12 posts categorized "Books"

April 27, 2014

Jerome Bruner on what's behind the "surprise" of creativity

Jeromebruner

Eureka! moments rarely come from nowhere. Creativity and insight is hardly ever a lightning strike of insight, but more often a long hard slog. But it's been frustrating to hear people write off the hard slog required for this kind of creative insight, so I've been in search of some more backup for why this hard slog, what one might call the "trough of enlightenment", is necessary.

Much of the time that I'm not working with educators or creatives in industry is spent working out what their creative actions are, how they do them and why they do them that way. Some of this is achieved by observing their creative work, some of it by reading what others have noticed. Every Sunday, I wake up to the creative delights of the Brainpickings weekly email, and this week, a book review on Jerome Bruner has opened up some lovely creative insight on the effectiveness of creative surprise:

Predictive effectiveness is “the kind of surprise that yields high predictive value in its wake” — for instance, as in the most elegant formulae of mathematics and physics, which hold that whenever certain conditions are present, a specific outcome is guaranteed to be produced. (All of these 17 equations that changed the world are excellent examples.) Predictive effectiveness doesn’t always come through surprise — it’s often “the slow accretion of knowledge and urge.” And yet, Bruner argues, “the surprise may only come when we look back and see whence we have come” — the very thing Steve Jobs described in his autobiographical account of his own creative journey, in noting that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

This, to me, is why my team's way of harnessing design thinking in the classroom provides a sturdy process through which the "slow accretion of knowledge and urge" is given space to develop, through a planned, deep, intense immersion into a wide array of content and experiences. This content, in a schooling setting, is tied to curricular goals which are much broader than in a traditional classroom environment, in order that during a later period of synthesis there are, in fact, enough different dots to join together as we look backwards on our immersion, and create something knew. In this respect, I've always struggled with the idea that all of the design cycle is, in fact, a cycle. This first element - a deep immersion and synthesis - feels necessarily a linear, patient expanse of time where we do not feel the need to rush into ideation and making. We need to line up as many different areas of knowledge and concepts first, before being able to get that "surprise" connection between them and create something much more effective.

Bruner’s second form is formal effectiveness, the kind most frequently encountered in mathematics and logic, and occasionally music. He cites French polymath Henri Poincaré’s famous account of how creativity works, which holds that “sudden illumination” — the mythic Eureka! moment — is the unconscious combinatorial process that reveals “the unsuspected kinship between … facts, long known, but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another.”

The process of design thinking is often perceived as "impossible" to put into practice in certain subjects, namely mathematics, some science and music. I've always disagreed, believe that it is merely "hard". Why? Because, the combining concepts for a fresh creative outcome is the whole point of ideation and prototyping: we combine or oppose concepts, try them out and get feedback from our working (or from others) as to whether it works. However, it fits less succinctly into a six-week "design challenge" or project. These subject areas fall more likely into this "formal effectiveness", where sudden illumination, or sudden clicking of one's understanding, comes from a much longer exposure to the various concepts that make up the subject as a whole. This is why, perhaps, there is still a need to leave some slack for mathematics teachers to consider much of their work as a collection of loosely joined parts, taught and learned separately, in isolation, even, to some degree. But the challenge comes with the learner being given a specific time and space to look backwards, and make connections, combinations and oppositions for themselves, and explain any new insights that they feel they can make. In mathematics and music, for example, are the key points of design thinking knowing when we stand back and synthesise what we've learned, before we then hypothesise (ideate) and test our hypotheses (prototype)?

The third, Bruner notes, is the hardest to describe. Metaphorical effectiveness is also manifested by “connecting domains of experience that were before apart,” but what distinguishes it from the formal kind is that the mechanisms of connectedness come for the realm of art rather than science and logic — the kind of connectedness that Carl Jung described as “visionary,” in contrast to the merely psychological. (Metaphorical thinking, after all, is at the developmental root of human imagination.) While we are wired to make sense of the world via categorization, “metaphoric combination leaps beyond systematic placement, explores connections that before were unsuspected.”

The unifying mechanism for all three, however, remains what Einstein termed“combinatory play.” Bruner writes:

All of the forms of effective surprise grow out of a combinatorial activity — a placing of things in new perspectives.

