Saturday, July 26, 2008
Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature:
Psychological, Social and Spiritual Perspectives
Edited by Ruth Richards
Originally I wanted to read this book because I thought Csikszentmihalyi wrote it. Turns out he supplied only the foreword! As I got into the reading, however, I was very glad I’d ordered this book since I’ve learned an enormous amount about what seem to be very current issues, at least as they pertain to everyday creativity.
Background and Organization of the Book
When Richards was planning a symposium on creativity, she met many researchers who felt that everyday creativity had not been examined enough. The idea to contribute chapters for a book seemed a natural.
The book is divided into a lengthy introduction and three sections:
Creativity and Individuals, with six research articles that explore:
· The definition of everyday creativity (originality which is meaningful) and its potential. “Our creativity may increasingly become a primary driver for much that happens in our world, and with us.” (Richards, p. 11)
· Schuldberg’s argument that chaos theory contributes to our living creatively. He focuses on Somewhat Complicated Systems (SCS), strange attractors and how “we do not give away life’s power, order or beauty when we embrace its inexactness.” (p. 63)
· Zausner’s examination of everyday creativity primarily by looking at how Henri Matisse, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and Maud Lewis creatively coped with illness.
· Runco’s perspective that personal creativity requires discretion and intentions, and “the capacity to construct original interpretations of experience.” (p. 92) He also looked at ego strength as a support for personal expressions of creativity.
· How Pritzker, a writer from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, establishes that creativity does exist on television. He explores passive vs. active viewing, and the therapeutic value of active viewing, which he labels “teletheraphy.”
Combs & Krippner exploration of the historical structures of consciousness and how higher levels open doors of perception and lead to more creativity.
Creativity and Society, with another six research articles that explore:
Another chapter in the story of Darwin’s theory and its implications for creativity. (See further details in “the most interesting part of this book.”)
Our being upright and how this “unsteady platform” (Arons, p. 177) has influenced our development of and capacity for creativity.
Sundararajan & Averill observe how our authentic emotions promote or hinder creativity. Through varying standards of differentiation and involvement, they investigate how cultures differ in their emotional creativity.
Goerner delves into how integral science supports “knowledge ecologies” and “large-scale learning” to achieve a new level of creative development.
How our real world is changing through virtual worlds, especially our “take” on sexuality. “The gap between science fiction and reality seems to be shrinking due to advances in technology.” (Abraham, p. 246)
Eisler’s outline for rethinking human nature in order to build a sustainable future. She looks extensively at the evolution of love. “The evolution of caring, culminating in love, was a prerequisite for our species’ unique capacity for intelligence, symbolic thinking, learning, communication, consciousness, caring, planning, choice, and creativity.” (p. 267)
Integration and Conclusions
This section contains only one article by Richards, “Twelve Potential Benefits of Living More Creatively.” These benefits include:
Dynamic, which describes open systems of complex interacting processes.
Conscious, the opposite of automatic. Work at breaking through filters and be in the state that Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”
Healthy, partly by alleviating stress by writing about emotional problems. “Our T cells now endorse this creativity.”
Non-defensive, which is more than simply being positive? It means looking within and facing truth; also looking outside and seeing what society needs.
Open means being receptive to new experiences; in fact, actively seeking them out. It helps us to heal, observe creatively, and appreciate paradoxes.
Integrating begins with humility. It involves all kinds of learning and knowing. We’re facing a paradigm shift brought about by web-based systems and a knowledge ecology model.
Observing actively is possible by being in “flow” (active involvement, challenge, absorption and full engagement).
Caring means learning to connect to the hopeful parts of Darwin’s evolutionary message.
Collaborative means thinking in more systems, ultimately leading to a “society of mind.”
Androgynous is getting to overlap between gendered groups, struggling to be fully ourselves, unencumbered by cultural “dos and don’ts.”
Developing is the unfolding and training of mind and body for health, abstract thinking, problem solving and emotional maturity.
Brave, which is much more than risk-taking. Bravery includes attitude, lifestyle, and commitment. We must have “creative courage.” (p. 311)
The most interesting part of this book: No contest, the part that nearly had me jumping off the bed was from David Loye’s article in the section Creativity and Society. In Telling the New Story: Darwin, Evolution, and Creativity versus Conformity in Science, Loye told how Darwin wrote The Descent of Man after Origin of the Species. In this book (I call it “Darwin—the Sequel”), Darwin outlined the next steps in the evolution of humankind. He explained that we needed to go beyond competition and “survival of the fittest” (a phrase Darwin wished he never used!) towards a moral and cooperative society. Rather than “natural selection, Darwin spoke of making “organic selection,” which means we must choose who and what we will be.
Loye presented many details regarding Darwin’s full evolutionary message was both pre-empted and suppressed by science and society. Loye’s tale simply shows how much of human nature has not evolved!
Book’s relevance to me:
It is incredibly relevant, because everyday creativity is one of the main topics I introduce and encourage in my students. I can use much of the research in this book in my classes, particularly the rest of Darwin’s theory. In fact, I am so excited about this “new” knowledge that in the very near future I plan to offer at least one seminar on the subject.
Richards, R. (Ed.). (2007). Everyday creativity and new views of human nature: psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Creativity Inc. - Building an Inventive Organization
Jeff Mauzy and Richard Harriman
Reviewed by Marysia Czarski
Both Jeff Mauzy and Richard Harriman work for Synectics that is considered a top notch consulting firm who specialize in business creativity and innovation. Their book, Creativity Inc., is a thorough review, breakdown and in may ways an argument for the necessary components to produce a company that is both creative and innovative on a long term basis so they can grow and prosper. They share four dynamics which they say are critical: “motivation, curiosity and fear, the breaking and making of connections, and evaluation.” (p.7) Ultimately these are the dynamics that will provide the pathway for both individuals and companies to reclaim, dust off and use creativity and innovation. In doing this, Mauzy and Harriman have segmented their book into three overarching areas, Creative Thinking, Climate and Action. In this review, I am going to highlight some of the points that I found most interesting and valuable from reading this book, and then give my reaction to this.
The root of creativity is defined by motivation in this book. As the source of this principle, Amabile is quoted in reference to her work on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We are reminded that intrinsic motivation is the more important of the motivations to be present in an individual and company, as motivation driven by rewards (extrinsic) has finite value. Mauzy and Harriman define curiosity as the aspect of the search for knowledge and sense. It’s the ingredients to have us experiment, inquire, ask questions, and scratch our heads and ponder! And as one engages their curiosity, it can increase uncertainty and in some cases enlighten an element of fear. In the process of creativity, it’s critical they assert, that we confront the risks head on and not freeze up or stop in the fear of the unknown or failure which are natural internal responses.
As we have often heard in our studies, creativity is destructive. Specifically though, we are talking about the destruction of rigid sets of assumptions about what can and can’t be done in a particular place, situation, or circumstance. Basically, assumptions inhibit the making of vital connections which are the pathway to creative output. It’s here where Mauzy and Harriman overview what I believe to be a big part of the work of Synectics, making connections. They briefly mention the discovering of Velcro which came from the replication of the burr after one man was walking in the woods with his dog. Evaluation is most successful when time, the possibility of mistakes, and apparent irrelevance and foolishness is possible and embraced.
