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Posts tagged creativity

from "Why I Returned My iPad," by Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review, 16 June 2010 :: via Ted Olsen

The brilliance of the iPad is that it’s the anytime-anywhere computer. On the subway. In the hall waiting for the elevator. In a car on the way to the airport. Any free moment becomes a potential iPad moment.

The iPhone can do roughly the same thing, but not exactly. Who wants to watch a movie in bed on an iPhone?

So why is this a problem? It sounds like I was super-productive. Every extra minute, I was either producing or consuming.

But something — more than just sleep, though that’s critical too — is lost in the busyness. Something too valuable to lose.


Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises.

My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive. When I am running but not listening to my iPod. When I am sitting, doing nothing, waiting for someone. When I am lying in bed as my mind wanders before falling to sleep. These “wasted” moments, moments not filled with anything in particular, are vital.

They are the moments in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots. They’re the moments in which we talk to ourselves. And listen.

To lose those moments, to replace them with tasks and efficiency, is a mistake. What’s worse is that we don’t just lose them. We actively throw them away.

"Moments," by Everynone :: via Nathan Clarke
image Axe Cop!
from "Axe Cop: Episode 1," by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle, Episodes, 2009–2010 :: via GeekDad
from "Ogori Cafe: Service With a Surprise," from PSFK, 5 October 2009 :: via Jared Mackey (thanks!)

Located inside the Urban Design Center Kashiwa-no-ha, the Ogori cafe looks innocuous enough, but holds a surprise in store for its patrons. In a nutshell, you get what the person before you ordered, and the next person gets what you ordered. Thus, if you’re in on the game, you can choose to be either a generous benefactor, and treat those that come after you – or try your luck at being cheap. Either way, it’s an interesting experiment that explores surprise, kindness and encourages interactions. . . .

[Caleb Stasser explains:] “As I sat down to enjoy my surprise Appletizer, loving this insane idea and wondering what would happen if you tried it in America, a Japanese woman approached the cafe. Since she could actually speak Japanese, she could read the large sign at the front and, fortunately or unfortunately, got advanced warning of what she was in for. Before making a final decision on what to order, she quietly snuck up to me to try to ask me what I had ordered, knowing that it would be her unwavering refreshment destiny. The staff put a quick stop to her trickery, and I didn’t answer.

“Of course, regardless of what she ordered, she got the orange juice I ordered a few minutes earlier. But here’s one of the moments that make this experiment cool: she actually chose orange juice, just like I did. So she got what she wanted. Ogori cafe synchronicity!”

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

My friend Adam McHugh, whose first (very good) book is about to be published, wrote me asking if I had any advice. He was going through the roller coaster of excitement, nervousness, anxiety, and eagerness of a first-time author. It’s a common experience (and not just for authors), and with his permission I thought I’d share what I wrote in reply.

Well, first of all, congratulations! Enjoy opening the first box of books—it’s pretty fun.

It is good to keep in mind Mark Twain’s admittedly harsh dictum, “Most books come into the world with all the fanfare of a stillborn child.” The truth is that unlike, say, your wedding day, there will be a great and utter lack of excitement about your book the day it is published. And the day after. And most days after that. Believe me. My book has done well, perhaps embarrassingly so, and the truth is it just is not that big a deal. Considering that “doing well” in these latter days means that maybe 25,000 people read a book over the course of its first year—that would be 0.1% 0.01% of the American population—it’s not surprising that it just doesn’t rise to the level of a big event for anyone except the author. (The foregoing does not apply, at least not entirely, if you are Bill Clinton, Dan Brown, or Donald Miller. But you are not, so no worries!)

What Absolutely Does Not Matter and Should Be Ignored If At All Possible is the Amazon rank of your book. It means nothing. (There are whole Web pages documenting this.) If your book is doing well enough for the Amazon rank to provide any meaningful information (say, less than 250 or so) you will know that anyway, because people will be calling to say they saw you on Oprah. If it is among the vast majority of books, including very good, solidly selling, important, and influential books, the number will fluctuate maddeningly and inscrutably, providing you with periodic endorphin rushes that will get you hooked but will tell you nothing about the success, let alone the worth, of the book. So I recommend never checking it. But of course you will. At least know that you’re basically just feeding your endorphin needs, nothing else.

