Magnetic Poetry Creativity October 26, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: creativity kit
I just opened my new box of Magnetic Poetry–those tiny refrigerator magnets, each with one word, that you can string together on your fridge when the creative urge strikes you. This isn’t the original set; it’s a new collection of words titled the “Creativity Kit.”
First, you have to peel the words apart; they come in sheets, each with between 10 and 20 words loosely connected together. But I don’t want to separate the words that were printed together (presumably at random) on this sheet:
OF IMPOSSIBLE MACHINES
WITH UNKNOWN DEFINITIONS
IN A MILLION DIRECTIONS
WITHOUT FEAR SAUSAGE
TOO MUCH SURE REALITY
I can’t top that poem!
The Secret of San Francisco’s Entrepreneurial Success October 20, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Innovative networks, Regional innovation, Uncategorized.
Tags: johnny hwin, nathan heller, new yorker, the sub
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I’ve been reading and re-reading an awesome article about San Francisco’s entrepreneurial culture, by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker magazine.* Heller spent some time shadowing Johnny Hwin, an entrepreneur and musician who he calls “one of the best-connected kids in San Francisco.” Heller’s article is driven by a puzzle he can’t figure out:
Hwin is “a collective kid who, for reasons I still didn’t understand, seemed to have mastered everything about the new Bay Area and how it worked….I didn’t understand how people like Hwin appeared to float above the exigencies of career….If I hoped to understand the first thing about American culture in this decade, I realized, I’d need to figure out exactly what was going on in San Francisco.”
Heller’s article is long and brilliantly written. To really get the full sense of what he learned, you really need to read the full article. But here I’ve excerpted some highlights:
The art and technology collective called the Sub…is part of a network of places where the new mode of American success is being borne out…..a blend of business and small-scale creative art.
Hwin has been working as a musician, a tech entrepreneur, and an investor in other people’s startups. His two-person band, Cathedrals, just released a debut single and is producing an album. He and a friend are managing investments of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in private companies.
People who are young and urban and professionally diffuse [the three business card life] tend to regard success in terms of autonomy–designing your life as you want–rather than Napoleonic domination.
San Francisco’s young entrepreneurs appear less concerned about flaunting their earnings than about showing that they can act imaginatively, with conspicuously noble ethics. Hwin is into “creative, mindful living” in part because it helped his business interests.
In the second half of the article, Heller picks up on this theme of “business interests” blending with creative and mindful living, and begins to delve down into the underlying core of the culture:
In 1966, Hendrik Hertsberg wrote about San Francisco’s “new bohemianism” of the Hippies and the Beats. The youth, the upward dreams, the emphasis on lifestyle over other status markers, the disdain for industrial hierarchy, the social benefits of good deeds and warm thoughts–only proper nouns distinguish this description from a portrait of the startup culture in the Bay Area. It is startling to realize that urban tech life is the closest heir to the spirit of the sixties, and its creative efflorescence, that the country has so far produced.
But Heller’s article ends on a critical note:
The result is a rising metropolitan generation that is creative, thoughtful, culturally charismatic, swollen with youthful generosity and dreams–and fundamentally invested in the sovereignty of private enterprise…. I just sat there, wondering whether this was it, the kingdom of which we so wildly, and so effortlessly, dreamed.
I am not sure I agree with Heller’s critical tone. I know many of these people, and they believe there is no contradiction in doing good and doing well. I myself am a former hippie, Grateful Deadhead, Rainbow-gathering attendee, and now I’m advising corporations on innovation, and creating a university program in educational entrepreneurship…and I don’t see any contradiction. It’s not like the Yuppies of the 1980s, who were former hippies who worried they were selling out by wearing suits and selling junk bonds. Hwin doesn’t worry about selling out, because he is pure; it’s never crossed his mind. Heller’s article, although wonderful, seems like an early thought piece…like Heller is still mulling it over, still not sure what to make of this new cultural moment. Maybe none of us really are. There are strong parallels with David Brooks’ 2001 book Bobos in Paradise, referring to the “bohemian bourgeois,” the former hippies who became affluent and yet retained the same values. Heller certainly made me see things, and wonder about things, I hadn’t before. I hope Heller continues and turns this into a series of extended articles about entrepreneurship and modern America.
*Nathan Heller (2013, October 14). “Bay Watched.” The New Yorker Magazine, pp. 68-79.
