Innovating Through Artistry

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New Season for No-Mind

In Author: Adam Shames, Creative Support, Creativity and Innovation, Health & Wellness on September 29, 2010 at 12:10 am

Fall is indeed here, and I am returning from my blog-break to once again rabble-rouse for innovation to reign and your creativity to blossom throughout this new season and beyond.

I’ll remember this summer as one where I worked less on business but more on my mind — specifically, on trying to detach from the addictions of mind. Creativity is the nimble dance between mind and heart, but so many of us get caught in a stranglehold of mind so that we are blocked from expressing ourselves, taking risks, seeing differently and feeling free to create (not to mention just feeling good). The mind is a powerful instrument, but, as Eckhart Tolle in his classic The Power of Now explains, “about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is harmful.” Too much of our thinking — especially in this Information Overload-Great Recession-Multi-Tasking world of ours — is spent stuck on shoulds, fears, anxiety about the future and replays of the past.

I know mine was. So I consciously broke from my normal routine, both physically and mentally, and shifted my mindset. I was lucky to spend more time than I ever have on Lake Michigan, thanks to my friend Joe and his sailboat (above). I truly was able to incubate — a key part of the creative process — in water and for more prolonged periods than I have before. I was able to leave my scolding mind with the buildings of the city and embrace the great creative principle of “Not Knowing” — seeing with fresh eyes, giving up being right and smart and an expert. My mind stopped being king, and frankly I feel much better and more ready to imagine and create a future that works for me.

In an enlightened state, according to Tolle, you still use your thinking mind when needed but otherwise there is an inner stillness. To come up with creative solutions, he explains, “you oscillate every few minutes or so between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind…only in that way is it possible to think creatively.” You need “no-mind” — consciousness without thought — to tap into your real power. Here’s more:

The mind is essentially a survival machine. Attack and defense against other minds, gathering, storing, and analyzing information–that is what it is good at, but it is not at all creative. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came at a time of mental quietude.

~from The Power of Now, p. 19-20

I know I was extremely lucky to be able to take a partial break this summer, and that it’s hard to find the time for “mental quietude.” But you can find a way to reduce your “predominance of mind,” as Tolle would call it, both for your own sanity and to be more creative. Read The Power of Now. Learn to Meditate. Swim, run, practice Tai Chi, paint or lose yourself in a creative pursuit that gets you out of your thoughts. The key is to be aware of — and to be less enslaved by — your involuntary internal dialogue, especially the nasty, needless thoughts that create stress but little else of value.

Want more from Adam? Check out his Innovation on my Mind blog.

Accessing Multiple Intelligences to Break Through

In Author: Adam Shames on November 10, 2009 at 11:18 pm

As a culture–and as individuals and organizations–we more than ever need to make some breakthroughs. Sometimes this can be in the form of a “Breakthrough Innovation” that changes the way we work, communicate, access information, or structure our healthcare system (this would be a “miracle breakthrough,” I’m afraid). Other times it’s you as an individual suddenly seeing differently and getting insight that can make your life a lot better.

The creativity competency here for you to build is flexibility, which includes your ability to break out of a paradigm or mindset that you may not realize you’re stuck in. Here’s a mindset challenge I like to offer in my creativity sessions:
A great mathematician determined that half of eight can actually be zero. How is that possible?

If you can’t figure this out immediately (usually only about 1/3 of people can), it means you need to change the way you’re thinking, which researchers refer to as “breaking set” or “blockbusting.” I call this the skill of shifting–your perspective, your lens, sometimes even your attitude. Understanding and consciously flexing our multiple intelligences is one way to do just that.

Multiple Intelligence theory, widely accepted in the world of education, came out of the work of Harvard researcher Howard Gardner, a great paradigm-shifter himself, who studied prodigies and people with brain damage to build his theory that intelligence cannot be measured as a single entity. In addition to the IQ-associated S.A.T. intelligences–mathematical/logical and verbal–he delineated at least six other autonomous intelligences that all healthy people possess, but not necessarily in equal strengths. They include the four above–visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal and bodily-kinesthetic–as well two others, auditory-musical and natural. These intelligences are quite different from each other–thus you can be great with words and terrible at math, smart in your head but not smart in the world. The key to understand about intelligences is that we are all smart. But it’s how we are smart that matters, especially when it comes to our flexibility and creativity. Flexibly acessing different intelligences is not only a hallmark of creative people, but it is also essential for teachers and presenters who need to engage people who learn differently.

Consciously shifting your intelligence is a technique I use in brainstorming/ideation sessions to get you to think in ways you hadn’t considered. When you’re stuck, ask yourself, “What if I think about this visually or interpersonally or naturally?” Most creative business breakthroughs–ranging from wearing your music to the latest software program, from an experiential marketing campaign to the new restaurant that feels like it’s outdoors–come from insight originating from a flexibility among intelligences, a movement from logical to visual, from words to moods, from the man-made to the natural.

Now back to our mindset challenge. To figure out why half of eight is zero, just shift from your mathematical intelligence to your visual…

For more from Adam, go to his Innovation on my Mind blog…

Halloween Identity Instructions

In Author: Adam Shames on October 30, 2009 at 5:36 am

Sure, I loved the candy-accumulation of Halloween as a kid, but I think I love the holiday even more as an adult because it gives us rare permission to try out a new self, to experiment with who we think we are. In case you haven’t decided on (or whether to wear) a costume yet, here are my creative instructions:

1. Use the opportunity to truly explore an identity quite different from yours. Come on, time to initiate.
2. Consult your inside to figure out what you want to be on the outside. What do you feel like being? Whose identity would you like to check out? Look around your home for possible costume components that call to you to put them on.
3. Avoid the standard personas and come up with something that you’ve never been before or perhaps you are creating just this once.
4. Stay in character all night.