What will be a big deal, hopefully, over the coming months, are individual letters, emails, conversations and even (we hope!) reviews from grateful readers. This is what makes it worth doing, in my opinion—the amazing chance to meet people for whom your words were genuinely, even dramatically, helpful. And then further down the road, to hear stories about people who actually created something or started something or persevered in something because you wrote the book. But of course by definition, all these truly worthwhile outcomes will happen months or years from the date of publication. We authors play a long game, which is a very good thing.

The other big deal will be the opportunities, whether few or many, that come to speak to groups and find that for some strange reason, they actually listen to you now that you have published a book, even though you are basically saying the same things you said before you published a book and basically have the same gifts and limitations you did before you published a book. It is a truly mysterious thing, and in many ways a bit absurd, but you will find yourself with an additional quantum of cultural power. I knew about this in the abstract when I wrote Culture Making (the importance of concrete cultural artifacts rather than disembodied ideas) but I must confess I still find myself surprised at how true it is.

So, as with all events that confer additional power and also expose insecurities and fears, this is mostly an opportunity to deepen your own prayer life, entrusting both the elation (assuming there is any—see first few paragraphs above) and the deflation to God. I have found John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer to be incredibly useful in turbulent times like these.

Oh, one other thing: I highly recommend never responding to critical comments (in reviews, blog posts, comment threads, etc.) online. I have done so a handful of times and regretted it every time. You are very unlikely to be able to respond to criticism in a constructive way in the heat of the online moment, and once the moment has passed you will realize it is faintly ridiculous to respond to things that were written after half a moment’s thought and most likely not even based on the slightest serious engagement with what you have written. You’ve had the great privilege of being able to spend a great deal of time shaping and polishing your ideas, then interacting with editors and early readers to refine them further. Why throw that all away with a hastily (and probably angrily/nervously/defensively/imprudently) composed reply? And furthermore, a hastily composed reply that, unlike your carefully written book, will be instantly accessible via a Google search for your name for ever and ever? I highly recommend simply taking online criticism as a chance to pray John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer again.

I hope these thoughts are in some way helpful! Godspeed and I hope to see you somewhere in person soon!

from "Ingenious and Demanding," by Ada Louise Huxtable,, 30 September 2009

Ms. Acedo [the housekeeper who must clean Rem Koolhaas’s Lemoîne house in Bordeaux, France] is a star, a woman of determination, ingenuity and forthright opinions who can match anything the house throws at her. As the film starts, she stands on the platform surrounded by her pails, mops, brooms, rags and vacuum cleaner while it rises slowly to the strains of a romantic Strauss melody. (Actually, she does not use the platform, preferring the arduous stair route ever since she got stuck between floors and a technician had to crawl through the books to reach the controls.)

She even succeeds in confounding the notoriously self-possessed architect, in his recorded 10-minute response to the film. One sequence shows her aggressive cleaning of one of the house’s most offputting features, a punitive spiral stair consisting only of toe holds in a round concrete void open to the rain, unfazed by the seeming impossibility of dragging a vacuum up it. Mr. Koolhaas is momentarily flummoxed by the irreconcilability of his architecture and her cleaning methods.

But only momentarily. He quickly redefines the subject as the collision of two systems—“the platonic conception of cleaning and the platonic idea of architecture”—which I take to be the consideration of each on an elevated abstract plane of theoretical existence. Anyone who has ever done any cleaning knows that is not where it lives.

Let us concede the point: It is clear that the job is being pursued with familiar and archaic methods and devices that seem surreally unrelated to the task at hand, revealing how out of sync the vision—no matter how beautifully executed—and the result can be.

from "Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72," by William Grimes,, 16 September 2009

Mary Allin Travers was born Nov. 9, 1936 in Louisville, Ky. When she was 2 years old, her parents, both journalists, moved to New York. Almost unique among the folk musicians who emerged from the Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960s, Ms. Travers actually came from the neighborhood. She attended progressive private schools there, studied singing with the renowned music teacher Charity Bailey while still in kindergarten and became part of the folk-music revival as it took shape around her.

“I was raised on Josh White, the Weavers and Pete Seeger,” Ms. Travers told The New York Times in 1994. “The music was everywhere. You’d go to a party at somebody’s apartment and there would be 50 people there, singing well into the night.”

from Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford, p. 51–52

The truth, of course, is that creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra). Identifying creativity with freedom harmonizes quite well with the culture of the new capitalism, in which the imperative of flexibility precludes dwelling in any task long enough to develop real competence. . . . We’re primed to respond to any invocation of the aesthetics of individuality. The rhetoric of freedom pleases our ears. The simulacrum of independent thought and action that goes by the name of “creativity” trips easily off the tongues of spokespeople for the corporate counterculture. . . .

