Posts tagged “practice”

Creativity is a practice (not a perfect)

Being creative ain’t always pretty and it’s rarely easy. Creativity is a practice that brings out the best and worst of us. The articles below have me pondering the shadow side of creative pursuit, how to stay motivated through the highs and lows, and which of these creative calisthenics I should try first.

How Creativity Connects with Immorality [Scientific American] – Citing a number of studies that link creativity to unethical behavior by employees, this article suggests that there is a dark side to creativity. This comes as no surprise to me. The internal tension that pits notions of “accepted” against “unheard of” is one of the most fundamental and key ingredients in creative production. Creative thinking is frequently predicated on a willingness to question the norms and accepted rules. In fact, if you want to practice your divergent thinking a bit today, I invite you to think of a rule at work (i.e. thou shalt not take the sticky notes home) and come up with ten, make that twenty, ways around it.

The authors hypothesized that it is creativity which causes unethical behavior by allowing people the means to justify their misdeeds, but it is hard to say for certain whether this is correct given the correlational nature of the study. It could just as easily be true, after all, that unethical behavior leads people to be more creative, or that there is something else which causes both creativity and dishonesty, such as intelligence.

What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It [Harvard Business Review] – I have a serious creativity crush on Teresa Amabile and particularly value her research contributions in the area of creativity and business. Here she emphasizes the importance of intrinsic motivation for fostering creativity within the organization and the delicate balancing act required when leaders utilize goals, evaluation, reward, and pressure to fuel innovation.

In the end, it’s level, form, and meaning of the motivator that makes for that perfect balance. Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone’s creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity – and innovation – forward.

The articles above reminded me of an RSA animation for a talk given by Daniel Pink about how intrinsic motivation functions. I love it for both medium (graphic animation) and message (rewards come from within when you do what you love). If you are looking to amplify your creative practice, start with what you love to do already. And then do more of that.

Coarse Art: A 30-day experiment [Scree] – Definitions of creative thinking often refer to the four key skills of originality, flexibility, fluency and elaboration. Fluency is all about quantity- generating as many ideas as possible. Go. Go. Go. The more the merrier! My friend Emily, an Innovation Catalyst at a global corporation, recently undertook a month-long experiment in pursuit of creative fluency by committing to something she calls Coarse Art. Thirty days of making something, quickly, every single morning. No judgment, no reasons, no justifications. She just made something every day, celebrated the practice of it and reflected on all the struggles that this seemingly simple and deceptively challenging practice raised. You can find her article (and her art) on page 38. And if you are looking to develop your own creative fluency, it’s pretty simple. Commit to creating something (i.e. words, poems, assemblage, song, painting, culinary delight) everyday for 30 days in a row. And be sure to celebrate every single day, no matter what.

We readily celebrate the brilliance of a child’s first artistic experiments, noting the highly abstract elements and excitement inherent within their expression, though as grownups we suffer from massive celebration delay.

‘Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical’: Your Secrets of Creativity [The Atlantic] – Last month Jared Keller asked Atlantic readers how they come up with their best ideas. This article is filled with responses. It is like a pinata of productivity exploded into a shower of suggestions for generating new ideas. Take a look, there is something for everyone here. You will likely find at least one suggestion that resonates with you and inspires you to try a new way to get your creative juices flowing.

Do not silo your brain. I find myself at my most creative when I am connecting disparate things. How should I connect this blog post about reality television with a Congressional Budget Office white paper on home foreclosures? I am envious of designers who draw inspiration from a variety of sources: photography, textile patterns,medieval architecture, 1990s Geocities sites and the like. Inspiration needs room to breathe. I create this space by combining what I am working on with what I like.

Easy Listening

[Note: I was asked by a national print publication to join their crowded roster of design bloggers; Over a few months we worked together on my pitch and eventually I wrote and shared my first post. They were quite keen and ran me through all the technical and style guidelines for using their site. But then they asked me at the last minute to hold as they relaunched their blog. Then, silence. The discussion of my series fell down a hole. Given that almost a year has gone by, I’ve realized that it ain’t happening anytime soon. So here’s the piece!]

Rahul turned to Amanda, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “Hey, I saw a very strange dog today. You wouldn’t believe it!”
Amanda placed a finger in her novel and looked up. “What?”
“A strange dog. I saw a strange dog today.”
“Oh yeah-?” Amanda trailed off, her eyes dipping back to her book.

