we can experience a sense of mastery, and where we can feel a sense of purpose.

Geniuses tend to be motivated by intrinsic motivators – the sense of mastery rather than the accumulation of money. After all, if you’re focused on the reward, it’s hard to be focused on doing the task in front of you as well as you can.

It’s like the story of the man who was so busy chopping down a tree that he never thought to take a moment to sharpen his axe. And that guy certainly wouldn’t have time to put down his axe and head to the store to pickup a chain saw.

And that’s like the girl with the Rubik’s cube – who struggled whether to give up her completed side that was stopping her from solving the puzzle.

When we’re so busy doing, it’s really hard to do well.

How well does your current work line up?

Are you giving yourself enough time to be the genius that you could be?

Design Thinking rocks

I love my Moleskine. It is simple. It is not technologically advanced. But it works. It does precisely what I want it to do. It is designed.

I love my mobile phone. It was the most advanced piece of electronic gadgetry I (and especially my inner geek) had ever laid my hands upon when I bought it – and it still rocks today. It does everything that I want it to do. It looks great. It is designed.

I love and marvel at so many things that are beautiful, functional and that work well. The things we love – whether it’s an iPhone or a Brioni suit – are designed. We see the patterns of design in the natural world too, almost as if nature has built-in design attributes to the evolutionary process. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Everything that we love is designed.

Design is everywhere around us – some better, some that might benefit from a bit longer on the drawing board. Bruce Nussbaum came up with a few higher-profile examples last week.

I wonder whether “Design IQ” is the next of Gardner’s multiple intelligences… and how we can cultivate Design Intelligence in our engineers, in our lawyers and perhaps even in our politicians.

In fact, let’s see how we can increase the Design Intelligence of everybody… so that we each can more appreciate the design and beauty around us.

Years ago, I found that I could survive on 4.5h sleep but…

Years ago, I found I could survive on 4.5 hours of sleep per night but that my creativity died. Seems that Jim Collins feels the same way http://is.gd/HCXE

It was while I was at university, and while I found that I could work hard enough to get some of my best academic results, I felt drained. Not that I couldn’t think – but just that I could only think within the rules. I couldn’t look beyond the rules, frameworks and paradigms that were presented to me, and I certainly couldn’t explore the connections between systems. So I went back to enjoying dreams.

Still, it was a worthwhile experiment!