Creativity begins with ones self, and the emphasis on being creatively fit is explored. This comes from knowing ones self, and then embracing the four aspects fore-mentioned. Mauzy and Harriman don’t expect companies to know how to integrate and become these important elements, therefore they recommend training for today’s business people to challenge how they are currently operating, what they know, how they think about their own thinking and how they make decisions. A call to action for those of us in the field!
Climate is defined as “the common collection of behaviors and expectations.” (p.88) Creative climates nurture the individuality of the person, which allows for the unleashing of intrinsic motivation and they provide support and patience for supportive evaluation. It recognizes that both structure and conversation can be intentionally designed to enhance the collective creativity of an organization, and that it needs to be managed day in and day out. The authors don’t fail to mention we must, as individuals, discover what the creative climate is that we need to be most creative. Therefore this is an important exploration for both person and company.
Action is about the methods that Synectics uses to cause creativity with their clients. It’s about generating ideas purposefully and bringing those ideas to life. Mauzy and Harriman review the many methods they use to generate creative ideas which include the elements of divergent and convergent thinking. They dig into the how to make it come to life. They are detailed and explicit about the structures needed in this very important aspect of commercializing the idea, and ultimately making it into a valuable innovation.
This was a wonderful book to read. I found there was a fantastic balance of framework and examples provided for the principles being presented. I took a lot of notes from the book, and could probably provide at least ten pages of key aspects. I also found that the key principles of this book were very consistent with the work we’ve been doing in our Master’s program, therefore it provided a further confirmation of our work, and its value both for us as individuals and for the companies and communities we work and live in. This would be a good and valuable read for anyone interested and committed to growing, influencing and bringing about positive change in every aspect of living and leading.
Tom Kelley is the general manager of IDEO, which is, at this point in history, a highly successful and well-known design/innovation firm that works around the world. His book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, articulates his ideas about the types of roles people in organizations need to play in order to bring new products and services to market.
The book is predicated on a key observation: that the role of “Devil’s Advocate” is one of the most frequently played roles in business (and other organizations) today; in fact it is often played with a mantle of pride. When ideas are being presented, often a participant in the project will proudly say, “I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a moment”, at which point most people smile enthusiastically and play ready to listen and respond.
Kelley presents us with a variety of other roles he feels, from his experience at IDEO, need to be played in order to bring new ideas to market. He presents us with ten roles, or personas, that he sees as critical. He groups these 10 roles into three categories. Essentially the categories and roles are these (Kelley et al, 8 – 11).
- Learning Personas:
- The Anthropologist: observes human behavior and delivers new insights.
- The Experimenter: prototypes ideas quickly and continuously
- The Cross-Pollinator: explores cultures and metaphors outside of the business’ purview and makes new connections which are valuable to the enterprise.
- The Organizing Personas:
- The Hurdler: overcomes obstacles and roadblocks along the path
- The Collaborator: knows how to bring together different people and groups; often “leads” from the middle of the pack.
- The Director: knows how to gather a talented crew and help them be their best
- The Building Personas
- The Experience Architect: builds experiences that connect with consumers on a deep level
- The Set Designer: creates environments that facilitate success
- The Caregiver: anticipates consumer/customer needs and meets them.
- The StoryTeller: builds awareness, morale, interest via compelling narratives.
Kelley has credibility in the business world and his book is highly readably. I was struck by how his ideas link with many of the concepts we read about in the study of applied creative thinking, yet he has re-arranged these ideas in a new way – one that uses personas that become the de facto archetypes needed for innovation.
For example, he talks about playing these roles like deBono talks about his six hats. The six hats represent a thinking style and encourage people to play different roles in the process by thinking in different ways. Similarly Kelley’s personas ask people to play different roles – at different times – or to invite different role-players onto innovation teams.
Similarly, Kelley’s book addresses the different types of thinking that are explored in the FourSight model that defines different thinking style preferences. The Building Personas are “implementers”, the Experimenters and Cross-Pollinators are similar to Ideators. The Anthropologist is a clarifier; and the Director can be compared to a facilitator of creative problem solving. While the models are not tightly aligned, the overlap is noticeable.
On another level, Kelley’s personas provide a new way to bring alive the principles of creativity. Certainly, he builds these personas as a way to illustrate the need - and technique – for deferring judgment. He encourages seeing with new eyes via roles like the Anthropologist and Cross-Pollinator. The Hurdler uses his/her guiles to identify and overcome obstacles. The Collaborator and Director focus on bringing together – and facilitating – diverse teams. The storyteller “makes meaning” of new ideas and builds the emotional/values-level connections.
In fact, without necessarily meaning to, Kelley takes on – and reframes – the 4P model of creativity. He links people and process in the form of a persona; together, the personas address, challenge and re-order the “press” in order to create and bring to life a new “product”. And he accomplishes this without ever (or rarely) using the word “creativity” or “creative thinking”.
In summary, while Kelley’s book is clearly commercial, and has provided him with a brilliant platform from which to deliver his message through multiple media, its message resonates with much of the academic thinking and research that we encounter in the study of creativity. He treads a fine line with a fair amount of ease and grace.
Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind.
“Today the left brain capabilities that powered the information age are necessary but no longer sufficient. The “right brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness and meaning – increasingly determine who flourishes and who flounders. …professional success and personal fulfillment now requires a whole new mind.” (Daniel Pink, p3)
I found this book a most enjoyable reading and thinking experience. In discussing the advantages of seeing the “whole picture”, Pink manages to break some of its elements into discrete areas. The first delineation divides the book into 2 separate sections. First, and examination of the information technologies that dominate and influence Western societies
· Abundance of material goods and products in our societies,
· Outsourcing of certain tasks to Asian countries influencing job markets in US and
· Automation of routine functions
He outlines the situations and then asks: what’s next?
In the second portion of the book Pink details how humans need to delve into different ways of coping with the “next”, and those yet to be discerned, changes. He advocates the conjugation of left brain and right brain in more equally functional modes, more integrated as whole brain responses rather than emphasis on one, or the other. The emphasis on not being task dependent on the selection. He introduces the “Conceptual Age” and six aptitudes that he has deemed important to developing the whole brain potential: Design (awareness of its daily influences), Story (patterns of experiences), Symphony ( seeing the big picture as well as the integration of the discrete elements), Empathy (shared experiences and understanding), Play (humor and play as important elements of business and daily life) and Meaning (people’s search for meaning in their lives: spiritual and emotional well-being).
Many of the discussions are very similar to much of our learning throughout our creativity studies, yet couched in universal terms of inspiration. Truly an enjoyable read of a Hot Book!
Friday, July 25, 2008
Review of The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius posted by Nina Sacoor as part of CRS 625 Current Issues class summer 2008
Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., is the Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry and Director of the Mental Health Clinical Research Center at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. She is also the Director of The MIND Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has been a professor of Renaissance Literature (the discipline of her PhD) and editor in chief of The American Journal of Psychiatry since 1994. She has written or edited fifteen books, including The Broken Brain and Brave New Brain. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2000 by President Clinton.
