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Category: Artful Dodging

making, mindsets and strategies that foster creativity

ROCK THE BOX

ROCK THE BOX

They told us wrong, you know.

All those guys who kept exhorting us (for decades now) to “think outside the box,” urging us to forget about our limitations and be “free-free-free” didn’t give us the real story when they touted that ‘Unbound” mindset as the panacea for all of our gnarly problems.

In fact, I think they were blowing sunshine up the nether parts of our anatomy (with the best of intentions, of course).

I suspect they don’t even know what that “box” they keep talking about really is.

You can tell that they’re playing their air-guitars because they all seem to be enamored of that silly nine-dot puzzle where you’re supposed to join all of the dots that are arranged in a square with four straight lines.

Every one of those guys present the very same solution….as if it’s the only solution there is.

Really?

Do it their way and you get a gold star, I guess.  Whoo-hoo!

thanks-for-the-gold-stars
“Thanks for the gold stars” by Jeffrey Zeldman via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
What does all that tell you?

Mostly it tells me that Da Guys have taken what some acknowledged expert has said and they’re passing it on to me without really thinking on it.

The best riff I’ve ever seen on coming up with solutions to that classic nine-dot puzzle is this YouTube video, “Thinking Inside the Box.” It’s a short thing published by TEDxTalks in 2012 and features designer and marketing strategist Magnus Berglund at TEDxGöteberg.

See what I mean?

This guy plays inside the box.  In fact, he makes it rock!

ANATOMY OF “THE BOX”

So, what IS this “Box” thing?

Every one of Da Guys will tell you it’s all those nasty, hard-rub limitations and constraints that handcuff you and bring you down and hold you back from realizing your True Potential.

Without all those stupid restrictions, prohibitions, obstacles, obstructions, and impediments to progress, you could soar, you know.

The thing is, they are right.  We could all fly if there was no gravity holding us down.

flight
“Flight” by Allegory Malaprop via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Hey…us humans, we’ve got super-powers:  Imagination, Ingenuity, Innovation, Inventiveness.  All those good “I” words.

The problem is, we’ve also got a brain that’s set up to “fix” stuff.  We are all hard-wired to be alert for ways to mitigate the irritation factor of the things in the world that make us uncomfortable or rub us the wrong way.

However, if there is absolutely nothing wrong with anything in our lives and if everything is all hunky-dory, then we just sit there.

Why not?

Everything is FINE.

the-world-of-my-wild-river
“The World of My Wild River…!!!” by Denis Collette via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
When our world is beauteous and beyond lovely, when it’s all going our way and there’s a cherry pie in the oven with our name on it, there really is no need for us to gear up, grab our trusty sword, gather our True Companions, and set off out of Hobbit-land on some weird-ass quest.

There has got to be some REASON for us to move our booties.

The End of The-World-As-We-Know-It is a Reason.

So is an irritating hang-nail.

So is some dumb tool that doesn’t work right or a rule or customary practice or system that makes no sense and is ultimately counter-productive.

These are the kinds of things that lure us into action.

And taking action automatically turns our lives into a movie or, if you want to be low-tech about it, the actions we take become the start of another story, song, or poem.

So, really, that “Box” all our wanna-be advisors keep urging us to “transcend” is actually The-World-As-We-Know-It (also known as TWAWKI).

Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe not.

Only you can decide.

REDEFINING THE BOX AND HOW WE CAN USE IT

My own theory is that TWAWKI is actually like the big old refrigerator box my cousins and I got to play with one summer.  That box was cool.

Before it fell apart, we built awesome worlds with it and got to go on a lot of adventures prominently featuring bad-ass truckers, pirates and one stuffed parrot, paladins and gunslingers, knights and dragons, really cool and crafty American Indian dudes and dudettes, super-heroes and other-worldly alien spiders, and things like that.

(We sat on the one cousin who just wanted to play “house” or “store” or “tea party.”  He really was no fun.)

This 2015 video, “World’s Biggest Box Fort” by Family Fun Pack sure does bring back some sweet memories….

The thing we have to remember is that TWAWKI is what it is.  We can do things with it, but first we have to make sure we are seeing it right:

The Box is the Box is the Box…but what ELSE could it be?

Not having the right tools or the proper materials for some project and faced with inadequate funding plus a fast- approaching deadline breathing down your neck as well as a clueless colleague or two and an assortment of dorkheads who are sabotaging your efforts from on high are all examples of the kinds of limitations, obstructions and constraints that define the parameters of TWAWKI.

They define the parameters of our Box.

These sorts of conditions help us see where we are standing.

If we look around within this space, we can begin to make an inventory of the resources that are available to us that we can use to resolve our problem.

bay-of-saronikos
“Illuminated Manuscript of The Bay of Saronikos…” by Piri Reis, posted by Walters Art Museum, Baltimore via Flickr [Public Domain]
With a map of the territory that has notations about the various obstacles and dangers marked on it and a list of available resources in hand, plus some sort of time-frame to work in, we can begin.

And, if we do it right, because of our inherent super I-powers, we humans can, indeed, change TWAWKI.

Maybe the changes we make will mitigate the problem.  Maybe not.  But, it’s possible that the action we take or the thing we make will be at least one step in the right direction.

If our solution sort of works, we’ll have a new starting place from where we can keep working on the problem until it is gone.  (Then we can go find some other problem.)

If our solution falters or fails, we’ll know for sure that what we tried does not work and we can figure out why.  Then we can go explore in some other direction.

In either case, we can go on.

Boxing ourselves in and defining the boundaries of that box are the first steps to breaking out and making breakthroughs, it seems.

(We already know that just sitting there in the middle of the road really does not work.)

Technology blogger and startups analyst Thomas Oopong, the founding editor of Alltopstartups, a resource for news about top internet startups and technological companies, wrote a cogent article for Inc. magazine in 2017, “For a More Creative Brain, Embrace Constraints”.

In it he delineates the whys and hows for using constraints and limitations to change TWAWKI.  You can access it by clicking the button below.

click-here

ONE MORE TAKE

Innovation and leadership advisor Navi Radjou is a great believer in what he calls “frugal innovation.”

In this short YouTube video, “Big Questions, Big Ideas:  Frugal Innovation with Navi Radju,” he gives a small glimpse at how working with limitations and constraints can lead to very real innovations that solve everyday problems for people who are not living in abundance.

The video was posted by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2018.

The highlight of this video is a refrigerator developed by a potter Mansukh Prajapati.  It is entirely made of clay and needs no electricity.

Radjou, expounding more on his ideas in a post on the ideas.ted.com site, quips,

“If an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty, then the developing world must be filled with optimists. There, people have learned to get more value from limited resources and find creative ways to reuse what they already have.”

Besides Prajapati’s refrigerator, Radjou points to the resourceful entrepreneurs in Africa who recharge cell phone batteries with their bicycles.

Another successful project was a giant advertising billboard designed by students of the engineering and technology college, UTEC, in the city of Lima Peru, a city that is extremely humid but also very dry.  (It receives only one inch of rainfall a year.)

The billboard the college designed absorbs the humid air and converts it into purified water.  It generates more than 90 liters every day.

Radjou says, “In India, we call these kinds of solutions Jugaad, a Hindi word that means an improvised fix, a clever solution born in adversity.”

When basic resources are scarce and living is hard, there will be people who fall back on their own ingenuity and use it to solve their everyday life problems which can be truly fearsome.

Whatever else may be missing, human ingenuity is boundless.

And that is a very good thing.

Here’s a poem:


GONNA BE IN THE MOVIES

I just saw one more comic-book movie

Where the apocalypse comes

Riding in on mighty metal steeds.

Buildings blow up spectacularly.

People get squished like bugs.

Everything’s knocked flat.

The super hero wins.

The villain loses.

The world is safe for Humankind.

Again.

 

But, then,

In the fare-thee-well,

Next-to-the-last scene,

There’s the super-hero (in disguise)

Walking through a bright and

Shiny, spanking-new building,

Full of bright and shiny people

With no flies on ’em.

Just another day in a workaday world.

 

The rubber band stretched…

And snapped right back into place.

 

Okay,

I know, I KNOW…

It’s a dumb movie.

 

But, I have to wonder:

How’d those guys get things rebuilt so fast?

We are talking BIG buildings here,

Streets of them,

All busted up and shredded.

I mean, where’d they get the funding?

 

And I have to wonder:

Where’d they put all the dead people

That had to be lying around

All over the landscape.

Did the street pizza evaporate?

Did anybody cry?

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah….

It’s just a movie.

The good guys won.

The bad guys didn’t.

And it all just goes away…

Like mist when the sun comes out.

 

Right.

 

So…

I got to thinking

How the whole thing ’bout “forgive” and “let go”

Has gotten tangled up with

“Nah-nah-nah,”

“Ne’ min'” and

“Fuggetaboudit.”

 

Yeah?

Lemme run this one out.

(My warped brain just won’t wrap itself around this.)

 

Okay,

Here’s the deal:

You can stomp around

Doing scorched-earth moves,

Littering the landscape

With toppled, twisted dreams

And ooka-pile-plenty street pizza

As long as you can

Strike noble poses in the sun,

‘Cause, hey, you did what you had to do.

The rest is…well…”collateral damage.”

 

Yup!

It’s your nature.

You can’t help it.

That’s how you are.

Your back was pushed against the wall,

So you blew up the world around you.

 

Ummmm.

Okay.

Right!

 

So then there’s the second half of this screwy equation:

All the REST of the people in the world,

They are NOT super-heroes.

They are helpless, civilized ninnies

Whose destiny, apparently,

Is to be street-pizza and cannon fodder

When the good guys and the bad guys have their tiffs.

And when it’s all done,

When all the dust settles,

Then everything just…kinda…goes back to regular.

 

HUH?

HOW?

WHY?

 

‘Cause the fodder-guys,

They’re civilized.

They are chock-a-block full of

Mommy-understanding, of empathy and sympathy.

They are the embodiments of loving-kindness,

Of unconditional love

Or at least they’re supposed to be….

(Or maybe they’re brain-damaged and concussed….

No short-term memory.)