Finally, Bruner touches on that much larger type of synthesis, which we can achieve when we are able to bring together domains that do not normally sit side by side. Traditional schooling sets students up to find this difficult - we learn our different domains in different spaces in high school and most of middle school. However, we do see this kind of "visionary connectedness" in young learners at Elementary and Early Years, where connections between one curricular area and another are made, when the curriculum itself doesn't make that link explicit. The educators we work with have been incredibly agile in recognising these moments, and taking advantage of them, to extend projects from a simple "let's make traditional food for homeless people in the park", to "understanding why our country's culture makes us want to do this in the first place", for example. What might high schools do to help students make these larger syntheses? Learning logs are a simple device, particularly if they can be searchable (as we discovered in our Evernote experiments in Rosendale Primary School) - students are able to search for key words related to today's topic, and unearth insights from learning months, or years, earlier, that they would have otherwise forgotten.

November 08, 2011

Fact: ICT is *not* new (and learning has always been more important than teaching)

ICT
Well, only partially true. While researching out a seminar on digital stories I thought I'd plug into Google's ngram viewer, looking at how vocabulary has evolved in the millions of books digitised by Google since the 1800s.

My first search was on ICT. Surprisingly, ICT is not a new phrase, and the C in ICT may not have been added as late as the 1990s but as far back as 1800. My question: "what did ICT mean back in 1800?"

Teaching learning on ngram

Another interesting search, suggested by Tom, was "teaching,learning". Isn't it fascinating to see how learning has always been more important to authors than teaching. You can even see the industrial revolution kicking in, where teaching streaks ahead. Finally, the progressive movements of the 60s bring learning back to the fore. I wonder what the next 20 years hold for the balance of learning and teaching.

December 18, 2010

Living in a Post-Digital World [Central Station book essay]

Censta2
Two-and-a-half years ago I joined award-winning ISO Design, as their Commissioner at Channel 4, in developing an creative art, film and photography network, Central Station. It was the hardest sell of my entire time at Channel 4: those who got it, totally got it. Those who didn't, never would. You can read and view a video about Central Station on the site.

18 months in the network has proven über successful, connecting artists from the UK with those in Berlin, the Netherlands, Spain, the US and the Far East. It has continued to reflect a quality mark that most other networks could never claim: its initial members, joining through curiosity and choice, were Turner-prize winners and hotshots of the art world.

Through some incredibly careful planning about how that mix of social network, exclusive-yet-approachable, high quality but not "up itself" vibe could be reached, the team have pulled off an incredible feat, as a browse through the Collections and Portfolios shows. The Community is throbbing.

As part of its first full year in operation, I wrote an essay for a celebratory book, which I've reproduced below:

Censta

Star Alliance Art

When I started writing and publishing audio stories on my own blog I was convinced that it would be a great way to connect with people from far-off lands from the comfort of my own proverbial sofa. Half a million airmiles later I realise I couldn't have been more wrong. The growth in our online connections has in the past five years led to only one related phenomenon: in as much as we enjoy connecting virtually to people, art and artefacts, we want to connect as much with the analogue, physical elements we discover online.

For me, the highlight of this analogue-digital playoff in 2010 must be Joanna Basford's Twitter art projects. They've captured our imaginations: send a tweet, the most transient of our digital photons, and a real living artist will transcribe those binaries into a new sort of artistic physical binary of the black and white linear for which she has become so well known. You can see what she's up to - digitally - through the 24 hour welcome. 100 special customers pay top dollar to get hold of the limited edition - analogue - prints before sharing them in all their - digital - beauty on photosharing websites like Flickr.com.

Or maybe this tension between analogue and digital is best expressed through BakerTweet, designed by London-based Poke as a means of getting their local baker to broadcast when the croissants were fresh out the oven. A constructed, physical object with a mobile transmitter stashed inside, BakerTweet represents all that is artisanal and ambiently intimate in this digital age.

As we watch less television and participate more in virtual networks of real acquaintances, friends and Friends (there is a notable difference), we have gained, as journalist and sociologist Clay Shirky puts it, "cognitive surplus". With limitless choice in the virtual world we have more mental bandwidth than we've had since before the birth of television to do with what we please. That would include hanging on the every tweet of a baker's oven, or assisting in the creation of a new artwork by an artist hundreds of miles away.

The digital world lets us find these physical products more easily and we can attempt to experience them through photograph, visualisation, video or audio. But when it comes to the physical, the tangible and the experiential of the physical world, there is still a sense of scarcity, especially if the product is one of a creative or artisanal hand.

Central Station really is the meeting place of these two worlds. Behind almost every pixel is that scarcity of the physical piece. Behind every piece the even more scarce creator and maker. This community has managed to weave these two worlds together, and has managed to do so while both celebrating the real world of art, film and making stuff, and harnessing the best of the slightly transient, virtual world of click here, type there.