Taking on another identity is a great way to build the creativity competency of flexibility–your talent in appreciating different perspectives and experiencing the “other.” To be flexible means that you are willing and able to try on different coats and see from different lenses, to visit diverse neighborhoods in the city and in your mind.

It’s not easy to take on another, especially unusual, identity, even on Halloween. People want to figure out “who you are” and don’t have a lot of patience for something they can’t easily categorize. Here in Chicago I’ve found people are hesitant to stay in character even if well-costumed, preferring to meet you at a party with their real name and the literal “What do you do?” question. Screw ’em. This is Halloween. Commit to your identity, do what feels true to him/her/it, and forgive yourself later for any indiscretions.

Believe me, I know, as I was extremely unpopular last year as “Manimal,” the hair sprouting, woman-repelling hybrid man/animal; and almost entirely unknown the year before as the great Sufi poet Rumi (San Franciscans certainly would have known me and more actively welcomed my poetic proclamations). I did get some needs met, though, as “Mr. ExSqueezeMe” the year before (see shirt, minus a few squeezables, in photo above), where I used a glue gun to attach random touchable items, from a toilet paper role to stress balls, and encouraged interaction (and hugs).

You might get a kick out of an article I wrote a few years back when I was so taken by the colored leaves of the moment that I transformed into “Leaf Man”:
It’s Halloween and I find myself going down into the bowels of Excalibur, a downtown bar, to enter the Red Masque Ball. Dozens of Chicagoans are in disguise, and I quickly find myself chatting with a Martha Stewart here, a bloodied biker there, an assortment of devils and angels everywhere. I hang out with a large, green cylindrical walking bong, while Marilyn Monroe and several versions of felines purr nearby…” Click to read entire article.

 So Happy Halloween week to you, and may you use this opportunity to expand the confines of who you are and gain that special creative insight when you take on an identity that is not your own…

More from Adam, check out his Innovation on my Mind blog.

Seeing Art in a Creative Light

In Author: Adam Shames on October 14, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Last Saturday night I found myself walking off the elevator into a dark room on the 24th floor of Chicago’s John Hancock building. The only thing lit in front of me was a rectangular portion of the floor where two miniature, white water towers stood. For about ten minutes I watched with other barely visible onlookers as a slowly moving light altered our perception of the scene. Shadows shifted and a narrative unfolded, all determined by a changing light source. This exhibit was the installation work of Jan Tichy, now on display for the Richard Gray Gallery (above is a snapshot of another room with a similar light experience). I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, and I found myself grappling with a common reaction many of us have when experiencing modern art: Do I like this? Am I engaged by this? What makes this worthy of public acclaim? As other visitors–that night a rather exclusive group of museum directors and art collectors–later heaped praise and made occasionally inscrutable comments, I thought about the age-old question: When it comes to art, what distinguishes creativity?

Remember, creativity does have a clear and consensual (by researchers) definition: something that both is different and has value. As I explain in my talks and workshops, it’s not enough just to be unusual or strange. Being creative requires integrating two fundamentally different forces: one that opens to the never-quite-imagined-before (divergence) and one that narrows to what is appropriate for the challenge or what “works” (convergence).

What makes art so difficult to evaluate is that the convergence is much more dependent on your reaction. We are unlikely to agree that Tichy’s light installations “solves a problem” or “works,” as we may be able to for products or other solutions. The convergence piece for artistic creativity has to do with meaning: Does it evoke something meaningful for you? It could just be a feeling, a sense of pleasure, or an intuitive resonance. If you can derive some kind of meaning, then the art is indeed creative for you. The people next to you might not see or feel anything meaningful and therefore the same installation cannot be deemed creative. For them.

Particularly for art, but really for many creative endeavors or insights, the claim of creativity depends on the interpreter. The eye of the beholder determines whether there is convergence and therefore whether the act or idea is creative.

Personally, I found Tichy’s work to satisfy my own creative lens. I particularly appreciated the story of the moving light–which though sometimes puzzling was evocative enough to stir meaning for me. Here’s more information about the exhibit in case you’re in Chicago and want to see whether it lights you:
Jan Tichy: Installations (October 9 – November 24, 2009) consists of nine works made over the past three years and is the artist’s largest solo show to date. Tichy works at the intersection of video, sculpture, architecture, and photography. Richard Gray Gallery · John Hancock Center · 875 N. Michigan Avenue · Chicago · IL · 60611.(312) 642.8877. Please contact gallery for specific hours.

“Innovation!” the President shouts again

In Author: Adam Shames on September 30, 2009 at 7:20 pm

This summer a student in my Depaul Mindset of Innovation course was researching U.S. government policy on innovation, and he claimed to be unable to find anything updated in years. He ended up talking as much about Canada’s innovation policy as that in the U.S.

Now, that’s not completely fair, as American innovation policy has not been entirely absent in the past decade, but Obama clearly is ringing the Innovation bell a lot louder. Last week, as I drove through the beautiful, purple-specked I-80 in Pennsylvania on a road trip East, Obama spoke nearby in New York’s Hudson Valley, once again emphasizing the importance of innovation for our economy, as he did in early August.