 

Hey,

They’ll forgive ya ’cause they understand:

It’s your Nature.

So, they’ll all forget about it,

They’ll just pull together

And get this place back in shape

So all the good guys and all the bad guys

Can blow it up again.

 

Hmmm….

I don’t know, guys.

Don’t make a lick of sense to me.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

I know…only a movie….

 

So, tell me then…

How come our real-life leaders

Act like they are super heroes

Engaged in a battle against the wicked forces of evil-most-vile?

Does that mean WE are the cannon-fodder?

Are WE the evaporating street pizza?

And now I’m wondering

Just HOW are we supposed to rebuild our world

Once the dust settles?

How are we supposed to forgive, to forget?

 

Hmmm….

Sure doesn’t look good to me….

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Boxes” by oatsy40 via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

PLAY WITH THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

I’ve been noticing that much of the advice being bandied about by the guys trying to help us ordinary folks improve our dud-ly selves is to reach for innovation, to grab onto the Creativity Rocket and hang on for the sure-to-be-exciting but sometimes silly (and possibly dangerous) ride.

For example, vlogger John Spencer published this YouTube video in 2016 that tells us, “We Need a Bigger Definition of Creativity.”

Everyone who studies on these things will tell you that the world-in-all-its-glory is capable of extraordinary change.

Us humans, as the pushiest parts of this world and the ones most likely to move things around and tinker and build and re-purpose stuff, are all nascent agents of change, they tell us.

And they are right.

BUT, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO BE A CHANGE-AGENT?

There’s just one problem with all that:  Change-agents are very often disruptive sorts.

They don’t mean to be.  They’re just exploring their own fascinations and pursuing their own obsessions.

However, they do tend to confuse and upset and irritate people who are just going along and getting by.  They rock the boats of the ones who are liking the way the world is already set up just the way it is.

Change-agents can be especially unpopular with people whose power is based on the world being how it is.

Change-agents are likely to be the guys who get ridiculed and vilified and stomped down by their peers and the others around them.

If their ideas are particularly change-making, change-agents are the ones who end up getting denounced from assorted pulpits and beat up by fearful mobs of folks or burned at the stake by the ones who don’t like the possibilities to which the new ideas point.

This may make you uneasy.

fear-of-the-dark
“Fear of the Dark” by stuart anthony via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
It is also why people who are inclined to be innovative are admonished that they do need to learn how to connect better with the people around them.

This helps them find other people for whom the fascination of where the next new idea will take them is exciting.

Being a change-agent is lot more fun when you hang out with others who are also looking to change the world…or who are at least willing to change their mind.

WHEN AN IDEA IS “AHEAD OF ITS TIME”

Ideas and ways of walking and doing things that are very much more “advanced” or just very different than what has gone before are likely to meet resistance of every kind.

Infant ideas that are “ahead of their time” often get killed off before they can turn into anything tangible.

Either the necessary supporting technology is not yet part of the agreed-upon consensus-world that the change-agents share with the other people around them or else the prevailing, existing mindsets just can’t take in (much less digest) these new baby ideas and squishes them flat.

When these very good change-inducing ideas get re-discovered by innovative sorts living in friendlier times, the things take off running, dragging the whole reluctant, resistant world along.

This happens in science and technology; in art, music, literature, theater, fashion, design, and the rest of the creative milieu; in the business and working world; and in the lifestyles of people who work on transforming themselves into something other than what they used to be.

The whole point of knowing this is that you can aim yourself at looking for the “ideas whose time is now, ideas that excite many other people in the world.

Perhaps one of those ideas will take you to the new places that will ring the world’s chimes.

so-it-begins
“So it begins” by Phototropy via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE

In 2002, physician and theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman (a free-thinker who has a tendency to confuse the heck out of a lot of his more mundane colleagues) figured out and developed a mind-map of the way real change works in the natural world.

Kauffman’s work was so esoteric and bound up in the evolutionary changes that occur in his unique mash-up, interdisciplinary world of biology, physics and astronomy that it had to be explained to us ordinary folks by science writer Steven Johnson in his 2010 book, WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM:  The Natural History of Innovation.

As Johnson explains, Kauffman discovered a theory that he called the “Adjacent Possible.”

Basically, what the thing says is that at any given moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only CERTAIN changes can actually happen.

What determines which changes CAN happen is the fact that other, supporting changes to a particular situation have already happened.

And then, if new changes happen because of the work the change-agent puts into making his or her new idea tangible and if others continue iterating and developing the idea, then other “adjacent possible” changes become available and so on.

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore these boundaries.  Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible,” says Johnson.

Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open.

You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room you have not visited yet.  These four rooms contain what Kauffman calls “the adjacent possible.”

room-with-doors-2
“Room with Doors (2060-2)” by Brent Eckly [CC BY 2.0]
Okay.

So you open one of those four magic doors.

You stroll (or possibly sneak) into the new room that appears when you open that door and you notice that in that room there are three or more other new doors you can open.

room-with-doors
“Room with Doors (IMG_8881)” by David Bramhall [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Repeat the process and you come to another room with more doors.

exploration-2
“Exploration” by Flavio Spugna [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Each of these doors is way the heck and gone across this very large room and each one of those doors leads to yet another brand-new room….and so on.

The mind-boggle is that you would not have been able to reach any of the possible brand-new rooms from your original starting point.

If you keep opening doors, who knows where you might end up?

urban-exploration
“Urban Exploration” by Patrick BAUDUIN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One interesting riff on the way the world has been disrupted by all the ones who are busily exploring the adjacent possible was published by Heidrick and Struggles International.

The company says they are “a premier provider of senior level Executive Search, Culture Shaping and Leadership Consulting services.”  (The capitals are all theirs.)

The factoids they present in their video, “A Disrupted World,” are amazing.

This video is particularly interesting because it shows the mindset of one of the top headhunter companies in the world….a definite indication that exploring the adjacent possible is an especially valuable way of walking.

CHANGE HAPPENS STEP BY STEP

The thing to remember in all this door-opening and wandering around in the weird places you discover behind all those doors is that most real changes are a gradual process.

The thing just keeps trundling along:  If this happens, then that can happen.  When that happens, then this next thing becomes possible and can happen.

All you have to add is water – your blood, your sweat, and your tears.  (The changes you’d like to see probably doesn’t come with zippy high-velocity elevators and escalators.)

You can, of course, choose to step off a very high cliff, figuring that you’ll build wings on the way down.  After all, that looks like a great short-cut and you’re creative, right?  Sure….

gentle-journey
Gentle Journey” by Domy Kamsyah via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND]
I have to tell you, though, this is not a really good survival strategy — especially if you have the mechanical know-how of a toad and no floating workshop or friendly flying dragon or roc who will rescue you from your Stupid.

HACKING THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE STARTS AT THE THRESHOLD

Unlocking a new door and bravely going where nobody has gone before (and surviving to tell the tale) is tricky.  Ask any Trekkie.  They’ll tell ya.

continued-exploration
“Continued Exploration by skagitrenee via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Basically, you need to figure out ways to explore the edges of the possibilities that now surround you once you get the durned door open.

This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you do your work or play your way.

From there you can develop the skills you’ll need to take you to the next level and beyond.

Be aware that you will probably have to shovel out manure and sort through mountains of “nope-doesn’t-work.”

Be aware that there are cliffs and thorns and probably hungry predators in this brave new world of yours.

In the middle of this process of exploring the adjacent possibles you encounter, you may have to re-think your expectations and aspirations and re-vamp your mind-maps yet again in the face of the “not-yet-possible” which is the shadow-side of all this playing around with possibility.

You might also find an utterly amazing adjacent possible that grabs you and everybody else around you by the throat.

As you get good at navigating through the adjacent possibles in your world, you may even figure out how to use those navigational skills to further your dream in more tangible ways.

Here are some cogent thoughts on that by engineer-turned-deep-thinker and skill-development coach Yazan Hijazi in his 2017 video, ‘Innovation vs Creativity Demystified.”

Hijazi explains the difference and the relationship between innovation and creativity beautifully.

Creativity, he says, is getting lots and lots of ideas.  Innovation is about making some of these ideas real and getting people to buy into them or adopt them.

Hijazi tells you innovation comes in two flavors: “incremental” and “disruptive.”  He explains what they are, what they do and what they are for.

In the video he explains how you can use these two types of innovation to explore the edges of the adjacent possibles that surround you (and how to survive and thrive while doing it).

THE DOING IS ALL THERE IS

One of my favorite books is A PATH OF MASTERY:  Lessons on Wing Chun and Life from Sifu Francis Fong by Jim Brault.

In it, Brault reminds us, “In nature growth is gradual.  It takes time, it can’t be forced.”

He asks, “Why are you in such a hurry anyway?  Don’t worry if it takes a long time to learn.  The longer it takes to learn, the longer it will stay with you.”

When you’re playing around with possibilities, it’s good to remember that you have to be able to take action, to do things.   More importantly, you need to learn what to do and what not to do and when.

Learning about how you can do what you want to do is what gets you through that magical room you’re facing and how you get to the next door.

A VISION OF WONDER

This next video, published by The Culture Marketing Council in 2015, is a treat.  It features film-maker, public speaker and television personality Jason Silva, who The Atlantic dubbed “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age.”  Enjoy!

Here’s a poem:


LEVELS

It seems to me always

That there are levels

And levels and levels.

And when you’ve slogged

Your way to the top of one,

And mastered every step along the way,

You find that you are standing

On the threshold of yet another

That beckons you to enter into

Other wonders, other nows.

 

Sometimes you stand there

At this next gateway and sigh,

Knowing that again here is the choice:

You can stay where you are

And be a master, strong and whole,

The one on whom others depend,

Or you can step across the line

And lose it all, become an egg,

A useless chick, fresh-hatched,

Peeping and cheeping potentiality.

 

And that next step

Is the hardest one to take.

It’s not easy, sloughing off

The tried, the true.

And it’s a painfulness to lose

The you that you have made,

An impregnable mountain tower,

High above the world,

A beacon shining, beckoning,

And leading the way.

