A happy coincidence coming across the two references below; one by accident in browsing some blogs, the other in my reading of a favoured author.
In help people be creative John Cleese advocates a “tortoise enclosure where your tortoise mind can come out to play”: boundaries of space and boundaries of time; an oasis in which to ‘play’. Creativity comes from our unconscious so we need to ensure we are not interupted.
I was also struck by David Bohm (On Creativity, 1996: 48) writing about the relationship between art and science. He reflects on the significance of new ideas disrupting preconceptions about the world.
… in the long run it is less important to learn of a particular new way of conceiving structure abstractly, than it is to understand how the consideration of such new ideas can liberate one’s tought from a vast network of preconceptions absorbed largley unconsciously with education and training and from the general background. It seems to me that with regard to this question of preconceptions the situation should be baskically similar in every field of creative work, whether this be scientific, artistic, or of any other nature. For by becoming aware of preconceptions that have been conditioning us unconsciously we are able to perceive and understand the world in a fresh way. One can then “feel out” and explore what is unknown, rather than go on, as has generally been one’s habit, with mere variations on old themes, leading to modifications, extensions, or other developments with the framework of what has already been known, either in one’s own field, or in a closely related form in some other field. Thus one’s work can begin to be really creative, not only in the sense that it will contain genuinely original features, but also in that these will cohere with what is being continued from the past to form one harmonious, living, evolving totality.
All this serves to remind me of the importance of structuring time and space in ways that avoid, at least temporarily, the tyranny of the routine and the well worn track; to develop and maintain strategies to systematically pause, abandon the drive to perform or deliver, and permit heterodox thoughts, images, or feelings. And to find ways to stimulate and fuel heterodoxy through deliberate admission of the products of the worlds of others’; thinking from other discourses and constructions built on alternative sets of assumptions.
Daily I experience and observe the lack of such disciplines.
Did I hear right? On an interview on Radio New Zealand National about the appropriateness and possibility of protest by athletes at the Beijing Olympics, NZ distinguished olympian and local body polititian, Dick Quax, reflected on his own experience, and then spoke about expectations of those attending Beijing.
He said (something like), “While they are there they will be concentrating on the sport that they are there for. … NZ … aren’t sending people to China to protest about what is going on in Tibet … the expectation [of the New Zealand public and those who support the athlete] will be that they do well at the Olympics. What I would expect … that they go over there to do their best for their country on the sporting field and leave the polititics to the polititians.” (emphasis mine)
What a dangerous and odd point of view.
Quite apart from the absurdity of Dick Quax imagining that no part of NZ society expects its representatives at the Olympics to hold and express views critical of the Chinese government in relation to Tibet (and other matters), and quite apart from his implied narrow view of what it would mean to “do well” at the Olympics; Quax seems to be suggesting that politics is not the business of citizens. Continue reading
I am not much given to framing human and social factors in the monetary metaphor as forms of capital, but let’s accept that it has become a way that important ideas are being communicated.
Positive Psychology News Daily has an interesting review article on “Psychological Capital” (Psycap):
Psychological Capital (Oxford University Press, 2007), by Fred Luthans, Carolyn M. Youssef, and Bruce J. Avolio, introduces both a significant stream of research and an important framework for the application of positive psychology to organizations. The stream of research involves a construct they call “PsyCap” — a composite construct made up of self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resiliency.
It’s this new focus on “human factors” that will revolutionize the business excellence industry.
Key questions that indicate our psychological capital might include:
- How well do I think I will be able to meet a future challenge?
- What sense do I have of goals and the means to attain them?
- How positively do I respond to and interpret set-backs?
- When beset by problems and adversity, how well do I keep going and bounce back to attain success?
We need to explore further how to recognise, reinforce and stimulate such “psychological capital” in our selves, colleagues and organisations if we are concerned to shape and contribute to the future and not be simply fatalistic or victimised in the face of change and possibility.
Because each individual neuron is so slow, [Ray] Kurzweil explains, “we don’t have time to think too many new thoughts when we are pressed to make a decision. The human brain relies on precomputing its analyses and storing them for future reference. We then use our pattern-recognition capability to recognize a situation as compatible to one we have thought about and then draw upon our previously considered conclusions.”
This raise two thoughts for me in quite different directions. The first is that Kurtweil seems to be alerting us to a neurological dimension to prejudice; and this may give us some clues as to how to deal with undesirable prejudice in ourselves and society. The second thought is that Kurtweil seems to offer a way of understanding the importance of forms of slow thinking and collaborative dialogue.
I discovered an article by the well known John Cleese, originally prublished in edutopia magazine in December 2005: Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind | Edutopia. Cleese writes:
Then I came across research done at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1970s by Donald W. MacKinnon. He had examined what made people creative, and he found that the professionals rated “most creative” by their colleagues displayed two characteristics: They had a greater facility for play, meaning they would contemplate and play with a problem out of real curiosity, not because they had to, and they were prepared to ponder the problem for much longer before resolving it. The more creative professionals had a “childish capacity” for play — childish in the sense of the total, timeless absorption that children achieve when they’re intrigued.