We can all be in each other's pockets digitally if we want, but, frankly, when the bread comes out the oven or the artwork receives its final stroke of the pen, we want to feel, meet, eat or see the physical, real, tangible product of their craft. As an artist, that's incredibly reassuring. As a bystander, it's exciting to know that the digital world will only help me get closer to the things I didn't already know I wanted to experience first hand.

Prints, above, from KavanStudio. View their portfolio.

October 23, 2010

Book review: Tina Seelig's What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. A Crash Course On Making Your Way In The World

Tina Seelig
Six weeks ago I met Tina Seelig at dinner in Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh, surrounded by some of the gruesome medical discoveries made over the past 300 years that have helped define modern medicine. If ever there was a dinnertime discussion point about how we build on prior lessons of life (and death), this was it.

We got talking about those life lessons, about how I only worked out I wanted to start my own company about 12 years later than would have been ideal, about how I'd always wanted to write a book ("well, what's the first chapter about?", she asked), and about never getting to the point where you say "I wish I had...".

Tina, in this mini shrink armchair moment, suggested I have a read of her latest book, which I bought there and then on the iPhone and delved into over the course of two evenings.

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 is a gem, and I've bought at least a dozen copies as 'prizes' for people in my seminars this past month. This "Crash course on making your place in the modern world" is a collection of life lessons, examples from Tina's teaching at Stanford University's School of Engineering, entrepreneurship center and d.school, and great techniques for bringing out the best in yourself and the teams with whom you work. Here are some of my favourite elements of the book:

  • "Best or worst" as a process of innovation (see my own experimentations with this actually working on my own blog and in the Huffington Post).
  • "Do band" culture - make innovation and actioning visible



  • Need-finding is not a given - it's a process that has to be worked upon to get good at it. (I wonder if that's why I feel that learning in schools is all too often based around "fake problems", ones that have been contrived to achieve a learning point but which haven't had enough thought given to whether there's a real, actual need that would achieve the same, but have more of a profound meaning to the learner).
  • If you throw gasoline on a log all you get is a wet log. If you throw gasoline on a small flame you get an inferno. Are you putting your energy into something that's going to pay off?
  • It's not enough to just find your passion and follow that. The sweet spot is when you find your passion in the form of a talent or skill set, find that those match your own personal interests, and then find a market that's willing to harness those skills.
  • Lao-Tzu, Chinese Taoist philosopher:
    "The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both."
  • Lucky people are never just lucky. They're acutely aware of their surroundings like a traveller in a foreign land. They then find unusual ways to recombine their findings and knowledge.
  • Stories of those who have "bad breaks" and who are able to turn those into incredibly positive opportunities (like Perry Klehbahn's SnowShoe).
  • Those who are willing to learn can turn negative situations around (e.g. Jeannie Kahwajy's research on job interview candidates who've been knocked back for a dream job and end up truly content with what they end up doing - the same happened to me, actually, when I went for a the world's worst job interview for what I thought was a dream job. When I went to Channel 4 to meet friends and drown my sorrows with some bad coffee, I ended up with an inning to the job where I ended up kicking off 4iP).
  • Paint the target around the arrow - find out what people's passions are and find ways to harness the energy around that (create jobs and opportunities around that).
  • The Rule Of Three:
    Most people can only track three (important) things at once - work out what they are for you and follow through. "Avoiding the Tyranny or 'Or'"
  • "We're encouraged to "satisfice" - to do the least amount we can do satisfy the requirements."
  • Teachers show what's required and how to get there. "Will this be on the test?". We have to find interesting ways to get over that, as it's not a life skill. Or at least recognise that it's not a life skill and give it far less attention.

It's a great book, a quick read but one you'll come back to time and time again when you're needing some clever ideas for motivating a group around a challenge, or looking for some insight in where you go next.

Buy it.

Pic from Stanford BASES, permission pending.

May 13, 2010

[Book Review]: Yes We Did, Rahaf Harfoush

Yes-We-Did-Rahaf-Harfoush Rahaf Harfoush's "front row seat" on the Obama campaign's social media tactics and strategy, along with skills honed in the researching of Tapscott's Wikinomics, make her timeline of digital prowess and must-read for anyone in the marketing, comms, community-building or campaigning line of work. For the rest, it's a fascinating look into the actual role of technology in the famous election campaign, and how "tech toys" were really about inspiring offline community-building and fundraising.

Some would say the book is too simplistic, but I think it's just simple: describing social media tactics for what they are, as simple, reflective and responsive actions rather than a grand strategy only gurus can prepare. If the book reads itself quickly, it's thanks to a clear, consistent design (from Scott Thomas, Obama's design lead, talking here about that experience at Behance's 99%) and a writing style that breaks everything down to its simplest components. This makes it great for those not running large marketing, comms or media budgets, but for those of us who seek to make small iterative steps in the longer term.

