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July 2013

“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Friday, July 26, 2013 
TGIF Music – Don Henley 

This week we listen to Don Henley (born July 22, 1947). Though Texas-born, Henley made his musical career in LA., not Austin. His fame comes from being lead singer for the Eagles, the biggest selling American band of all time. Henley also distinguished himself as a songwriter, co-authoring (usually with fellow Eagle, Glenn Frye) such great hits as Desperado, Best of My Love, One of These Nights, Hotel California, Life In the Fast Lane, and The Long Run. Don’s talents helped propel the Eagles to six Grammy Awards, sent 17 singles into the Top 40 charts and five to Number 1, record six Number 1 albums, and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. 

Don has enjoyed great success as a solo artist as well with four albums that were both well received critically. My choice for the TGIF song this week is Henley’s Sunset Grill from 1984. Henley perfectly captures how our society was declining with “more meanness in the city”. Too bad more people weren’t paying attention. 

Quote of the Day: “It took me 42 years to write this song, and 5 minutes to sing it." – Don Henley 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 
Summer Relaxation 

Summertime, and the living is easy … and the news is slow. There will be limited postings for a while. 

Quote of the Day: “summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. for those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year. you can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you, and no past. summer just opens the door and lets you out.” ― Deb Caletti, “Honey, Baby, Sweetheart” 

“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Monday, July 22, 2013 
Natural Experiments in Creating Creative Cities? 

There are some new, interesting “straws in the wind” that may provide some “natural experiments” (or at least shed some light) on how best to build more creative cities. 

First, here in Austin West there is unease over the new $2 billion Cornell/NYC Tech campus, scheduled to open on New York City’s Governors Island in 2017. (Currently, limited programs are being offered in other parts of Manhattan.) Brier Dudley, the technology columnist for the Seattle Times, has seen the plans for the campus, which he labels a “geeky Disneyland”. But, all kidding aside, Dudley sees the new campus as a serious challenge to Seattle’s software development dominance. 

Cornell/NYC Tech represents an interesting test of Richard Florida’s “Rise of the Creative Class” thesis. The Big Apple already provides plenty of attractions for the creative class as well as a tolerant, progressive culture. With two of the three requirements under Florida’s model for a highly creative city in place, Cornell/NYC Tech is the third leg of the stool, a massive investment in high tech infrastructure and training to poach away companies from places like Seattle as well as provide an incubator for new startups. Read more at the link. 

Speaking of poaching, this takes me to another interesting development to watch, emblemized by the hilarious point-counterpoint between Texas Governor Rick Perry and comedian Lewis Black. Perry is the narrator for ads that seek to entice businesses to relocate from high-tax and supposedly highly regulated states like Illinois, California and New York to low-tax, lightly regulated Texas. Black, in his classic rant style, isn’t much concerned about Illinois and California, but is incensed about the Governor’s attempt to sully the good name of the Empire State. The sketch, which is easy to find online, is a pleasure to watch, even if the language is such that I can’t replicate much of it here. 

Of course, this is not a perfect test of which state offers the better climate to foster innovation, since a business that chooses to relocate may not be particularly innovative. But there is considerable overlap between entrepreneurship and innovation. It will be interesting to watch what happens. 

Quote of the Day: “Writing is thinking and thinking is hard work.” ― Lewis Black 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Friday, July 19, 2013 
TGIF Music – Woody Guthrie 

This week marks the 101st birthday anniversary (born July 14, 1912 – died October 3, 1967) of folk singer-songwriter and musician Woody Guthrie. As an Oklahoman, I am proud to note Woody’s Sooner origins (born in Okemah in the east central part of the state), for these roots shaped his music. And that music changed America. You don’t get much more creative than that. 

Woody’s father was prominent in Okemah as a businessman and local political activist. Sadly, part of that activism included membership in the Ku Klux Klan and participation in the 1911 lynching of an African-American woman and her son. The grisly event is remembered because photos taken of the two bodies hanging from a railroad bridge are the only known surviving pictures of a female lynching victim. This event haunted Woody (born the following year), who wrote three songs about the tragedy, and stoked his passion for social justice. 

Hardship was another powerful influence on Woody. The family suffered the trauma of several fires at their home in Okemah, including one that destroyed the house. Some of the fires may have been caused by Woody’s mother. Over the years she was increasingly incapacitated by dementia and was eventually institutionalized. Huntington’s disease, the same genetic condition that would kill Woody, brought on her dementia. 

In his teen years Woody followed his father to Texas in the 1920s after business reversals forced his dad to find new work to pay off debts. 

His father’s troubles foreshadowed the economic calamity known as the Great Depression of the 1930s, an event magnified in the southern Plains by the ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Woody joined his fellow Okies in traveling to the Paradise of California … only to find economic exploitation and brutality as migrant workers. 