“So as we invest in the building blocks of innovation, from the classroom to the laboratory,” Obama told the crowd, “it’s also essential that we have competitive and vibrant markets that promote innovation, as well. Education and research help foster new ideas, but it takes fair and free markets to turn those ideas into industries.”
Click here to read the transcript of Obama’s talk on innovation.

As I’ll write about in my next blog, there has been innovation initiatives during the past decade that have had national aspirations and some impact. But Obama’s continuing focus on the Innovation Imperative–that we as a country and a culture need to embrace creativity and innovation to ensure a successful future–seems different and substantive. The White House calls it the Obama Innovation Strategy, which includes the following three parts:

1. Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation, from investments in research and development to the human, physical, and technological capital needed to perform that research and transfer those innovations.
2. Promote Competitive Markets that Spur Productive Entrepreneurship.
It is imperative to create a national environment ripe for entrepreneurship and risk taking that allows U.S. companies to be internationally competitive in a global exchange of ideas and innovation.
3. Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities. Governmental can help support sectors of exceptional national importance–including alternative energy sources, health IT, and manufacturing advanced vehicles–that markets alone cannot make happen.

Now, the skeptics in us realize that another talk that is still urging that “we are ready” to do this may or may not lead to real change. But I believe the more innovation becomes part of our national conversation, the more likely we are to embrace our creative potential and proactively shape our future rather than letting it shape us.

Read more from  Adam at his Innovation on my Mind blog

Even the Fed is getting on the Innovation Train

In Author: Adam Shames on September 15, 2009 at 11:19 am

Recently I stirred up a little innovation at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, initially surprised to beAdam fed art hired by them and then even more surprised to learn of their ongoing focus for leaders: To stimulate their right, creative brains to keep them thinking differently and staying ahead of the curve. Here’s an artist’s rendering of me in action (right) during an evening program on collaboration and innovation.

Last year their officer retreat included a keynote by right-brain advocate Dan Pink. This year it was Roch Parayre, a Wharton professor and strategy consultant, whose focus was on peripheral vision, drawn from a book of that name written by his consulting colleagues, subtitled “Detecting the Weak Signals that will Make or Break your Company.”
Both Roch and I shared an emphasis on changing the cultural mindset to one that is more proactive rather than reactive, which for the Chicago Fed means to be able to see beyond their regular vision to anticipate change, notice red flags and react quickly to new trends.
The more instability and uncertainty in the outside world, Roch explained, the more right brain we need. He urged the Fed to develop a more experimental mindset of a learning organization, which means to be:
>more inquisitive and externally focused
>more experimental and innovative
>more able to share information and be fluid
>more rewarding of risk-taking
>more reliant on cross-functional teams
These are unquestionably the characteristics of more innovative organizations, and I was pleased to see the Fed heading in this direction. The train continues to move, so the more companies that can get aboard, the more equipped they–and all of us–will be to keep up with the speed of change.

For more from Adam, go to his Innovation on my Mind blog.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

In Author: Adam Shames on August 23, 2009 at 9:24 am

“I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communitieis and institutions will depend on it.” ~Ken Robinson

One of the goals of my work is to help you develop your originality, an essential competency of creativity, and bring it out into the world in fulfilling and valuable ways. Ideally, we would all discover our true calling–that which most reflects who we are and what we enjoy offering–and spend more of our life engaged in its pursuit.

I like to think of this as finding your “sweet spot”–which comes down to actual moments or activities during which you are most deeply and creatively engaged. Sir Ken Robinson in his new book calls this your “Element,” “the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.” As I’ve described previously, choreographer Twyla Tharp calls this discovering your “Creative DNA,” and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this, in the moment, “Flow.” These different perspectives all help inspire and clarify.

I see the sweet spot of engagement depending on three different components, shown below, which I draw in part from Teresa Amabile’s Componential Theory of Creativity. To be in our sweet spot (marked in yellow), we do need some level of knowledge and skills and past experience of a certain subject or activity. We call this “domain” skills and knowledge. But skills are different from our “natural” talents and intelligences and creative capacities–we can build our skills in sewing, for example, by practice, but if our natural hand-eye coordination is weak, then we’re unlikely to find the sweet spot.

Finally is our own motivation. Being intrinsically motivated–driven by deep interest and involvement in the task/activity, by curiosity, enjoyment, self-expression or personal sense of challenge (rather than being extrinsically motivated by money or another person or a deadline)–is perhaps the most important determinant in finding our sweet spot. Research has shown, Amabile confirmed recently to me, that motivation at work that is primarily intrinsic results in higher productivity and increased creativity compared to a motivation that is primarily extrinsic.

So the great challenge in life should be to get to that sweet intersection, where we are internally motivated to use our natural talents and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to make an impact on the world. Go do it.

Obama dropping the I-bombs

In Author: Adam Shames on August 12, 2009 at 10:47 pm

The Prez was dropping the “I”-bomb again and again last week, talking up innovation on last weekend’s radio and Internet address and in Elkhart County, Indiana, last Wednesday. It’s nice to know that for the moment “Innovation” is a favorable term for both Democrats and Republicans. But in watching how Obama uses it–and he does indeed use it with panache–can you tell me what it really means or represents for him?

On the one hand, he makes it clear that the United States has long been home for innovators: “The United States led the world’s economies in the 20th century because we led the world in innovation,” he told the Indiana audience yesterday. “Innovation has been essential to our prosperity in the past, and it will be essential to our prosperity in the future,” he said in his radio address.

