The Science Of Creativity – Homework!

I was going to deconstruct an article on creativity I just read in Newsweek.

Instead, I’m just going to say you need to read it for yourselves.

Get past the scary call to action about creativity declining in the United States. (Scary for those of us who live here at least) This is one article where the really interesting and useful stuff is in the second half.

As you read keep in mind:

  • Creativity is about the creation of something original and useful – don’t limit your thinking to fine art categories.
  • Creativity can be learned and encouraged in every part of the educational process, possibly improving overall effectiveness more than when limiting to traditional categories.
  • The need to be creative is a deep, neurological need.

Kudos to Po Bronson and Ashley Merry at Newsweek for a great synopsis.  Creativity is messy, which means there’s plenty to argue about in the article. But given how central creativity is to our humanity, putting the discussion front and center seems like a good idea.

The article is: The Creativity Crisis, Newsweek, July 10, 2010 by Bronson and Merry.

CHANGE

Embracing change is a personal decision, but the need to change is a constant.

No matter how ideal life or business is at the moment.

Things change.

I’ve been vibrantly aware of this during the past several months as my family has joyously celebrated two graduations, a wedding, a career shift, and a move. Now that we are at a pause in the summer of change (two moves yet to go) I’m catching my breath and contemplating change.

You can make change a way of life. Be the early adopter, grab hold of every trend and gadget that passes near enough to touch. Being buffeted by every gust that hits doesn’t exactly make setting sail an easy proposition.

You can resist change with all your might, and for a while keep your finger plugged in the dam. Won’t stop the dampness though and when it’s time to move your feet will likely be stuck in the mud.

So I’ve decided to embrace the summer of change. My daughter has gone west with a great guy. I’m told walking her down the aisle would be the toughest job I’ve had in a while, but truth is it was a joy. More a time to skip than shuffle. It was a glimpse of all the possibles in front of her and her love.

My son is off to IU starting his musical journey. It’s a special time when you get to focus with all your might on your passion. He composed a quartet to celebrate his sister’s wedding. Hard to be sad when I’m actually feeling blessed and jealous.

The misses and I will be saying goodbye to Park Ridge this summer.  She already set up a base camp in Bloomington and it will be good to see our long distance commute finally come to an end. Picking up roots ain’t easy, but family is a great anchor when the landscape is changing.  Besides, I’m looking forward to getting back to irritating my sweetie seven days a week. We’re good for each other.

So, this is my summer of change. It may be yours as well.

I hope you find the balance between wandering and stuck that lets you move forward with joy in your heart.

To get you off on the right foot here’s String Quartet Number 1 composed by Matthew K Schlegel to celebrate his sister’s marriage. Performed by the Mezzo Polipo Quartet with Ryan Murphy (Violin I), Hannah Baukert (Violin II), Eric Hollander (Viola), and Shea Acott (Cello).

How Do You Value Relationships? How Does Facebook?

While searching for a family heirloom my mom came across her mom’s high school autograph book. Most of the inscriptions are from 1881 and in verse. It’s a beautifully tooled leather booklet. Gives the autographs some weight, some feeling. It was fun leafing through.

Most of the inscriptions are in verse. My mother tells me that her father and mother often traded poetic notes with each other and it looks like the practice was widespread, at least in this neck of the woods. While I’m sure many of the verses were used multiple times among many friends, each page provides a touch of personality — a small window into the lives of people I never knew. It felt very personal.

“My friends in my album I ask you to write,
but to tear out the leaves I deem impolite.    A. Maiers”

Annie had a sense of humor. As did Jeannie:

“To Anne,
Around went the album
To me it came,
For my contribution,
So here goes my name. ”
Jeannie Haickey

There are other inscriptions more personal and heartfelt, but unfortunately they are not in the mood to scan for now. They have faded and are difficult to read. But they are there. The afternoon was spent talking about memories with the autograph book and a few photos to inspire the conversation. I learned things I never knew about my grandmother.

Which got me to thinking about Facebook. Today’s version of the autograph album, a complete electronic rolodex of our network of acquaintances and friends.

  • Spelling – optional.
  • Punctuation and capitalization – optional.
  • Thoughtfulness – optional.
  • Even words – optional.

Now I’m a latecomer to Facebook.  I actually joined to help my kid’s high school booster group manage publicity. But quickly I discovered some old, lost friends. Facebook is my living autograph book. A place where connections are made. But how long lasting are the memories here. Will great, great, grandchildren ever dig old Facebook files out of a trunk and feel connected to someone they hardly new?

It doesn’t feel that way.

And now there is a kerfuffle as Facebook works to generate revenue using the very contacts it helped me connect with. I don’t begrudge them the cash. They brought value by connecting me easily with old friends. But I’m a little irritated with their desire to track my steps through every website and web tool I visit. It’s as if they somehow believe that friends share every detail of their lives with no edits or consideration.

That’s not poetry. That’s personal spam.

The glimpse of life I gained through my grandmother’s high school autograph book reminds me of how at one time individuals were maybe a tad more thoughtful about how they wished to be remembered. Maybe even a bit more thoughtful about how they presented themselves. Could our ability to communicate easily be weakening the value we put on communication?

The ability to connect human beings together in memorable, long lasting ways is probably one of the most powerful selling points any business can hope to have. Facebook caught lightning in a bottle, but now seems ready to tip the balance from valued tool to overly greedy spy. MySpace went this route. Some are not amused. Taylor Davidson provides an interesting look at why we should care about the business model behind the services we use. Just because they are free doesn’t mean they are without cost.

