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December 2013

“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Thursday, December 19, 2013 
An Unglamorous Yet Momentous Innovation 

It is easy in this age of information technology to get caught up in what I will call “gizmo glitz” – and forget that creativity-fueled innovation comes in many guises, often distinctively “un-glitzy”. Such is the case of shipping containers, those big ungainly steel boxes that are loaded full of goods, put on trucks or trains, and then taken to shipping ports where they are lifted onto huge ships to carry goods all around the world. 

NPR’s “Project Money” has a feature on the shipping container as the innovation that has fueled global trade. The story is part of Project Money’s inquiry into how t-shirts get made, the t-shirt being an accessible example of the globalization of work. This episode goes into the history of the container concept, which came from a North Carolina trucker, Malcom McLean, back in the 1950s. Forbes Magazine would credited McLean as "one of the few men who changed the world”. Read more at the link. 

The Project Money episode also touches on the “creative destruction” wrought by shipping containers. Thousands of longshoreman jobs have been lost. At a time when there are still three people without work for each new job opening, it no longer suffices to say that things will work themselves out for the better. We need to be thinking of better ways to help people prepare for accelerating change. Sounds like the beginning of next year’s agenda. 

Quote of the Day: “His idea for modernizing the loading and unloading of ships, which was previously conducted in much the same way the ancient Phoenicians did 3,000 years ago, has resulted in much safer and less-expensive transport of goods, faster delivery, and better service. We owe so much to a man of vision, ‘the father of containerization,’ Malcom P. McLean.” — Norman Y. Mineta, Statement of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation on the death of Malcom P. McLean 

“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Wednesday, December 17, 2013 
Shortchanging the Gifted and Talented 

The New York Times editorial page has begun an important series on reforming science and math education in the United States. The editorials feature long, detailed and thoughtful essays on what needs to be done. 

While this subject is hardly new territory for this blog, the editorial in the series that appearing on Sunday does demand considerable attention from this space and from those committed to building a more creative society. It deals with how American society is shortchanging our gifted and talented students, and in the process, shortchanging every American’s future. 

Of course, my stance is generally a democratic one of trying to help and encourage all individuals to use more of their personal creative gifts for the benefit of everyone. We need to recognize, however, that the talented and gifted among us are a special resource and treasure for a nation that we waste at our peril. And wasting that resource is exactly what we are doing at this time when we need to be training our best young minds to lead us into the age of creativity and innovation. The U.S.’s support of gifted and talented programs has always been meager and half-hearted at best and subject to the up-and-down whims of the budget cycle. This is not the way to build a more creative society. 

The full editorial, with its powerful fact-based arguments, is at the link. But here is a bit of preview of a few pertinent facts to whet your appetite. Let’s start with “The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland all had at least twice the proportion of mathematically advanced students as the United States, and many Asian countries had far more than that.” Add to this the fact that our younger students do better than older American students, suggesting a disturbing falloff in interest in math and science. 

Happy Holidays. 

Quote of the Day: “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To him...a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create--so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” -- Pearl Buck 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – December 13, 2013 
TGIF Music – Rodriguez and “Searching for Sugar Man” 

I didn’t have a clue what “Searching for Sugar Man” was about when I put in my request to the library for the DVD copy weeks ago, except that it had won the Academy Award back in February for Best Documentary of the year. So it was with a real sense of synchronicity that I watched the film this week on the day of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. 

What do I mean (if you haven’t seen the documentary)? “Searching for Sugar Man” explores the mystery of a folk musician from Detroit whose songs became anthems in the struggle led by Nelson Mandela to cast off South Africa’s horrific yoke of racially-repressive apartheid. Yet when Rodriguez seemed to disappear from sight a myth grew up in South Africa that he had committed suicide at some point in a very dramatic way. The legend was that while on stage Rodriguez either put a bullet in his head or self-immolated. 