Drawing on her expertise as a scientist, physician and scholar of literature, Nancy Andreasen gives a clear, readable, synoptic account of current knowledge in human creativity.
Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Education and Cognition, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Neuroscientists, until recently, shied away from the big questions such as “what is consciousness” “What is abstract thinking” or (the topic of this book) “what is creativity” as being empirically unapproachable. Nancy Andreasen’s book comes as a welcome antidote to this inherent conservatism and shows us how creativity can be approached scientifically. In a market that is flooded with “new age” books on creativity Dr. Andreasen’s meticulously researched contribution comes as a breath of fresh air.
VS Ramachandran, M.D. Director, Center for brain and cognition, University of California, San Diego and author of A BRIEF TOUR OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS
Dr. Andreasen was a keynote speaker at the Learning & The Brain Conference, May 2006 in Cambrigde, MA, organized by Harvard Graduate School of Education – Mind, Brain and Education and co-sponsored by other leading research universities.
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Andreasen (and having the book signed).
In this book, Andreasen (2005) provides a tour of creativity and the brain and addresses questions such as “what is creativity”, “where does it come from” and “can everyone be creative”. As a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist, she explores how the human brain achieves creative breakthroughs, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary creativity and the relationship between genius and insanity. She examines the creative person and the creative process by discussing creators such as Mozart and Henri Poincare.
In the nature of creativity, the author offers a detailed discussion on creativity vs. intelligence, from the study of genius conducted by Lombroso and Galton, to the measurements of IQ (Terman, Binet, MacKinnon). She distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary creativity, and adopts Csikszentmihalyi’s “systems model” which include the person, domain and field.
Andreasen (2005) also examines the creative person and the creative process and attempts to provide an understanding from a scientific point of view, discussing Guilford’s call on psychology’s lack of attention on creativity, the development of tools to measure personality and cognition in their relation to creativity, the emergence of historiometrics developed by Simonton, as well as the case-study method (used by Frank Barron and D. W. McKinnon, for example) as a research strategy for the study of creativity.
“How does the brain think” and “how does the brain create” are questions that guide the search for a neural basis of creativity. According to Andreasen (2005), creative people often slip into a zone in which ideas and thoughts come up freely in a disorganized way. During that state, a part of the brain known as the association cortex becomes very active. That brain region is known to be able to link up ideas or thoughts in potentially novel ways.
The book also explores the relationship between genius and insanity by analyzing mental illness in extraordinary creators like Einstein and John Nash. Creative people are more vulnerable and have greater openness and tolerance to ambiguity. As these characteristics can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation, some symptoms may translate into mania or perhaps schizophrenia.
Finally, the nature and nurture of creativity are discussed by covering the importance of the environment, mentors and patrons and the role of innate gifts. Creativity and brain plasticity represents perhaps the most interesting discussion as it reveals the brain’s own ability to re-make itself in an adaptable, responsive and continually changing way. Andreasen (2005) declares this fact in a clear and compelling manner:
Neuroscience adds a new dimension: it makes us aware that experiences throughout life change the brain throughout life. We are literally remaking our brains – who we are and how we think, with all our actions, reactions, perceptions, postures, and positions – every minute of the day and every day of the week and every month and year of our entire lives” (p. 146).
Andreasen, N. C. (2005). The creating brain: The neuroscience of genius. New York, NY/Washington, DC: Dana Press.
Hartmann and Nielsen both come from the agency world and in this book they are traveling Europe to meet their peers and ask them about inspiration and creative process.
The book contains of 36 chapters where each chapter describes one person's experience of the creative process.
Many of the people are either designers or comes from the commercial agency world, but there are also photographers, painters, designers, musicians and architects.
Although the participants talk only about their personal experience it is striking to see that many of the concepts we work with in CPS and deliberate creativity, like taking risks (p. 96), diverging many ideas without considering their quality (p. 74), allow mistakes (p. 156), not stop at first good idea (p. 60), research and bring all the information out in the open (p. 190), are mentioned spontaneously.
There are concepts that the group don't' agree on. Several people say their best idea is usually the first that shows up. Several others say that good ideas comes from hard work.
The value of creative techniques is another issue where there are different opinions. Several of them oppose of deliberate techinques. Henrik Juul, Creative Director calls brainstorming pointless (p. 92). Marksteen Adamson, Creative Director, is describing a session with a creative facilitator in a very ironic way. He finishes by telling that the facilitator at one point is asking everybody what their biggest fear is. When it is Marksteen's turn he just says: "You.", meaning the creative facilitator (p. 9). On the whole it seems like very few are familiar with deliberate creative techniques, which is in line with my personal experience about this group of people.
Others feel otherwise about this. Henrik Birkvig, typographer, says: "If I get stuck I start with all the classic techniques: mind mapping, or those presented in Idea Index or Bob Gill's books." (p. 48) (Bob Gill is a Graphic designer who has written several books about the process, like: Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design, Including the Ones in this Book from 1981.) Marlene Anine Kjær is a Fashion Design Student and works with something she calls: "inspiration on command" (p. 104)
There are issues where most of them seem to agree. Many of them think that inspiration can come from anywhere; anything can be the starting point to a good idea. Most of them, but not all, collect inspirational material in scrap books and as artifacts standing in their workplace.
More than anything else they agree that ideas comes anywhere and anytime and actually mostly when they relax and do something completely different than try to solve their challenge. Several of them says their best ideas come in the shower or in the "loo" or when driving to work or on the bus or when they are just about to fall asleep at night or doing something else that is completely unrelated to their challenge. This is very much in line with my personal experience about my own creative process. Another word for it is incubation and I think it should be much more visible and put into action also in deliberate creativity.
Another interesting factor is that reading the testimonials from these people makes it clear that mystical beliefs about creativity have survived and are very much alive today. Several are talking about creativity as something you have or don't have. It is impossible learn how to be creative. Another common conception is that when you are in a creative process it is useless to try to rush the ideas. They will come in time. Per Arnoldi, Painter, says that: "I have the feeling that all ideas already exist somewhere. I make myself receptive to them by being naive, by emptying my head completely." (p. 28)
The weakness of the book is of course that there is this great bias towards the design and commercial world. Among the 36 participants there were 14 designers and 11 agency people. That is more than 2/3 of them. The rest were illustrators (2), painters (2), architects (2) interial architect (1), storyboard artist (1), entertainer (1) photographer (1), musician (1). It would have been a much more interesting book if there had been creatives from many different areas, including the scientific world. The explanation is of course to find in the origin of the authors.
Another thing that I would have found very interesting was to ask each of the participants to draw their creative process. It would have been exciting to look at 36 different graphical creative process models.
Even so I find this book interesting. It is inspiring to read about personal creative experiences and compare them with one's own experience as well as different formalized processes. I think it gives credibility to my own message if my sources are diverse. And I think that some issues in the book, especially incubation, is very much in line with my own experience about creativity and something that complements CPS in a good way.
