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October 2013

“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Friday, October 25, 2013 
TGIF Music – Dizzy Gillespie 

Dizzy Gillespie is universally regarded as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time as well as being one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) trumpeters ever. If that wasn’t enough, Dizzy’s signature achievement was to be the co-creator, with Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, of modern jazz. 

His bebop style, which took some getting use to by the fans of the then dominant swing style of jazz, featured in the words of one critic “cliff-hanging suspense”. His music was marked by constantly varying phrases that surprised listeners, provoking them with new thoughts about the music. 

Later in his career, he introduced Afro-Cuban music that added exciting new Latin rhythms to the jazz repertoire. One can trace the lineage of today’s salsa music back to this innovation by Dizzy. 

We remember Dizzy this week on the anniversary of his birth (October 21, 1917; died January 6, 1993). At the link watch a video of Dizzy playing one of his greatest hits, “A Night in Tunisia”. 

Quote of the Day: “I always try to teach by example and not force my ideas on a young musician. One of the reasons we're here is to be a part of this process of exchange”. -- Dizzy Gillespie 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Thursday, October 24, 2013 
Cognitive Traps that Stifle Global Innovation

Via several people, at the link is an excellent incisive piece on erroneous assumptions we may make about other people whose experiences are far removed from ours. As the world becomes more global, we need to make sure the innovations we produce are designed to have appeal to a diverse market. Using these correctives, we might even become better people. 

Quote of the Day: “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.” ― Marshall McLuhan 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 
Can a Museum Be a Monument to Innovation? 

This week is shaping up to be about new institutions seeking to foster creativity and innovation. Today we provide you with a link to a newspaper article heralding the opening of the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History & Industry here in Seattle (aka “Austin West”). 

The “Bezos” in question is Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, the internet retailing pioneer. Mr. Bezos can rightly claim some insights into producing innovations. The fortune Bezos has amassed from his creative accomplishments allows him to indulge in philanthropic ventures like this one, as well as buy national monuments like The Washington Post newspaper and promote human flight into space. It must be nice. 

Mr. Bezos, whose family roots are in Texas, came to Seattle by way of New York. He chose Seattle to start his business in because of the rich pool of technical talent available (so Richard Florida isn’t completely wrong) and its proximity to a large book warehouse. (Recall that Amazon’s first began life an Internet book seller.) 

Mr. Bezos wryly suggested at the Center’s opening celebration that all the rain Seattle receives is probably one of the reasons for its outsized reputation as an innovative city. People stay indoors and create stuff rather than get wet. This doesn’t bode well for Austin. 

No doubt Mr. Bezos’ new Center is another important indicator of the growing importance and acceptance, at least at a superficial level, of innovation. It remains to be seen whether this museum or any museum can be a useful agent in the quest to build a more creative society. 

Austin, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Let’s prove that sunshine is not the adversary of innovation. 

Quote of the Day: “In museums and palaces we are alternate radicals and conservatives”. -- Henry James 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Tuesday, October 22, 2013 
Permission to Daydream 

At the link is a great audio interview with Mary Helen Immordino-Yang on the power of daydreaming to promote creativity in children and adults and reduce anxiety, benefits that are interrelated. Immordino-Yang is professor of psychology at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. (It is good to learn about the Institute, which I had not known of before.) The link includes a link to an article in The Atlantic that provides more in-depth information about the professor’s research and the power and benefits of daydreaming. 

What struck me most was the reminder of how often in our action-oriented society we chastise others, particularly children, when they engage in daydreaming, even though this is one of the most productive activities. While anything can be done to excess and no good purpose, we need to start recognizing that daydreaming is its own form of action, even if it is not apparent to us, one that we need to appreciate more as we build a more creative society. 

Quote of the Day: “A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.” ― W.H. Auden 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Monday, October 21, 2013 
An Innovation Odyssey 

At the link is an interesting, and even heart-warming, piece about the nineteen-year quest of a homemaker to see her creative idea for a kitchen device to improve the marinating process for meats turned into a practical and money-making innovation. The article highlights the twists and turns of fate that delayed the introduction of the device for so many years. One can only marvel at the persistence of the innovator in question, Mary Hunter, in seeing her idea through. 