This is how we live today (I’m not saying it was always this way; did loquacious primitive Thag grunt enthusiastically while Klag scratched drawings upon the cave wall?). Sometimes we’re distracted, busy, tired, or just not that interested. Hearing these stories takes energy (isn’t that right, introverts?) or maybe we’d rather share our own story (isn’t that right, extroverts?). Even when we do engage in conversation, we’re often thinking about what we want to say next, and listening for those breathing cues that indicate it’s our turn to speak. Listening is a limited resource. No wonder we pay people to listen to us talk about ourselves!

And while companies acknowledge the value of listening to customers (what new feature, good or bad, isn’t announced without mealy-mouthed PR justification that “We listened to our customers and they told us-“), even at best that’s often just lip-service. As an individual skill that is crucial is so many business interactions, it’s woefully underdeveloped. While we’d all likely check off “good listener” on a self-assessment, it’s something we should probably get better at.

We don’t have the space (nor the qualifications) to help you get to a point where you care about what your client, customer, colleague or loved one has to say, so let’s just take that as read. But once you’re in the conversation, how do you stay in? One tactic involves your body.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “act as if” from the worlds of life coaching, personal growth, or therapy (i.e., acting as if you aren’t anxious is a tool for dealing with anxiety). By the same token, if we act as if we are listening, we’ll find it easier to listen.


The body language of good listening


Not so much

In The Naked Face Malcolm Gladwell describes the work of psychologists who developed a coding system for facial expressions. As they identified the muscle groups and what different combinations signified, they realized that in moving those muscles, they were inducing the actual feelings. He writes

Emotion doesn’t just go from the inside out. It goes from the outside in-In the facial-feedback system, an expression you do not even know that you have can create an emotion you did not choose to feel.

It’s a likely extension of this finding to imagine bodily expressions that demonstrate emotion and intent similarly creating those matching feelings in us. Even if it isn’t true, these postures send strong signals to our interlocutor, further encouraging them to share with us.

One of my favorite ways to practice listening is via serendipitous encounters with loquacious taxi drivers, airplane neighbors, or social-cue-missing party chatters. Even if we can’t repair society’s listening inequity, we can use it to provide endless practice space.