 

It’s through the birth canal again you go,

So it’s no wonder if you take it kind of slow.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Exploration” by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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SHIFT TO IDLE

SHIFT TO IDLE

This Patreon-backed YouTube video, “The Power of Imagination” published in 2015 by Claw Mountain, got me thinking…..

MY BIG CONFESSION

I am an incorrigible daydreamer.

When I was a kid, of course, there were those Bigs around me who kept predicting dire consequences for the disrespectful, lazy Space Cadet who was not listening, who could not focus, who had the attention span of a flea.

I was told to concentrate.  I was told to go do something.  I was told I had to develop my Work Ethic.  I lost count of the number of times I got the Buckle-Down-and-Soldier-On speech.

I had a hard time as a kid explaining that when I was staring out the window at that rainbow, I was trying to figure out exactly where the thing began and ended and how I could get it to actually stand still so I could, maybe, race over to see what was there at either end of it.

(And, for real, which end is THE end?  Which end is the beginning?)

I was wondering how come trees just know what shape works best for them and they grow that way all by themselves (except for those cool, gnarly-looking bonsai things Mr. Matsumoto played around with).

And I was wondering whether gnats really have brains.  I mean, gee, those gnat brains must really be small, right?

And how come Mama says this, but Aunty says that, and neither one of them agrees with Uncle, but Uncle agrees with Papa and…oh, boy!

Or I wondered what would have happened if I’d been raised by animals like Mowgli or how I would survive if I was shipwrecked on a desert island like the Swiss Family Robinson and what if dragons were really real and on and on.

It was hard for me to articulate that when I was sitting there just staring off into space, I was busy figuring out things, and mostly what I wanted to know about wasn’t exactly what the Bigs said I needed to learn.

And, frankly, what those Bigs thought I needed to know was sort of…well, BORING!  Their tick-tock everyday world just didn’t sparkle all that much.

lil-daydream
“Lil Daydream” by Evan Lavine via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
These days, I’m one of the Bigs.  I know a bit about the Three R’s:  Reasoning and Responsibility and Rationality.  I know some stuff about concentrating and focus and goal-setting and persistence and follow-through and all that grown-up stuff.

I even do it…a lot.

And, still, I daydream.

daydreaming
“Daydreaming” by Paulo Valdivieso via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Anthony Carboni is featured in the YouTube video. “Don’t Stop Daydreaming!” published in 2014 by Seeker.  Carboni is a cool video-maker extraordinaire who has an…ah-hem…werewolf-thing happening in his down-time moments.

The video’s part of a series of DNews (Discovery News) videos on TestTube.

See, it ain’t such a bad thing, this daydreaming.

THE DAYDREAM BELIEVER’S WAY

Smarty-pants Scott Barry Kaufman, co-author of WIRED TO CREATE:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, is featured in this YouTube Video, “Mindful Daydreaming Enhances Creativity, Not Meditation Alone.”  It was published in 2016 by Big Think.

In this video Kaufman explains about the two main modes of thought – the planning and strategizing part we exalt in our ever-busy, get-‘er-done world, the executive attention network,” as well as the stealthier, more intuitive part of our mind that  the guys in the lab coats have named “the default mode network” which lets your mind play with possibilities.

The second one is the mode that kicks in when you’re not actively putting out fires or dodging bullets or whatever.

Guys who are into studying ancient wisdoms call it “being in the Now” sometimes or maybe “mindfulness” or “detachment.”

Regular people just call it “daydreaming.”

reflection
“Reflection” by Simon Turkas via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Kaufman points out that you need both in order to do your best creative work.

He argues that if you can balance the two ways of thinking and can toggle back and forth between them, then you break into what Kaufman calls “the imagination network,” where you can use the focusing and planning powers of your executive mode to play around in the world that lies within your very own DMZ (default mode zone).

WALKING THROUGH YOUR DMZ

Walking around inside this edge-state, where your inner world meets the world around you, is the best place that interesting, world-changing breakthroughs can happen, studies have shown.

Ancient wisdom seekers agree.

timeless-bliss-timeless
“Timeless Bliss Timeless” by Hartwig HKD [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Buddhist teacher and author Joan Halifax constructs an analogy between the various mindsets and thought-construct places in our human minds and the areas in the natural world where one ecosystem meets another.

Examples that come to mind are the areas where the edge of the forest meets the leading edge of the wetlands or where the sea meets the shore.

Standing on a high cliff overlooking a canyon is an even more dramatic example.  From that high vantage point, maybe you can even “see forever,” as an old song tells us.

As Halifax points out , “Edges are where opposites meet.”

And then she says,

“Our journey through life is one of peril and possibility—and sometimes both at once. How can we stand on the threshold between suffering and freedom and remain informed by both worlds?”

You can click here to get more of her thoughts:

click-here

 

The Lion’s Roar article is an adapted excerpt of Roshi Halifax’s book, STANDING AT THE EDGE:  Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet.

On a less esoteric level, there are all kinds of examples of how accessing your personal DMZ can lead you to major insights.

Think of that goof-off Isaac Newton, his falling apple, and his Law of Gravity and all the other “aha,” lightbulb moments that produced awesome-good ideas and insights.

Think of the young space cadet Albert Einstein working in a boring civil servant job in the Swiss patent office and his Theory of Relativity.

Think of that champion daydreaming single-mom J.K. Rowling, stuck on the Manchester to London train, and the birth of the Harry Potter books that took the world by storm.

Apparently wondering minds wander and their wandering ways produce incredible insights, understandings, and piles of creative thinks.

DAYDREAMING PRACTICE

In his book, AUTOPILOT:  The Art and Science of Doing Nothing, artificial intelligence scientist and engineer Andrew Smart makes a strong case for spending more time idling.

The only thing not so great about it is that he doesn’t tell you how to “do nothing.”  He just explains what it is and why it’s good.

As Smart says, “Through idleness, great ideas buried in your unconsciousness have the chance to enter your awareness.”

It’s ironic.  After years and years of being told to quit being such a daydreaming lazybones, it turns out that if you want to be a card-carrying creative and meaningfully productive member of post-modern society, you need to be able to climb back into that hazy, small-kid, do-nothing space where playing is the thing.

Learning how to attract prettier butterflies is the new Holy Grail.  Whoo-hoo!

Even guys in business suits have jumped on the bandwagon.

Daydream” by VOFAN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Brian DeHuff, the co-founder and CEO of Aha!, a roadmap software company that helps products managers create business strategies and keep track of them, presented a five-step program that’s supposed to help you do daydreaming in a purposeful way to Venture Beat.  (Venture Beat is an American technology website that focuses on what they call “Tech News That Matters.”)

Here are DeHuff’s suggestions:

COMMIT TO A TIME.

DeHuff suggests blocking off a distraction-free day during your work-week and holding to it assiduously.  If you can’t devote a whole day to this, then you need to at least set up “dedicated distraction-free times” on your calendar.

You tell your team you’re unavailable during these blocks of time and then, he says, you “keep yourself accountable to the time for creative thinking.”

MAKE IT COUNT.

DeHuff says he prepares for his dedicated daydreaming day by choosing what he’s going to be tackling ahead of time.

He also measures whether the time was a success by figuring out how far he has gotten towards the preset goal.

 ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.

DeHuff tells you to “create the ideal environment for yourself” that will help you zone-out better.  Everybody’s different, he points out, so your way won’t look like his way.

STAY DISCIPLINED.

DeHuff feels that making a habit of setting aside the time and making a supportive environment for daydreaming isn’t easy, but it will help you reach into what he calls “the flow of deep-thinking” if you keep on persevering.

CREATE SPACE FOR OTHERS.

DeHuff recommends encouraging your team members to set aside their own blocks of time, including coordinating their schedules if necessary.

Hmmm….

My own self, I think that one’s a bit too organized and focused for me.  Aren’t daydreams supposed to be more like that half-sleepy place when you get up from a nap and you are still surrounded by dream-clouds?

daydream
“Daydream” by Dome Sekoser via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I’m not sure battle-planning a daydream would actually work for me.

Hmmm….

Try this:  Look at a blank wall.  Just stare at it.  Don’t move.  Don’t do anything for five minutes.  (You can time it with a timer if you like.)

Okay.  THAT’S the space you want.  It’s where us poets go when the world has been beating us upside the head again.  Cool, huh?

You can induce and expand that space by doing some routine task or activity like washing the dishes or making a cup of coffee or by taking a warm shower or staring out a window or going out to sit on a grassy hill and watch the clouds go by.

If you need to get up and move, you can go for a meandering walk or go for a slow jog around a block.  You might prefer to do a very slo-mo ch’i kung session or do a wild and crazy dance and spin yourself silly.

sunset-reverie
“Sunset Reverie” by John Nakamura Remy via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Let your mind go wherever it wants to.  Just do that.  Don’t work on making any sense out of the wanderings.  Just let them happen.

Practice doing that and a funny thing will start happening.

If you’ve been beating your head against some obdurate problem and making yourself run around crazy, the thoughts will go swirling around in there, bumping into each other.

Let them.

After a while, if you’re lucky, you’ll fall into a reverie, where all the thoughts quiet down and the only thing left is a kind of white noise roaring in your head.

That’s when you’ll find that hazy space.  Take a breath or three.  Rest yourself in there.

Sometimes, after you’ve been there for a while, an idea will pop up.

Grab it.  Quick!  Write it down.  Maybe it’ll be just the thing you need to get you past all that nose-to-the-grindstone slogging.

And wouldn’t that be a wondrous thing?

Here’s a poem:


WIND THOUGHTS

Wind carves into mountain faces

Sculpting them into fantastic forms.

Wind pushes towering clouds all across the sky,

Or decorates it with pretty feather-clouds that

Settle into thick cloud duvets after a while.

Wind twists and bends trees into macro-bonsai shapes

Or wanders through meadows barely brushing against

The flowers in the grasses.

Gentleness of the breeze ruffling wavelets,

Across the face of still water;

Power in the hurricane,

Uprooting and tossing around anything in its path.

Wind makes changes,

Sometimes slow, sometimes swift,

But ever and always.

Wind can be blocked,

But it is never really stopped,

And the stirrings of butterfly wings, they tell me,

Can start the spinning of a hurricane someplace else.

