Archive for Creative work

Hunger Games – Allegory for us (part 2)

By | January 13, 2014 | 0 Comments
Last week I started a multi-series blog about The Hunger Games and lessons we can learn for our own Panem (the country of Hunger Games).  More upcoming topics will be:; 3) the distinction between common sense learned from applied learning and that which comes from “training;”  4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities.  It occurs to me that this week subtitle could indeed be a cross-over for a popular Reality TV series.
The Price We Pay to Eat—could you kill and eat a squirrel?
Katniss, the main character in The Hunger Games, is poor and from a single parent family.  In order for her family to survive, she enters her name in the reaping lottery for The Hunger Games multiple times over the year.  To explain: in the story a person can get “charity” in exchange for entering his/her name multiple times in the drawing which pulls one girl and one boy’s names for the Hunger Games.  squirrel
In this case, literally poor kids are at greater risk to die simply based on their financial state.  This is the case with Katniss. Again, this is fiction and described a dystopia, but how far a stretch is it to compare to low-income youth in our real world?  Are they also fated to a similar outcome?  Furthermore, illegal activities are vital to Katniss’ family’s survival.  Katniss helps to feed her family through illegal hunting, which she sells to community members.  It is this hunting which ultimately makes her such a good competitor.  Our heroine participates in the black market to make ends meet.  When was the last time we looked at a poor person who was selling illegal things as a hero?  Hmmm – let’s pause to think about this.

The Hunger Games – allegory for our world? (part 1)

By | January 6, 2014 | 0 Comments
I have been wanting to have a conversation with my friend Oscar who is 12 and quite a Hunger Games fan, but he is quite busy with life these days – so alas, I have to take my questions and observations out on the blog.
Over my winter break I read The Hunger Games and watched the movie.  For the record, as usual, the book is much better and more dimensional than the movie. I thought the story was so interesting and provides such a great commentary on American Society today.  My next few blog posts are going to be based on lessons from Hunger Games – I hope you enjoy.  This week’s is about—1) reality TV and its hold on the US.
Upcoming posts will be:  2) the story as a metaphor for personal challenge and lot that we have in life ; 3) the distinction between common sense learned from applied learning and that which comes from “training;”  4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities


Katniss Everdeen and The Duck Dynasty—flip sides of the same coin?
What is the difference between the corporate selling of TV programs and The Hunger Games?  On reality TV individuals compete against each other in inane settings, or show their supposed day-to-day lives which are highly contrived and hyperbolic examples of their “beliefs” or ambitions.  As if the programs are not ridiculous enough, they can become fodder for political or social movements.  Katniss
The Hunger Games, which we are to believe are a fantasy world, have the same reality TV element and are a government-sponsored enterprise, to commemorate an uprising in the country. In Hunger Games, tributes are rewarded by commercial sponsors for actions and behaviors that garner greater viewer engagement. What are we telling 14 year olds when they are rewarded for kissing people?  The more they kiss the more rewards they get?  Ick.  And likewise, where genuine feeling and nice gestures (Rue’s funeral scene) are condemned and even personally dangerous?  How do we feel about the fact that subverting authority for the wellbeing of those you care for may garner retribution?  Obviously the story is fiction, but I see it as an allegory that bears discussion for the millions of young people who have watched it.  Likewise, it bears reflection for all of us who might be drawn into any reality TV series where we look at the commercial messages behind them and consider what is motivating the competition


Innovation Inflation is ruining us

By | November 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Daily, I read articles and hear advertisements about innovative new products or concepts.  I must disagree.  There is little true innovation in our daily lives.  By calling anything that is creative innovative, we are de-valuing true innovation.  There is an plenty of creativity and that is a good thing, but creativity and innovation are not the same.  Here is my take on the difference.innovation

Creativity is taking a new approach on an existing issue or task.  For example, in the new Iphone, having a finger print scan is a new take on phone security.  It is creative; it is not innovative. Smart phones, personal secure access and fingerprint scans each already exist and now they are re-combined in a new way.  Creativity is the ability to enhance an existing product of concept through aesthetics, function, or added features.  The finger print scan on the iphone is creative.  It is something that you say “oh cool.”

Innovation operates in a different dimensionInnovation identifies and executes a solution to a problem or need that most do not even realize exists.  The ipod and iphone were innovative.  They changed our access to music (ipod) and ability to manage large amounts of information at our fingertips (iphone).  More importantly, they changed the way that we think about our relationship to information and data.  I maintain that without the iphone, the current quantified self movement, which hopefully will transform health and fitness in positive ways, would not exist.

I also think there is a difference in the level of execution, discipline and perseverance between creative and innovative.  I think of myself as a very creative person.  I can think of ten great ways to try something new or design a system to accomplish a task.  However, my failings come in my ability to think harder, look differently and persevere through boredom and frustration to be truly innovative in identifying a need or articulating a solution that defines an undefined problem, or changes how or whether we think (or act) about something.