Radicalized, Guthrie drew on his deep love of folk music, learned back in Okemah, to craft powerful songs of protest. As his fame grew and his travels widened, Woody, often called the Dustbowl Troubadour and the Oklahoma Cowboy, eventually came to know and work with the other great folk musicians of his era, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Millard Lampell, in the loose coalition known as the Almanac Singers. 

Yet in many ways, Woody was the first among equals due to his powerful songwriting abilities. Bob Dylan idolized Guthrie and visited him in the hospital as Huntington’s disease began to take its toll. And Woody’s songs influenced a whole army of musicians, including Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and Tom Paxton. 

Choosing which song of Woody’s to feature presented a bit of a challenge. I really wanted to link to something other than his most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land”, because “everybody knows it” already. But the reality is that most people really don’t know the song at all. 

“This Land Is Your Land” is not the feel good, Kumbaya song we were taught in school. If you listen beyond the first verse, you come to understand that it, too, is a protest song that calls into question some of America’s values (such as the sanctity of private property) and the equality we profess to believe in despite the obvious class differences. 

So enjoy your Friday listening with new ears to this classic song, sung by Woody himself … and think about how you can use your creativity in some way to make the world a better place. 

Quote of the Day: “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” ― Woody Guthrie 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Thursday, July 18, 2013 
Can U.S. National Labs Be Made More Innovative? 

An important new report was issued recently outlining a proposed plan to make our nation’s national laboratories more innovative in order to meet the needs of the 21st Century. 

At first glance, what is remarkable about the report is that is a joint product of the Center for American Progress (from the left side of the political spectrum) and the Heritage Foundation (definitely on the right), along with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (not sure where it stands on the political continuum). For these groups to collaborate on a report like this is an unexpected and refreshing development in our badly divided country. 

Our national labs, run by the U.S. Department of Energy, are (as the report says) creatures of the atomic energy, Cold War era. The assertion of the report is that the management of the labs (as distinct from the science) has not kept up with changing national needs: “While the pace of innovation and the complexity of national challenges have accelerated, the labs have not kept stride. Although private-sector innovation will remain the cornerstone of economic growth, lab scientists and engineers do important work that can be of significant future use to private enterprise. … The problem is that the labs’ tether to the market is weak, often by design. Though the mission of the labs must not be or subsidize private-sector research, efficient means for transferring scientific discovery into the market should exist. But the labs’ bureaucracy remains largely unchanged and does not reflect the nimble characteristics of today’s innovation-driven economy. Inefficiencies, duplicative regulations, and top-down research micromanagement are having a stifling effect on innovation. Furthermore, institutional biases against transferring market-relevant technology out of the labs and into the private sector reduce incentives for technology transfer.” 

Learn more at the link. If nothing else, the report is one more validation that we must all join in building a more creative society, one that can more effectively and efficiently innovate. 

Quote of the Day: “As the United States moves deeper into the 21st century, the importance of advancing innovation becomes even more important if our nation is to thrive. Creating wealth depends on the use of traditional inputs such as natural resources, land, and labor, but most importantly, it requires the discovery and development of new ideas and technology.” – Turning the Page: Reimagining the National Labs In the 21st Century Innovation Economy 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Monday, July 15, 2013 
The Costs of Our Patent Mess 

Via Dean Baker, we learn of an excellent piece by Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz on the U.S. patent mess. Stiglitz focuses on the recent and very good decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. The High Court decided against Myriad’s claim that it could patent two human genes. As I commented earlier about this ruling, it is one hopeful sign that our society is becoming aware of and starting to react against patent law abuses. 

Stiglitz ties his arguments to the case he made in his recent book, The Price of Inequality. He makes three points. 

One, “it’s our intellectual property regime that contributes needlessly to the gravest form of inequality. The right to life should not be contingent on the ability to pay.” Myriad’s patent claims were thwarting innovations by others and driving up the costs of diagnostic tests needlessly. 

Two, the company’s actions represented economically unproductive “rent-seeking”. The money it earned from these diagnostic tests “added nothing to the size and dynamism of the economy, and simultaneously decreased the welfare of those who could not afford it.” 

Third, beyond the moral issues involved in effectively denying some people access to affordable diagnostic tests, the current patent regime is imposing huge costs on society. A “good part of the explosive economic growth since the 19th century” has been due to the synergy between improved health and technology. It is in society’s interests to foster as much innovation as possible in making health care better and more affordable. 

These are powerful arguments for reform – and for better ways to build a more creative society. 