Wind is the breath of the World,

Circulating through its body

In never-ending patterns,

Always changing, always the same.

 

Gee….

I wonder if the World

Knows how to do ch’i kung?

by Netta Kanoho

Photo credit:  “Midwinter’s daydream” by Natalia Medd via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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EMILY FISCHER: Work By Touch

EMILY FISCHER: Work By Touch

I have a fondness for quilting.

My own experiments in crazy-quilting and then sashiko quilting had me going blind doing fancy-stitching with wild and crazy colors and patterns as well as tactile combinations of bumps and lumps that were a heck of a lot of fun for me and for the heart-friends to whom I gifted these bits of silliness.

one-day-quilt
“One Day Quilt” by Rachel via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
That may be why this YouTube video, “Constellation Quilt,” (published in 2013 by Public Record) showing work by designer Emily Fischer and her design studio Haptic Lab caught my eye.

The idea, expressed in the video, of wrapping yourself up in stars and time caught at the strings of my imagination.

Then I saw another YouTube video, “Flying Martha Ornithopter.”  This one was published in 2017 by Made Me Look.  It, too, was about an object designed by Emily Fischer and Haptic Lab.

OOH!

Like Fischer, I understand that kites, winged things and even flapping flags can help us humans explore the movements and flow of the invisible forces of wind.  They can help us tap into the tactile joys of flight.

KINDRED SPIRIT FOUND

It seems to me that I have found another person for whom tactile and sensory design – how a thing feels in your hand and on your skin – is as important as what the thing looks like.

Even more importantly (for me anyway), here is a person for whom objects are repositories for the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

Among the objects Haptic Lab produces are extraordinarily detailed street maps that they call SoftMaps that can be customized and personalized for individual customers to show where their stories have taken place.

haptic-lab-san-francisco-map-blanket
Haptic Lab San Francisco map blanket by Eric Fischer via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
It seems to me that designers like that are a rarity.

BEGINNINGS OF A COMPANY WITH A HUMAN TOUCH

Emily Fischer grew up in rural Wisconsin where she learned how to make such things as quilts and kites as a youngster.  Even as an architect-wannabe, her crafty beginnings continued to find expression.

As an undergraduate student at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2002, one of her projects was her first quilted map that she designed as a way-finding tool for the visually impaired.

The inspiration for the project was her mother Peggy who had begun to lose her eyesight through complications from glaucoma.

For these quilts, Emily combined her skill with computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping tools, and open-source mapping software as well as her grounding in the old-school, painstaking craft traditions of quilting and needlework with her explorations of haptics (the way humans perceive objects and sensations through touch).

For years, she continued to make these quilts as side-projects while pursuing her career as an architect in New York City.

In 2009, during the extreme depths of the recession, Fischer was laid off from her job at a commercial architectural firm.

One of the first things she did was build a simple website with images of her experimental personal work that included objects exploring her interests in cartography and early flight.

About that time she says: “Almost immediately, design blogs like Cool Hunting started publishing images of my handmade quilts and kites. I was commissioned to construct a kite for an Opening Ceremony video directed by Matt Wolf. I got a message from ID Magazine (RIP). Then the Los Angeles Times. Then the New York Times. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy the quilted maps I was making. So within three weeks of losing my job, I accidentally started my own company.

And so it began.

Fischer operates her accidental company, Haptics Lab, out of a Brooklyn studio with a small, close-knit team.  The company is grounded in values that emphasize fair trade and sustainability.

For thoughts and insights Emily shared in a 2015 article for Design Sponge, “Ten Ways to Bootstrap a Sustainable Business:  How I was able to meet expectations, make a living and not overwhelm myself and others while also respecting fair-trade practices,” click here: click-here

It is an extraordinarily useful compendium of advice from one who has gone down the road a ways on a path that she says makes her happy.

FINAL FISCHER THOUGHTS

This YouTube “How the Founder of Haptic Lab Uses Design to Drive Positive Change” was created by Skiftx contents studio in 2017.

Here’s a poem:


AT THE CROSSROADS

Another crossroads….

 

Do I go straight ahead?

Do I turn left?

Do I turn right?

Do I go back?

 

Standing flatfooted in the middle

Sucks.

Keep standing there and

You’re likely to get run over

By some unheeding vehicle

That keeps on trundling along.

 

The roads in front spread outward

Leading to who-knows-where.

They stretch on to infinity, you know.

And “back” just means more same-old.

 

And here I am,

With my raw and bleeding heart

Pulling me towards

The one road that is so bright and shiny

That it takes my breath away.

 

The caution signs posted

Along that road are intimidating.

They threaten.

They shout.

They jump up and down, even.

 

Loss and devastation, they declaim.

Doom-and-gloom, they promise.

Desperation and despair.

Ah, me….

Watch out!

Beware!

 

Hmmm….

 

Aw, the heck with it, babe!

Shoots!

We go!

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Touching the World” by Joe Szilagyi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

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UNLOCK BEGINNER’S MIND

UNLOCK BEGINNER’S MIND

Back in the ‘70’s I ran across a small book of distilled teachings taken from talks given by Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND.

There was this quote in it:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

It spoke to me, that quote, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to unpack the thing.

I’ll probably do other posts about Beginner Mind, so all I’ll say about it right now is that Beginner Mind is an ancient wisdom teaching that helps you develop what educator Barbara Oakley dubbed a “growth mindset.”

This way of thinking keeps you from locking into fixating on the same-old “shoulds” and “musts” and “that’s-the-way-it-is” that all of us humans tend to create as we experience life.

Beginner Mind is expansive.  It’s not cluttered up by a lot of specious assumptions, expectations and preconceptions.

miksang-level-2-space
“miksang level 2 – space” by V via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
A gear-head analogy for Beginner Mind would be something like attaching a satellite dish to some receptor or other and having access to a whole bunch of channels.

Martial artists wax poetic about standing receptive to whatever comes at them when they talk about Beginner Mind.

Whatever.  Beginner Mind is a very cool tool to have in your Life Toolbox.

That’s been my take on Beginner Mind for a while now.

It may be why the YouTube video, “Nurturing a Beginner’s Mind,” that I’ll be sharing with you towards the end of this post caught my attention.

The video is a production of INKtalk, an off-shoot of the TEDtalk phenomenon.  INKtalk is organized by Lakshmi Pratury, who put together the first TEDIndia talks in Myosore in 2009.

(The reason the video’s at the end of this post is mostly because it introduced me to some other fascinating side-trails that I think are also worth exploring.  Come take a look!)

TALKING ABOUT INK

The video I’m going to share with you (after a bit of dancing around) is an INKtalk published on YouTube in 2013.

It is one of a series of talks that have happened during the annual conferences, mini-conferences and salons coordinated and produced by INK, self-described as “India’s foremost platform for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and inspiring stories.”

Click here for more information about INK and the talks:

click-here

Pratury wants the world to see INK as “a curator of contemporary oral history.”

The organization, she says, searches the world looking for people with stories and missions that center around innovative solutions for the broad scale problems that plague young economies, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

The stories they have gathered together are about innovative, world-changing ideas that address problems in recurring societal issues like education, governance, energy, health, poverty, and infrastructure.

The stories make for very interesting reading.  Check them out.

ANOTHER WAY OF SCHOOLING

In the upcoming INKtalk video, Saba Ghole, a former architectural urban designer who became an education and technology entrepreneur, talks about the work she and the members of her team do at the NuVu Studio at Cambridge University.

Ghole is one of the co-founders of the NuVu Studio, which was a brainchild of fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus Saeed Arida.

As part of his Ph.D. dissertation while at MIT, Arida explored the concept of a learning place modeled on the apprenticeship and project-based learning and hands-on problem-solving that is characteristic of an architectural studio.

Before he graduated, Arida implemented an on-campus pilot program at the Beaver Day Country School in Brookline.  This pilot was so successful that it led to an even larger project.

Arida collaborated with Ghole and another fellow MIT student David Wang, an engineer  and technology enthusiast, to launch NuVu Studio in 2010.

Wang collects degrees, it seems.  He’s got them in aeronautics, astronautics, electrical engineering and computer science.

beginning
Photo credit: “Beginning” by Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The three friends have a penchant for collaboration and they continue to gather people together so they can help other Makers build cool stuff.

NuVu Studio has become an amazing “innovation studio” that is an alternative full-time, trimester-length schooling experience for middle and high school students — baby Makers who want to learn how to grow their spirit of innovation and to experience hands-on, real-world problem-solving of the finest kind.

More than 3,000 students – mostly from the local schools in the Boston area — have gone through the program since it began.

It is a far cry from your regular school experience, as this short video, “What is NuVu,” published by HarvardX in 2017 illustrates:

Capitalizing on the immense resources of MIT and Harvard University, the Studio facilitates the participation of the students in multi-disciplinary collaborations with Studio-trained “coaches” who are themselves architects, engineers, or experts in science, leading-edge technology, music, art, photography, fashion, and more.

Many of the coaches are MIT or Harvard students who are excited about doing hands-on work in their fields as well.

They work in large open-space studios and workshops using state-of-the-art tools that include things like laser cutters, 3D printers, as well as more mundane tools and assorted building materials.

Here, students don’t get grades – they have portfolios showcasing their work and progress. Problems are tackled in weeks-long blocks rather than hour-long classes.

The students are challenged to learn in new ways.

Analytical thinkers are inspired to explore their creative selves while creative students expand their capacity to think and learn analytically.

Whole-brain thinking is nurtured and encouraged.

The goal for these students is to make products that solve real-life problems that the students have defined with the help of their coaches using “themes” selected by the organizers.

In 2017, NuVu Studio received a Core77 “Notable Design Education Initiative Award.” 

AND NOW FOR THE VIDEO (AND SOME THOUGHTS)….

In the video, Ghole presents a collection of wonderfully clear insights about the components that make up the Beginner’s Mind stance.

(By the time she did the talk Ghole had already been working on helping to grow creativity and innovation for a number of years.)