In the creativity movement, we spend more time on promoting the “Aha” moment of creative inspiration and not nearly enough time on how to turn creative ideas into innovations. Innovation may never be easy, but maybe it’s time to devote some creative thinking on how to shorten the cycle and improve the odds. 

Quote of the Day: “What we’ve done to encourage innovation is make it ordinary.” -- Craig Wynett, Chief Innovation Officer, Procter & Gamble 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Friday, October 18, 2013 
TGIF Music – Chuck Berry 

Quote of the Day: “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." – John Lennon 

Let’s all wish Chuck Berry a rockin’ “Happy Birthday”! He was born on this day back in 1926. That makes him 87 years old (for all you math phobes out there), and a vibrant counterexample to the myth of the rock musician who plays hard and dies young. Chuck continues to do concert tours at an age when most other people have trouble walking. 

All kidding aside, Chuck is truly one of the innovators who created this wonderful music. Boiled down to its essence, Chuck’s achievement was to transform rhythm and blues, formerly known as “race music”, into rock and roll embraced by white teenagers as their own sound. 

Berry creatively combined several seemingly incongruous strands together to make this happen. He mixed the showmanship of blues master T. Bone Walker with country music popular among white people (Berry’s first hit, “Maybellene”, is an adaptation of a Bob “King of Western Swing” Wills song), and most importantly, taking the music up-tempo in contrast to the downbeat, soulful sound of R&B. The seasoning to this stew was Chuck’s songwriting ability and his choice to focus on themes of love and (mild) rebellion (“Roll Over Beethoven”) that drove white teenagers into a frenzy. 

At the link, enjoy a video mélange of Chuck performing his greatest hits. Since the videos are from the ‘50s and early ‘60s, at times the audio and viewing quality leaves something to be desired, but the exuberance of Chuck Berry shines through nonetheless. Roll over Beethoven. Tell Tchaikovsky the news. 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Thursday, October 17, 2013
Music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create” 

Joanne Lipmanis recently published an op-ed on “Is Music the Key to Success?” Not surprisingly, her answer is “yes”. 
Lipmanis, co-author with Melanie Kupchynsky of the book “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations”, cites a number of diverse, well-known people who studied music growing up, who attribute much of their success in their chosen field to musical training. These include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (quoted in the title line above), comedian and film director Woody Allen, NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, and former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn. 

While the dimensions of development promoted by music are several, its contribution to promoting creativity is unmistakable. The connection is not a new idea, but Lipmanis brings a fresh trove of insight and examples to make the case that music is a good path to pursue in building a more creative society. Learn more at the link … and consider the harm being done by the penny-wise/pound-foolish cuts to arts programs happening in this country. We need STEAM, not just STEM. 

Quote of the Day: “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” ― Victor Hugo 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Monday, October 16, 2013 
A genre of surpassing banality?

Via Marcia Segal, a tough, unsparing critique of the creativity literature by Thomas (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) Frank. The piece, which appears on Salon.com, is entitled “TED Talks are lying to you”, meaning Frank’s critique extends far beyond the printed word. 

In short, Frank is saying there is nothing so uncreative as the creativity literature, including the now ubiquitous TED and TEDx Talks. But his critique goes even deeper. He is lambasting the hypocrisy of our institutions, which extol creativity in the abstract but seek to destroy it when it manifests itself in everyday life. 

He has a point. It is one reason that ACA – Austin Global has moved to focusing more on developing creative environments where new ideas can have a fighting chance. But there is clearly some tension between the institutional instinct to stick with the tried-and-true, particularly the current power structure, and the “creative destruction” innovation brings in its wake. In my view, a good portion of this tension comes from leaders who are still stuck in conformist attitudes of the traditional hierarchy devoted to production, not creativity … and who have the most to lose if that hierarchy is challenged. 

It may be difficult for some in the creativity movement to read Frank’s piece, but sometimes the truth hurts … and then the change and the healing begin. 

Quote of the Day: “The society based on production is only productive, not creative.” -- Albert Camus 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Can Mindfulness Increase or Improve Creative Thinking? 