Communication continues to evolve. From private letters on stationery to sentiment presented on greeting cards. From phone calls to email to texting.

As everything goes digital it would be a neat trick to find a way to return the private, personal, long-lasting feel of a letter (or autograph book) while maintaining the convenience of Web 2.0 interaction. Things are being lost in our digital age. A key aspect of looking for opportunity is to mine the past for value, not to recreate history, but discover ideas primed for updating.

Of course I doubt my grandmother ever gave a thought to the idea that her descendants would be leafing through her old autograph book.  It was kept as a personal keepsake, her own memories. Which make it even more precious to us.

Solutions to the digital keepsake dilemma anyone? Let the competition begin.

What are you selling?

Took advantage of the beautiful weather this weekend and wandered uptown for a coffee, passing an old favorite shop.

A decade ago it was one of my must stop destinations before Mother’s Day or an upcoming birthday. The owner had an eye for the affordable unusual.

Through the window the shop looked familiar, still an eclectic mix. But off. Almost interesting, but not quite. Hard to explain. Leave it to say, I had no interest in going in. Haven’t been interested for quite a while.

I was no longer a customer. Why?

The new owners have done a fine job of maintaining the mix. But maintaining is the key word here. I never went into the shop because I expected to find ‘country’ or ‘humor’ or ‘handmade.’ I went into the shop to be entertained and to pass that entertainment on to my friends. While the old owner’s taste was always familiar, things changed in ways beyond simple design changes or style.

The new owner didn’t know what the old owner had been selling me.

Do you know what your customers are actually buying from you? Answering the question can be difficult in part because often your customers have no idea what the real reasons are for making their purchasing decisions. The words they use to justify a purchase sometimes match the motivation, but just as often asking can force them to string together words that try to make logical sense of an emotional step. (One of many reasons focus groups are such treacherous waters for a decision maker to swim in.) If you blindly follow what your customers tell you, then you will never take your business anywhere new. And you customers will find themselves someplace else. Not always knowing exactly why.

The 2400 Year Old Problem

I love my excursions down to Indiana University. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the level of creativity, passion and dedication that survives (and perhaps thrives) after years of schooling. (Disclosure: This be a proud papa moment…)

This weekend my daughter’s adaptation of  Aristophanes’ “The Wasps” hit the streets and it struck me how familiar the problems of our ancient greek cousins were. Having spent the past four years studying ancient history and theater, that was Sarah K Schlegel’s point of course and her goal in producing the play for a modern audience.

We know we should learn from the past, but, oh so often, it seems so far away.

Turns out Aristophanes felt he lived in a very litigious society. Sound familiar? So much so that he said lawyers had become like wasps, stinging with suits at every opportunity and swarming from victim to victim without serious care as to the consequences of their attack.

A bit about the performance: The team did an amazing job of working with the updated material, adding quick skits that brought today’s always fun TV lawyers into the mix. The relationship between siblings (one who loved to sue and the other who felt things had to stop) was great fun – with ‘LoveCleon’ fighting to escape the ideas and containment of his sister, ‘HateCleon.’ From battles with swarms of lawyers, to trials of criminal pets the action was absurd, but the message showed that many of the personal and political challenges we face today haven’t changed in millennia.

Most nights the show was performed in a limestone courtyard, bringing the audience closer to the feel of a greek amphitheater than one would expect in central Indiana. Costumes were modern, with ancient touches including Chorus masks paper mache’d from magazine photos and ‘stingers’ that stiffened when the lawyers were riled. Sets of burlap and rope (cardboard creativity at work). All performed with movement that highlighted the absurdity that took over Athens in its day.

The dots between their world and ours were connected. Arguments and lawsuits. Hyperbole and brinksmanship. I win you lose living.

There is a reason I bring up the show beyond fatherly pride. In the workplace, in politics, in our personal life – technology has changed the way we communicate, but technology has not changed what we need to communicate about.

A few lines that make the point:

“Yet in these times we have stung misguided. Lacking clear enemies we sting each other in a desperate attempt to create another ‘other.’ We see not the change we must pursue and forget the brotherhood we should already know. Change is ambiguouis and dangerous, but blind stinging is a death sentence. The sting must be directed away from our breathren and towards the misguided failing of our own creation.”  (Choir member. The Addled Wasps. Aristophanes. Edited By Sarah Schlegel)

Whether you take the ‘sting’ to be legal in nature or simply damaging argument, I think that means as much in today’s environment as it did 2400 years ago. The solution from Aristophanes is interesting. He does not expect the clash of ideas in legal forums to end, simply moderate –

“In short I give it as my deliberate opinion that in future every citizen must be possessed of a sting. But that sting’s use must have thought as a prerequisite.”

I really enjoyed the performance, and while I’ve gushed about my kids in the past I’d like to list all the folks involved here for now. I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them.

Editor/Director/Producer: Sarah Schlegel
Assistant Director: Kelsey Sheppard
Costume Designer: Nicole Zausmer
Poster Design: Christopher Knarr
Faculty Advisor: Murray McGibbon
Lovecleon: Stephanie Kuschel
Hatecleon:  Ted Timothy
Sosias: Lauren Bourke
Xanthias: Sam Gurnick
Chorus 1: Katie Harmon
Chorus 2: Mandie Van Osdol
Chorus 3: Shanta Parasuraman
Chorus 4: Sam Petry
Chorus 5: Colton Irwin

And wrapping up with a few wise words from old Aristophanes:

“He was right who said, ‘decide nothing till you have heard both sides’”