Creativity: Don’t take it personally

I’m reading Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s (yeah, he’s the one who came up with the concept of flow) book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Creativity_book_cover.jpgCsikszentmihaly proposes a very interesting view of creativity, not as something individual or personal, but the result of fortunate interactions between individual productivity in a certain field and the encouragement and recognition of that productivity as novel and interesting by other people in the field.

He calls this a systems view of creativity and explains that it’s not enough for individuals to come up with ideas. If these ideas are not recognized and encouraged by peers, no significant contribution to society or culture happens.

I initially found Csikszentmihaly’s view of creativity counterintuitive (like most academic concepts ?) but I’m beginning to fall in love with it because it points out the importance of the environment for creativity.

Csikszentmihaly hints that a supportive, encouraging environment that invests attention and resources in potentially creative individuals might be more significant a variable than individual creativity itself.

Using the example of the Renaissance, and the extraordinary creations of the dome over Santa Maria del Fiore by Brunelleschi (photo) and the Gates of Paradise by Ghiberti (photo), Csikszentmihaly writes:

If these two artists had not been born, some others would have stepped in their place and built the dome and the doors. It is because of this inseparable connection that creativity must, in the last analysis, be seen not as something happening within a person but in the relationship within a system.

According to Csikszentmihaly, an environment (system) that fosters creativity has the following characteristics:

  • Provides support & encouragement in the form of attention to ideas
  • Provides resources to individuals so they can engage in creative processes
  • Provides stimulation through competition
  • Has a system in place for selecting good ideas and acting on them

So how do you, as an employer, teacher, manager, or academic administrator create a system (an environment) that fosters creativity?

<rant> Meeting every single idea or initiative with “we can’t…,” yes, but..” and/or “we tried that 10 years ago, and it failed” might not be the best way to go about it.</rant>

Soul Murder (revisiting EDUCATION)

M. Wesch is at it again. His latest blog post revisits his video A Vision of Students Today and the inadequacy of the current education system. He calls it soul murder, referring to this book.

Wesch nails it right on the head when he explains that our education system, rooms included, is designed for a world in which information is scarce.

In this world, the teacher is the provider of information.

This is not the world we live in anymore.

The problem in our world is not access to information: It is access to too much information. Education should solve a new set of problems.

I don’t have THE answer – neither does Wesch, though he’s much closer to it than I am. But I can’t help but think about it most of the time. Here are some thoughts about what education should do to serve students in this day and age:

If the teacher is no longer the provider of information, maybe the teacher should be a guide to (parts of) the information space. A coach.

The teacher’s job becomes (not an exhaustive list):

  • to guide students through advanced, highly targeted search techniques in several (kinds of) information spaces
  • to help students map out the fragmented, multivocal information space; or to provide through schemata for reconciling this pluralirty and fragmentation (postmodernism, anyone?)
  • to help students make judgments about selecting and evaluating information
  • to coach students about synthesizing and organizing these different types of information
  • to teach students the skill of decision making: students should make decisions about the most effective ways to present information – instead of giving them recipes for papers, allow students to make decisions about presenting information
  • to create learning experiences where students use the above techniques to solve real-life problems
  • to adapt teaching style to students’ learning and technology usage styles
  • in short, to coach flexible and nimble thinking, decision making, and adaptable communication/writing skills

What do you think? What are the ways in which the education system is failing? What should education do for students? What should the teacher’s job be?

Students live-twitter class

It’s long overdue, but here is my post about the PRinciples class session that was live-twittered.

I started class with these instructions for students:

  • Unprotect updates (settings)
  • Use Web interface & reload page often
  • Use #principles hashtag – twemes
  • Tweet: Important ideas, Links, Comments

Then I set them free and started lecturing about social media: What it is, and how it has changed power dynamics in society. I remember telling students that social media lets people inside the Golden Wall – telling them that as I was speaking, they could twitter what I said, and that was scary: What if I said something stupid? I also told them that social media makes it possible for individuals to have voices as loud as those of rich organizations.

Then Laura Fitton (@pistachio) joined us on Skype, and the live-twittering continued.