Mindfulness is gaining popularity in Corporate America, according to a recent post on Linked In by emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, with training in mindfulness techniques being offered “from Google to General Mills”. The Buddhist concept, translated into a secular practice by Jon Kabat-Zinn, helps people to ward off the multiple distractions bombarding them and concentrate on the important task at hand. 

Mindfulness in both its spiritual and secular forms has been credited with positive outcomes when used therapeutically to treat stress and anxiety, depression, suicidal behavior, and other psychological ailments. But could mindfulness be a boon to creative thinking? Intense concentration on a particular problem would seem to be naturally helpful to idea generation. 

So far there seems to be relatively little research on the connection, if any, between the two. I did find this one blog post recounting a couple of experiments that show some promising results. Learn more at the link. 

The possible link between mindfulness and creativity seems to be an area ripe for investigation. The acceptance of mindfulness within business may be a key entry point for building a more creative – and mindful – society. 

Quote of the Day: “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand." -- Alexander Graham Bell, after observing how the sun’s rays ignite paper only when focused in one place (quote from Daniel Goleman article) 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Monday, October 14, 2013 
50 Intellectual Jokes 

Via Bill Randolph, here are fifty jokes with an intellectual twist to brighten your Monday. 

I have had occasion to mention before the similarities between jokes and creativity before. Not only does creativity go into making a good joke, but the mental processes that underlie the two processes are very similar. Both rely on the juxtaposition of two or more unlike concepts to create a new idea … or a laugh. Let’s also recognize that too much analysis drains the life out of humor, so just enjoy the jokes at the link. 

Quote of the Day: “A tragedy is a tragedy, and at the bottom, all tragedies are stupid. Give me a choice and I'll take A Midsummer Night's Dream over Hamlet every time. Any fool with steady hands and a working set of lungs can build up a house of cards and then blow it down, but it takes a genius to make people laugh.”  Stephen King


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Friday, October 11, 2013 
TGIF Music – Thelonious Monk 

Thelonious Sphere Monk is one of the giants of American music for his many contributions to jazz. His primary innovative accomplishment was to bring jazz out of the swing era, ushering in bop. 

One indicator of his importance is that Monk is only one of five jazz musicians to ever be featured on the cover of Time magazine. Another astounding indicator is that Monk is second only to Duke Ellington in the number of his compositions recorded by others, because Monk only wrote approximately 70 songs compared to Ellington’s oeuvre of over a thousand. Among the most outstanding contributions to the standard jazz repertoire are Monk’s “Epistrophy”, “Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”, “Straight, No Chaser”, and “Well, You Needn’t”. 

Monk’s instrument was the piano. His innovations in playing (and composing) are marked by his aggressive percussive style accentuated with dissonant harmonies, dramatic pauses, and unorthodox melodies. 

Thelonious appears to have suffered from an undetermined (or perhaps undisclosed) mental illness, something to which highly creative people appear to be disproportionately predisposed. His family elided this fact by referring to Monk’ odd behavior as “eccentricities”, something the public could see in Monk’s colorful suits, hats and sunglasses. 

This week we celebrate Monk’s 96th birthday (born October 10, 1917; died February 17, 1982). Listen to one of greatest albums, “Straight, No Chaser”, in full at the link. 

Quote of the Day: “You've been making the wrong mistakes.” ― Thelonious Monk 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Thursday, October 10, 2013 
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – Midwest Edition 

Is there another model for the development of a creative city? 

Part of what makes the American Creativity Association – Austin Global distinctive is our emphasis on Austin as a creative place. We were tantalized early on by Richard Florida’s theory for regional economic development and urban regeneration. We saw Florida’s 3-Ts model – talent, technology and tolerance – at work in Austin, where one of the nation’s largest “public ivy” universities helped spawn a tech boom. This, in turn, encouraged an inflow of people charmed by the Live Music Capital of the World’s artistic, accepting and laidback culture, creating a virtuous cycle of growth and wealth creation. 

This led to a perspective that building a creative society requires an emphasis on fostering environments where creativity can flourish, whether at the level of the metropolis or at the point of the individual firm or school. Creative thinking techniques still have their place in this noble crusade, but we increasingly see that teaching such techniques is often less efficient and effective when compared to the enormous amounts of creativity that are spontaneously brought forth in a nurturing environment. 