But he acknowledges that innovation is not where it should be right now, and is now “more important than ever” because of keener competition and tougher challenges. Check out the different ways he describes our Innovation Imperative and the assumed DNA of the United States of Creativity:

“We need to recapture the spirit of innovation that has always moved America forward.”

“We have to harness the potential –- the innovative and creative spirit –- that’s waiting to be awakened all across America.”

“All it takes are the policies to tap that potential — to ignite that spark of creativity and ingenuity — which has always been at the heart of who we are and how we succeed.”

“It is only by building a new foundation that we will once again harness that incredible generative capacity of the American people.”

“Real innovation depends not on government but on the generative potential of the American people.”

Certainly eloquent. But the truth is you can listen for hours and still not be sure what innovation is. Could we substitute a different word for “innovation”–perhaps “change” or “Obama policies”–without much lost in meaning? For Obama the CEO, innovation generally means targeted investments, particularly in new technologies and incentives related to energy, and other policies such as making the R&D tax credit permanent and reducing capital gains taxes for investments in small or start-up businesses. But that’s not what he means when he uses innovation to inspire.

Right now the I-bombs sound good–and offer some juicy quotes for me and you to trumpet the cause of creativity and innovation. But outside of investment and tax cuts, we need much more discussion on what innovation really means as a culture.

For more posts from Adam, visit his Innovation on My Mind blog…

Bohemians and Burning Man

In Author: Adam Shames, Authors on August 5, 2009 at 3:03 am

In his research investigating what helps drive economic growth in cities, Richard Florida discovered that the concentration of certain groups of people in geographical areas is clearly correlated to economic success. One of those groups he calls “Bohemians”–the artists, hippies, non-conformists and those “open to experience” who have generally lost favor among our MBA nation of the last few decades. Florida’s Bohemian Index (learn more in this interview) is much higher in the regions and cities whose innovation and economy are thriving.

So where are these very important Bohemians? Seek out more about Burning Man and ye shall find.

Unbeknownst to most people here in the heartland, this time of year once again beckons the Bohemians to gather in the Nevada desert for a week-long, mind-expanding, creativity-exploding festival culminating in the burning of a huge wooden man on Saturday night of Labor Day weekend. We’re talking 50,000 people, many of whom have worked on museum-worthy art projects throughout the year that they will showcase, coming together for the most unbelievable creative experience now available on the planet. While words can’t do it justice, here is a glimpse into Burning Man through my eyes a few years back: Read my experience of Burning Man here.

Now, while it’s been a cool summer in Chicago, many people would be surprised to learn that some of the creative heat of Burning Man can indeed be found in Chicago each month at the Full Moon Jam near Foster Beach. If you’re in Chicago and would like to see and experience a little Bohemian energy–not to mention fire spinners, drummers, dancers and people preparing for the trek to Burning Man in a few weeks–come out this Wednesday night around 7:30pm with your own openness to experience. Last time I ended up jamming on my harmonica with some sax players (picture) and enjoying the amazing pyrotechnics of the performers.

Given the research from Florida, I think it’s high time to let the Bohemians out–or at least let the Bohemian side of you show its feathers and spread its wings around town much more often.

Creative Personalities and Polarities

In Author: Adam Shames on July 16, 2009 at 9:10 pm

“Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions: a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and saving energy, and an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk—the curiosity that leads to creativity belongs to this set. We need both of these programs. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement or support from outside to motivate behavior, the second can wilt if it is not cultivated.” ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity ultimately is a balancing act between the heart and the mind. You have to be able to access your heart, feelings, imagination, impulsiveness and uniqueness–necessary for divergent thinking–and also bring in your head, your mind, your best judgment, your convergent thinking. Most of us are pretty good at employing our judging mind but it’s easy for the heart to become more and more inert, especially as adults in work situations.

The great researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (as in, that “chick-sent-me-high), whose books on creativity and flow have been essential contributions toward understanding peak creative performance, describes creative personalities as complex, containing contradictory extremes. Creative people, he found, are more flexible, “able to express the full range of traits that are potentially present in the human repertoire but usually atrophy.”

They are able to embrace polarities in a way many cannot, and Csikszentmihalyi found these to be some of the most important integrated creative traits:

Divergent and Convergent Thinking
Wisdom and Childishness
Rebelliousness and Traditionalism
Extraversion and Introversion
Playfulness and Perseverance
Passion and Detachment
Risk-taking and Caution

The ability to embrace these opposite-pole traits is part of the flexibility competency of creativity, and the facility to move flexibly among different mindsets, perspectives and fields distinguish the most creative among us. But actually mind and heart are not polar opposites. The opposite of heart is fear, and it is those two that are most incompatible (you can’t have an open heart when you are afraid). For a while I’ve been playing with this theory shown in the diagram–that there are three main currents running through us at any time, which I’ll call heart, mind and fear.

As long as we have any fear, we can’t be our most creative. If we only have mind we can be smart (like a computer), but that only goes so far. Only heart and we are feeling and open but not necessarily able to communicate or make something work. It is the integration of mind and heart, the smaller red current shown, that make up our optimal creative state. What currents are running through you right now? Am I missing one or do you see any revisions needed to this simple model?

You can read more of Adam’s posts at Innovation On My Mind.

