Tough Choices or Tough Times…….

"We must begin to think of creativity as the common good, like liberty or security.  It is something essential that belongs to all of us, and must always be fed, renewed and maintained-or else it will slip away." -Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class

tough choices

The National Center on Education and the Economy is about to release a report called Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.  The central goal of this report is how to restructure our educational system in order to promote creativity.  Tom Friedman got a sneak peak at the book and this is what he had to say:

Tomorrow, Mr. Tucker’s organization is coming out with a report titled “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” which proposes a radical overhaul of the U.S. education system, with one goal in mind: producing more workers — from the U.P.S. driver to the software engineer — who can think creatively.

“One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other,” said Mr. Tucker. Thus, his report focuses on “how to make that kind of thinking integral to every level of education.”

That means, he adds, revamping an education system designed in the 1900s for people to do “routine work,” and refocusing it on producing people who can imagine things that have never been available before, who can create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies and design software “that will capture people’s imaginations and become indispensable for millions.”

That can’t be done without higher levels of reading, writing, speaking, math, science, literature and the arts. We have no choice, argues Mr. Tucker, because we have entered an era in which “comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to the good life” and in which the constant ability to learn how to learn will be the only security you have.

Mastery requires effort and practice.  A certain amount of memorization through repetition is needed to make the retrieval of facts second nature. 

Creativity is about flexibility and risk taking.  Self confidence is key.

So the question becomes: how can mastery be pursued within an educational environment that fosters and encourages creativity?  I hope Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce has some interesting answers to this question.

The 6th Annual Year in Ideas…….


December is the month of looking back and trying to sum up the soon to be past year.  But don’t fret, you won’t have to do it alone.  The next three weeks will produce a media frenzy of best of lists and programing.

Not that I’m complaining.  One of my favorite end of the year products is The New York Times Magazine’s Annual Year in Ideas.  The magazine sums up their endeavor as such:

Our editors and writers have located the peaks and valleys of ingenuity — the human cognitive faculty deployed with intentions good and bad, purposes serious and silly, consequences momentous and morbid. The resulting intellectual mountain range extends across a wide territory. Now it’s yours for the traversing in a compendium of 74 ideas arranged from A to Z.

You are one click away from the most intriguing ideas of 2006.

Out of Our Minds…….

"Rejection. That’s what makes a college great. The exclusivity of any university is judged primarily by the amount of students it rejects." -Dean Van Horne in the movie Accepted

out of our minds

Why do many of the brightest university students suffer from an "extreme intellectual precocity combined with a profound emotional immaturity?"  This was the question Oxford University psychologist James Hemmings asked after treating many of the most gifted students at Oxford.

Mr. Hemmings coined the term Oxford Psychosis to describe this phenomenon: hard working, academic achievers who paradoxically had failed to develop the most basic levels of emotional maturity.

Ken Robinson’s book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, traces the convergence of the many social and cultural forces which allow this type of unbalanced development to flourish.

But, Mr. Robinson is after much larger game. 

In 1990, Alvin Toffler predicted the emergence of the highly skilled, autonomous knowledge worker.  These employees would posses an ever expanding knowledge  base and take responsibility for making key decisions which could effect the financial health of their employer. 

Toffler described this new work as, " a continual cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning, workers need to master new techniques, adapt to new organizational forms, and come up with new ideas."

The rise of the autonomous knowledge worker is made possible by two powerful forces: the innovation imperative and the accelerating pressure of an advanced economy.  If a company expects to thrive or even survive, it must be the first to create new products and bring them to market before the competition.

Out of Our Minds makes the case for a new approach to education which develops the thinking skills needed by the autonomous knowledge workers of the future.  He believes everyone has the capacity to do creative work and it is shameful to waste so much human potential with an educational system designed to produce workers who are no longer valued in the work place. 

This is how Mr. Robinson sums up his important book:

In the interests of industrial economy and of academic achievement, we have subjected ourselves to a partial form of education.  We have wasted or destroyed a great deals of what people had to offer because we couldn’t see the value of it.  Along the way we have jeopardized the balance of human nature by not recognizing how different elements of our abilities sustain and enrich each other.  The dangers persist, and they are not yet widely understood..  Education and training are the key to the future, but a key can be turned in two directions.  Turn it one way and you lock resources away, even from those they belong to.  Turn it the other way and you release resources and give people back to themselves.  The companies, communities and nations that succeed in future will balance their books only by solving the complex equation of human resources.  Our own times are being swept along on an avalanche of innovations in science, technology, and social thought.  To keep pace with these changes, or to get ahead of them, we will need all our wits about us -literally.  We must learn to be creative.


"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." Andy Warhol


Two years ago BBC News ran an article on the Rise of the Anoraks which highlighted the growing influence of the Pro-Am movement in the global economy.  Pro-Am is a term used to describe hobbyist who pursue their interests at a professional level.  In the United States a more familiar term would be d.i.y or do-it-yourself, with an added twist.  Instead of creating cut and paste posters at the copy center to advertise punk bands, these individuals are focused on pursuing innovations in astronomy or writing open source software. 

Crafts and the ability to be handy are also making a comeback.  Knitting is cool again.  Nightly, Americans flip on the television to watch rides be pimped, semi-trucks tricked and spaces traded. 