She takes us through

  • how simple thoughts on branding, and providing branding elements for fans to use, was a solid grounding from which to build online services;
  • how social networking elements went to existing groups and networks rather than trying to recreate everything from scratch;
  • the power of email, potentially the central tool in the campaign;
  • the emerging potential of text messaging to influence and cajole;
  • how blogs were used to give a voice to many people in the campaign, not just to broadcast about me, me, me...
  • some of the techniques to make the most of video (i.e. produce lots of it, regularly);
  • how analytics proved a vital element in understanding how to communicate with the audience.

Harfoush spoke last week at Lift in Geneva on the power of social networking in the campaign (I spoke there two years ago on the power of social networking for learning communities) but, as Kevin Anderson points out in the first comment on Stephanie Booth's liveblog of the talk, it wasn't the newer, more social technologies that wielded the greatest impact on the political journey - it was email. Once again, it is the lowest common denominator technology that makes the biggest impact, something both Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody and Esther Dyson have picked up on, the latter putting it as:

sometimes we call intuitive what is really just familiar.

You can follow Rahaf on Twitter, see her speak at Alan November's BLC2010 conference this summer, or buy her book at the Store.

May 07, 2010

[Book Review]: Me And My Web Shadow, Antony Mayfield

I thought I'd share some of my love for the great books I've been reading lately (and further back), in a semi-occasional book review.

The first one up comes from someone who, over the years, has become a strong online friend, despite the fact that we've only ever met a half dozen times at various random cities across Europe. He was one of a merry gang who helped change my life, too, back in Copenhagen in 2007 when he and Mrrs Moore and Semple suggested that I should set up my own company.

Antony's premise then was that the things we were doing online as an added extra created enough value, eventually, to employ them in the centre of everything we do.

His new book, Me and My Web Shadow: How to Manage Your Reputation Online, illustrates in a mix of textbook, handbook and extended blog post how anyone, from a school kid to a CEO, a teacher to a parent, can harness their online footprint for their own personal good, and the good of the communities around them.

Me and my Web Shadow Book
Antony  set about writing Me And My Web Shadow to help inform the kind of person "who doesn't quite get Twitter yet", or who thinks privacy issues on Facebook are a good enough reason to avoid it. It was for his wife, amongst many others. It's pitched in the kind of way that wouldn't patronise a proficient user of social media but which is also accessible to newbies. If there were a French translation I might even purchase a copy for my mother-in-law, to help her understand the grey areas between private and public, friends and Friends.

Despite having risen through the ranks of PR to a Senior Vice President position at iCrossing, the world's biggest SEO company, he talks his reader through privacy and openness in a blog-like, non-corporate, friendly way. This book reads for itself, combining practical tips and examples of people getting it right (and wrong), along with some Thinking Man's theory of why all this is so.

And his tone of voice means that Me And My Web Shadow is the ideal starter book and reference tool for people both in education and in the corporate world. It's a tough balance to strike, and Antony's nailed it.

If you want to provide some quick, light, intelligent reading to parents or colleagues who don't quite get all this malarky yet, then Me and My Web Shadow (UK) is possibly the best first port of call they could ask for. They'll understand the main issues and have some practical next steps as to how they can take control of their very own web shadows. It's not one to read cover-to-cover, but rather to have to hand when those "what happens if" questions crop up.

Follow the book on Twitter or, if you prefer humans, Antony himself.

Me And My Web Shadow: How To Manage Your Online Reputation is launched May 15th in the US Store: reserve your copy now in my book store.

April 13, 2010

Reasons for literacy to love the iPad #1

I'm selling a bunch of iPad ideas to my investment panel tomorrow on behalf of my client companies and looking forward to producing some fun, engaging and hopefully profitable little apps early on in the new marketplace, before it, too, gets over-over-overcrowded.

This example of how Alice in Wonderland will be iPadised has a budget well above our prototypes, but creates the kind of eye-popping engagement for reading that most of us learning and teaching reading in any language wouldn't want to miss.

March 01, 2010

"If you want more PCs you only have to ask"

From the Leader of Newcastle City Council John Shipley at the superb libraries conference Edge2010 in Edinburgh Castle came this phrase. He believes that:

"libraries come cheap at the price, reducing costs in almost every other problematic area of public spending: policing and crime prevention, vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, social exclusion".

