Don’t Look Now, Our Creativity is Leaking

Portions of this post are based on excerpts from the book by Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis. We spend an awful lot of time consuming digital media, lest we get easily bored. A recent study looked at what happens to a bored mind without easy access to media?

The Canadian neuroscientist James Danckert recruited some volunteers and put them into a neuroimaging scanner, and induced them into a mood of being bored They had them watch two guys hanging laundry for eight minutes. You could say they were bored out of their gords!

While bored, a part of their brains called the “default mode network” fired on. It’s a network of brain regions that activates when we’re unfocused, when our mind is off and wandering. Mind wandering is a rest state that restores and rebuilds the resources needed to work better and more efficiently when we’re focused on the outside world.

Mind wandering is also a key driver of creativity, which is why other studies have found that bored people score significantly higher on creativity tests. Research dating back to the 1950s may explain why we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.”

If I didn’t already know this was a 1950’s Classroom, I would have guessed it. Has that look and feel – BTW, where are the little girls?

Ellis Paul Torrance was an American psychologist. In the 1950s he noticed something off target about American classrooms. Teachers tended to prefer the subdued, book-smart kids. They didn’t much care for the kids who had tons of energy and big ideas. Kids who’d think up odd interpretations of readings, inventive excuses for why they didn’t do their homework, and morph into mad scientists every lab day.

The system deemed these kids “bad.” But Torrance felt they were misunderstood. Because if a problem comes up in the real world, all the book-smart kids look for an answer in … a book. But what if the answer isn’t in a book? Then a person needs to get creative.

He thus devoted his life to studying creativity and its uses for good. In 1958 he developed the “Torrance Test.” It’s since become the gold standard for gauging creativity. The TTCT (Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking) assess how creatively a child’s mind works and are often given to children to determine advanced placement or as part of an entrance examination. Instead of traditionally taught subjects such as reading or math, these tests assess creativity. Children are scored on a number of aspects, including:

  • Creative titles for pictures
  • Expressions
  • Imagery
  • and Humor

He had a large group of children in the Minnesota public school system take the exam. It includes exercises like showing a kid a toy and asking her, “how would you improve this toy to make it more fun?”

Torrance analyzed all the kids’ scores. He then tracked every accomplishment the kids earned across their lives, until he died in 2003, when his colleagues took on the job. If one of the kids wrote a book, he’d mark it; if a kid founded a business, he’d mark it; if a kid submitted a patent, he’d mark it. Every achievement was logged. What he found raises big questions about how we judge intelligence.

The kids who came up with more, better ideas in the initial tests were the ones who became the most accomplished adults. They were successful inventors and architects, CEOs and college presidents, authors and diplomats, etc.

Torrance testing, in fact, bests IQ testing so much so that a recent study of Torrance’s Kids found that creativity was a threefold better predictor of much of the students’ accomplishment compared to their IQ scores.

Now, according to Easter, we’ve killed off one of the main drivers of creativity: mind wandering. The result? A researcher at the University of William and Mary analyzed 300,000 Torrance Test scores since the 50s. She found that creativity scores began to nosedive in 1990.

She concluded that we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.” The scientist blames our hurried, over-scheduled lives and “ever increasing amounts of time interacting with electronic entertainment devices.”

And that’s bad news. Particularly when we consider that creativity is a critical skill in today’s economy, where most of us work with our brains rather than brawn.

Despite what productivity gurus will have us believe, the key to improving creativity might be to occasionally do nothing at all. Or, at least, not dive into a screen. We’ll think distinctly, in a way that delivers more original ideas.

Yet, ironically, society’s tech giants still deliver more advanced software to supposedly aid us in our creativity, while holding us increasingly captive. A proper balance has yet to be realized. And may not ever.

While it may sound silly, occasionally doing nothing works. At least for me, it does. Of course, my body may not be doing anything but my mind is usually traveling at warp speed. It’s usually during these times that I let my mental forces do what they’ll do. More times than not, they produce . . . an idea . . . several ideas . . . a partial script . . . something to which I can apply time-in-the-future to develop.

Boredom is just one evolutionary discomfort we’ve lost from our lives. Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis, investigates nine others, covering what happens to our bodies, minds, and sense of self without them—and the benefits we can reap by reintroducing these evolutionary discomforts into our lives.

Seth Godin on Creativity

“To count, it needs to ship,” Seth Godin.

Whatever you end up creating, for it to count, it needs to ship. Ship in the sense that it needs to be published, displayed, lectured, drawn, invented, etc. Whatever you create needs exposure.