The P.T.S. Mindset

In Author: Adam Shames on June 24, 2009 at 8:43 pm

To become more creative individually and to foster more innovative workplaces and communities, we need to develop a whole new set of skills that have not been part of our formal education. Actually, skills are not quite enough. Creativity requires something else–a shift in attitude or, as I prefer, mindset–that also needs to be practiced and learned. It is this mix of mindset and skills that make up the 3 creativity competencies I’ve been discussing in my Innovation on my Mind blog, Fluency, Flexibility and Originality. And, if you’ve ever taken a workshop with me, you know that the most essential mindset for creativity is P.T.S.

If you don’t know what P.T.S. is, try not to peek below and let me ask you as I do my workshop participants: What do you need, right now, in order to be your most creative? What ground rules would increase your chances of feeling most creatively comfortable and able to generate new ideas and make unusual connections? Just for fun, use the three letters given, P-T-S, to come up with three words that would best convey suggestions or conditions that would be most optimal for your creativity to shine. Come up with lots of possibilities, using individual words or a 3-word-phrase. Let’s start with 2.

P_____________ T_______________ S_______________

P_____________ T_______________ S_______________

Like any creativity exercise, this one has no right answers and actually hearing what different people come up with helps everyone think more freely. Perhaps we’ll get: Personal…Thoughtful…Shockworthy or Play…Trust…Safe or Pretend…Thought…System or People…That…Sing. Some people will have trouble coming up with any–which is instructive in itself. Really the question I’m asking is: what do you need so you are not blocked, so that you can fully turn on your faucet of ideas?

Creativity, you see, happens in the moment. Usually when it comes to sharing ideas and asserting our own perspective, the mindset in the moment that trumps all others is: How do I look smart, clever, right? That’s how we’ve been trained, even when we’re all alone not even thinking about impressing others. Unfortunately this is not the mindset for divergent thinking, the real engine of creativity. It’s too often the mindset for paralysis or very safe ideas.

So what I’ve learned after teaching and facilitating creativity for more than 20 years is that the most effective ground rule for allowing us to turn on that creative faucet is this particular P.T.S.: Permission…to…Suck. That’s it. Giving yourself full permission to suck. It’s a different mindset, one that allows you to turn on the faucet of your ideas without editing, blocking or judging. Once you give yourself permission to suck–to be wrong, lousy, idiotic, rude–everything changes, everything opens in a way it would not otherwise.

Now of course you don’t want to be bad all the time, but the most creative people know how to access this P.T.S. mindset and to appreciate how bad they can be. “It’s good to be bad,” knows the most enlightened creative, because that way you access possibilities that you otherwise would dismiss. And, it turns out, sucking is harder than you think. Try to come up with bad ideas and here’s what you’ll find: More intriguing, provocative ideas that make you go hmmm–exactly what you need to foster a culture of change, imagination and possibility.

So, Klondike of the Frozen Archipelagos, Madame Curie of the Swine Flu Media Sneeze, Mr. Steroid of the Atrophying Mind Muscle–unfry your chimichanga and give yourself P.T.S. more often and see what happens.

Visionaries, Flower Children and the Conceptual Age

In Author: Adam Shames on June 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm

I was just talking with my old friend George Aguilar, with whom I once shared a rat’s nest of an office in our volunteer roles for the now-defunct National Poetry Association (once a groundbreaking nonprofit, its web address has been taken over by a French sex site). George ran the poetry-film festival and is a digital videographer (and cin(e)-poet–there’s a creative hybrid still ahead of its time); I ran Poetry USA, an ambitiously-named tabloid journal that in its time was well-known at least in San Francisco. We basically were cleaning up the nostalgic detritus left from artistic experimenters and hippies of a past era.

George was saying something like this: Isn’t it amazing that many of the radical ideas of the 60s/70s Counter Culture–the “green” movement, sustainability, solar power, as more obvious examples–have now become the economic solutions for a new generation of pragmatists? Despite being ridiculed throughout the past few decades, the Flower Children proved themselves to be the true visionaries.

Perhaps we have seen the bottom of this recession, and as we try to swim back above water, I’m wondering like everyone else what new age will emerge. One of my favorite thinkers on this is Daniel Pink, whose book A Whole New Mind describes the transition we’re making from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. He explains why we need to develop our right, creative brains now more than ever, with left brain thinking more and more replaceable (see video below) and the innovation imperative of our time demanding more skills of creativity.

Pink asserts six skills, or senses, that he sees as key to the new age, which, if more developed, may indeed help us keep our heads above water as a new United States of Creativity that these time demand:

1. Design: Creating something beautiful and emotionally engaging
2. Story: Creating compelling narrative, not just facts and info
3. Symphony: Connecting pieces, synthesis not just analysis
4. Empathy: Understanding others, developing emotional intelligence
5. Play: Going beyond seriousness to joyfulness and humor
6. Meaning: Pursuing purpose, passion and spirituality

Certainly sounds more like the post-Beatnick old timers at the NPA, doesn’t it, George?

Click to read more from Adam’s Innovation on My Mind blog

What the Heck is Pecha Kucha?

In Author: Adam Shames on June 5, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Here’s a creative challenge for you: I’m going to give you a microphone and the undivided attention of a willing audience for about seven minutes. In advance I ask you to put together exactly 20 images–of anything you want–which will be projected on a large screen for exactly 20 seconds each. What would you share? What story might you want to tell?