Nielsen, D., Hartmann, K. (2005). Inspired. How creative people think, work and find inpsiration. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The book applies Dr. Browning’s extensive research on brain-based science, psychometric assessments, learning and organizational development to provide a clear resource for self-awareness and understanding and a knowledgebase to relate to others in work, home and daily life. The Emergenetics framework pinpoints the complex interaction of our genetics and life experiences in an easy-to-understand format that is relatable and applicable across situation, profession and culture.
The book approaches success by relying on the proven science behind and application of the Emergenetics Model. Emergenetics measures the way people prefer to think in four distinct attributes—Analytical, Structural, Social, and Conceptual; it also measures behavioral preferences in three attributes—Expressiveness, Assertiveness and Flexibility.
The book also provides a powerful Toolbox to approach everyday situations with Emergenetics. Especially appreciate the great write-up on principles of inclusivity and appreciation for others—how to run a successful meeting that appeals to all thinking and behavioral styles, how to provide feedback in a way that motivates rather than tears down, creative approaches to presenting, how to approach financial and business decisions with your own strengths in mind, and more.
In relation to creativity, Dr Browning suggested that it is not a matter of whether one is creative or not, but rather, how creative one can be. “There are limitless ways to be creative, and there is no one Profile that has a monopoly on creativity!” I particularly appreciate the flexibility of allowing one to think/express creatively. Below is an extraction from the book that perceives different ways of creativity of the different minds:
• Analytical brain is being creative when it asks, “How could I design a system for this?”
• Structural brain is being creative when it asks, “How could I organize this?”
• Social brain is being creative when it asks, “Could I throw a party about this?”
• Conceptual mind is being creative when it asks, “How could I paint a picture of this?”
She noted that people with different profiles will approach the same creative task differently. One of the most delightful chapters for me was her interview with 2 different artists- one who does colorful, abstract paintings, and another who paints with meticulous details of still life. She pointed that just as there are many ways to paint a picture, so there are different ways to express creativity.
Dr Browning recommended that people ought to constantly seek novelty and creativity through lifelong learning as the key to keep a mental edge. I quote, “Novelty - taking risks, questioning assumptions, being exposed to new ideas, and trying something new each day- keeps the brain active.” (p. 252). Besides suggesting how the different profiles can be more creative, she also cited the study of the activities carried out by 740 members of the Catholic clergy for an average of 4.5 years. Through the research, it was proven that cognitive activity is protected against Alzheimer’s disease (Wilson et al., 2002).
Most importantly, thebook offers applicability out of theory. By introducing brain science and research and segueing into a substantial background on the Emergenetics Model and Profile, the book builds a foundation, and utilizes that foundation to develop clear-cut ways to apply Emergenetics learnings into problem-solving, leadership, teamwork and other elements proven to create success in workplace and life as a whole.
Emergenetics has fostered a deeper awareness of my thinking preferences and expressed behavior. I believe with more applications of this knowledge, it will enhance my capacity as a leader especially in communication and building stronger win-win interpersonal relations especially when I understand the different preferences of my charges. The creative process could benefit from such an environment as I am better able to harness people’s thinking and behavioral attributes, and effectively develop a team that complements their preferred styles.
Browning, G. (2006). Emergenetics: Tap into the new science of success. New York: Harper Collins.
Emergenetics Asia Pte Ltd. (2007). Tap into the new science of success. Singapore.
Wilson, R. S., Mendes De Leon, C.F., Barnes, L.L., Bienias, J.L., Evans, D.A., & Bennett, D.A. (2002). Participation in Cognitively Stimulating Activities and Risk of Incident Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287 (February, 2002), 742-748.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Book review: The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun. Submitted by Helene Cahen, as part of the CRS 625 Current Issues class, Summer 08
In a world where innovation is such a hot topic, Berkun examines some of the common and often unconscious myths surrounding the term. Berkun explains the reasoning behind the misconceptions and share his more realistic innovation perspectives, based on two years of research on the topic. The author’s intent is to “clarify how innovation happens so that you’ll better understand the world around you and can avoid mistakes should you attempt innovation yourself” (p. xii).
Myth 1: the myth of epiphany. Innovation happens suddenly
Reason for the myth: people loves stories and to believe in magic. It also helps to further popularize new ideas.
The reality of innovation: innovation never stands alone. It comes from past learnings, hard work, understanding of the problem and work to expand on ideas.
Myth 2: We understand the history of innovation. “Progress happens in a straight line” p.25
Reasons for the myth:
-Dominant designs dominate history.
-It makes it easier to teach
-Historians have their own biases.
The reality of innovation: the history of innovation is not linear but rather “chaotic, competitive and unpredictable” (p.31) and incomplete. Failures are not captured; dominant inventions are often linked to circumstances and market situation.
Myth 3: There is a method for innovation which will remove risk
Reason for the myth: “fantasy sells faster than truth” p.37
The reality of innovation: there are no systematic methods to innovation, but rather different ways to begin, eight challenges to consider and four paths that can be used.
Myth 4: People love new ideas
Reason for the myth: “we confuse truly new ideas with good ideas that already been proven, which just happen to be new to us” p.55
The reality of innovation: mature companies tend to resist change. The pace of new innovation adoption is usually slow, and driven by psychological and sociological reasons.
Myth 5: The lone inventor
Reason for the myth: It is convenient as it offers good “PR” for the inventor and good stories for journalists.
The reality of innovation: Inventors rarely work alone and their work can rely on many previous inventions. Attribution to a lone inventor is problematic because inventions often happen simultaneously
Myth 6: Good ideas are hard to find
Reason for the myth: People look for good ideas rather than looking for any ideas and filtering them later.
The reality of innovation: Finding ideas is about an attitude, an openess and the ability to look at new perspectives in addition to talent.
Myth 7: Your boss knows more about innovation than you
Reason for the myth: The idea that power and knowledge (or experience) only exist together.
The reality of innovation: Managers often resist change. Focus should be on creating an environment where ideas can grow safely and on executing and selling the ideas.
Myth 8: The best ideas win
Reason for the myth: Based on the concept that “goodness wins” and the belief in meritocracy prevalent in the US culture.
The reality of innovation: Secondary factors are critical to success, including culture, dominant design, economics and short term thinking, etc. Often success is a compromise between these secondary factors.
Myth 9: Problems and solutions. Problem solving is critical
Reason for the myth: many believe that they are given problems to solve.
The reality of innovation: picking the right problem and framing it is critical. Innovators often choose problems others ignore. Prototypes can be used to explore problems.
Myth 10: Innovation is always good
The reality of innovation: Innovation does not have morality build-in and often has unpredictable consequences, some good and some bad, depending on the perspective chosen.