What is it that we really want for a young person when we give him or her vocational advice? The only creditable answer, it seems to me, is one that avoids utopianism while keeping an eye on the human good: work that engages the human capacities as fully as possible. . . .

So what advice should one give to a young person? If you have a natural bent for scholarship; if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare four years to devote yourself to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case; if the thought of four more years sitting in a classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don’t have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems or low-level “creative.”

from "What's This All About?," by Sheena Matheiken, The Uniform Project, 17 June 2009 :: via GOOD, kottke, The Curator

The Idea: Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir.

The Uniform Project is also a year-long fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India. At the end of the year, all contributions will go toward Akanksha’s School Project to fund uniforms and other educational expenses for slum children in India.

The Story of Uniforms: I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate in most public schools. Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality. Boys rolled up their sleeves, wore over-sized swatches, and hiked up their pants to show off their high-tops. Girls obsessed over bangles, bindis and bad hairdos. Peaking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare. I now want to put the same rules to test again, only this time I’m trading in the catholic school fervor for an eBay addiction and relocating the school walls to this wonderful place called the internet.

from "Expats at work," The Economist, 14 May 2009

Anecdotal evidence has long held that creativity in artists and writers can be associated with living in foreign parts. Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gauguin, Samuel Beckett and others spent years dwelling abroad. Now a pair of psychologists has proved that there is indeed a link.

As they report in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, William Maddux of INSEAD, a business school in Fontainebleau, France, and Adam Galinsky, of the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, presented 155 American business students and 55 foreign ones studying in America with a test used by psychologists as a measure of creativity. Given a candle, some matches and a box of drawing pins, the students were asked to attach the candle to a cardboard wall so that no wax would drip on the floor when the candle was lit. (The solution is to use the box as a candleholder and fix it to the wall with the pins.) They found 60% of students who were either living abroad or had spent some time doing so, solved the problem, whereas only 42% of those who had not lived abroad did so. . . .

Merely travelling abroad, however, was not enough. You do have to live there.

excerpt Sixty percent
from "Re-Potting with Resources: What Would You Make?," by Merlin Mann, 43 Folders, 12 January 2009

The beginning of a blood-curdling recession hardly seems like the time to ruminate about fantasy resources, I’ll grant you that. But, I want you to think about something. Really think about it.

If, tomorrow morning, you had 60% of the time and resources you needed to start making anything you wanted, what would it be? And, what would you do first? . . .

The reason I throw in that “60% of what you need,” is that it’s just enough to make the question interesting and ambitious. Give someone no resources, and they have no imagination. Give them all the resources and they break ground on a Hooters in their garage. But, give someone most of the resources they need, and you have a delightful real-world challenge to the creative imagination.

from "Questions for Robert Tjian," by Greg Boustead,, 16 November 2008

It’s hard to be sure whether the big science projects?—?which can take a significant percentage of the funding from the NIH, for example?—?are ultimately going to be as productive as typical investigator-initiated science projects. My own view is that what’s consistently propelled American scientific success has been individual, investigator-initiated science projects. I don’t imagine that will change too much. That’s not to say that the larger projects?—?for example, the genome-sequencing projects?—?are not worth it. Obviously, some of them are. Some people will be motivated by pursuing the X Prize to try things that they never would have done otherwise. A certain number of these catalytic events are really worth it. But I tend to favor the creative and individually masterminded, out-of-left-field kind of science, which often ends up being the most transformative. I’m confident that much of the truly original ideas come from people doing things that they are passionate about and then stumbling onto something completely unexpected. Certainly, the biological field is strewn with examples of great discoveries?—?absolutely revolutionary discoveries?—?that came out of seemingly trivial things. It’s not very often that big science leads you to true innovation in the sense of novel discoveries.


However, not all daydreams seem to inspire creativity. In his experiments, Schooler distinguishes between two types of daydreaming. The first type consists of people who notice they are daydreaming only when asked by the researcher. Even though they are told to press a button as soon as they realize their mind has started to wander, these people fail to press the button. The second type, in contrast, occurs when subjects catch themselves daydreaming during the experiment, without needing to be questioned. Schooler and colleagues found that individuals who are unaware of their own daydreaming while it’s happening don’t seem to exhibit increased creativity.

“The point is that it’s not enough to just daydream,” Schooler says. “Letting your mind drift off is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining enough awareness so that even when you start to daydream you can interrupt yourself and notice a creative insight.”