This is Pecha Kucha Night (pronounced p’CHAH-k’CHAH, from the Japanese word for chit chat), an evening dedicated to adult show-and-tell, that has been spreading virally throughout the world in the past few years. Originally organized as a way for designers and architects to meet, network and share their work (without droning on too long), Pecha Kucha nights now are regular staples in 200 cities worldwide, including Chicago, where I got a chance to sample one this week at Martyrs’.

At least a few hundred people crowded together to watch a somewhat motley crew of 12 presenters, whose visual narrations ranged from serious commentary to playful randomness. Felix Jung (whose blog will tell you more about the night–and has better pictures) shared some entertaining autobiographical insights about repetition, while others shared physical and mental journeys through nature, popular culture, life in a rock band (the boys of All Things Lucid can play, too), Shanghai and artwork, including one somewhat mind-bending design plan to create a mass protest in New York City.

While not all presenters were as engaging as I might have liked, what was on display was originality at its best, an evening of self-expression and individual passions that reflected creativity through the eyes and words of very different human beings (Here they are taking a final bow).

Like the Kreative Evenings I hosted for many years as part of the Kreativity Network in San Francisco, there is something magical and empowering about hearing and seeing perspectives that would otherwise be unknown to you. At Pecha Kucha, many of the folks with the microphone were not skilled presenters or artists, but each offered an opportunity for us to see a different view of the world, which can’t help but boost our own creativity. More Pecha Kucha nights are coming up in Chicago very soon, so you can get a taste for yourself and also sign up online to be chosen as a future presenter.

Perhaps the creative constraint of 20 seconds and 20 images can help you decide: What passion, story, commentary, skewed view would you want to share if you had a chance?

Read more of my entries about creativity at Innovation on my Mind.

The Classic Entrepreneurial Story of Cereality

In Author: Adam Shames on May 27, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Before we discuss Cereality, whose story was told by co-founder David Roth recently in Chicago, here are a few quick questions about your creative inclinations regarding food:
Do you prefer to cook by recipe or by seeing what you have in your fridge/cupboards and improvising?
Do you prefer a few favorite restaurants or would you rather experience new ones (despite their unpredictability)?
Do you cook/order the same few dishes or do you choose new offerings you never tried before?

Now, I respect people who like what they like or can produce a consistently winning dish via recipe, but your creativity quotient is higher when you seek out the new and are willing to experiment. I happen to be a variety junkie. My favorite meal is one during which I can sample many different tastes. My bias is to constantly create new combinations, try unusual pairings, and I appreciate opportunities to experiment, which is the general idea behind Cereality, perhaps opening a new store near you.

Here’s the scoop (or bowl): Roth and his partner Rick Bacher started with the somewhat questionable idea of having a retail location that would serve only cereal, and through an amazing array of creative decisions (and entrepreneurial perseverance), they created a brand and store that became a classic American example of entrepreneurship. (While Roth resisted franchising Cereality for as long as he could, multiple copy-cats and legal issues led him to selling it to franchise giant Kahala-Cold Stone in 2007.)

Like other quick-serve outlets who have innovated similarly, Cereality’s creativity began with customer choice, offering cereal your way in whatever combination of cereal, fruit, nuts and milk you desired. Creativity and playfulness were an indispensable part of the entire brand and culture: Employees wear pajamas, you use a sloop (a straw and spoon in one that allows you to slurp up that remaining milk), and the entire experience in the store is part of the pleasure.

The creativity extended as well to the entire process of building the business, which you’ll get some sense of in the video above. As Roth made clear in his talk, entrepreneurship is not for the easily discouraged. Starts and stops and “midcourse corrections” were constant, and he learned that the key was always to come back to their own original vision–the personality and culture they uniquely imagined from the outset. They tried a food service company to run the stores, but they ended up taking them back themselves. They hired restaurant industry executives but got rid of them.

Inventive PR campaigns and strategic, cross-industry partnerships were essential, but perhaps the most innovative idea helped them get a needed sponsor: They offered to provide data on the habits of customers in exchange for financing. Quaker liked that idea and the whole enterprise so much that they paid even more cash and signed on as the sole provider of hot breakfast choices.

The process from idea to implementation is a long one, and less passionate entrepreneurs may have given up long before they opened their second store, not to mention sold the brand for a hefty sum. But the constant flow of creative ideas–even with failures along the way–helped Cereality become a reality and great American business story.

Want to read more of Adam’s posts? Check out his main blog: Innovation on my Mind

Can Chicago Innovate Now?

In Author: Adam Shames on May 13, 2009 at 6:21 am

Chicago has been showing some serious gumption these days. We’ve sent a new crew to lead the country–Obama, Emanuel, Jarrett and Axelrod–and are the leading candidate to bring the Olympics back to the U.S. in 2016. But given that changes are often a bit slow to hit us here in the middle of the country, the question remains: Can Chicago be a leader of innovation?

“I strongly believe that creating an ecosystem that supports and encourages widespread adoption of innovative practices within our businesses will become the single most important thing we can do at this time in our history,” says James Tyree, chair of Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Mesirow Financial. He recently made the case to business leaders that an Innovation Czar is needed to transform Illinois.

Geographical hubs and regions, as Richard Florida makes clear, are essential for a prospering United States of Creativity, and Chicago is making its move with its Innovate Now initiative, dedicated to transforming Chicagoland and all of Illinois into a global center for innovation. This unique collaboration among business, academia and the public and nonprofit sectors was created over three years ago to create a new model to spur economic development in the new global economy. Innovation leaders will be gathering for the 2009 Innovation Summit (tickets still available) next Thursday, May 21st in downtown Chicago. The theme is “design + innovation = sustainability.” The Summit asks this question, among others: How can the interplay of design and innovation assist individual businesses and organizations in achieving growth while at the same time contributing to sustainability objectives?