The three big ideas are as follows:

THE POWER OF MIXING

Mixing together people (experts and neophytes), combining assorted themes that relate back to the real world, and tinkering – also known as breaking and re-making (which includes repurposing and reusing, collaboration with other minds and making use of open sourcing platforms to find ideas) – are the foundations that the Studio uses to encourage and support the students in their efforts to produce novel and effective solutions to problems they have chosen to pursue.

WHAT MAKES THE HEART OF A BEGINNER?

Ghole says the Beginner’s heart is an intriguing mix of Trickster, Craftsman and Poet.

Each of these are archetypes that come with sets of behaviors that are often focused on seeing the world in ways that are different from group-mind and consensus.

NOT 2, NOT 1 (BOTH 2 AND 1)

This is the best iteration I’ve ever seen of the concept of wu, a really esoteric and dizzy-making ancient teaching that proposes that when two ideas (or people) come together, the dynamic interaction, relationship and flow between them produces a third idea or concept or way of moving that combines aspects of both.

She explains the three pairings that the Studio uses to try to ignite new thinking among their students:  Process + Product, Mindful + Mindfulness, and Fiction + Reality

I found the whole thing mind-blowing.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Here’s a poem:


WHERE IS THAT KNIFE?

If I rehash the old stuff,

They come alive again,

And I make the threads

Into strings,

Into cords,

Into cables,

Just by adding

Strands of thought –

Little, tiny thoughts –

Like fibers crowded together,

Twisting themselves

Tighter and thicker,

Turning into one heavy-duty rope,

Turning into one huge knot.

 

Hmmm….

 

So…

Where’s that knife?

I had it a minute ago.

I need it to cut through this stupid knot!

 

Back to beginner mind….

Again.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Photography In The Garden” by Olds College via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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FIND YOUR OWN VOICE

FIND YOUR OWN VOICE

Probably every wanna-be Creative has been told (at some point or other) that in order to reach their full potential as a writer, visual artist, musician, performer or whatever, it is imperative to “find your own voice.”

Now, in the Age of Social Media and Self-Branding — when the “Creative Mindset” is supposed to be The Way to $ucce$$ and Happiness — we are told that we must go looking for our individual, unique voices.  Our success depends on it.

I confess, I almost lost it when a pragmatic, more literal-minded friend snarked, “I KNOW where my voice is.  It’s right here in my mouth!”  Gales of laughter came bubbling up.

Explaining this “voice” thing gets confusing because even people who are engaged in developing themselves in a craft or an art or some other skill that doesn’t use words and doesn’t engage the mouth’s ability to make sounds can get all tangled up in trying to figure out how to find their own “voice.”

Now that the business world has turned on to getting creative, it seems that everyone wrestles with the idea of developing a voice.

There are Titans out there – the guys who built empires using their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses by surrounding themselves with people who have other, complementary strengths.  Lots of people admire them and want to be them.

There are Mega-Stars and Rainmakers and Heroes and Idols and Headliners and Leaders and Big Cheeses and High Muckamucks and Household Names and Treasures and Wonders and Leading Lights and so on and so forth, ad nauseum.  

Every one of them will probably tell you that they reached the stratosphere of massive accomplishments because they were successful in finding their own unique “voice.”

WHAT IS YOUR VOICE?

This concept of the elusive “voice” all wanna-be Successes are supposed to be nurturing is the crux of a story I encountered in a blog published by a flamenco dance teacher, Rina Orellana.

She relates how students come to her asking, “How do I find my voice?  How do I allow myself to become the dancer I want to be?”

When dancers ask her this, she says, to her it’s an indication that the dancer is “not quite comfortable in their skin.  They’re thinking too much and not feeling or allowing themselves to be in the movement.”

Her advice to these students is particularly insightful, I think.

Orellana tells them that they “need to allow themselves to be the bad-asses that they are” and she reminds them to “look at themselves in the mirror not to correct any physical part of the dance but to CONNECT with themselves as the person dancing.”

She assures them that looking at themselves in the mirror with acceptance will ultimately lead to their being confident in their movement and in their skin.

flamenco-dancer
“Flamenco Dancer” by Natalia Ba via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Being comfortable in your own skin is how you tell when you are speaking with your own voice.

Your “voice” is how you’re recognized by others.  It’s the “tone” and the themes of your body of work (whatever it is).

Every time you do anything that other people notice, whether you’re an artist, a businessperson, an intellectual, a scientist or a geek, you are also putting your values and the unique perspectives and skills you bring to your work on display.

What is on display is the meaning and the mana that you have developed so far in your life.  Your work shows how you are standing in the world.

Like every other human thing, your “voice” changes as you grow and evolve.  It develops nuances and layers.  It deepens.  It may develop greater clarity or get muddied up by life-induced confusions.

TWO TEACHERS

As an accomplished dancer and teacher, Ornella says, she cannot help passing along her own ways of moving and styling as well as the basic theories and techniques surrounding the craft.

However, in the middle of all that, her aim as a teacher is to encourage each individual dancer to find and focus on the movements that feel “right” for the dancer and to explore the rhythms that resonate.

Kevin Fitz-Gerald, a professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, in this YouTube Video “ARTS: Finding Your Voice,” which was published by the school in 2007, agrees with Ornella.  The video was produced by artistshousemusic.org.

As Fitz-Gerald points out in the video, the things that his students point to as things they don’t like about themselves are very often what sets them apart and makes them unique individuals.  It is those things that can help them move beyond being “average” or “mediocre” and generic.

Both of these teachers advise their students to discover and develop their own natural strengths and make allowances for their inherent weaknesses and limitations by working on improving their techniques and by choosing a framework within which they can reach for their best work.

Both of them say that you will only be able to discover and use your own voice to present a message that is unique to you when you are able to explore and accept the whole package that is you.

VOICE, AUDIENCE AND YOU

All performers (and businesspeople are performers too) need an audience.  It’s part of the dynamic of this self-expression jones Creatives have. They trip out on the reactions they can engender in their audiences.

Every Creative understands that their audience will have an effect on how the artist does what he or she does.  Often the audience will determine whether the artist can continue to do it.

As a performer you want your audience to actually see who you are.  You want them to pay attention to what you have to say.  The audience doesn’t have to like what you say.  They don’t even have to like you.

Getting these others to pay attention to what you need to say can be the most important, life-affirming thing a human can do.

As a young girl who was a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted adult, acclaimed poet Maya Angelou had to choose between going silent and remaining trapped in an untenable situation or finding and using her own voice to get the help she needed to escape and to transcend this soul-shattering thing.

The girl chose to speak, and she kept on speaking and affirming life throughout her long and productive time on this earth.

In this YouTube Video, “Finding My Voice,” published in 2010 by visionaryproject, she tells how she brings herself out of her inherent tendency to go silent and closing herself down by deliberately making herself speak and speak and speak.

As Angelou points out in the video, mutism and freezing when overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life can be a very dangerous thing.  It can become too comfortable.

You become invisible.

Angelou was acclaimed as a poet, story-teller, and writer.  At one point she became an actress, playwright, producer, and director.  She was renowned as an educator and as a civil rights activist.

Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86.  Throughout her long life, she was not invisible.

THE SHAPE OF THE SELF YOU SHOW

Your audience – anybody who’s watching what you do – will respond to the You that you present to them in your performance.  They can only know what you choose to show.

Maybe you’ve decided to spend your time imitating what those who have become the icons and the “best-of-class” in your field do. Maybe, you think, if you do what they did, then you will glow with their kind of shine.

There’s only one problem with doing this:  The You that you are showing to your audience will never be more than just a copy of somebody else.

For example, there are excellent Elvis imitators out there.  They serve a useful function:  They help keep the legend of that good ole boy alive.  But, really…off the top of your head, can you actually recall the names of these performers?

fat-elvis
“Fat Elvis (#2)” by allison via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The same is also true in any other field of human endeavor.   Imitation is its own reward.  Maybe you win a lot.  Mostly not.

I suppose, “finding your voice” is all about choosing the You that you want the World to know.  And, probably, you do hope that the You that you choose to show will not be ignored, dismissed or mocked.

Let’s be frank here.  You really do want at least some of the other people in this world to like that self you’re showing them because, basically, you do need to win enough support for what you are trying to do so you can keep on doing it.

Part of that is a matter of survival.  You have to eat.  You need a place to lay your head that’s more comfortable than a piece of cardboard under some highway underpass.  You need to take care of the people you love too.

And you have to achieve all that among all these other people (seven billion and counting) who are wanting to do the same thing as well.

However, it seems to me that if you’re any kind of a Maker, what you really want out of all this dancing around is to get to a place where you will have the freedom to get on with doing what you like to do best.

fountain-dance
“Fountain Dance” by Diana Lee Photography via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

HOW DO YOU GET ON THE BUS?

The biggest problem with all this head-scratching and mooning around trying to hear your own voice is, as jazz great Miles Davis once pointed out, often a matter of spending enough time just doing what you want to do.  Miles said, “Sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

For one thing, there are a lot of different “selves” inside every one of us.

All the wise guys and smarty-pants agree.  All of us humans are pretty much assemblages, made up of the bits and pieces we’ve picked up over time from the other people around us as we continue to wander through the world.

These assorted bits get glued onto the basic package. Sometimes all those life-bits turn us into lumpy messes.

To find the self that best encourages other people to respond positively to your spending your days in ways that resonate with that self you actually started out being can be a bitch of a project.

Every hour of every day and night you’re dealing with the pressures and demands of all of your dailynesses.  Work, and the needs of your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your stuff eat up your time.

Trying to deal with satisfying other people’s priorities, goals and expectations and maintain the life you’ve become accustomed to is often simply overwhelming.

Now, on top of that, we’re supposed to dig out our true selves and find our own voice as well?  Ri-i-i-ght….

dizzy-wood
“Dizzy Wood” by Marco Nürnberger via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that works with people and companies all over the world to foster creativity, productivity, leadership and passion for work.

His book, LOUDER THAN WORDS: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, is a good one to explore if you choose to accept this latest mission:  finding out who you are and what you want to say and do and then figuring out how to get other people to buy into that.

Besides explaining why finding your voice is important if you are looking for the meaning and mana in your ordinary life and in your work, Henry puts forward questions to ask and ways to find your own answers to them.