The tag line for ReadyMade magazine is: Instructions for Everyday Life.  Each issue contains directions on how to construct projects which would appeal to the hipster crowd.   The featured projects are broken down by cost, the materials and tools you will need, and an estimation of the level of difficulty.  There is a special emphasis on the reuse of common objects and recycling these things into something useful.

So, if you are tired of adequate, want to drop off the grid, or give the finger to "the man", ReadyMade is a great place to start.


"But, yeah, people’s heads are stuffed with a fantastic amount of information, and I think all too often they cannot assimilate, digest or connect up that incredible amount of data into a coherent worldview. And I like to think that if my work is complex, it’s because we live in a complex world. What I’m trying to do is give a bit of coherence to that complexity, to say that it is possible to think about politics, history, mythology, architecture, murder and the rest of it all at the same time to see how it connects." –Alan Moore, interview with

Mental Floss

Remember when the paperless office was going to make the need for a hard copy obsolete?  What ever happen to that idea?  Here is a statistic I stumbled across, "Although the percentage of information being printed is in sharp decline, this is more than compensated for by the fact that the amount of information available to us is doubling every two years.  The net effect is growth in office papers of around 5% across Europe."(1)

Mental Floss is a fun way to start pulling all of this information together.  Packed with irreverent humor and silly word play it is the cool and more mature sibling of my fifth grade reading comprehension workbook.  To give you some idea of what the magazine is like, the July/August2006 issue has a great article on book cover designers and features the most famous work of these under-appreciated artists.  Did you know Paul Bacon designed the covers of Catch-22, Shogun, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?  If you are a reader, even a brief glimpse of one of these covers will bring instant recognition of the book.

If your mind could use a more thorough cleaning, watch V for Vendetta produced by the Wachowski brothers and based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name.   This  amazing movie will shock you into reconsidering –well, just about everything.  Try to find the two-disc limited edition which includes a reprinted copy of Moore’s graphic novel.  You will not be disappointed. 

Here is track ten for the playlist: Reign of Error by Sudden Death

(1) pg. 46, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Ken Robinson (more on this book once I’m finished with it)

Creativity: Brash Genius or Late Bloomer?…….


David Galenson has written an interesting book which describes two distinct trends in creativity.  In Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, Mr. Galenson studied art text books noting the works most often depicted for each major artist with the assumption that those mentioned would be considered by scholars to be the most important.  After selecting the artist’s signature works, Galenson recorded the age of the artist at the time of creation.  The artists studied seemed to break into two camps.  The first produced their most important works in their twenties and early thirties and then gradually dropped off the radar.  The second group did not receive major recognition until after forty. 

Beefing up this discovery with auction prices, biographical information along with applying his analytical method to other fields -including  poetry, Galenson concluded that these age groups tend to view the world in one of two distinct modes: as a conceptualist or experimentalist.  Galenson labeled the younger group conceptualists.  These artists see the big picture and want to replace it with something radical and new.  Conceptualist know what they want and when they have created it.  Artist who fall into this group include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Mozart.

The older group tend to be experimentalists.  Experimentalists work within established conceptual models and focus instead on the manipulation of details.  These artists spend their lives tinkering with methods and techniques unsure if they have reached their goal –or even what that goal might be.  Some examples of celebrated experimentalist would be Mark Twain, Paul Cezanne, and Beethoven. 

Hybrid nation…….

"Today, hardcore has given way to hybrid." –Wired, The New Power Generation: 05/2005 Tokyo is the world’s cultural chop shop. Local ideas are stripped of emotional baggage and jingoism to harvest the underlying pop-culture building blocks. This DNA is crossed with useful parts scavenged from other customs and presto out of the mash-up emerges something truly special. How about your own piece of french domestic life with a miniaturized pocket meal set? You can eat the tiny candy. If movies are more your thing why not try Howl’s Moving Castle or check out the new Prius which is rumored to reach 113 miles per gallon. Back in the West ideology still trumps innovation. Purity is valued over pragmatism. The importance of a cultural advancement seems to lie more in being able to judge who was first or among the early adopts rather than the intrinsic value of the idea. The central question seems to be, "how can we find out who is hardcore and weed out the posers?" Thankfully, times are changing. Napoleon Dynamite has his Liger and the flexitarians are causing the hardcore vegetarians to protest the contamination of the cause. It is time to exploit this country’s most abundant resource –the creativity of each one of its citizens. So suck it up and bridge the gap between the red/blue, straight/gay, black/white, right/wrong and get to work. ‘Cause when the water start to rise it won’t care which side you were on. Track three for the playlist: El Pus with Thing Thing from Hoodlum Rock: Vol.1

How to be creative…….

Hugh Macleod has written a great piece on how to be creative. I love his no nonsense, practical approach. He has two points that especially resonate with my view of the world. First, everyone has the potential to be creative. Basically, if you are human then your natural inclination is to create. We are thinking and doing creatures. Evolution did not favor our species because we can run fast or camouflage our bodies from predators. On the flip side, just because everyone has this talent doesn’t mean things are going to be easy. Creativity doesn’t independently express itself like some weird parasite tucked away in our brains. It takes effort. And chances are if you are trying something new, you are going to get stuck and have to deal with a healthy dose of frustration. Do you have the back bone to deal with this? Can you stick it out until the dark cloud clears and things start to make sense again? There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs. -Unknown