Quote of the Day: “Advocates of intellectual property rights have overemphasized their role in promoting innovation. Most of the key innovations — from the basic ideas underlying the computer, to transistors, to lasers, to the discovery of DNA — were not motivated by pecuniary gain. They were motivated by the quest for knowledge. Of course, resources have to be made available. But the patent system is only one way, and often not the best way, of providing these resources.” – Joseph Stiglitz 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Friday, July 12, 2013 
TGIF Music – The Day Rock Was Born 

While there is not complete unanimity on the question, many music authorities cite July 7, 1954 as the day the rock and roll revolution began. For it was on this day that disc jockey Dewey Phillips at Memphis’s WHBQ radio station played "That's All Right" by Elvis Presley on his popular "Red, Hot & Blue" show. 

Two days earlier Elvis had recorded the song during a routine recording session at Sun Studios. During a break, Presley began messing around with an up-tempo version of the Arthur Crudup's R&B song, "That's All Right, Mama". His two sidemen, guitarist "Scotty" Moore and bassist "Bill" Black, joined in the fun, and recording studio boss Sam Phillips let the tape roll. Liking what he heard, Phillips rushed copies of the recorded song to local radio stations. 

Memphis radio listeners liked it too. DJ Phillips played the song 14 times during his show in response to repeated telephone requests. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Enjoy this creative breakthrough at the link. For added insight, search Arthur Crudup on YouTube and you will easily find his version of "That's All Right, Mama". If you have any kind of ear at all, you should be able to hear the differences between Crudup’s R&B version and Presley’s version, the first rock and roll record. 

Quote of the Day: “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.” ― Elvis Presley 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 
Can Microsoft Innovate a New, More Innovative Microsoft? 

As global warming makes Austin West feel more like Texas, the local paper, The Seattle Times, has a lengthy front page, top-of-the-fold article today on changes at Microsoft. 

There is no question the hometown software giant has struggled in recent years. Though the company remains profitable, there is widespread recognition the end is in sight for the Office Suite cash cow as competitors offer competing products. More troubling, as the article puts it, Microsoft has developed a reputation over the years as “being a stodgy organization full of infighting where getting something done might require battling through layers of bureaucracy.” Elsewhere, the article notes, “Microsoft, like many other engineering-focused companies, is hierarchical and centered on predictability.” 

This is what Microsoft is now trying to change. The goal is to become a devices and services company and not just a software firm. To make this happen, Microsoft needs to be more innovative, more collaborative, more nimble. Read how it plans to do so at the link. 

I literally live down the hill from the main Microsoft campus. My interest in the changes at Microsoft is more than casual. Among other crucial things, my property values depend on a healthy Microsoft. But I have been a change agent for Fortune 500 companies most of my career. Though I am hoping for the best, I know that change of this type is hard to achieve. Here’s wishing good luck to Microsoft as it attempts to build a more creative company. 

Quote of the Day: “What we've gone through in the last several years has caused some people to question 'Can we trust Microsoft?'” Steve Ballmer 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Tuesday, July 9, 2013 
The Unsteady Path of Utility-Scale Solar Power

The story about the current state of concentrating solar power (CSP) plants is a familiar one in innovation. Lots of engineering innovation is required to solve numerous technical problems remaining in realizing the full potential of these massive banks of solar panels that promise to deliver utility-scale clean power. Yet there is considerable confidence among industry watchers that these hurdles can be overcome in the not-too-distant future. (For example, see today’s quote below.) 

The less tractable issues are on the social side, particularly what are described as “whims of fickle market dynamics”. While solar panels prices continue to drop, so do natural gas prices. It is easier and less expensive for utilities to convert existing power plants to natural gas than to invest in new CSP facilities. 

Learn more about these fascinating developments at the link. Have any ideas? 

Quote of the Day: “There are no serious hurdles [to CSP production]. Right now we have a car like in the 1920s or 1930s, we don’t have mass production of 2013; but it’s got an engine, it’s got 4 wheels, it works. I don’t see any technical principle hurdles.” -- Thiemmo Gropp, Thiemmo Gropp, director of DESERTEC, a foundation that help build pilot CSP projects in the desert 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Monday, July 8, 2013 
Kierkegaard and May on Anxiety’s Role in Creativity

Maria Popova in Brain Pickings has an interesting piece on Soren Kirkegaard’s observations and ruminations about how anxiety can be a force in propelling – or retarding -- creativity. She goes on to show how these insights aided existentialist psychologist Rollo May in forming some of his crucial thoughts on the relationship between anxiety and creativity. 