Here’s a list that he put together:

  • What angers you? What triggers an urge in you to rectify a great wrong?
  • What makes you cry?
  • What have you mastered? What do you do well?
  • What gives you hope? What do you look forward to?
  • As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do?
  • What would blow your mind?
  • What platform do you own?
  • What change would you like to see in the world?
  • If you had one day left, how would you spend it?

YET ANOTHER 30-DAY CHALLENGE SERIES

It occurred to me that Henry’s question list would make good 30-day challenge material.  Here’s the how-to:

  1. Grab an ordinary small-kid kind of composition notebook and a pen and label it “The Voice Project.” (No need to get fancy with this.)
  2. Now, choose one of those Henry questions or make one up that’s your own, then make a commitment that for just ten minutes every day for the next 30 days, you will think on that one question and write down your answer to it in that notebook you’ve labeled. (If the time you take to answer the question stretches past the five minutes, that’s fine too.)
  3. Do this notebook thing every day for 30 days.   Be honest with yourself.  Nobody else is going to see this thing.  Just you.
  4. If it starts to get boring, you might want to use colors and drawings and other stuff to illustrate the thing. Cut out magazine pictures and stick them in there.    Write a poem.  Whatever.  Have fun with it, but answer the question.
  5. By the end of that time, you’ll at least get some idea about the kinds of thoughts that arise when you ask yourself this one question.
  6. After you finish the first 30-day challenge with the question of your choice, do it again for the next question, then the next, then the next.

Ten minutes a day for thirty days equals 300 minutes – a minimum of 5 hours total in a 720-hour time period.

It’s less than the time spent attending yet another workshop or working your way through one more online course.

It’s less time than the time spent participating in networking events listening to everybody else’s pitches and slinging some your own self.

In between the question-answering sessions, you might want to go back and read over and look at the stuff you’ve produced.  You might ask yourself whether you really agree with all this blather and B.S. you’re shoveling.

That’s when you really start figuring out what you actually think about the thoughts you think.  You find the shape of your own basic self – the one that just sits there waiting for you to notice.

It gets to be quite fascinating after a while.

composing
“Composing – 67/365” by Andreanna Maya via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I notice that the weirdest result of this little exercise is how just answering these questions and others like them affects you in your daily life.

You might start doing things that surprise you:  accepting an invitation to a gathering that you might normally not consider, taking on some project or supporting a cause that resonates strongly with you, or trying something you never tried before just to see whether you might like it.

These things may have some pretty amazing results.  It can be a very good thing.

Here’s a poem:


THAT IS THE SAD

Melancholy sits, a knot at the small of my back,

My companion as I walk through sunshine and through rain,

As I do my days,

Charging at windmills,

Taking in the wonderments,

Drinking down the joyousness,

Choking on the tears.

 

Maybe I’m understanding now:

The sadness is only the residue

Left behind as a flood flows

Through my heart cave yet again,

Leaving behind a high-water mark.

 

You know, of course, that all that shiny stuff

Running through all of our heart-caves are

Tributaries that merge together into a great river

Running through this ancient universe,

Pumped out by the jostling masses of living creatures,

Flowing all together like the notes of one grand song.

 

The birds singing their morning hosannas as they greet the sun

Go on through their day with the sound of that

Mighty chorus sounding in their ears,

Content that they’ve established their place in the world.

 

I am thinking we humans are no less connected than they,

But ours is a darker richer song,

Its complexity woven into our days and nights like a subsonic rumble

As we delude ourselves into believing we are immune –

Apart somehow – from the music we are making,

That grandiloquence that touches the edges of our own universe and beyond.

 

We fool ourselves and think we can sidestep the consequences

Of our myriad tiny choices,

That we can stand apart and inviolate, away from the all of everything.

And so we stand uncertain, unsure that this how, this place is righteously ours…

Unlike the bold birds who understand otherwise.

 

That’s the deep sadness, I am thinking,

The “suffering” wise guys ponder – this forgetting that is uniquely human –

The disremembering that, one and all, we are

The favored children of this old universe…

Welcome, gifted and alive,

Swimming in the same golden stream.

 

That willful denial keeps us grabbing at the silly, glittering flotsam,

That awful lostness rasps and scrapes us raw,

Dogging our days and trotting us around all crazy.

That’s the sad, I think.

That’s the suffering.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit: “Who Is Speaking?” by Daniel Horacio Agostini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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JUST PAY ATTENTION

JUST PAY ATTENTION

“Pay attention!”  What happens in your head when you hear those words?

Childhood memories of parents, teachers and other Big People ordering you to do it probably aren’t your fondest memories.  It almost always meant, “I’m going to tell you something you probably are not interested in or something you don’t want to hear.  Listen anyway!”

pay-attention
“Pay Attention” by Nigel Goodman via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Public address and warning system pronouncements and alerts that begin with “Attention!” are either boring, unintelligible, or scary…stuff that produces sinking feelings in the pit of your belly or a blank-out of white noise in your head.

In the military and other groups, “Attention!” is an order.   There’s even a special, specified way to “stand at attention” that indicates to the leader-person that you are, indeed, alert and ready to receive your next order.

team-moo
“Team Moo” by will_cylist via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I suspect that whenever most of us hear the call for attention, there’s a kind of automatic shut-down.

For many of us, our attitude on being ordered to attend to something is summed up by Quora contributor Josh Manson’s comment in this 2015 thread that centered around defining the meaning of the phrase:

I am too broke to pay attention most of the time.

I’m too broke to pay my respect to anything.

I am ok with paying no mind to things that don’t concern me.

To pay means to give something of yourself to another. It is normally associated with money, so we don’t need to specify anything when it’s money we pay, it will be assumed. But to pay attention or pay respect is still giving something of yourself to another.

One question that springs to mind is this: “Okay, so I pay attention.  What does that buy me?”

THE VALUE OF PAYING ATTENTION

As adults, the value of paying attention is likely to be self-evident.  Somehow, we know, it’s the key to many things related to our lives.

  • We have to pay attention to walk across a busy street.
  • Our self-esteem and the authenticity of the way we walk develop according to the attention we give to our own thoughts and feelings, needs and values, beliefs and ideas.
  • Our happiness and the satisfaction and fulfillment we feel as we meet the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves is enhanced by our attention.
  • Our relationships and the communities we build are a lot more satisfying if we actually pay attention to each other and to the world around us.
  • Our business affairs, our careers, and the work we do to develop various skills require our attention.
  • Learning anything new demands our focused attention.
  • Our finances certainly benefit from our attention.
  • If we have health issues, we need to pay attention to our way of living in order to heal ourselves.

We can miss many of the moments of our life because we are not fully present for them and are moving around on auto-pilot, going through our daily routines, unaware of what we’re doing or experiencing as we ignore the world around us and multi-task our way through our days.

pay-no-attention-to-the-blues-singer-in-the-rear
“pay no attention to the blues singer in the rear” by Mary via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

ATTENTION VS JUDGMENT

Okay.  Now it gets convoluted.

In order to do this “paying attention” thing right – the kind that can change our lives — first we have to understand that there is a difference between “attention” and “judgment.”  Very often the definitions of those two words get mixed up.

Attention is neutral.  We just notice something.  We “pay attention” to it and see that whatever we are noticing is just there and we are there with it.

Judgment, on the other hand, is what comes after the noticing.  We humans are really, REALLY good at doing and fixing and solving stuff.  Because we are bent that way, we tend to look at everything we see as something that needs to be assessed, critiqued, and then probably “fixed” or rejected or enhanced.  We want to do something with this thing we noticed.  We jump right in and start rearranging and moving stuff around.

We even do it to each other, which leads to all kinds of story-making, poetry, tragedy and comedy and such and all sorts of turmoil in our lives.

While “judgment” is certainly useful, it is not “attention.”

Attention is about noticing and being with something without trying to change it.  Attention means taking the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, and to watch as things change by themselves with no interference from us.

everyone-paying-attention
“Everyone paying attention” by André Luís via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Hmmm….

Isn’t that starting to sound familiar?  It’s like that stuff we’ve heard from all kinds of wise guys about “being mindful” doesn’t it?

It’s also a lot like what all those life-coaches and love counselors tell us about the most effective ways to enhance our relationships with others:  Be open.  Notice all those other people without judgment or criticism, welcome them, accept them, be patient, be kind.

The same advice applies to developing your relationship to your own self.  (The best thing about being an adult is that we also have the capacity and the wherewithal to pay attention and to nurture our own selves as well.)

And the key to all of that is just simply to “pay attention.”

YOUR BRAIN ON “PAYING ATTENTION”

It’s an amazing thing.  Numerous studies by neurologists and other smarty-pants scientists keep showing that the way we think and what we pay attention to does physically affect us and have tremendous impact on our lives.  Those wise guys of old were right!

One 2009 best-seller book, BUDDHA’S BRAIN:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, mixes neuroscientific breakthroughs with ancient wisdom teachings from thousands of years of contemplative practice and is filled with information about the practical tools and skills that help you deal with life in our complex and complicated modern world.

Hanson, a psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley California, is also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.  According to him, the scientists have found that “attention shapes the brain.”

What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue.  Whatever we focus on affects how the neurons in our brains develop and wire themselves together.

This YouTube video, “How To Change Your Brain,” was taken at the Greater Good Science Center as part of the “Science of a Meaningful Life” series.  It is a fascinating look at how mindfulness meditation, a way of practicing disciplined attention, is like training your muscles.

The practice, he says, can strengthen our brains as well as help us focus our attention.

ANOTHER TAKE

Emily Fletcher is the founder of Ziva Meditation and the creator of zivaMIND, the world’s first online training (it says here).  She is highly regarded as a leading expert in meditation for high performance.

Her YouTube video, “What You Put Your Attention On Grows,” was published in 2014.  It is a lovely reminder that you do have a choice about what you want to pay attention to.

Here’s a poem:


AW, GOOD GRIEF!

‘Kay.

So I took the road less-traveled

Way-back-when, while in my youth.

I recall it was my “Seeker” phase.