I would recommend this easy and enjoyable book to creativity students and participants of a CPS session, since it provides some relevant background, along with a broad perspective about creativity and innovation. This book considers many of the principles that would be included in CPS related work. Principles include the idea that everybody can be creative, the importance of defining and framing the problem first, and the importance of coming up with many ideas before filtering them. The author has studied some of the creativity literature and refers to Osborn’s (1957) Applied Imagination as “a fantastic read and a forgotten classic” p.91. This book also provides a broad point of view that includes historical, business, culture and technology perspectives, coupled with many examples helpful in gaining a broad understanding of innovation. This book is a good complement to Stenberg and Lubart (1999) historical perspective around creativity, because of the author’s focus on innovation. While Berkun does not define innovation, it is according to Nystrom, “the result and implementation of creativity” (as cited by Runco, 2006, p.383), or according to Runco is different from creativity “in the balance of originality-to-effectiveness.” The book therefore addresses issues relevant to the success of the outcome, particularly as it relates to business and sciences. By raising awareness of the myths of innovation, the reader is compelled to examine his/her own assumptions and keep a more open-mind. It provided an interesting historical perspective, with current examples related to themes that I have seen emerging in recent peer-reviewed literature, and at the Creativity and Innovation Management conference: importance of team work in innovation, role of leaders in helping ideas grow and develop, importance of the environment.
Finally it raised the need for further reflection on two topics:
-The value of innovation and its unpredictable impact. As we encourage creativity in others and ourselves, we may want to remember that the outcomes of innovation may be positive or negative in ways that we cannot anticipate. It is also our responsibility to balance innovation with appreciation of the past.
-The psychological and sociological importance, as well as the randomness in the success of innovation. Berkun reminds us that innovation is more likely to succeed if the psychological cost of adoption is low (no cultural barriers, easiness to try and change habits or way of thinking, etc.) and the sociological importance is high (fashion, status, etc). This is an invitation to think broadly about the environment which may support or impede creativity and to better accept failure.
Berkun, S. (2007). The myths of innovation. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media Inc.
Runco, M.A. (2007). Creativity theories and themes: Research, development and practice. San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.
Stenberg, R.J., & Lubart, T.I (1999). The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. In R.J. Stenberg (Ed.), Handbook of creativity (pp.3-15). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Book Review: The Strategy Paradox Submitted by: Dan Greenberger as part of CRS 625 Current Issues class summer 2008
Why committing to Success Leads to Failure (and what to do about it)
By Michael E. Raynor
Like many business books, The Strategy Paradox offers a hypothesis in its first few pages that it then beats like a drum for the remaining 300 pages. The essence of the Strategy Paradox is that the strategies with the greatest chance of success are also the strategies with the greatest chance for failure. This paradox arises, according to the author, “from the need to commit to a direction in the face of unavoidable uncertainty.” (p. 16). He explains that companies can develop perfectly sound strategies that make sense given current conditions, as they know them, yet fail miserably because while remaining steadfast to their commitments, outside conditions change.
Sony Corporation provides a classic case study example of failure due to the Strategy Paradox with its Betamax videotape system introduced in 1974. Prior to launch, Sony made two critical commitments that at the time made sound strategic sense.
First Sony had to choose between continuing to partner with its main competitor, Matsushita, who was developing the U-Matic system, or to develop its own system under the name of Betamax. Sony had already developed much of the U-Matic technology and felt Matsushita was holding it back from getting to market with a product. Convinced it could go to market faster and with a better product, Sony chose to go it alone.
Believing that the primary appeal of home videotaping would be to tape broadcast TV shows for later viewing, the second commitment Sony made was to differentiate its product by emphasizing high fidelity picture and sound quality rather than low cost. Because of Sony’s commitment to quality, Betamax recorded at a faster pace limiting each tape to a little more than an hour of recording time. It also made Betamax a premium priced product.
Both of Sony’s commitments made sense at the time when they were made—Sony’s greater technological abilities would make it first in the market, and its commitment to high fidelity would make it best in the market.
Unforeseen at the time, however, was the progress and commitments Matsushita made with it’s new VHS videotaping system that surprisingly was launched shortly after Betamax. This was a lower cost, lower quality alternative that enabled longer two-hour recording times. This was significant, because it coincided with a fledgling movie rental business that was just beginning to gain traction with movie studios releasing more content for rental. Because VHS had greater distribution potential due to working with a variety of licensees, and it had two-hour tapes, studios began to release movies in the VHS format. While Sony quickly caught up with the BII version of Betamax, which retained quality and increased recording time, the momentum had already shifted to VHS and eventually Betamax virtually disappeared.
Sony had not, and probably could not have foreseen the rise of the movie rental industry when it made its commitment to high-quality, shorter tapes. It had good reason to believe its main competitor would be years behind the launch of Betamax. And Sony couldn’t have guessed that consumers would so easily trade off quality for price, when its success to date in consumer electronics was always based on quality.
This case study is indicative of the dilemma companies face regarding their strategic planning. According to the author, all strategies are based on a continuum between cost leadership and product differentiation. Those pure strategies at the end of the continuum, lowest cost or better product, are the strategies with the greatest opportunity for success—and the biggest threat of failure due to the uncertainty of future events. Those strategies in the middle, hybrid strategies that straddle low cost/high quality, are where the vast majority of companies go to hedge their bets. These, then become the undifferentiated, middle-of-the-road companies left to slug it out or die a slow death.
The solution to the Strategy Paradox is to separate the delivery of strategic commitments from the management of future uncertainty. Moreover, the strategic commitments, with shorter horizons should be managed by frontline managers, while the management of uncertainty with longer horizons, should be the responsibility of corporate management. It is often difficult for corporate management (C-level executives and the board) to let someone else manage the commitments when it feels the pressure of maintaining and increasing company value.
Managing uncertainty entails providing strategic options should conditions change as the original strategic commitments are being implemented. Tools for this include developing scenarios, not to predict, but to anticipate potential changes. (Mind mapping seemed like a good tool for this.) The other tool suggested is to develop a portfolio of real options based on those scenarios. This involves diverging off of the scenarios and using real life events to converge on the best option(s).
Other lessons I took from the book:
Understand that change means what you know today may not be true tomorrow.
The author describes deliberate and emergent strategies. Deliberate strategies being those made initially in the planning stage, while emergent strategies are made in the managing uncertainty phase. He went on to differentiate deliberate strategies as planning and emergent strategies as learning—another reason why companies should strive to become learning organizations.
Managing uncertainty requires creative leadership to deal with the chaos caused by unforeseen developments in the market.
The branding advantages of a pure strategy over hybrid strategies are clear. Pure strategies forge emotional connections with stakeholders while hybrid strategies are bogged down with a more rational appeal. It’s always easier for a stakeholder to replace a rational relationship than an emotional one. This has the added benefit of making messages that express a pure strategy more “sticky” or memorable than a message communicating a hybrid strategy. This would support the philosophies of Jim Collins in Good to Great and Seth Godin in The Dip, among others, that as an organization you should go big or go home.
Raynor, M. E. (2007). The strategy paradox: why committing to success leads to failure (and
what to do about it). New York: Currency Doubleday.
Book review: The International Handbook of Creativity (edited by Kaufman and Sternberg). Reviewd by: Randah Taher
The International Handbook of Creativity rounds off the picture presented in Sternberg's Handbook of Creativity. Where the Handbook provides an in depth picture of theories, strands, and foundation data for the study of creativity, the International Handbook completes the picture with worldwide applications of creativity.
