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Discovery, innovation and creativity are ubiquitous buzz words. How do creativity and inspiration work, though? Dean Simonton came up with some fascinating thoughts on the subject in his book Scientific Genius: A Psychology of Science where he examined many aspects of scientific discovery and the scientists behind the discoveries. The element of chance and randomness is a key element of scientific discovery. As a creative process, scientific discovery and insight cannot be fully scripted and demanded.
Often we hear and participate in “brainstorming” creativity, usually in the context of groups working together to come to an innovative solution to some problem or issue. Alex Faickney Osborn proposed this idea and termed it “brainstorming” in his 1953 book “Applied Imagination”. He conceived of brainstorming as applying to solo or group activities, but in many contexts, it occurs predominately in teams or groups.
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Creative thinking means not being constrained by ideology or external pressures. These are things often inherent when working in groups, which is I’ve always thought this was a significant problem with brainstorming as a group activity. I think it limits expression and often is heavily dominated by only the most outspoken group members. But until recently I didn’t really know exactly why it bothered me. Recently I read an essay written in 1959 by the late and great author and polymath Isaac Asimov. (Many thanks to Warren Ellis for pointing me towards it!)
Asimov wrote: “My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it…The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”
The oft-touted scientific method involves testing and rejecting innumerable false ideas before arriving at something correct. Simonton quotes William Jevons, who in 1877 said, “It would be an error to suppose that the great discoverer seizes at once upon the truth, or has any unerring method of divining it . . . the errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one. Fertility of imagination and abundance of guesses at truth are among the first requisites of discovery; but the erroneous guesses must be many times as numerous as those that prove well founded.”
Despite his successes as an inventor, Thomas Edison has been famously quoted on failure. When asked about the many thousands of failed prototypes he went through before arriving at a useful light bulb, Edison responded with, “I have not failed. I’ve found ten thousand ways that don’t work.”
In my own experience as a scientist, author, and martial artist, my most useful and compelling insights have occurred either when I had indeed been doing something else (like turning away in frustration from a grant or scientific manuscript and instead reading a Stephen King novel) or when I was engaged in doing something completely different—a change is as good as a rest.
I thought a lot about this process when I was writing “Inventing Iron Man”, especially my chapter “Visions of Vitruvian Man—Is Invention Really Only One Part Inspiration?” where specifically addressed the creative process. I also consider this process at work in my own practice and study of martial arts. It’s all about contemplative study, making connections and always about making errors and improving steadily.
My take is that effective brainstorming is initially a solo activity that requires reflection, contemplation and the comfort to take risks. It’s not really compatible with group activities and also completely incompatible with modern “crowd sourcing” ideas around intellectual pursuits. Insight isn’t a commodity.
That is my perfect definition of a writer; someone who dedicates his or her life to searching for the meaning of that life and the lives of others through the marvelous and mysterious gift of storytelling....
"Among runners like me who follow the sport of trail running and its constellation of ultrarunning stars, one soon-to-be-released film is generating buzz, in spite of its low profile, as the must-see of the season: Unbreakable: The Western States 100. The documentary by Journeyfilm captures the extraordinary drama and physical effort of the 2010 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run..."
Are you looking to effectively express yourself or deal with difficult emotions in a healthy way? Do you find yourself feeling stressed at the end of the day and can’t seem to find the right outlet for relief?
After Patricia Copper finished her degree in accounting, she was chosen to interview at Price-Waterhouse (now Pricewaterhouse Cooper) in New York. She was offered a chance to work at one of the world’s most prestigious financial services in the world’s financial center.
She didn’t go. “I was that afraid of the interview,” she said. “I had no confidence at all.” Copper, who now lives outside of Waynesboro, said the incident was just one of the opportunities she passed up during a long youthful struggle with self-doubt. There were some unique circumstances that fed Copper’s insecurity, including a difficult childhood and a lack of reading skills, but in the end the causes didn’t matter: It came down to a nearly universal fear. “I was afraid to speak, even in a small group,” she said. “And even if I could overcome my fear, I just didn’t know how to present myself.”
Rob Biesenbach, a former Charlottesville resident and a graduate from the University of Virginia, has devoted his life to teaching people how to deliver their personal and professional messages with clarity and poise. Biesenbach — who studied with Chicago’s Second City Training Center and also works as an actor — has helped clients battle stage fright and pomposity, whether they be major politicians who lack oratorical skills or highly technical types weary of facing a room full of people whose eyes glaze over before the second paragraph.
“Ten years ago I would have told you that good writing was the most important skill for professional success,” he said, “but today it’s different.” Biesenbach is also an author. “The most important thing you can do now is to learn presentation skills.”
Biesenbach doesn’t restrict his coaching to formal presentations, although they’re a crucial part of his work. His website invites readers to “Escape from PowerPoint Hell,” and avoid “Death by PowerPoint.”