Here is the core insight from Kirkegaard about the “aha” moment of creative inspiration: 
“… [A}nxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain. “ 

May summarizes what Kirkegaard has taught him thusly: “Because it is possible to create — creating one’s self, willing to be one’s self, as well as creating in all the innumerable daily activities (and these are two phases of the same process) — one has anxiety. One would have no anxiety if there were no possibility whatever. Now creating, actualizing one’s possibilities, always involves negative as well as positive aspects. It always involves destroying the status quo, destroying old patterns within oneself, progressively destroying what one has clung to from childhood on, and creating new and original forms and ways of living. If one does not do this, one is refusing to grow, refusing to avail himself of his possibilities; one is shirking his responsibility to himself. Hence refusal to actualize one’s possibilities brings guilt toward one’s self. But creating also means destroying the status quo of one’s environment, breaking the old forms; it means producing something new and original in human relations as well as in cultural forms (e.g., the creativity of the artist). Thus every experience of creativity has its potentiality of aggression or denial toward other persons in one’s environment or established patterns within one’s self.” 

I believe many people prefer to regard creativity as a fun activity that is almost effortless and costless. But by citing Kirkegaard and May, Popova reminds us that there are indeed great costs (and potentially great, but uncertain, benefits) to creative effort. Maybe this is one reason (maybe THE reason) most people shy away from exercising much of their creativity. But as Popova advocates, there is much to be learned by reading these two great intellects on how anxiety propels (and sometimes derails) creativity. Then the choice is up to us. 

Quote of the Day: “To put the matter figuratively, in every experience of creativity something in the past is killed that something new in the present may be born. “ – Rollo May 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Friday, July 5, 2013 
TGIF Music – Nanci Griffith Reprised 

Nanci was featured about this time last year, in honor of her birthday (July 6, 1953). But I believe it is appropriate to do so again, because she is Texas-born and Austin-raised (though she now lives in Nashville) and a really fine country-folk singer-songwriter. At the link is one of Nanci’s best songs, Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, from her Grammy-award winning album, Other Voices, Other Rooms. 

Quote of the Day: “Being a good songwriter means paying attention and sticking your hand out the window to catch the song on the way to someone else’s house!” – Nanci Griffith 



“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Thursday, July 4, 2013 
A Personal Declaration of Independence 

Having helped you prepare to rethink our nation’s actual Declaration of Independence yesterday (no small task), let’s now spend some time on the Fourth helping you declare your own personal Independence from a less-than-optimum-creative past and the beginning of your bright new creative future. 

Gary Goodwin, a creativity coach at The Stuck Creative in the Washington, D.C. area, has written a declaration for people who want to get “unstuck” and promote their own personal creativity. He figures this mid-year time around the Fourth of July, with its associations to our heritage of political independence, is a good time to do this. 

Here are a couple of sample clauses: 

“I declare that I will begin again, this coming week, in small ways to more fully develop my commitment to myself to bring my creativity into the world. I will start small because I enjoy discovering how my creative work can expand, piece-by-piece, in my life.” 

“I declare that I have the unalienable right to explore, to experiment, to grow, to be puzzled, and to chase after what I consider important.” 

Read more at the link and become inspired to become more creative and independent. 

Quote of the Day: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” ― Coco Chanel 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Wednesday, July 3, 2013Rewriting the Declaration of Independence as a Creative Exercise 

Here is a thought-provoking exercise to keep your teen-agers – and you! – creatively engaged and expanding over the summer, just in time for the Fourth of July. The Library of Congress has an online exercise that enables and challenges learners of all ages to take a stab at rewriting one of our nation’s, and the world’s, most profound guiding documents. 

The site presents Thomas Jefferson’s first rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.  This is the one that Jefferson circulated among members of Congress to review and suggest revisions.  You can look at the original draft and the suggested revisions and choose the one you believe is better.

Here’s an example.  The rough draft, near the beginning, reads “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, & to assume among the powers of the earth the equal & independent station to which the laws of nature & of nature's god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to change.”

 Instead of “advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, & to”, one of Jefferson’s colleague’s suggested, “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to”. Which would you choose … and why? 

It would be good for us as a people to recapture some of the meaning to our civic holidays that have fallen victim to commercialization. As much as the next person, on the Fourth I like to relax, enjoy an outdoor barbeque with family and friend, and toss back a couple of cold ones while watching the fireworks. But surely we could all spend a few minutes recalling the great creativity and courage that the Declaration of Independence represents and the Fourth of July is intended to celebrate. 

Quote of the Day: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” –Thomas Jefferson 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today - Monday, July 1, 2013 
Summer School Now Means Creativity 

There is some hopeful news for those wanting to build a more creative society. The New York Times reports that a number of school districts around the country, including some that are cash-strapped, are retooling their summer programs to foster creativity and strong academics, not just remedial learning. Part of the emphasis is on students from disadvantage households, whose children face the real prospect of losing some of the academic gains they made during the school year. Read more at the link. 

Quote of the Day: “… I think what we should be talking about as a country is, do all of our children have access and opportunities to do that so they are not sitting at home, waking up at 11 in the morning, eating doughnuts and watching cartoons? That’s a reality for some of our kids.” -- Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Duval County (Florida) Public Schools, quoted in the summer school article