The goal of this handbook is to present a truly international and diverse set of perspectives on the psychology of human creativity. Distinguished international scholars have contributed to this book's chapters on the history and current state of creativity research and theory in their respective parts of the world. Much of the work discussed has never before been available in English.
about the review:
The review was done as part of our work in the Current Issues in Creativity Studies course during the 2oo8 summer semester (CRS625, Summer 2008).
My initial plan for this assignment was to find the shortest, most recent book on creativity. When I saw this book in the library, I was fixed on the title and ignored the heavy weight and its 500-pages of information. Unlike my initial plan to skip through it, I went through every page. Here’s why.
While De la Torre systemized and conceptualized the issue of creativity, Marín established the set of “creative commandments” in 1989 to teach creativity.
Creativity in the Scandinavian region was also of great interest to me. Their studies took into account people’s attitude towards life, the creative climate and what kind of mood is conductive for creativity. Ekvall, Christensen, Kivimäki and Dackert studied and wrote about creative climates and teams. In essence, “environmental influences have been studied systematically in industrial and other organizational settings” (p.229).
The Soviet-Russian countries, is where I marveled the most. I discovered that the psychology of creativity in
Finally, “the African creative practices are, in part, a product of their individual and collective expressive selves resulting from the challenges of diversity, as well as from religion, modernization, language, geography, and political systems” (p.459). The concept that intrigued me the most is how they perceived the consequences of both process and outcome on each other. “The processes and outcomes of creative expression in Africans can be presumed to be mutually reinforcing. For example a possible self could be realized through adoption of a product, idea, or performance that makes it possible to achieve a newly aspired role, whereas an achieved role through self-definition could create opportunities to experience new products, ideas, and performance. The outcomes of creative expression are realized within ecocultural contexts (modern, transitional, and traditionalist), which are transformed by the outcomes, thus potentiating further replication, adaptation and innovation” (p.462). In Arab-African studies, researchers Abdel-Ghaffar and Habib noted that creative individuals showed the following personality traits: emotional sensitivity, emotional stability, self-control, and liberal attitudes. The “research on creativity in Arab Africa has largely focused on the psychology of literature and art” (p.475). Africans in general consider creativity to derive from at least 5 components: 1) thinking styles, 2) personality, 3) motivation, 4) environment, and 5) the confluence of the aforesaid attributes. “To define creativity from the perspective of citizens of African communities suggest that it serves replicative, adaptive, and innovative functions involving everyday activities” (p.483).
A final note on creativity around the world, the last chapter concluded that there are 2 types of creativity research: applied and basic.
The applied research can be either educational or industry based. The Basic research falls into 4 types of psychology: 1) cognitive (divergent thinking, intuition, imagination, logic, remote association, and other), 2) developmental (childhood and adulthood), 3) differential (differences, personalities, psychopathology), and 4) social (social context and aesthetic communication. There are 5 dimensions for the diversity of creativity research, I’ll let you read the book to find out what these dimensions are.
Of all the countries and regions, the most that caught my attention are: the Scandinavians and their work on creative climate, the Soviet and their extensive experience on using intuition and logic in their definition of creativity and finally the diverse african view, and how the process and and result of creative thinking are integrated and influenced by each other more visibly than in our north American views. Happy reading!
CRS625, summer 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Book Review: Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Prepared by: Mark Hylton, CRS 625, Current Issues Class, Summer 2008
Background and context
R. Keith Sawyer is Associate Professor of Education at Washington University. He is the author of many books on creativity, including Pretend Play as Improvisation (1997) & Creating Conversations (2001). His latest book, Group Genius: The creative power of collaboration (2007) extends some on the ideas of collaboration that are first explored in this book. His topics of research include business innovation, organizational dynamics in work teams, children's play and preschool, artistic and scientific creativity and language and conversation research.
It is fair to say that Sawyer’s perspectives on creativity builds on the sociocultural work of Amabile and Csikszentmihaly. This view requires not only understanding individual inspiration but also social factors like collaboration, networks of support, education and cultural background.
Organisation of the book
Sawyer breaks down the book into five main sections. He begins by exploring conceptions of creativity, including a whole set of culturally based creativity myths.
Part II examines individualist approaches to creativity starting with Guilford’s APA address in 1950 and moving on to the second wave of cognitive psychology. The contributions of biology, neuroscience and then computational approaches to the study of creativity are also explored.
Part III takes a contextualist approach which beings to introduce the sociocultural model of creativity. Essentially it is moving up from the individual to look at social factors and collaboration. This approach includes culture and history.
Part IV explores types of artistic creativity, ranging from painting to music and theatre performance, while Part V explores everyday forms of creativity, including science and business. Sawyer considers not only the psychological processes that lead individuals to be creative but also the social and cultural properties of groups that lead the group to be collectively creative.
Each chapter takes an interdisciplinary approach using both individualist and contextual evidence with the aim of moving beyond psychology to incorporate sociology, anthropology and history. The final chapter attempts to bring all this discussion together into advice on how to be more creative.
Distinctive features of the book
Sawyer is quite clear that he considers performance creativity to be one of the most important examples of human innovation. Unlike products, such as books, devices, paintings etc, that can be reproduced and sold, performance creativity is ephemeral; there is no product that remains. The audience participates during the creation and watches the creative process in action; when the performance is over, it’s gone, remaining only in the memory of the participants. Another feature of this book is that Sawyer claims it is based on solid scientific research.
What’s most interesting about this book?
I think there’s a very important viewpoint expressed in this book which is about viewing creativity as it happens, in real time. This is an important distinction to previous research on creativity, which was mostly post-hoc rationalisation about the process. Sawyer focuses more on experience in real time as a basis to understand creativity without relying solely on raw anecdotal evidence from famous creators. Sawyer builds on Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory by examining how emergence occurs by studying improvisation. Since there is not a final creative product to focus on in improv (e.g. theatre, jazz), the process is the product, he studied what was happening as it happened. He concluded that all creative process is emergent from complex social interactions.
Sociocultural View of Creativity
In addition to psychological studies of creativity the book includes research by anthropologists on creativity in non-Western cultures, and research by sociologists about the situation, contexts, and networks of creative activity.
It brings these approaches together within the sociocultural approach to creativity pioneered by Howard Becker, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Howard Gardner. The sociocultural approach moves beyond the individual to consider the social and cultural contexts of creativity, emphasizing the role of collaboration and context in the creative process.
How is this book relevant to you? Sociocultural advice for creativity
A good book needs to make a connection with you as the reader. I found a lot of connections; my favourite is the view that creativity requires improvisation, collaboration and communication. The advice of the book supports this view and provides a way of increasing your own everyday creativity. This advice does go against the more common creativity myths but does have some similarities with Torrance’s (2006) manifesto for a creative career (e.g. do what you love and can do well).
Choose a domain that’s right for you
Turn your gaze outward instead of inward
Don’t try to become creative in general; focus on one domain
Be intrinsically motivated
Don’t get comfortable
Balance out your personality
Look for the most pressing problems facing the domain
Don’t worry about who gets the credit
Use creative work habits
Be confident and take risks
You might notice then that this advice concentrates is aimed at the individual – how to make yourself as the individual more creative, which surely was not the aim of the book? There’s much less advice on how to access group genius, or how to encourage improvisation, communication and collaboration. Although Sawyer does go into more detail in this subsequent book on Group Genius.