(I remember I was all

“St. George” and “forsooth.”)

That day I stopped in this dark woods,

I don’t think I pondered deep.

I had no previous appointment,

No promises to keep.

 

I took off running like a shot

Past t’s to cross and i’s to dot.

Booking it faster than my fears

I ran on down the faintest track,

Blood all singing in my ears.

I abandoned that clear-cut highway that

Headed right into the tried-and-true,

The Mama-says-not world

That kept making my brown eyes blue.

(I don’t recall one glance back.)

 

I wandered and I wondered

What the heck this thing’s about,

Got tangled up with other folks,

Never did quite figure it out.

I’ve been up and down and sideways

On so many tracks and trails,

Traversed bits of this old mountain side

(Had to run sometimes and sometimes hide).

Puzzles sought and solved,

Conundrums all untied,

Mysteries unveiled,

Companions who lived and died.

 

Those tracks and trails meander on

Through the thick surrounding brush,

Then over the great forest comes

A deep and poignant hush.

 

And me,

I look around and realize:

Dang!

These things are wild pig trails.

 

Ummm….

Where am I?

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Huh?” by Morgan via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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POET LAUREATE KEALOHA (A Journey)

POET LAUREATE KEALOHA (A Journey)

In 2010, Steven Kealohapau’ole Hong-Ming Wong – “the slam poet known as Kealoha” — was designated by Governor Neil Ambercrombie as Hawaii’s first (and, so far, only) official state poet laureate.

The following 2010 YouTube video, published by poetryfan808, shows the multi-genre, multimedia collaboration that opened the 2010 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards Show, the annual premier music awards in Hawaii.  (Think of it as Hawaii’s Grammy Awards.)

The show’s opening act, which was spearheaded by Kealoha, features performances by renowned Hawaiian musicians that include the late O’Brian Eselu, Keali’i Reichel, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, Anuhea, Mailani, Natalie Ai Kamau’u, Amy Hanaiali’i, Jake Shimabukuro, Henry Kapono and John Cruz as well as two hula halau, Na Pualei O Likolehua and Halau Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu.

WHAT’S A POET LAUREATE?

The mandate given to Kealoha at the time of his elevation to “poet laureate” by the governor was this: “As Hawaii Poet Laureate, Kealoha will highlight poetry in all its forms as enriching to our lives and giving voice to our history and way of life in the Aloha State.”

His duties, the governor’s office said, include reading, writing and spreading awareness about poetry appreciation as well as performing at official state events like the dedication of a sculpture garden at the Hawaii State Art Museum and performing at the governor’s inauguration.

He can also be asked to represent Hawaii at similar ceremonial events around the country and the world.

Kealoha was doing all that for years before he was named Hawai’i’s official poet laureate.  It has all been a part of a spirited journey that took some unexpected turns.

long-and-winding-road
“Long and Winding Road” by Khánh Hmoong via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

GETTING TO THE BEST DREAM

Kealoha is a local boy.  He was born and raised in Honolulu.

Like many bright island youngsters he went away to school in the Mainland.  At the time he was dreaming about becoming a nuclear engineer, working on atomic fusion, and changing the world.

He returned home to Honolulu at the end of 2001, after earning a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and after spending a couple of years after he graduated working as a business management consultant in San Francisco for the Mitchell Madison Group, a worldwide company with clients such as Adidas, Visa, Samsung, Mattel, Sun Microsystems and Health Net.

Looking at it from the outside, there doesn’t seem to be much of a connect between business management and his major in nuclear physics (with a minor in writing), but as Kealoha says, scientists and engineers are trained to solve problems.

Corporations value that ability and problem-solvers are well-paid.  At Mitchell Madison, he oversaw marketing, aggressive sourcing, business development, internet strategy, corporate strategy and energy research.

It was in San Francisco that Kealoha discovered slam poetry.  He told PBS Hawaii “Long Story Short” interviewer Leslie Wilcox about that time.

The poetry he heard when he attended his first poetry slam in 2000, he said, just blew him away.  He was instantly hooked.

He said, “…my work just sort of got pushed to the side ‘cause I would spend all my time writing.  I was spending all those late nights, on Sunday night going to these poetry slams.  And Monday morning, going to work all tired.  And I didn’t care; I was living again.  I had something that really inspired me.”

Meanwhile, his work as a consultant had become less meaningful to him.

Kealoha needed to re-think where he wanted to go with his life, so he did what a lot of local kids do.  He did the Full Circle; he came home.

honolulu-airport
“Honolulu Airport” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
One interesting question that Wilcox posed during her interview with Kealoha struck me as noteworthy.  She asked whether Kealoha had a five- or ten-year plan.  He chuckled a bit ruefully and admitted that he did not.

The guy does not deliberately plan out his path.  He just takes off in the direction that looks like it could work for him and then whales away at it until it does work.  Maybe there is a lesson in that.

HAWAIIANS AND THE SPOKEN WORD

When he got back to Honolulu, Kealoha discovered that the urban poetry and art scene was alive and lively.

At the time of his homecoming, Wordstew, the brainchild of poet-performer Jesse Lipman (recognized as the godfather of Hawaii Slam Poetry), was drawing crowds at the Wave Waikiki nightclub’s open-mic nights.

This YouTube video features a poem by Jesse Lipman, “Jewipino Flowers,” at an early First Thursday gathering in 2013.

Other literati, musicians, deejays, and artists were cultivating “art spaces” where sound and visual artists could meet to collaborate.  Kealoha found a thriving literary and performing arts community.

Its existence was probably due in part to the reverence for the spoken word that has always been strong in Hawaii.

Before there was a written language, all of the native history and traditions were contained in the chants and the mele (song-poems) that were passed down through the generations.

Even when speaking the Hawaiian language was discouraged by those in power over a conquered people, the songs, old and new, could not be silenced.  The habit of word-play continued.

More than one observer has noticed the affinity the island peoples have for it.  Spoken word artist, author and publisher Richard Hamasaki found it to be true when he participated in the state Department of Education Artists-in-the-School program.

Hamasaki found that many of the children he encountered in the program had an affinity for word-play.  He said, “They had ingenious ways of combining what they heard on the radio with the language of their culture and they produced work that was honest and alive.”

This is no small thing.  Hawaiians are descended from poets and songwriters as well as warriors, farmers, artisans, and sailors, and even the children can dance with words.

Perhaps this is because, for Hawaiians, words hold power.  There’s an old proverb, I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make. (In the word is life.  In the word is death.)

It comes from a time when the performers of the chants and the mele had to be word-perfect.  They were, after all, the ones who carried the words of the ancestors and of those who held the old wisdoms.  These words held power and magic.

AND THE DREAM COMES REAL

Kealoha joined right in, working open-mic nights, competing in national slam competitions and helping to build a “poetry scene” in Hawaii.

He helped to found HawaiiSlam, a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing poets from the islands.

HawaiiSlam has been running the nationally certified First Thursdays slam poetry competition, the largest registered poetry slam in the world, and Kealoha has been SlamMaster since 2003.  HawaiiSlam’s ongoing First Thursdays competitions in Kaimuki draws more than 500 attendees each month.

Kealoha has also been on the “Artists-in-the-Schools” roster since 2005, helping to introduce youngsters to the power of words and poetry and he works with young poets who are hoping to compete in the national slam poetry competitions.

HBO’s 2009 “Brave New Voices” documentary produced by Russell Simmons featured Kealoha as the strategic coach for “Youth Speaks Hawaii”, a slam poetry team that won the entire festival that year.

He has ventured into theatre as a director, playwright and actor, has performed internationally as a poet and storyteller, and was selected as a master artist for a National Endowment for the Arts program as well.  The list goes on and on.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In an interview for his alumni on-line newsletter, “Slice of MIT,” Kealoha said that being named the official poet laureate for the state was a great honor.

He also said that he feels most fulfilled when people tell him that his work has moved them or changed their perspective.

“That’s the goal – that’s the good work,” he says.

And isn’t that the best reason to make the journey into your own dreaming?

This YouTube video is Kealoha’s 2012 TEDxManoa Talk which features his poem, “The Poetry of Us”.

 


Header Photo credit:  “Kealoha: Science Poetry Life”  (TEDxHonolulu 2011)

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THE TROUBLE WITH PIVOTS

THE TROUBLE WITH PIVOTS

I don’t know.  Maybe I am misunderstanding this new-to-me concept of “business pivots.”

starting-on-the-pivot-line
“Starting On the Pivot Line??” by Pure Geekery via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

WHAT IS A “BUSINESS PIVOT?”

The business pivot was an idea that gained traction after Eric Reis’s book, “THE LEAN STARTUP:  How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business” hit the entrepreneurial bookshelves in 2011.

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but the Lean Startup thing seems to start with the premise that it’s a good thing to cobble together a prototype of a half-baked idea that’s “new and different” and offer it up first and fast with the intention of getting the product, service or other offering to Good on the fly.  Hmmm….

Apparently, this methodology is supposed to be a less expensive and more efficient way to gather relevant feedback from potential customers and measure the specific tastes, desires, and purported wants and needs of early-adopter buyers and others who come after as you churn out assorted re-iterations of your product or whatever.

Walking this way, they say, you’ll be all set to tailor your product, service, or business model to meet your customers’ needs and fulfill their wishes better.

The “pivot” is a particular mindset that’s part and parcel of this Lean Startup thing.

You’re supposed to stand at the ready to tweak, twiddle, and change the components and structure of your infant business – the products you sell, how you sell them, the way you communicate with and serve your clients and customers, the way you use your resources, and so on and so forth — in order to capture more and more business.

Really, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.  I’m just trying to figure out why it does not resonate with me.

IS IT A DANCE THING?

Maybe my problem with this whole pivot thing comes from my knowing dancers and martial artists who use another sort of pivot step.

That one is modeled in the following YouTube Jazz Dance video “How to Pivot Turn” (published in 2012 by Howcast).  In it, director and dance choreographer Liz Piccoli shows you how to do a pivot step.

(Note that the step Piccoli is showing is labeled as a “beginner jazz dance move.”)