Let’s be honest. Getting the Midwest to embrace innovation is not a simple task. I spoke last week with Lance Pressl, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation, one of the key Innovate Now partners, who shared some of his challenges, which includes the sometimes hard-to-change culture of Chicago.

Here’s my two cents. For creativity to thrive systemically, we have to encourage risk and bring together people and ideas that don’t often intersect. Right now there are too many meetings and conferences here where primarily white men in suits talk at you. Chicago needs more challenges to the status quo, more diversity in our conference rooms, more breaches of convention, more unusual partnerships, more appreciation of failure and, I’m not kidding about this one, more dancing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from a range of world-class speakers at the Summit–but also will keep my ears peeled for the in-between conversations, the openness to the new and the evidence of the crazy, which adds just a little extra fuel to the engine of creativity.

Do you have a suggestion to help Chicago become more of an innovation leader? Post a comment (or contact me) with an idea or two) and you’ll have a chance to win a ticket to the Innovation Summit on Thursday…

The Creative City, According to Florida

In Author: Adam Shames on May 9, 2009 at 1:10 am

I came back from a little incubation period in Florida to visit with another, this one Richard, the economist and best-selling author of the 2002 Rise of the Creative Class, which examined the growing social class of creative people (see video below) who are central to the economy. Rich Florida is another compelling voice in our ride toward the United States of Creativity, arguing that “creativity is the fundamental source of economic growth, and that it is an essential part of everyone’s humanity that needs to be cultivated.” He examines this new Creative Age from a particular expert angle: that of place and, in particular, the city.

When talented and creative people come together, he explains, they optimize and magnify each other’s productivity, which drives economic development. His new book Who’s Your City? further explores social science evidence of factors that make a city thrive, which he has described as the three Ts: Technology, Talent and Tolerance.

All three Ts are necessary, and it is the final one, tolerance, that perhaps is most important for city planners to understand. By tolerance he means diversity, and when a city is truly open to diverse cultures and ideas, Florida explains, they are more likely to become innovation hubs. Using different measures such as the Tolerance Index, Gay Index and Bohemian Index, he found the cities with the best creative economies attract and offer opportunities for people of different races, countries of origin, sexual orientation–and have the most openness to self-expression. Places that have a flourishing artistic and cultural environment “are the ones that generate creative economic outcomes and overall economic growth.”

“I like to tell city leaders,” he writes, “that finding ways to help support a local music scene can be just as important as investing in high-tech business and far more effective than building a downtown mall.”

Hmmm, not only should you embrace your originality and inner-hippie, so should your mayor…

You Lecture, I Leave

In Author: Adam Shames on May 2, 2009 at 12:25 am

One day last week I took off from a workshop I had facilitated for suburban high school kids to attend to my own learning, first dropping in at an open-to-the-public talk at Northwestern University and then finishing the evening at a Chris Matthews-moderated political event downtown as part of a three-city 2009 speaker series.

The contrast was shocking. At my workshop, students talked in pairs and small groups, moved their bodies, grappled with exercises, reflected and shared, engaged and debated. The session and insights changed based on their participation.

At the two “adult” learning events, I sat on my ass and occasionally grunted.

Look, our changing times require that adults learn more–and more effectively–than ever, and technology is giving us more at-home and powerful options to do that. So I don’t care if it’s called a “talk” or a “speaker”: I no longer can accept showing up to an event and finding the primary advantage to being there live is that I can tell people I was there. Our current model of adult learning–someone lectures/reads/talks for 80% of the time and then a few audience members ask a question for the remaining 20% time–needs some serious innovation.

At Northwestern, the only difference in the professor’s presentation from 50 or 100 years ago was the occasional powerpoint slide of words and bullet points. At the political event, my favorite part was watching the libertarian Tucker Carlson–particularly the amusing way he sat and stared almost obliviously out into space while others were talking. I liked the conversation, and know that some entertainment issues were at hand. But still, I kept thinking, I could just watch these talking heads on video at another time.

We all learn best by doing, by engaging, by actively caring about the theme at hand, and while our K-12 education still needs to change in many ways, good teachers at least know that the old model of teacher-centered classrooms with students as passive receptacles in rows of desks does not work. But we still accept the lecture at universities and conferences. We still mostly have work meetings that just go from one person talking at you to another, as opposed to active collaboration and debate (below).
I’m in front of a computer right now, as you probably are. Technology has enabled us to get more of our social and educational needs met this way, on our own time, without having to dress up for the occasion. There are so many resources online to engage, entertain and teach us, with more video than ever before. So if we’re going to take on the hassle, travel and expense to learn live and to be with others while doing so, we need to demand that our “speakers” learn how to involve us more, tap into the knowledge in the room, bring alive the bodies and hearts and imagination that finds themselves together at that one moment of possibility.

Do You Know CPS?

In Author: Adam Shames on April 25, 2009 at 5:01 am

This week I spent a day with a group of IT leaders from one of America’s great companies (whose meals have made billions happy). With our goal being to make strategy recommendations to improve a technology process, I conducted a Creative Problem Solving (CPS) session to collectively harness creative thinking to address a complex challenge.