There are less structured opportunities for effective communication every day. “You are always presenting,” Biesenbach said, “when you walk into the room, when you interview, when you deal with customers. Learn to present yourself better and it will not only help you on the podium, but it is absolutely critical for your everyday life.”
For those like the youthful Copper who tremble at the thought of addressing a group, Biesenbach has some advice. “It’s human nature to fear the unknown,” he said. “But you can make the audience less of a bunch of strangers if you try to learn everything possible about them: what are their interests, who they are and what they want. Then you’ll come to think of them less as strangers and more as allies.”
He also counsels clients to go through what they have to say many, many times. “Anticipate every possible question.”
Copper went on to have several successful businesses but avoided speaking as much as she could until the publication of her book in 2012, “A Father’s Love.” “I knew I’d have to promote it,” she said. “And to promote it, I’d have to lose my fear and become a much better speaker.” Copper discovered Toastmasters, the international speaking and leadership training group, and later became involved with the Augusta Toastmasters Club, where she is the president.
The local group’s former president, Sharon Bares, talked about the crippling fear of public speaking that sometimes draws people, in desperation, to Toastmasters: “There are some polls that show people fear speaking in public more than they fear death,” she said. “So we have a joke that many people would rather be the one in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy.”
Bares said that the formula developed by Toastmasters chips away at the fear by providing many opportunities to speak, allowing only constructive criticism, and — most important, she believes — giving members the skills to communicate in a way that will interest and inform people. One person in the audience watches for faulty grammar; another for unintentional fillers like “so” and “um;” another will evaluate (kindly) the content and delivery.
A chemist by training, Bares had taught chemistry, so she became fairly comfortable with speaking in public. But wanting to change jobs, she embarked on some professional improvement projects that included polishing her speaking skills. With the help of Toastmasters, both in North Carolina and locally, she grew so comfortable that she became a local storyteller, embellishing her own family stories for the entertainment of others.
Fear is not the only enemy of effective speaking, Biesenbach says: “People ramble,” he said. “They don’t look at the information with a critical eye and pull out the important points. They go on and on without asking themselves what they really want to accomplish.”
Second, they fail to know their audience. “Ask yourself, ‘who are these people? How would they like to receive this information? How can I formulate it in the way that’s the most helpful?’ You need to ask these questions whether you are talking to one person or a thousand.”
Third, they fail to listen. “Listen carefully to the invitation when you’re asked to speak. Ask a couple of questions during the speech. When the audience asks questions, adjust your course according to their interests.”
Cynthia Pritchard, CEO of the United Way of Greater Augusta, says effective verbal communication is enormously important in the nonprofit world, just as it is in business, “If you’re leading a nonprofit, you’d better be able to get your message across one on one as you talk to a potential donor or board member, to a small group as you meet with a board and to a large audience of potential donors.”
And the message varies, she said: “Your board and staff need to know how you’re going to accomplish your goals. Most likely, potential donors are more interested in what you’re going to do.”
That’s a common mistake made by nonprofits, she said. “Typically donors are not that interested in staffing, finance, the logistics of your next event. They want to know that you’ll get the job done, so focus on that.”
Most important is your reason for being in the first place: “Begin with the ‘why,’” she said.
Biesenbach says he’s seen groups improve speaking skills drastically, just in the course of a workshop. He remembers one engineer who had great command of his subject matter but “just wasn’t much of a communicator,” he said. They worked on eliminating jargon and using clear language. “Mostly, I worked with him on telling stories instead of just dispensing facts,” he said. “It was amazing how much better he was at the end of the day.”
When the local chapter of Toastmasters meets every every Tuesday, a couple of members will deliver a timed speech, most often on a subject of their own choosing. All the members will make shorter presentations to people at their tables. They’ll also refer to lessons from a workbook on improving focus and organizing thoughts. “We see improvement pretty quickly,” Copper said. “People come in here frightened and believing they’re hopeless. But everyone gets better.”
Here is a quick round-up of the ten tips for close reading success:Select Short PassagesMake Your Focus IntenseExtend Focus Through the TextStudents Markup the Text as They ReadEncourage Exploratory DiscussionsEncourage RereadingRead in Every Subject AreaAnnotate the TextUse Close Reading Marks IndependentlyUse Close Reading Strategically in Small Bites
As the world increasingly looks for a workforce built on intellectual property and creativity, it’s important to consider the merits of our educational system. There is growing evidence that entrepreneurship and small business ownership characterize the way to economic prosperity. This raises the question: Can entrepreneurship be taught? As a result, I am asked more and more frequently how I “did it.”
Other entrepreneurs have used their college years to meet the people who would eventually be their business partners. Facebook, Microsoft, reddit, WordPress and Yahoo! were all conceived in college dorm rooms.
Simon Freeman, editor of the alternative running magazine, Like The Wind, is excited. ‘We’re launching a Pop-Up in central London for the next issue,’ he says. ‘This will be a physical home for Like the Wind for a week in September or October where we will have film nights, inspiring talks, workshops and, of course, […]
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