If you’re not that familiar with Seth or his myriad of work, go explore Seth’s site. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ve been following Seth’s podcast, Akimbo, for several years now and find it quite nourishing. I also subscribe to his emails. How he does this 365 days of the year, I’ll never know.

But, I’m glad he does.

So take a listen below to Seth’s take on Creativity if you haven’t already. Once done, choose to create something.

Then ship it!

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Special Edition: Creativity Mastermind, Father of Lateral Thinking Edward de Bono Has Died

I couldn’t let the week go by without a Tip-o-the (Six) Hats to the truly creative wizard I had the pleasure of meeting back in 2005 at an international creativity conference.

Creative thinker Edward de Bono has died less than a month after celebrating his 88th birthday. De Bono died last Wednesday morning and the news of his passing was announced by his family. 

I really didn’t know anything about him before I met him at this conference in Austin, Texas. He was one of the featured panelists at the conference and, one could argue, probably the most famous. He was also unassuming as he sat there on the panel giving out advice and counsel based on his many books, especially Six Hats.

Edward de Bono photo: Roy Zhao

That’s one of several he autographed for me as we visited for a brief bit following his presentation.

Born in Malta, De Bono graduated as a doctor but went on to study psychology and physiology from where he developed an interest in thinking processes.

He fathered the phrase lateral thinking, which has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, and developed multiple thinking strategies, including the Six Thinking Hats method.

In a statement, his family described de Bono as a global citizen, who returned to Malta in his final years.

“This has always been his home. He lived an extraordinary life, inspiring, encouraging and enabling all of us to be better and more creative thinkers. He wrote in his book The Mechanism of Mind: ‘A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.’ May the memory of Edward live on and inspire many future generations,” the family said.

De Bono received his initial education at St Edward’s College and the Royal University of Malta, where he achieved a degree in medicine. Then as a Rhodes Scholar at Christchurch, Oxford, where he gained a degree in psychology and physiology and a D.Phil. in medicine.

He holds a PhD from Cambridge, a DDes from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and a LLD from Dundee. He has had faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard. 

Thanks to the World Creativity and Innovation Week/Day

He has written over 60 books and programs, with translations into 43 languages, has been invited to lecture in 58 countries and has made three television series. Included among these 60 books are Serious Creativity, Creativity Workout, and Handbook for the Positive Revolution, all now displayed in my library with his autograph.

His ideas have been sought by governments, not for profit organizations and many of the leading corporations in the world, such as IBM, Boeing, Nokia, Siemens, 3M, GM, Kraft, Nestle, Du Pont, Prudential, Shell, Bosch, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young and others.

The global consultancy, Accenture, chose him as one of the fifty most influential business thinkers. In a 2004 interview with MaltaToday, de Bono even proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he launched his thinking centre in Malta.

In 1994, de Bono was made an officer of the National Order of Merit by the President of Malta.

Thanks to Kurt Sanson of MaltaToday for material upon which this blog is based.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

Rising from the Ashes

A Macabre Tale of the Dearly Departed

I’m sort of numb, sitting in Pam’s huge, upholstered easy chair just staring into space. It’s only been a few weeks since she died and here I am staring at the forlorn-looking black box that the funeral home delivered containing her ashes.

I’m scared to open it. I’ve never even seen someone’s ashes before. Not sure what to expect.

I sit. I stare. I wonder. I need a drink! Maybe two!!

After I return with my Jack Daniel’s on-the-rocks, I put the glass down and notice some liquid residue evidently left over from a glass no longer sitting here on the coffee table. I just mutter to myself that I’ll wipe it up later.

I take a sip of Jack, replace the glass on the table and reach for the black box to open it. Opening is no problem but I see that the bag inside is tightly tied so as to prevent spillage of the ashes.

Or so I thought.

When I lifted the bag from its container and began to remove it from the box, it began to slip from my hand and spill out onto the table. Evidently, the bag was not as securely tied as I was led to believe.

Though startled, and slightly embarrassed, even though there’s no one else home, I quickly apologized to Pam for having accidentally spilled some of her ashes. When I began to wipe up the ashes from the table, I noticed some weird reaction start to take place with those ashes.

It seems that some of them spilled precisely where some liquid remained from a few drinks ago.

I sat there mesmerized as I watched some chemical reaction taking place with the spilled ashes and liquid. To my amazement, it seemed as if some sort of figure was beginning to form.

A blob. Unrecognizable. But then, my God, it’s transforming right before my eyes into . . . a . . . person.

Pamela’s Voice imagerpy from The Night Gallery

I watch, amazed, not knowing what, if anything, to do. I am utterly transfixed on what is happening right before me. Then to my astonishment, it stands there and speaks, “Hi Joe!”