For more about listening, you should check out

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] The Sketchbook Project: 2011[http://www.arthousecoop.com/projects/sketchbookproject] – [For $25 and an output of your own artistic energy, you can be part of this traveling sketchbook project. Choose from themes like "Adhere to me," "Help!" and "Down your street." Great way to practice sketching and story-telling!] Thousands of sketchbooks will be exhibited at galleries and museums as they make their way on tour across the country. After the tour, all sketchbooks will enter into the permanent collection of The Brooklyn Art Library, where they will be barcoded and available for the public to view. Anyone – from anywhere in the world – can be a part of the project. To participate and have us send you a sketchbook that will go on tour, start by choosing a theme.
  • [from steve_portigal] Want Smart Kids? Here’s What to Do [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – [It seems like this confuses correlation and causality, but it is a very actionable finding in that way] Buy a lot of books. That seems kind of obvious, right? But what's surprising, according to a new study published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, is just how strong the correlation is between a child's academic achievement and the number of books his or her parents own. It's even more important than whether the parents went to college or hold white-collar jobs. Books matter. A lot.
  • [from steve_portigal] Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong [Slate] – We do it by trying to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don't have to go through the political lobbying of saying, "Can we have 50 people to work on this?" Instead, it's more done bottom up: Two or three people get together and say, "Hey, I want to work on this." They don't need permission from the top level to get it started because it's just a couple of people; it's kind of off the books. …Within the company, we're really good at making decisions based on statistics. So if we have an idea—"You know, here's a way I can make search better"—we're really good at saying, "Well, let's do an experiment. Let's compare the old way with the new way and try it out on some sample searches." And we'll come back with a number and we'll know if it's better and how much better and so on. That's our bread and butter.
  • [from steve_portigal] Dangerous Ideas [Big Think] – [When we lead ideation exercises, we often talk about the importance of "bad" ideas and try to empower or teams to be free to come up with bad ideas; it's a way of coming un-stuck, to free yourself from "solving" the problem and just play with the problem. When we suggest trying things that are dangerous or immoral, people laugh, but they are immediately get it. Here's a more serious consideration of the power of "bad" ideas] Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different "dangerous idea" each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive—but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series will be supported by contributions from leading experts.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • SpoolCast: Steve Portigal’s Deep Dive Interviewing Tips Revisited [UIE Brain Sparks] – Getting out into the world and actually interacting with real people who use, or potentially could use, your product or service is incredibly valuable. We tell our clients this constantly: the organizations who are most successful are the ones who are on intimate terms with how and why their customers use their product. But how? To answer that question, we invited our friend Steve Portigal, principal of Portigal Consulting, to conduct the UIE Virtual Seminar, “Deep Dive Interviewing Secrets: Making Sure You Don’t Leave Key Information Behind”
    Steve’s specialty is informing design decisions by getting on the ground and speaking directly with customers. And sharing how you can do the same. Today, we release the interview Jared Spool conducted with Steve after his seminar, following up with a number of additional audience questions.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Consumed – Faux-Authentic Uniforms [NYTimes.com] – The authenticity question is a particularly interesting one to parse. A pair of worn, faded jeans does reflect a history shared by object and owner. For many years now, manufacturers have sold a shortcut to that idea by wearing out and fading jeans before they hit the shelves, by way of a variety of industrial processes (often charging a hefty premium for this outsourcing of the item’s physical past). These Burton pants embrace the worn-denim trope but take it a step further. They’re actually made of a waterproof Gore-Tex fabric and made to look like jeans through “photo sublimation,” according to USA Today: “a photo was taken of a pair of tattered jeans then printed onto the garments via a technical heat process.” So what we have here is a representation of a simulacrum of tattered, faded, authentic pants-with-a-history.
  • Why You Shouldn’t Believe A Company’s Word Lore [NYTimes.com] – By promoting the “sound of the machine” origin for the once-generic kisses, Hershey is engaging in what Kawash calls “strategic corporate forgetting”: “they invent an original story for marketing purposes to make it seem unique to their candy.” Notably, Hershey’s historical whitewash took shape in the late ’90s, just about when the company’s lawyers were beginning an ultimately successful battle to trademark kisses. They didn’t use the story in their legal arguments, but it played right into their efforts to associate kisses uniquely with the Hershey brand. When a company is trying to make its product iconic in the minds of consumers, it doesn’t hurt to inject a pleasant etymological tidbit, no matter how easy it is to disprove.
  • Making Sense of Complexity [NYTimes.com] – Unless the subject is TV remote controls, Americans have a fondness for complexity, for ideas and objects that are hard to understand.We assume complicated products come from sharp, impressive minds, and we understand that complexity is a fancy word for progress….What we need, suggests professor Brenda Zimmerman, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex…Performing hip replacement surgery is complicated. It takes well-trained personnel, precision and carefully calibrated equipment. Running a health care system is complex. It’s filled with thousands of parts and players, all of whom must act within a fluid, unpredictable environment. To run a system that is complex it takes a set of simple principles that guide and shape the system.“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”

Why not?

Every drummer knows, it’s hard to find a place to practice.

frontstage-backstage.jpg
Drummer, Highway 9, Santa Cruz mountains

So when I drove by this guy rocking out on the side of the road, I thought, “yes, that makes so much sense.” Plenty of space, no neighbors around to get pissed off at you.

So how come the roadsides aren’t dotted with drummers?

Even though it’s a great solution, it takes a certain degree of chutzpah to go drum in the woods.

Lots of seemingly innovative ideas never take hold. Some of these concepts may be asking customers to “drum in the woods”– to behave in ways that might stick out, feel weird, or refute what they’re comfortable with.

Nicolas Nova further explores why ideas do and don’t take hold in his visually rich Inflated/Deflated Futures presentation.

Related posts:
Minding Manners
Open Carry

Disciplinarity and Rigour? My keynote from Design Research Society conference

I was recently in the UK to give the opening keynote at the Design Research Society’s Undisciplined conference. I detail some of my academic and professional history and talk about the concerns of a practitioner, perhaps an alternate take on what many in the audience (designers from academic settings) are thinking about themselves.

Here are slides and audio in separate widgets. You can start the audio and advance the slides manually to follow along. The talk goes for about 45 minutes and the discussion for another 25 or so.

< Audio [audio src="StevePortigal_DRS2008.mp3"] Also, see my London and Sheffield pictures here.

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