 The distance between creative and innovative is great and requires three important qualities.  The first is focus and perspective.  These are two sides of the same coin.  We must be able to focus on an issue or task to see its minutiae and to endure challenges.  I think of my nine-year old friend Charles who can sit for hours and make original origami and I think that someday he will have the patience to wade through complex problems and see them in a new light.  At the same time of seeing the detail, a person has to have perspective on the scope of the issue and understand where it fits, or cteetertotteran fit in the larger context.  Achieving both of these things can be like running across a teeter-totter, bumpy.

 The second quality is the ability to see the problems.  One quality that I often don’t like about myself is that I can have a glass half-empty mindset when looking at almost anything.  Although I maintain that this is my saving grace in terms of coming up with new solutions and not settling for okay.  I am confident that this quality will help me be innovative.  And I have learned how to wrestle the inner-critic when I need to, especially as a manager.

The third quality is endurance and comfort with ambiguity.  Individuals working towards innovation have to be comfortable with long periods of being lost and not being able to quite put their finger on the problem.   True innovation takes a great deal of poking, prodding, defining and re-defining a problem and a solution.  In our world of instantaneous everything, I think the patience and ability to be comfortable with unsolved problems will become more rare, yet more valuable.

Using Metaphor is Like . . .

By | October 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

good marketing is like sushi.
It is concise, attractive,
presented in small pieces.
It has a few ingredients, creatively displayed.  And it leaves the consumer asking for more.

I used this metaphor when giving a presentation to non profit leaders about creating better communications.  I am still reminded by people who heard that presentation that I changed their thinking about messaging through this simple metaphor.
I cringe when I hear friends and colleagues deliver a flat unimaginative presentation or article.  I know these individuals have lots of great information to share, but it falls flat when they deliver it without giving the audience any foundation to build upon or way to relate to the materials.Metaphors help to build a bridge between a complex subject and a novice’s understanding.  They give a framework for the listener to plug in to and are learning devices to remember content.  In my example above, everyone in the audience knows sushi and can see it as a desirable object.  Also, metaphors can suggest good graphics that make more interesting presentations.You do not have to be a walking metaphor machine to use this technique effectively.  Rather — come up with a couple and use them well.  Below are a few that can be used broadly to convey process, concepts, group dynamic or mechanics.

Keeping a couple of metaphor cards in your back pocket can be a saving grace
in delivering information in a way that audiences will remember.  

gardenface  Gardening:  you can think of gardening in a number of ways:  the soil, providing nutrients; the weather creating ongoing conditions that strengthen your garden and yield (extremes in any direction are not good for your outcome).  You can also think about the stages of gardening: prepping the soil, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting etc.  You can apply these phases to any number of steps in a process, of diversity of skills and conditions needs for a desired outcome.
Music:  How is a particular project like a type of music?  Jazz — highly improvised, rock and roll, a little rebellious, country music–expressing certain moods; classical — many disparate parts well choreographed; marching band–familiar tunes conducted over a large space . . . I know you are thinking of some yourself here . . . keep going.  Angel Tavira as violinist and guerilla fighter Don Plutarco, as
piecing Quilting:  A cover consisting of many patches which are brought together and arranged, the batting which is invisible in the final outcome, but creates the substance of the pieces.  Quilt backing, which is . . . well, the backing upon which the piece rests.  There is also the quilting itself which is functional and artistic and requires the endurance of the quilter(s).   Quilting is the finishing detail which brings subtly and strength to the piece.
As my earlier blog posts, co workers and friends will tell you, I use these metaphors a lot and can almost always tie an explanation or answer to them.  However, there are many more that you can use:  preparing a meal, visiting a zoo, an archeological site, a museum, a physical city infrastructure . . .

The key is to get creative and identify some that work for you. Whether you walk around with metaphors falling out of your backpack or use this technique the next time you have to explain something to someone . . . work to identify a symbol, process or outcome that your audience can relate to and build the bridge from that shared understanding to your content.

 bellyflop2 Don’t do a belly flop:  be sure to keep your metaphor accessible to your audience.  I would not use the sushi metaphor if I were speaking to a group of pre-schoolers.   In that case, I might use a sandwich metaphor to express the same concepts.  With a well-selected metaphor you can build a strong bond with your audience.
If you know the group well you can select an apt metaphor that is going to convey your knowledge of their expertise or culture, which can increase their confidence and interest in you.However, beware, if you do not know the culture well this can backfire on you.  I would not use the garden metaphor in talking to soil scientists or landscape architects because they understand gardening and its elements on a different, more nuanced layer than I could ever convey.