Further readings and connections
This book is part of a recent growth in sociocultural approaches to creativity and the belief in the creative power of groups or teams. If this area interests you then I would recommend looking at the following books:
Sawyer, R. K. (2007). Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.
Duggan, W. (2007). Strategic Intuition: the creative spark in human achievement. New York: Columbia Business School Press.
Surowieki, J. (2004). The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few. New York: Doubleday.
Johansson, F. (2006). The Medici effect: breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts, and cultures. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
Rheingold, H. (2002) Smart Mobs: The next social revolution. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books
Book Review, Think Better: An Innovator's Guide to Productive Thinking. Prepared by: S. Walczak, CRS 625, Current Issues Class, Summer 2008
Hurson, T. (2008). Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Tim Hurson is a faculty member and Trustee of the Creative Education Foundation (CEF) and was first indoctrinated into Creative Problem Solving around 15 years ago as an attendee of CPSI. As he states in the Preface of his book, Think Better, over time he “developed a kind of love-hate relationship with CPS”. Through working with the process, he felt there was too much focus on generating ideas and not enough on the rigorous evaluation of them. As a practitioner of CPS and a business professional, Hurson began exploring a number of other pathways and methods, gradually testing approaches and incorporating successful activities and ideas into his facilitated sessions. This became the basis for the development of his own evolution of the Osborn-Parnes CPS process into a model that he has coined The Productive Thinking Model. The Productive Thinking Model combines the situation analyses and ideation strengths of the CPS framework with the success criteria and project mapping techniques of NASA's iDEF methodology.
Structure of the Book
Hurson is clear to state upfront that Think Better is not an academic study or report. It is a user-friendly, practical guide to his model presented in three parts. Part One provides a context for “productive thinking” drawing on a number of anecdotes and analogies similar to those we were exposed to with Roger Firestien in CRS 559. These introduce some of the flaws in our current approaches to thinking (as well as some insights into human nature). Part Two establishes the principles and goals of the Productive Thinking Model and, finally, Part Three delves in step-by-step to walk readers through the stages of his process, familiarizing them with a number of the tools used within each stage to facilitate a group through productive thinking. He concludes with a re-cap of each stage in his model and then a discussion about the importance of letting this thinking approach become a part of the way you live – not just periodically “doing it” but rather “being it”. It took me back to some of our enlightening discussions with Dr. Puccio about not just doing creativity, but rather, striving to “live creatively”.
Relevance to Creativity
This book captured my attention as I was very interested to see how a “student” of CPS had adapted the process, marrying it with some other approaches to create this new framework. The Productive Thinking Model is broken down into six stages as follows:
- Step 1: What's Going On?
- Step 2: What's Success?
- Step 3: What's the Question?
- Step4: Generate Answers
- Step 5: Forge the Solution
- Step 6: Align Resources
The key principle underlying the development of this approach is Hurson’s belief that success is less what we know than how we think. He also espouses the same foundational elements upon which CPS is built:
· Thinking is most effective when separated into creative thinking (diverging) and critical thinking (converging)
· It is important to try to stay in the question – do not rush to answers, rather it is useful to hang back, keep asking questions, be comfortable with ambiguity
· You’ll have a greater chance of getting to a brilliant idea or solution if you get all the way to the “third third”, than if you stop at the first ‘right’ idea that you encounter.
In fact, the differences between Hurson’s framework for the Productive Thinking Model and Puccio, Mudock and Mance’s framework for CPS: The Thinking Skills Model (2006) are very subtle. The differences manifest themselves more in the tools and language that Hurson introduces as he gets into the details and specifics of his model.
So…What’s New and Distinctive About The Productive Thinking Model?
In recognition of the fact that “vocabulary is important when fostering change”, Hurson has placed a high level of importance on creating a language around the Productive Thinking Model (including a number of acronyms….we all know how much the corporate world embraces acronyms!) that is precise and clear and helps to avoid some of the ambiguity around familiar terms that are used by people today to mean different things. It also provides the reader with new ways of talking about his or her situation which can be a strong catalyst in changing how one thinks about those things (e.g. Itches, Imagined Futures).
Hand in hand with this vocabulary are a number of new productive thinking tools Hurson has introduced that I found very useful and memorable (ahhhh…the power of mnemonics and acronyms). Some represent a mere re-branding of the tools we are very familiar with from the CPS framework (I3 for example stands for Influence, Imagination and Importance – the convergent tool used to evaluate whether a problem is appropriate for a group to address). Some, however, are new tools that I am excited to personally test out in some of my future facilitations. For example DRIVE is a tool for helping a group to establish success criteria, using a simple table with five columns labeled:
Do (what do you want to do/what must be accomplished?)
Restrictions (what changes or impacts must you avoid?)
Investment (what resources are you prepared to allocate?)
Values (what values will you live by as you tackle this challenge?)
Essential Outcomes (what specific targets much absolutely be achieved/what is non-negotiable?).
Overall, Think Better will appeal to individuals both inside and outside of organizations who are trying to strengthen their own ability to come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. It is also useful for those of us who are versed in Creative Problem Solving to explore an alternate framework that incorporates a few different approaches – particularly for those, who like Tim Hurson, would like a more rigorous approach to setting success criteria and evaluating ideas/formulating solutions. It is a practical, logical guide with interesting anecdotes and an approachable style that brings the core elements of CPS to an even broader audience who may not be as comfortable with some of the more academic literature addressing the CPS process.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Review of Book, The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by D. Clifford, CRS 625, Current Issues class, Summer 2008
Martin, R, (2007). The opposable mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
The author, Roger Martin, is dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. In his introduction to the book, Martin’s acknowledged the huge influence of three scholars: Hilary Austen Johnson - how a person develops artistic knowledge; James March - organizational learning and Elliot Eisner - qualitative research, on bringing this book on integrative thinking skills into existence.
The First Half
Introduction to the book:
Martin opens the book with a real-life case history of Michael Lee-Chin and his rescue of his money management firm from bankruptcy by using a thinking practice that Martin terms ‘integrative’. He defined this as:
The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing idea but is superior to each (p.15).
Martin’s research of this ‘higher level’ thinking skill consists of interviews with “more than fifty great managerial leaders” (p. 9), over the course of 6 years with some of these interviews lasting more than 8 hours. Fitting leaders for these interviews were described as those “who have striking and exemplary success records” (p. 5). Martin in selecting these leaders to interview was intent on discovering if there was a shared theme in their successes. His conclusion was that integrative thinking was this shared theme.
Martin noted that often the focus is upon what successful leaders are doing - their actions as opposed to ‘how’ they decided to do what they did. However, sometimes actions that look good at the time are often proven to be disastrous decisions. Martin noted that the leaders with proven records did not operate in the same style all the time. However, their thinking style was consistent . He wanted to learn first of all what this style was and find ways of developing this cognitive skill in other aspiring leaders.