When he and colleagues built the new City Library in Newcastle it was an architectural and social revolution, one of the few spaces in a city centre that you could go to and not have to spend money. As such, it is becoming the pillar of interaction for citizens, and it's not just to read.

Shipley's number one preoccupation on his visits is counting the number of laptops that are free for people to use. If he doesn't spot enough of them, he'll make sure that more are supplied. Access to information and civic services is such a core entitlement, in his view, that the expense of more hardware is a small price to pay compared to what other parts of his council will have to fork out if the library wasn't fulfilling its role to the full.

This is profound. It's profound in an age where libraries are often the first in line to be cut, closed and stalled in their work to make us more fully informed and wise citizens. His point is that it's the cheapest thing to keep going given what it does to mop up the social problems of a city through engagement. Fact: a £0.5m ($1m) annual cost of an enormous city library is equivalent to half a penny rise in local taxes. It's a negligible price to pay for what it can offer.

August 03, 2009

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Creativity

If we all knew the idea we'd not be writing blog posts like this, reading them or doing workshops on the matter. We'd be busy pulling that limitless supply of creativity out of its hole to see the light of day and bring us riches, joy, learning and new friends.

However, given that we're not, over the next month or so (or however long it takes me to splurge out those thoughts) I'll be summarising on this here blog some of the best online and offline reading and viewing that has attempted to answer that question, throwing in my own unresearched but tried and tested notions (and a few that haven't even got that far). This post will change to reflect the updating posts that will take a peek at:

  1. Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From.
  2. Stand There And Do Nothing: Designing beautiful solutions rather than solving ugly problems
  3. Creative Genius. Man At Work: Arguments for not working as a team
  4. Getting Creativity Done (GCD): How to get productive and clean down the mental decks
  5. Nurturing creativity: Worrying about "Tanya's Bow" or the Dinosaurs: Some arguments for caring about the team, not pissing them off and really understanding what failure is
  6. Finding your tribe
  7. Creating visions, not missions

As they're posted, please leave comments, disagree, add your own links, videos and pictures. I hope that by the end of it we'll have a resource to which we might come back with the stories of how the works, thoughts and attitudes of others have changed the way we operate.

Bookmark this post and come back to it for updates, and subscribe to the blog to get a daily email or RSS feed in your reader every time there's a new post. Take a look at my instructions on how to subscribe.

Brill pic from Chris Metcalf

June 14, 2009

Seth on why the textbook industry deserves to die

Living The Dream?

Seth Godin doesn't just 'do' marketing but he teaches it regularly, too. His latest rant is on the insidious growth of the business of textbook writing and publishing, as a result, he believes, of laziness in the market and cynical money-grabbing by a select few from an ignorant system.

The argument is certainly not that books are inherently wrong in a schooling environment (Seth has sold his share of millions of books). Books such as those I read offer insights from leaders in their fields, normally insights which are relatively up-to-date (give or take 12 months) and which would be a nightmare to try and consume on a 500 pixel-wide blog posting.

But textbooks, written as they are, out-of-date, error-ridden by mistype or time passing, curations of general knowledge rather than journeys through learning with personal insights, almost always are the professor's/teacher's lazy option. Says Seth:

The solution seems simple to me. Professors should be spending their time devising pages or chapterettes or even entire chapters on topics that matter to them, then publishing them for free online. (it's part of their job, remember?)  When you have a class to teach, assemble 100 of the best pieces, put them in a pdf or on a kindle or a website (or even in a looseleaf notebook) and there, you're done. You just saved your intro marketing class about $15,000. Every semester. Any professor of intro marketing who is assigning a basic old-school textbook is guilty of theft or laziness.

This industry deserves to die. It has extracted too much time and too much money and wasted too much potential. We can do better. A lot better.

Seth's assumption is the same as mine, and the underlying pretext of the eduBuzz platform: that teachers are paid to share their knowledge, not just with those students in front of them but with anyone in their learning communities, and sharing with this community will make us all better teachers and learners.

Arnie's got the right end of the wrong stick: it's not a question of changing the media through which the textbook is published, it's about changing the very notion of the textbook.

By far the easiest way to do this is to blog regularly, in bite-sized, timely learning chunks that can be read, commented upon, linked to and adapted by students, their parents and your peers. It is much harder for everyone to publish this in a textbook, ends up much more inaccurate and, above all, is less accessible due to cost than an internet connection in every home.

Sharing, and sharing online specifically, is not in addition to the work of being an educator. It is the work.

Pic of a TextBook Warehouse

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

Ewan’s education keynotes & MasterClasses

Module Masterclass

Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?

In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.

Recent Posts

    Archives

    More...