Professor Florida and his ideas have taken their lumps from critics. Fairly or not, he has been accused of encouraging a cookie-cutter approach to developing creative cities based on his model. And there has been plenty of disappointment and disillusionment when efforts to replicate the bohemian ethos of an Austin or a San Francisco, and the prosperity that is supposed to come with it, fail to take root in a less hospitable clime like, say, blue-collar Flint, Michigan. 

Which leads us back to the opening question: Is there another model for the development of a creative city? The New York Times recently reported on how Dayton, Ohio is putting out the welcome mat for immigrants in stark contrast to other cities across the nation. 

There is some poignancy in this story for me. I lived in Dayton for a few years in the 1990s while working for NCR, a once proud, innovative and influential powerhouse of a company. The company once produced the likes of Thomas Watson, who founded IBM based on lessons learned as an executive at what was then known as the National Cash Register corporation, as well as Charles Kettering, second only to Thomas Edison as the iconic American innovator. And of course, Dayton is famous as the home of the Wright Brothers and the practical beginning of man’s quest to fly. 

The company decamped a few years ago from its historic home in Dayton for the Atlanta area, a move that seems to have done little for the company as it drifts a bit lower in the Fortune 500 rankings every year. It is one of many companies to have left Dayton over the years. The city was showing signs of decline and faded glory from these cumulative blows when I lived there, and from all reports, things have only gotten worse. 

So it is interesting to read at the link how the city is seeking to encourage large number of immigrants to relocate to Dayton and put their American dreams to the test. The city has already attracted a large Turkish population and efforts continue apace to attract other groups. 

There is support in the creativity literature – and in American history – for such an approach. Immigrants bring fresh energy and new ideas to a region, and the ferment from all this diversity may indeed help boost the fortunes of the Gem City on the banks of the Miami River. I certainly hope so. It will certainly be interesting to watch this natural experiment unfold. 

Quote of the Day: “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steel-making.”
— Richard Florida 


“Building a more creative society”
Creativity Today – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 
Newsflash! U.S. Adults Do As Badly As U.S. Kids On International Skills Tests 

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has released results of its recently completed international adult skills assessment survey, considered to be the most comprehensive such study ever. The results are not pretty for the world’s richest country and only remaining superpower. 

What follows are some “headline” results from the survey. Read ‘em and weep. 

>The U.S. ranks 16th out of 23 countries in literacy proficiency … 
>21st in numeracy proficiency 
>14th in problem solving in technology-rich environments 

Adding insult to injury, these below-average basic literacy and numeracy rankings come despite the fact American adults have higher-than-average levels of educational attainment compared to adults in other countries. 

Wait, it gets even worse! Older Americans have better skills than our average young person between the ages of 16 and 24. Journalist Amanda Ripley, author of "The Smartest Kids In The World" commented in the Huffington Post that this particular finding "perfectly encapsulates how the U.S. hasn't gotten much worse or much better, but that's not what's happened around the world. Other countries have changed a lot while we have stood still. That's the effect of more of these kids going to stronger education." 

The results also show our country’s highest-skilled adults are on par with those in other leading nations. It is our most disadvantaged citizens, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, who are lagging in the skills race. Socioeconomic status determines one’s skill level more in the United States than in any other country included in the survey. People born to well educated, affluent parents in the U.S. do better on the skills tests; those less fortunate do less well. (See the complete study at the link.) 

In effect, these results are a repetition, or call it a continuation, of the situation with our K-12/16 educational system. America’s best students can compete with top students the world over. But the United States is failing to train a considerable portion of its citizens to world-class standards. 

Are you really surprised? Are you motivated to do something? Because this matters. Late this summer (August 15), there was an excellent op-ed in the New York Times about “What Ails Detroit”. The author, Stephan Richter, publisher of the online magazine The Globalist, says this about Detroit’s once legendary economic power: 

“But that dominance [of the automotive industry] was, to a considerable degree, a momentary quirk of history: the absence, in the wake of World War II, of any real competition from other nations. Once foreign competition was re-established, in Europe and Asia, only the superior skills of a nation’s workers and a focus on long-term workers’ training would allow a country to stay ahead. … 

“It is tragic to hear voices from Detroit declaring themselves ready for a resuscitation of the city. Revival is a question not just of will but also of the available skills base, which unfortunately has deteriorated as a result of a failure to invest in training.” 