Most of the problems we face in our culture, business and lives need creativity, but few of us know about CPS, a valuable process that has been discussed, tested and evaluated for more than 50 years. Originating from the brainstorming work of advertising pioneer Alex Osborn (whose book Applied Imagination is still the bible on brainstorming), each year hundreds of educators, researchers and businessfolks gather to discuss and learn CPS at CPSI–the Creative Problem Solving Institute–held in Boston this June.

Historically, the creative process was seen in some ways as mysterious, and included “incubation,” or time away from a problem, before “illumination” or an “Aha moment” hit you (perhaps in the shower). CPS, sometimes called “deliberate creativity,” has taken a little mystery out by identifying and separating practical steps, captured in the graphic above, that are universal and that lead to the most creative solutions. We all need to learn CPS.

Two quick observations to point out about my session:
1. The first phase, Clarifying, was a key part of our work–the more time we spent understanding what the real challenge and real goals were, the more effective the solution-finding.
2. As with any creativity session, separating diverging from converging is essential, but was, as is often the case with very smart adults, not easy for this group. Pure diverging time is needed to explore as many alternatives as possible and spark unusual connections, but no matter how vocally I insisted on “no judging” and “just keep generating and posting” ideas, I often found the participants surreptitiously evaluating, debating and denying. More divergence training needed for all of us!

The power of a CPS session depends on leveraging the diversity of the group and shifting thinking styles from one phase to another. You probably don’t realize that your creative problem solving preferences are quite different from others. You can learn more by taking the FourSight assessment, which I use with teams and is available online.

A Creative Nudge and Poem

In Author: Adam Shames, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on April 20, 2009 at 12:21 am

While these days the Kreativity Network is the name I use for my business–primarily designing and facilitating events, meetings and retreats that spark innovation and creative collaboration in organizations–it was once a thriving network in the San Francisco Bay area supporting individuals to express personal creativity. The operative question then was this: How do we, as adults in a consumerist culture that often wants us to be a spectator more than a creator, actively engage and communicate our unique talent, voice, story, art? Our original name was the Multi-Arts Creativity Network–as I believed then, as I do now, that creativity takes many forms and it is our birthright and obligation to discover and explore our own means of expression, whatever it might be.

At Kreative Evenings, we got to witness and experience multiple ways people were called to create, from the more typical “arts”–writing, acting, music, singing, performing, visual art–to cooking, speaking, sharing a game, a healthy practice, a joke, a technique, a project, a dream. The type of “art” doesn’t matter–it’s the doing, the trying, the exploring your imagination that does.

So while this blog aims to increase our understanding of creativity and its cultural importance, and our ability to think differently, I also want to urge you to create. It’s easy not to, to distract ourselves, so find support and community: team up to encourage each others’ efforts and, ideally, have a goal, performance or sharing opportunity so that your creative work is put out into the world.

Today, as part of National Poetry Month here in Chicago, I’m stirring up my own creativity as a featured poet during a live event. Let me leave you with a poem I will perform later:

Dreaming in Corners

I was dreaming in corners today
but the wall split
and I reached in
without looking
and felt your voice.
It was soft
like the lake
we never fell into.

“When does the summer dream of us?” you asked.

You answered yourself by spreading
our blanket
on the damp ground
near the bare feet
I had grown out of.

Earlier you dropped a whisper
in my shoe
and I was afraid that when I stepped,
it would pop

as secrets often do.

Creative Inspiration from Bucky

In Author: Adam Shames on April 10, 2009 at 8:25 pm

The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is now featuring an exhibit on Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), the Architect-Designer-Inventor-Scientist-Alternative Energy Advocate-Visionary who was so far ahead of his time that it boggles the mind.

While he was still active in the 1960s–building geodesic domes and spearheading education on global resource allocation–most of us post-baby boomers don’t know much about this man who cared so deeply about helping this planet and the people on it.

Fuller’s Dymaxion line of inventions, including aluminum, portable houses and 3-wheeled, energy-efficient cars, as well as a distortion-free world map and even enclosed, floating cities, all represented unmatched creative thinking and environmental foresight.

Bucky embodied innovation in two key ways:
1. As a comprehensivist with a broad range of skills and interests, able to combine ideas and domains in new ways. (Flexibility competency of creativity)
2. As a person so passionate about helping the world, he followed his unique vision despite naysayers and skeptics. (Originality competency of creativity)

Frankly, Bucky wasn’t always easy to understand, and often made up words to describe ideas and products never before seen. This 21-line explanation (below) I snapped from an old exhibit catalogue reflected how his mind was able to turn on like a faucet (Fluency competency of creativity); it’s all one sentence! You’ll have to visit the exhibit to see if you can make sense of it, which isn’t easy.

Nevertheless, Bucky somehow was able to translate his visionary ideas in ways that spoke to wide audiences and people with means and influence. Even though few of his prototypes led to commercialization or popular use today (though watch out for a future revival) he, like his more practical inventor/comprehensivist forebear Edison, was able to garner financial and commercial support from investors and companies, including Ford for his Dymaxion car, that in part empowered him to be so prolific and well known.

Clearly Bucky was a one-of-a-kind mind. He should be studied and celebrated. But I wonder: How likely would his futurist ideas (they are pretty outlandish even 50 years later) be supported and funded today? Would Bucky’s truly exceptional persuasive personality and perserverance be enough for him to have accomplished and experimented as deeply as he did? Or would he be ignored by investors, pilloried by snarky journalists and cocooned as an under-funded and under-appreciated academic?

Listen to MCA podcasts about Buckminster Fuller and the current exhibit.