The truth is much more prosaic. While Rodriguez became hugely popular in South Africa (and also Australia), as well as an influential political force in that country during a turbulent time, in the United States he flopped. He recorded two albums that went nowhere. Unable to live on his art, Rodriguez became a laborer who carved out a modest living on which to raise his family. 

This makes Rodriguez’s story important and poignant to those who are committed to building a more creative society. This is an example of an enormously creative person whose gifts changed a nation, but who had to abandon his art because his records didn’t sell in his native country. As such, Rodriguez represents the legion of people whose creative gifts are wasted in this country and around the world. (The documentary may provide a rare opportunity for this one person to make a comeback). Part of what the creativity movement is devoted to achieving, in my view, is lessening this waste of human potential. 

While pondering how to do this, you can enjoy one of Rodriguez’s albums, “Cold Fact”, in full at the link. I chose this album, because at this early stage in my appreciation of his music, my favorite single of his, “Crucify Your Mind”, is found on it. His other album, “Coming From Reality”, is also easily searchable and available on YouTube. 

PS. The super-duper TGIF music posting is still coming, but I thought this was more timely. 

Quote of the Day: “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” -- Nelson Mandela 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – December 11, 2013 
Rethinking MOOCs 

“To all those people who declared our experiment a failure, you have to understand how innovation works. Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation.” 

Thus spake Sebastian Thrun in response to critics gleefully proclaiming the death of the Massive Open Online Course concept. Thrun is the father of the MOOC, who attracted tens of thousands to enroll in his free artificial intelligence class two years ago. But Thrun had grander ambitions than educating a throng of people in the art and science of AI. His goal was to democratize education across the globe, particularly higher education, a goal that resonates with me. 

A recent evaluation of a million MOOC students finds the courses aren’t reaching the intended audience (most enrollees hardly have a college degree) and aren’t effective in delivering education (half of all enrollees never bother to view a single lecture and only four percent actually complete a course). 

Thrun has reportedly been toying with the idea of offering vocational courses, instead of college courses, offering them through paid partnerships with corporations. Read more at the link. 

So it’s time to reboot the idea of online education. Let’s learn from the 1.0 version and keep trying new and effective ways to deliver high quality education to more people. 

Quote of the Day: “Question every assumption and go towards the problem, like the way they flew to the moon. We should have more moon shots and flights to the moon in areas of societal importance.” -- Sebastian Thrun 

“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – December 9, 2013 
Make your own Christmas Cards 

Creativity is not a spectator sport. You need to exercise your mental muscles frequently and hard to ramp up your creative thinking abilities. 

Friend of the American Creativity Association, Michael Michalko, and prolific author, most notably of the classic Thinkertoys (2nd edition, 2006) challenges us to a fun exercise this holiday season: make your own Christmas card with a creative twist. Use one of the basics of creative thinking, namely combining two unlike ideas to come up with a new creative synthesis. As Mike points out, this is how Gregor Mendel created the modern scientific discipline of genetics when he combined two existing disciplines, biology and mathematics, together. 

See the complete exercise at the link. 

Quote of the Day: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Michael Michalko 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – December 5, 2013 
Nelson Mandela 

And we’re back … 

I had planned to resume postings today, after a much too long interruption, under much different circumstances, followed tomorrow by a super-duper TGIF music offering. 

But when a great man like Nelson Mandela makes the transition from this world to the next, it requires we lesser mortals to take note of his passing and make some sense of it. Mandela’s life has much to teach all of us about being an innovative leader. The SoLoMo Marketing Innovation site provides us with five lessons from Mr. Mandela’s life that tell us much about what we need to know about leadership and innovation: 

1. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

2. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

3. “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is 

4. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” 

5. I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more hills to climb. 

It is intimidating for most of us to measure ourselves against a Nelson Mandela. But this is where our only hope of making a difference during this brief sojourn of life begins. 

Quote of the Day: A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Nelson Mandela, b. July 18, 1918; d. December 5, 2013