Today, the entire country runs the risk of becoming a Detroit writ large. It is time to stop deluding ourselves that as a society we are investing enough in adult training. We’re not. Not enough to remedy the effects of past disadvantages, not enough to keep pace with the accelerating rates of technology that we have done so much to put into motion. And creativity and innovation can only be built on a solid foundation of basic skills. 

Quote of the Day: "Our younger population should be doing better than our older population. The older population is better educated. And the younger population is entering the workforce." -- Paul Peterson, Harvard University, commenting on the OECD study 


“Building a more creative society”

Creativity Today – Monday, October 7, 2013 
The Productive Habits of the Highly Creative 

The Guardian has an entertaining, yet still instructive piece, on the habits that enable highly creative people to achieve. The six “rituals” are 

1. Be a morning person 
2. Don’t give up the day job 
3. Take lots of walks 
4. Stick to a schedule 
5. Practice strategic substance abuse 
6. Learn to work anywhere 

I probably should explain number 5 asserts that coffee is the substance found to be most useful … but certainly people have tried others. Enjoy the article, particular the vignettes of the creative people and what they did to boost their efforts. 

What habits would help you be more creative? 

Quote of the Day: “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” – Twyla Tharp, legendary innovative choreographer 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Friday, October 5, 2013 
TGIF Music – “Jealous Heart” by Whiskey Shivers 

Today we feature Austin’s favorite “trashgrass” (or “bluegrass” to we more genteel types) group in a really great music video. This young band is going places. Enjoy! 

Quote of the Day: “I don’t like to think of my life in seasons or a series of months. I’m just like, ‘This will be the hacky sack period of my life,’ or now I want to do little art projects here and there, you know? It’s the dream!” -- Jeff “Horti” Hortillosa, Whiskey Shivers guitarist 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Thursday, October 3, 2013 
The Promise of the Prodigy 

Some of the Mozarts, Pascals and Picassos of our time are being featured in a new series on NPR’s Morning Edition about prodigies. It is fascinating to hear about what these incredibly gifted young people are doing at such tender ages. 

Of course, there is debate about whether and to what extent child prodigies are able to translate their gifts into highly creative achievements as adults. In addition, there is the tragedy of prodigies not receiving the nurturing they need to realize their full potential. Finally, there are the cases where prodigies end up wasting their lives, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski being a prominent example of this. 

I mention all this to stress what a precious, fragile and mysterious gift child prodigies have and why need to honor it. Listen at the link to one of the stories in the series about 12-year-old pianist Emily Bear. 

Quote of the Day: “For every child prodigy that you know about, at least 50 potential ones have burned out before you even heard about them. -- Itzhak Perlman 


“Building a more creative society” 
Creativity Today – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 
The Neuroscience of Creativity and Innovation 

David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work”, “Quiet Leadership” and “Coaching with the Brain in Mind” will present a free webinar through i4cp on “The Neuroscience 
of Creativity and Innovation”. It is scheduled for Thursday, October 10, 2013, 1pm ET (10am PT). Register at i4cp.com. 
Here is the program description: 

“The need for creativity and innovation in organizations has never been greater. Yet creativity is thought of as a mysterious, uncontrollable phenomenon, with little understanding of where it comes from and how it works. While there is still much to learn, we now have a dramatically better understanding of what it takes to drive creativity and innovation in individuals, teams and organizations. Many of these findings point to quite different strategies for increasing creativity and innovation than a lot of organizations currently use. The science is there. Now it's time for organizations to catch up.” 

Quote of the Day: “One of the reasons mindfulness can be difficult to talk about, in particular when discussing mindfulness with the busy people who run our companies and institutions, is that these people tend to spend little time thinking about themselves and other people, but a lot of time thinking about strategy, data, and systems. As a result, the circuits involved in thinking about oneself and other people, the medial prefrontal cortex, tend to be not too well developed. … 

“Speaking to an executive about mindfulness therefore can be a bit like speaking to a classical musician about jazz. It might look like they could play a little Coltrane, because they deal in sounds, but they don't really have the circuits for it. We don't take well to learning new skills, especially in later life … .” -- David Rock