The title of the article is taken from a book it goes on to refer to: Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, by Guy Claxton, an academic psychologist.
Claxton uses the phrase “hare brain” to refer to the sort of deliberate, conscious thinking we do when we apply reason and logic to known data. “Tortoise mind,” on the other hand, is more playful, leisurely, even dreamy. In this mode we are contemplative or meditative. We ponder a problem, rather than earnestly trying to solve it, by just bearing it in mind as we watch the world go by.
It seems persuasive, but counter cultural; which means that we probably need to cultivate and practice some deliberate habits to enjoy the fruits of creativity possible.
Thanks to Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog for pointing me to the Cleese article. It has set me thinking, slowly.
… Key to the whole event is that it’s not a conference; it’s an unconference, in effect user generated/created at the event. The approach with Foocamps/Barcamps is contribution/involvement. In short, no spectators and no hierarchy…Oh yeah, and enjoy yourself. So sessions are about discussion/debate and as a result learning, not about attending a “losing your will to live due to powerpoint” set of presentations. I think I saw two powerpoint sessions all weekend, and basically just a few slides to help with some information flow to support discussion. …
That’s what I was imagining and trying to convey.
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What if we could get passionate, smart and enquiring people together for long enough in the kind of environment that encouraged ideas to bounce off one another, new and surprising thinking to emerge and everyone’s ideas and questioning to be equally valued?
Too often we gather for a purpose and the purpose dominates, or particular experts or presentations come to define a sort of orthodoxy and so limit thinking, or the structure of gathering requires or encourages posturing and reacting. It is hard for anything new to come in such settings, and yet this is what most professional and academic conferences take as inevitable. If we gather around a purpose it may surpose that we already know what matters. If we gather around an expert or acclaimed expertise it may surpose that the thinking has been done. Peer review and scholarly debate and questions rarely recognise the limits of the accepted paradigm, and rarely bring expertise from different disciplines into a dialogue of equals.
We have recently had a NZ version of FOO Camp. It got some good coverage on Radio New Zealand National. The interviews are worth listening to. They can be found for a short while here (Kim Hill interviewing Nat Torkington and Ian Wright live at Kiwi FOO Camp.
FOO stands for “Friends of O’Reilly”, as in O’Reilly publishers. The background can be found on Wikipedia here. Basically this is a limited invited crowd of interesting people who take the space and time to interact and share. Stuff happens.
Reading Alan Bennett’s annual ‘diary’ in the London Review of Books (vol.30, No.1); his entry for 15 October reflects on a conversation with Peter Gill who was bringing out a book on acting, Actors Speaking. Bennett writes:
He thinks that what has been a shortcoming of American actors, namely, that while superb at naturalism they find artificiality difficult, is now the case here [UK] …
Bennett goes on to comment, with Gill, “today’s generation of actors are better at imitation … but what they lack is fantasy…” Bennett gives examples of actors from lowly backgrounds who have been very successful both generally and at portraying a range of characters.
… all of them had some sense of their proper position in life, a fantasy of what they wanted to be which these days would probably be disapproved of or discouraged, fantasy frowned on as some sort of escape.
This all got me thinking. Perhaps we have so exalted the expert and technical knowledge that we fail to value the contribution that imagination and fantasy can make to our lives, personal and corporate. If the only standard against which we measure ourselves and others is established expert knowledge, or orthodoxy then there can be no real innovation, only adaptation; no entrepreneurship or leadership, only management. If we are measured against some agreed sense of ‘reality’ then what we must do is imitation rather than creativity.
Today we farewelled Sir Edmund Hillary. I have been surprised by just how significant his death and the trubutes to him have been for me. Elsewhere I have offered some more theological thoughts, and have said there:
Someone has written in to Radio New Zealand National saying of Ed Hillary, “No one like him will pass this way again.” I think that this is understandable sentiment on the day of his funeral, but actually undermining what Ed stood for. He challenges all of us to live life as well and as full as he has. Of course he was unique, but only in the same sense as each of us.
Dean Peter Beck emphasised (in the funeral eulogy) the phrase, he was an ordinary New Zealander. Elsewhere in the tributes what was emphasised was Ed as an exemplar human being. It seems to me that we are helping define the concept of “ordinary” when we use a person of Ed Hillary’s accomplishments and call him ordinary. In other words, Ed embodies what we can be. This is much healthier than the kind of accolades that make a hero into something quite unattainably different than the rest of us. We claim Ed Hillary. We are not prepared for him to be so different that he is not one of us. He redefines in many positive ways what it means to be human and to be a New Zealander. That is why he is important to us. That is why we have and needed to pause to honour the man. He is us, and so we can be more than we would otherwise consider being.
Perhaps this is part of what we mean by leadership.
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