During that one hour, the conversation coming from our class was at the top of twitter conversation tracking boards twitscoop and

The most powerful take-aways for me were:

  1. We LIVED the concepts I had just talked about at the beginning of class. We saw our voice climb up among twitter conversations. Tweets from a small group of mostly young women were at the top of the charts. We experienced the shifted power dynamics brought about by social media.
  2. For me as the teacher, the experience was terrifying and liberating. It was like living the nightmare that you’re naked in public. My students might not tweet negative things about me, but if I do say something stupid, as I often do, it doesn’t stay within the classroom -it’s out there for the whole world to see. So, CAUTION: This exercise is not for everybody. It certainly wasn’t for this NYU professor.
  3. Learning happened – quickly and powerfully as an avalanche. It was important to give students time to reflect on what they learned. Here are some of their reflections: Alyssa, Cara, Michael, Sallie.
  4. The downside: This experiment made apparent several opportunities for twitter spam, which I won’t explain because I don’t want to teach people how to spam.

You can read everything that was twittered during class, or just my favorites. Students still twitter during class, and I see and comment on their tweets afterwards – it’s allowed and encouraged, but not required – they should be free to take notes in whatever medium serves them best. I would like to experiment in the future with collective note taking (I’m looking into NoteMesh) and with CoverItLive.

Poverty – we need systemic changes

Before you read this, check out Digital Photography School’s collection of images of poverty. And you might also want to see my previous post on the Question of the OTHER.

Because when it comes to poverty, I think many of us (for one, we have Internet access, so that says something about our economic status) – many of us think that povery is not our problem, is the problem of the OTHER.

Who are the poor people? How many really poor people, people who worry about the next meal, have you met? What do you know about them, their beliefs, their feelings, their world?

I know barely anything. To me, they are the OTHER.

Even worse, we often blame people for their poverty: “Oh, if they only worked. If they only worked harder.”

One person I met who was relatively poor was my neighbor Nancy, in Lafayette, Indiana. She wanted to work, but if she did, she’d earn not enough money, but enough to disquaify her from Medicare. The system didn’t allow her to break out of poverty.

We don’t know or understand the poor, but we sometimes feel guilty and throw pennies at them. Throwing money at the poverty problem definitely has to solve it, it’s all about money, isn’t it?

But is throwing money at the problem giving people fish or teaching them how to fish?

More often than not, he have this “better-than-thou” attitude – we’re a rich society, we know better, let us teach you how not to be poor anymore. But how about the poor in the U.S.?

We can talk about it all we want, and we can throw money at the problem. But solving poverty ultimately takes systemic changes. We need, in the U.S. and globablly, a caring, humane social system that takes care of people. A system that supports, educates, and empowers.

Which presidential candidate is more likely to help create such a system in the U.S. and have a caring, non-patronizing attitude towards global poverty? See this side-by-side comparison.

The Question of the OTHER

This past week has reminded me of this book by Tzvetan Todorov I read back in college (in Romania). It’s an analysis of how people and cultures relate to OTHER-ness. If I remember correctly, when faced with an OTHER who is deeply and radically different, people feel fear. They feel threatened. They feel uncertain. And then they choose one of the following behavioral options:


a) they feel superior to the OTHER, they attempt to conquer or make the OTHER their subject or subaltern. That’s how the European conquerors related to the people Native to the (now) American continent. That’s how the Nazis related to Jews.
b) they appreciate the culture of the OTHER more than their own, and they “go native.” They “convert” to the OTHER’s culture and give up their own. Todorov offers the example of one European officer who preferred the Native American way of life.

c) they respect the OTHER as a different and equal partner, and build an ethical and respectful dialogue and relationship. They coexist.

Is option a) how many people in the U.S. relate to Obama, because he is in many ways the OTHER (different from them, and from their idea of a president)? Does this explain the death threats and scary behaviors, the stuffed monkey at political rallies, the black-face parties?

The question of the OTHER also has direct applications to public relations. Many times, the organization or the CEO feel they know better, they’re smarter that the public. “If they knew what I know, they’d agree with me.” The examples when the organization bows to the public and takes their lead are very rare. Do you have  any? And finally option c), is what PR should be, as defined by Grunig’s excellence model, the relationship management approach to public relations, and, in social media circles “the new PR,” or “PR 2.0.”