Characteristics of integrative thinkers: (p. 41 - 43)
1. They take a broader view of what is salient.
2. They don’t flinch from considering multidirectional and nonlinear casual relationships.
3. They don’t break a problem into independent pieces and work on each piece separately. They keep the entire problem in mind while working on its individual pieces.
4. They always search for creative resolutions of tensions, rather than accepting unpleasant trade-offs.
Martin describes conventional thinking or linear regression as the business world’s preferred tool because “it is easier to think about simple, unidirectional causal relationships” (p. 45). People who make a problem more complicated than it ought to be are irritating to managers because they want to move on. He notes that “the most common failing of conventional thinking is the tendency to lose sight of the whole decision” (p. 46). Failure to think in a ‘holistic’ way results in fixing one piece of the pie while ruining other pieces of the same pie.
Martin noted that everyone converts data into their version of what is ‘reality’. The same data can and will be converted into different realities based on the different individuals. Integrative thinkers, according to Marin, do not feel the need to defend a particular position or version of ‘the facts’. Instead they concentrate on merging as many of those realities together as possible to enhance the quality of the outcome. They also refuse to settle for “mediocrity and half measures” (p. 71). If trade-offs were unpleasant it simply meant that the current solution wasn’t good enough. One interesting fact noted by Martin is the refusal of these leaders to take action ‘now”. Rather, they chose to ‘think harder’ until the solution met their predetermined standards and the unpleasant trade-offs disappeared.
Martin blamed the ‘factory settings’ of contemporary business organizations for its bias “toward simplification and specialization”. Humans in general, asserted Martin “gravitate toward simplification and specialization” (p. 75). People are desperate to keep the complexity and chaos at a manageable level. Although simplification is comforting, it impairs integrative thinking causing us to edit rather than consider more salient features. This editing results in less than satisfactory answers to many challenges. Truly creative resolutions, according to Martin, spring from complexity.
Specialization in the business arena results in each different department acquiring a large degree of expertise in an area of specific knowledge - finance, marketing, operations, etc.
“That expertise actually works against the development of expertise in business itself” (p. 79). Martin quotes management expert, Peter Drucker as saying, “there are no finance decisions, tax decisions, or marketing decisions; only business decisions” (p. 79).
In embracing complexity as the only pathway to truly creative solutions, Martin offered encouragement for those fearful of allowing yet more complexity into their lives. He quoted from F.C. Kohli, the founder of Indian software company, Tata Consultancy:
“Any situation has a certain number of alternative, but if you are doing system thinking, even for a complex problem, and you realize what is the system, what are the subsystems, what are the sub-subsystems, and you define their relationships as well as you can, you will start seeing some daylight, how to get out of it” (p.81)
The key then, according to Martin, is to look for patterns, connections and causal relationships and to give ourselves credit for being able to handle more complexity than we think we can.
In summary, in seemingly irreconcilable alternatives, creative resolutions are brought about by: separating existing models from reality; setting unyielding standards; taking responsibility instead of claiming to be a victim of circumstance; taking a broad view of salient features; exploring more sophisticated causal relationships among the salient elements; keeping the whole firmly in mind while working on the parts and driving relentlessly for a creative resolution. (p. 89).
The Second Half
Developing your opposable mind and building your integrative thinking capacity
In the second half of the book Martin focused on developing integrative thinking skills.
He used the interviews conducted with Bob Young the co-founder and former CEO of Red Hat to outline the various components of a personal knowledge system model consisting of:
Martin defined stance as “how you see the world around you, but it’s also how you see yourself in that world” (p. 93). Stance is different for each one of us.
Some of the critical components within ‘Young’s stance’ were :
Motivation - according to Martin this is vital. “When combined with learning, it’s a more powerful problem-solving tool than sheer intellect” (p. 95).
Learning trumps intellect
Build data over time
Act when you have mastered what you need to know
Accept criticism as valid
Improve a little bit every day
2. Tools we use to organize our thinking and understanding of the world. These range from formal theories to established processes to rules of thumb. Your stance guides what tools you choose to accumulate.
Experiences form your most practical and tangible knowledge.
These three components make up our personal knowledge system. “Stance guides the acquisition of tool, and stance and tools shape experiences which in turn inform tools, which in turn inform stance” (p. 103). A narrow and defensive stance will lead to acquisition of extremely limited tools and extremely limiting experiences. Your stance, tools and experiences are however, under your control and you have wide latitude in how you develop your personal knowledge system.
The integrative thinker’s stance: (p. 111 - 113)
1. They believe that whatever models exist at the present moment do not represent reality; they are simply the best or only constructions yet made
2. They believe that conflicting models, styles, and approaches to problems are to be leveraged not feared.
3. They believe that better models exist that are not yet seen.
4. They believe that not only does a better model exist, but that they are capable of bringing that better model from abstract hypothesis to concrete reality.
5. They are comfortable wading into complexity to ferret out a new and better model.
6. They give themselves time to create a better model.
The three most powerful tools of the integrative thinker
2. Causal Modeling – considering nonlinear and multidirectional causal links between salient variables while keeping the whole in mind.
3. Assertive inquiry – a sincere search for another’s views; a seeking for common views. It seeks to explore the underpinnings of your own model and that of another person. The objective is to “fashion a creative resolution between that person’s model and your own” (p. 157).
Marks of the integrative thinker:
Deepening on both ends of the mastery-originality spectrum
Nurturing the marks of originality (spontaneity, experimentation, flexibility and openness) while deepening mastery of organization, planning, focus, repetition, etc…seemingly opposite countermarks.
Key though is a trust in their own judgment with research being an aid to that judgment.
Reflections on The Opposable Mind:
What Martin is describing essentially is a view of the kind of thinking involved in the ‘creative process’ which has a clear mandate of a novel and useful outcome. I found the book really interesting in its clear outline and in-depth description of the “how to” components for developing these deeper level thinking skills. What really surprised me though was how little these types of skills are actually studied and taught to aspiring leaders. It is interesting to realize that sitting down at a table within the context of a business situation often calls for tweaks to the model/s in existence currently. Learning to really question established models and bring into existence something new is disruptive and often entered into only when the trade-offs are impossible to handle.There are however, so many parallels between Martin’s research on integrative thinking and creativity research that it seemed to me an almost unnecessary piece of literature. After all, much of what Martin has described in his book echo the work of creativity scholars – most of which was done many years before this book was published.
In Creativity is Forever, our first year text by Davis, the overview on creativity theorists such as Amabile’s three part model – domain-relevant skills, creativity-relevant skills and task motivation and Csikszentmihalyi’s (and Gardner’s) –person, domain and field model encapsulate Martin’s thoughts very nicely. Martin throws in many traits of the creative personality such as the need for openness, the suspension of judgment, divergent thinking and generative reasoning which are all noted by Martin as key attributes for successful integrative thinking. The whole outcome of this kind of thinking conforms to the typically accepted notion of creative product which is novel + useful ideas, bringing into existence something which did not exist before.
On the whole though, it is an interesting and necessary discussion on thinking skills which does a great job of describing creative thought processes and acknowledges that these are indeed necessary, complex and can be developed by anyone committed to learning them – just as creativity is.