October 31, 2009
October 29, 2009
We also believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were stuck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration. Sometimes these people were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers or other influential adults. A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity. To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different).
Copyright © 2009 Harvard Business Publishing. All rights reserved.
The context for this paragraph from “How Do Innovators Think?” is the initial answer to what Jeff Dyer (Brigham Young University) and Hal Gregersen (Insead) learned are important skills from their survey of 3,000 “creative” executives and interview of 500:
Dyer: The first skill is what we call “associating.” It’s a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas. The second skill is questioning — an ability to ask “what if”, “why”, and “why not” questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture. The third is the ability to closely observe details, particularly the details of people’s behavior. Another skill is the ability to experiment — the people we studied are always trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds. And finally, they are really good at networking with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn.
Fryer: Which of these skills do you think is the most important?
Dyer: We’ve found that questioning turbo-charges observing, experimenting, and networking, but questioning on its own doesn’t have a direct effect without the others. Overall, associating is the key skill because new ideas aren’t created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven’t been connected before. The other behaviors are inputs that trigger associating — so they are a means of getting to a creative end.
Copyright © 2009 Harvard Business Publishing. All rights reserved.
We meet again Kipling’s “Six Honest Serving-Men.”
All this, thought for the day? No, a thought for life…
October 28, 2009
In “The Median Isn’t the Message,” Stephen Jay Gould (evolutionary biologist who taught at Harvard University) wrote:
My life has recently intersected, in a most personal way, two of Mark Twain’s famous quips. One I shall defer to the end of this essay. The other (sometimes attributed to Disraeli), identifies three species of mendacity, each worse than the one before – lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Many people make an unfortunate and invalid separation between heart and mind, or feeling and intellect. In some contemporary traditions, abetted by attitudes stereotypically centered on Southern California, feelings are exalted as more “real” and the only proper basis for action – if it feels good, do it – while intellect gets short shrift as a hang-up of outmoded elitism. Statistics, in this absurd dichotomy, often become the symbol of the enemy. As Hilaire Belloc wrote, “Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death.”
This is a personal story of statistics, properly interpreted, as profoundly nurturant and life-giving. It declares holy war on the downgrading of intellect by telling a small story about the utility of dry, academic knowledge about science. Heart and head are focal points of one body, one personality.
Mr. Gould also goes on to discuss how the Platonic view that the type or kind is (most) real is false; what is true is the Aristotelian view that the individual (“variation”) is real. He says:
We still carry the historical baggage of a Platonic heritage that seeks sharp essences and definite boundaries. (Thus we hope to find an unambiguous “beginning of life” or “definition of death,” although nature often comes to us as irreducible continua.) This Platonic heritage, with its emphasis in clear distinctions and separated immutable entities, leads us to view statistical measures of central tendency wrongly, indeed opposite to the appropriate interpretation in our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua. In short, we view means and medians as the hard “realities,” and the variation that permits their calculation as a set of transient and imperfect measurements of this hidden essence. If the median is the reality and variation around the median just a device for its calculation, the “I will probably be dead in eight months” may pass as a reasonable interpretation.
But all evolutionary biologists know that variation itself is nature’s only irreducible essence. Variation is the hard reality, not a set of imperfect measures for a central tendency. Means and medians are the abstractions.
Notice how Mr. Gould is talking about kinds of things as being separate from variation, shadings, and continua. I don’t know if he’d say everything was like that, even individuals, but if so, I’d have to disagree: individuals are distinct and separate; this is given clearly (by real, immutable cause-effect relationships) in perception. Kinds of things, conceptual categories, come about only by recognizing things in their reality- and perceptually-given background of variation: tables grasped as related to but contrasted with furniture and other items in a house; trees grasped as related to but contrasted with grass and bushes; people grasped as related to but contrasted with other animals; engineers grasped as related to but contrasted with other human professions.
Concepts are only ways of categorizing individuals based on cause-effect and explanatory relationships. Individuals are most real; types or kinds are real, but have a “secondary, dependent existence” to individuals.
October 24, 2009
October 20, 2009
As for Fred Astaire’s dancing, both George Balanchine and Mikhail Baryshnikov called him the greatest, most original dancer of all time. A perfectionist, Astaire was uninterested in the advice of others, and wrote in his autobiography: “I believe that if you have something in mind in the way of creation, you are certain to come up with inaccurate criticism and damaging if you go around asking for opinions. It is the easiest thing in the world to become discouraged by a well-meant suggestions which may throw you off your original train of thought.” The perfectionism paid off. Movie director Rouben Mamoulian said, “Fred Astaire makes it look easy by only taking the greatest of pains. He works harder than any newcomer. He never lets up. You’d think his entire life and future depended on the outcome of each dance. He keeps at the top because he does the impossible — he improves on perfection.”
Read the rest of the post on Moomin Light. Good stuff.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, and Ginger Rogers sings, in a clip from “Roberta”. I love how, at about the 5 minute mark, they talk and fight through dance and their feet, and I love the little slide they do when they are done fighting and they go back into closed hold.
HT: Henry S
In an “ADDRESS TO THE VIENNA PRESS CLUB, NOVEMBER 21, 1897, DELIVERED IN GERMAN [Here in literal translation],” an address entitled “DIE SCHRECKEN DER DEUTSCHEN SPRACHE [THE HORRORS OF THE GERMAN LANGUAGE],” Mark Twain said:
It has me deeply touched, my gentlemen, here so hospitably received to be. From colleagues out of my own profession, in this from my own home so far distant land. My heart is full of gratitude, but my poverty of German words forces me to greater economy of expression. Excuse you, my gentlemen, that I read off, what I you say will. [But he didn't read].
The German language speak I not good, but have numerous connoisseurs me assured that I her write like an angel. Maybe—maybe—I know not. Have till now no acquaintance with the angels had. That comes later—when it the dear God please—it has no hurry.
Since long, my gentlemen, have I the passionate longing nursed a speech on German to hold, but one has me not permitted. Men, who no feeling for the art had, laid me ever hindrance in the way and made naught my desire—sometimes by excuses, often by force. Always said these men to me: “Keep you still, your Highness! Silence! For God’s sake seek another way and means yourself obnoxious to make.”
… I am indeed the truest friend of the German language—and not only now, but from long since—yes, before twenty years already. And never have I the desire had the noble language to hurt; to the contrary, only wished she to improve—I would her only reform. It is the dream of my life been. … I would only some changes effect. I would only the language method—the luxurious, elaborate construction compress, the eternal parenthesis suppress, do away with, annihilate; the introduction of more than thirteen subjects in one sentence forbid; the verb so far to the front pull that one it without a telescope discover can. With one word, my gentlemen, I would your beloved language simplify so that, my gentlemen, when you her for prayer need, One her yonder-up understands.
HT: Paul B and Hannes H
Call this “How Not to Write For the SAT”…
“At Last” by Etta James. Love it, love it, love it… I’ve gotta keep this isolated from everything else: I have to get all distractions or possible distractions put away, listen to Etta, then give myself five or ten minutes before I listen to most other pieces of music or take my mind onto something annoying or non-serious.
October 19, 2009
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
October 17, 2009
October 16, 2009
“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”
Quote from Yahoo! Education, which gives the attribution for this quote as: “William Blake (1757–1827), British poet, painter, engraver. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 7, “Proverbs of Hell,” (c. 1793), repr. In Complete Writings, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (1957).”
I’d add that the same relationship applies between a poor or mediocre teacher and a good teacher — even if the former is not a fool! The wisdom of the latter is well worth the money…