Maybe I’m stuck because I’m having a hard time getting away from using this dance step as a metaphor for the “business pivot.”

It does seem to me that if doing business is a dance, then there’s got to be more to it than just doing the pivot this way and that until you get the walk “right” (according to your audience) even with the added body-English.

Doing the pivot step over and over and over looks like “twirling around.”  To me, it just seems like a good way to get dizzy.

Hmmm….

US CREATIVES DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT…OR DO WE?

Maybe my problem with the thing is the whole engineering-world, feature-creature taste of it all.  Frankly, getting feedback from assorted others as you’re building your vision sounds wrong-headed to me.

both-powered-by-the-breath-of-the-earth
“both powered by the breath of the earth” by byronv2 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Wanna-be Creatives have always been exhorted to “find your own voice.”  Expressing your own self and being “original” is supposed to be the end-all and be-all of the Creative gig.  “Authenticity” and being “genuine” is a basic tenet of Creator-hood, it seems to me.

As a Creative hopeful, you believe that the “meaning” of your work is all bound up in you – how you see and feel things and your own conclusions about why the World is as it is.

Your Job Number One is, basically, figuring out where you stand and why.  F’r real, it is confusing and frustrating work.  It’s all about slog, slog, slog, and wandering around in heavy fog.

Looking for feedback too early in your process is likely to keep you from finding your own voice.  (My own thought on it all is if you’re going to do all that hard work in the first place, what’s the point of speaking with anybody else’s voice?)

As you develop your own voice and your own vision, you’ll be moved to send out “reports” from that place that is unique to you.  This could result in any number of “products” – pictures, sculptures, pots, performances, books, poems, songs, Rube Goldberg-y inventions, whatever.

With them you are trying to reach out to everybody else, using whatever skillful means you’ve developed, to produce a body of work that allows others to see the world as you do.  Your purpose in all of that is to get them to buy into that vision you’re sharing.

(The deal is, if enough of these folks buy something you’ve made, you can keep on doing what you do.)

A FEEDBACK SOURCE

Of course, none of this necessarily means that your vision or your work will mobilize and move the world to do anything other than what it is already doing.

That’s when feedback comes in handy.  Asking for feedback from other folks and being open to suggestions can help you in a lot of different ways.

  • Maybe you’ll find venues to showcase your work because of a thing someone or other points out to you.
  • Maybe you’ll try different ways and means to refine how well your message connects with and influences other people, winning their support for your work.
  • Maybe you’ll find soulmates and partners in surprising places who help you expand your horizons.  You might even find your tribe.

tim-devlin-frontside-pivot
“tim devlin frontside pivot” by andrew hutchison via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Some things will work.  Others will not.  You’ll keep doing the things that work and maybe you’ll try other new things as well to get your work into the hands of your supporters.

Instead of pivoting willy-nilly, you’ll use the vision you’ve developed and ride herd on it as you test and try out other people’s suggestions that help it evolve.  You’ll use your vision to make sure that everything you do – your work and the marketing of it — aligns with the direction you are wanting to go.

That’s a good thing, don’t you think?  I do.

PIVOTS AS THE WAY BACK

I do think, however, that sometimes you as a Creative may find the pivot is useful for getting back to the vision and voice you’ve already developed.  When you have gone off-course, it may be the only way to get back to moving in the direction you want to go.

My own favorite example of a pivot of that kind is the one made by a long-distance solo sailing legend, Bernard Moitessier (1925 – 1994).   He was inducted into the Single-Handed Sailors’ Hall of Fame in 1988 for his life achievements, but he is most famous for not finishing a race.

In 1969, the British Sunday Times sponsored the first international Golden Globe yacht race.   The fastest single-hander sailor to complete a non-stop circumnavigation of the world stood to win £5,000 (the equivalent of £82,500 nowadays).

The Golden Globe trophy, also sponsored by the Sunday Times, would be awarded to the first solo circumnavigator to do the round-the-world voyage.

Notoriety, adulation, and fame was expected to follow in the wake of both of these awards.  Book deals, speaking engagements, endorsements, sponsorships and the rest were bound to follow.

Moitessier, who was already a sailing legend as well as a noted author, had planned his own world-circling voyage on his custom-built 39-foot steel ketch “Joshua” before the race was organized.

The timing of his around-the-world trip coincided with the newspaper-sponsored race which was apparently structured to automatically include all of the sailors who were attempting to sail single-handed around the world that year.

The sponsors of the race prevailed on Moitessier to participate in the race and he reluctantly agreed even though he made it clear that he felt that doing so was somehow compromising what he considered his special relationship with the sea.

Moitessier was on the last leg of his circumnavigating journey and many say he would have won the Golden Globe race as both first and fastest if he had finished his trip.  Instead, he changed his vessel’s course and continued sailing eastward.

He ended up completing a one-and-a-half circumnavigation of the world which took him around Cape Horn (again) and on to Tahiti.

It took him 301 days to complete the voyage.  In doing so, he broke the world record for the most miles sailed solo non-stop.

Meanwhile, another legendary yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, became the first winner of the Golden Globe race, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer.   Sir Robin’s voyage took  a “stately” 312 days.

Moitessier wrote a note to the London Sunday Times when he turned away from winning the race.  He delivered the note by slingshot onto a passing ship.

In the note he said, “My intention is to continue the voyage, still nonstop, toward the Pacific Islands….I am continuing nonstop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul.”

His book, THE LONG WAY, chronicled his 301-day voyage.  It sold very well.

This YouTube video, uploaded in 2011 by GMGB68, features images taken by Moitessier himself during his nonstop solo voyage around the world.

Here’s a poem:


CIRCLES

I figured out something:

I move in circles like the sun because

I want to see everything there is to see.

Like a hunter in territory unfamiliar,

I move slowly, with caution,

Stopping, stooping, seeing the tracks

Of the wild beasts and other things,

Finding the paths they walk,

Following to where they lead me.

I glide softly through the bushes,

Stepping quietly, walking lightly.

 

I stop and listen to the sounds around me.

Let them touch me, let them flow.

My breath is deep; it fills my belly.

Calm I am, a part of the One.

I move with no thought, no expectations.

What am I stalking?

I don’t know.

There is something waiting for me

Out there, somewhere,

When I have traveled full circle,

Perhaps I shall see what it is.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Sunflower” by Mikael Hvidtfeldt Christen via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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ONE ARTISAN VILLAGE

ONE ARTISAN VILLAGE

I think that in every Maker’s heart of hearts, there is a dream of being surrounded by others like them who live their lives working and dancing to their own heartsong, trying to do their own best  work and cheering each other on to greater effort.

We dream of a place that supports us in our journey while letting us find our own way to our own best life.

AN ARTISAN DREAM

One of the oldest established “artisan communities” in America is the village of Sugar Loaf, which is a small hamlet roughly six miles long and five miles wide, in the town of Chester in New York’s Orange County.  It’s been around since the 18th century.

The village was originally a waypoint along the King’s Highway, providing supplies and horses for the travelers along that road.  It was a busy place and went through many changes as the world moved through and then past it.

Back then it was likely that every tradesperson was some sort of artisan, if the definition of “artisan” is someone who makes things by hand.  (There wasn’t any other way to make useful things.)

Sometime around the middle of the last century, the village had become little more than a forgotten bit of the landscape between crowded metropolises.  Transportation routes had changed and it was no longer a hub and hive of activity.

There gathered a group of artists and artisans who took up residence in Sugar Loaf and began doing their work in the old falling-down buildings and barns that had endured for a couple of hundred years. These Makers found a place with room enough and time enough to do the work they loved.

In the course of things, a core group of these full-time working craftspeople opened up their independent artist’s studios to the public, selling the works of their hands to support lives they found meaningful.

prophecy-untold
Prophecy Untold” by Henry M. Diaz via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
For an interesting history of the early days of the Sugar Loaf artisan community as well as some of the trials and tribulations as the community went through assorted economic and other changes, click on the button below to check out an old Sugar Loaf Guild site by one of the leaders among these early artisan-residents, Bob Fugett.

(I have to warn you:  Bob is a bit cantankerous.)

click-here

As Fugett points out, some of the early artisans continued to develop their skills in their chosen work to a high level.

Over the years other Makers joined in as the earliest of these creative people and their neighbors made a community that was centered around producing locally made, one-of-a-kind, high quality creative work.

The people who appreciated the quality of the work they produced came in droves from all over the world.

THE CHANGES DO KEEP ON COMING

But, the Way of the Creative is never an easy road.  In his musings on his website, Fugett mourns the lost shape of the community he helped to build.

sugar-loaf-sign
“Sugar Loaf Sign” by Kafziel Complaint Department via Wikimedia.org [CC BY-SA 3.0]
In one of the riffs on his site, Fugett quotes James Lynch, the founder of Fforest Camp, an eco-living retreat in West Wales:  “It’s my experience that artist communities are almost always camps because they appropriate space that nobody else wants (at the time), but by virtue of a creative progressive view of neighborhoods they create a demand from others that ultimately marginalizes them, so they are forever transient.”

It’s a pithy commentary on what happens after the Makers have made Beauty in some abandoned place, which then becomes a “destination,” and then gets made over into something else as other folks move in.

This YouTube video, “Artists and Artisans,” was published in 2017 by Sarah J. Burns.  It’s a mini-documentary featuring interviews with some of the artisans currently living in the village and focuses on how their livelihoods changed with the recession.  It also offers a glimpse of the village itself.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The future is never certain, but the village continues anyway and it will grow into some new shape that better reflects the Makers who now live and work there in these very different times.

One of Bob’s salty comments that is spot-on nevertheless is this:  Talent is bullshit; work is the thing, and of course it is all for naught, always has been, always will be, but that has nothing to do with the doing of it.

Here’s a poem:


CHANGE

That things will change is a given

There is no argument.

Established constructs will be riven

And much will fade of past efforts spent.

 

Still and yet and ever more

The world keeps turning in its place.

Still and yet, there will be joy,

There will be rainbows and always grace.

 

Change comes, change goes

And so do you and I.

The only things we get to keep

Are the ways we walk and fly….

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “The Work Never Matches the Dream….” By Kendra via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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