“It” is Pam, and I faint.

ii

“Uh, Joe,” she says. “It’s me, Pam, I think, though I’m not sure how I got here. It’s kinda fuzzy to me.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I muttered, slowly beginning to regain consciousness.

“Do you remember dying?,” I asked. “You know, you really screwed up my day, not to mention yours!,” I stated as flatly sarcastic as I could.

“I don’t know. I mean, I remember laying on the bed, semi-asleep and then, well, nothing. It’s as if everything went black,” she said.

“I don’t want to dwell on your death, Pam. I’m still in some kind of shock. It was I who discovered you, thank you very much,” I said.

“That moment was my worst nightmare come true,” I retorted.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t exactly plan it that way,” she said. “But enough of this! How the hell did I get back here and what am I doing in our living room?”, she asked.

“Well, I was handling your bag of ashes and they slipped out of my hands with some spilling into a little residue of liquid there on the table. The mixture began some sort of chemical reaction and the next thing I know, you formed into, uh, you” I explained.

“You mean I was sort of resurrected from my ashes?,” she blurted out.

“That’s pretty much it,” I said.

“Well, that explains the gritty taste in my mouth,” she said as she sort of spit out some sandy-like substance.

“Why are you looking at me that way?” she asked.

“It’s not everyday, Pam, that I bring the dead back to life!” I said. “And,” as I stumbled for words, “you’re much younger looking than when you died,” I explained. “You look like you did when we first met, about 30 years ago!” I confessed.

“Maybe your appearance has something to do with your transformation,” I offered. “Whatever the explanation, I’m glad it has taken place” I admitted.

Evidently, unknown to me at the time, the mixing of the liquid with ashes that produced the chemical reaction also transformed the liquid somehow to create a person. This has resulted in forming a human, in this case, Pam, as I recall her from when we first met.

Oh, man, do I have questions, I thought. Does simply mixing a little of the ashes with any liquid produce this magical transformation to a “living being?” Is this magical elixir the solution for bringing the dead back to life?

“Pam, why don’t we take a little walk outside and get some fresh air? You’ve been bagged and bottled up for too long,” I suggested.

She agreed and off we went. However, as soon as we began to walk out the front door, she screamed in agony. We both immediately stopped and I looked down in horror.

She had begun to disappear!

iii

Her feet and ankles were dissolving and were starting to leave behind some dust reside. Thinking quickly in almost a reactive sort of way, I grabbed hold of her and immediately yanked her entire body back inside the house.

Within moments, thankfully, the shape of both feet and ankles began to return to normal appearance.

“Whew, thank God,” I exclaimed in shortness of breath. I was still holding on to her and sort of afraid to let her go. We eventually made it back to the living room where we both sat down in utter relief, she on the table and me in her overgrown chair.

“What the hell was that all about,” she screamed. “I started to disappear,” she said.

“Yeah, I know” I said. “I have a theory,” I suggested.

“Perhaps once the person leaves the house or the dwelling she occupies, she begins to dissolve and then disintegrates. In other words, she can’t venture outside or else she returns to dust or ashes in your case,” I theorized.

“You mean I can’t go outside or physically leave this house?,” she exclaimed.

“Not this way,” I said.

“Damn!” she retorted.

“Well, after all, you’re dead, remember?” I told her.

“As you have said on more than one occasion, my dear Joe, ‘minor little detail!'” she deadpanned.

iv

My now-growing list of questions boggles my mind: Is this chemical reaction trick a way of always producing Pam whenever I wish? Even though this creation is evidently limited to exist within the boundaries of my home, is that enough to satisfy me or to counter my longing for her? Could I bring her back in a different setting if I began the process from a different locale?

NightGalleryArtMinds

I have no clue at this point. The quest for clarification is now upon me. Where will it lead? Am I flirting with another dimension? Where is Rod Serling when you need him?

I think I’ll pour me another Jack Daniel’s and sit, contemplate . . . and chat with Pam.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

They’re Baaaaaaaaaaackkkkkk! Quotes, That Is!

I think Calvin’s been watching The Twilight Zone.

It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover. To know how to criticize is good, to know how to create is better. – Poincaré

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things. – Bruce Barton, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

A good ad should be like a good sermon: It must not only comfort the afflicted, it also must afflict the comfortable. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

I have learned that trying to guess what the boss or the client wants is the most debilitating of all influences in the creation of good advertising. – Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make. – William Bernbach, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Fun without sell gets nowhere, but sell without fun tends to become obnoxious. – Leo Burnett, member, Advertising Hall of Fame

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will. – George Bernard Shaw

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.