For MOOCs to Work, We Need to Talk October 17, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: anant agarwal, andrew ng, coursera, edx, geoffrey a fowler
Online courses have proven they can attract thousands of students, but then almost all of them drop out before finishing the course. Well, guess what? Sitting at home alone and staring at a pre-recording lecture is just about the most boring thing ever, as Geoffrey Fowler writes in a Wall Street Journal article published on October 9, 2013. Learning scientists have known this for years: we have decades of research showing that engagement and social interaction result in more effective learning.* Fowler reports that MOOC developers are re-discovering the same thing:
“The most important thing that helps students succeed in an online course is
interpersonal interaction and support,” says Shanna Smith Jaggars, the assistant
director of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. She has
compared online-only and face-to-face learning in studies of community-college
students and faculty in Virginia and Washington state. Among her findings: In
Virginia, 32% of students failed or withdrew from for-credit online courses,
compared with 19% for equivalent in-person courses.
Learning scientists have also known for decades that getting students to talk to each other, while they are learning, results in better learning.* MOOC developers are re-discovering this solid finding, as well:
One way to provide personal interaction at mass scale is to get students talking to each other. Several studies suggest that many students who spend more time contributing to course discussion forums end up performing better. More than answering specific questions, the boards send a message, says Mr. Ng [a co-founder of Coursera]: “You are not alone.”
A study of the online-only version of edX’s course Circuits and Electronics offered in the spring and summer of 2012 found a mild correlation between the number of posts people made in the discussion forum and their final grades. Some 52% of the students who earned a certificate for the course were active in discussion forums, according to the study by the Teaching and Learning Laboratory at MIT and Andrew Ho, an associate professor at Harvard.
I’ve been arguing that educational technology developers need to work more closely with learning scientists, so they don’t keep reinventing the wheel. (And even worse, reinventing the wheel after they spend millions of dollars first trying ineffective shapes like squares and triangles.) In the new master’s degree program I’m creating at the University of North Carolina–in educational innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship–we’re going to make sure students get a solid grounding in the learning sciences. That way, ed tech innovations will be much more likely to result in solid learning outcomes.
*Sawyer, R. K. (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. Cambridge University Press.
Teaching Day at George Washington University October 4, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: anders ericsson, carl wieman, deliberate practice, george washington university, GWU, K. Anders Ericsson, Professor Ericsson, teaching day
Today I was the second invited keynote speaker at GWU’s annual Teaching Day. The first keynote speaker was the legendary psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, famous for his studies of expertise and the finding that it generally takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to attain a world-class level of expertise (discussed in many books, but most famously in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers).
Professor Ericsson’s talk was fascinating, and deeply grounded in his research. He has studied a wide range of experts, from chess players to ice skaters, to violinists and pianists, to medical doctors, to school teachers…on and on. And no matter what type of expertise he studies, he finds that there is essentially NO evidence that talent is innate–no evidence that people become experts because they have a natural ability in the area. Instead, what he finds repeatedly is that anyone can attain world-class expertise if they invest the time. The reason why most people do not become experts, according to Professor Ericsson, is that it takes a LOT of time and effort to attain expert level performance. The type of practice that gets you there–”deliberate practice”–is effortful and demanding. It involves a lot of failure, which means you have to have a strong desire and keep going through the 10,000 hours of failure and intense effort.
In fact Ericsson’s research is consistent with the creativity research. Creativity researchers have found that every exceptional creator has invested the 10,000 hours of hard work and deliberate practice. The world’s top creators don’t just stumble into great ideas; they invest the time and they pay their dues. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts to creativity, no shortcuts to expert performance. The good news is that high levels of performance are accessible to all of us, if only we invest the time and effort.
GWU asked me to talk about “The schools of the future: Educating for creativity.” We now know a lot about how to teach in ways that foster creative learning outcomes. And it turns out that teaching for creativity is the exact opposite of what goes on in many university classrooms: big lectures where professors deliver information to students, who are expected to absorb the information, take notes and study them later, and then prove they’ve absorbed it by taking an exam. I call this uncreative style of teaching “instructionism”. In contrast, to develop creative graduates, we need to engage students in active learning, where they are working on a complex, real-world problem, designed by the instructor so that as they solve the problem, they learn the required disciplinary content knowledge. It works even better if the students work in teams, and if they develop visible products along the way. That way, they can receive frequent constructive advice and critique from the instructor and from their fellow students.
After my talk, I spoke with several different professors at GWU. I learned that many of them have developed research-based teaching strategies aligned with these learning sciences principles. In particular, GWU professors are using “learning assistants” and group project-based learning–in physics classes, and in biology classes. And they’ve documented impressive gains in student learning compared to the traditional lecture. I’m not surprised; researchers have found this over and over again (if you’re not convinced, Google “Carl Wieman Nobel Prize in physics” or “Peer led team learning”).
At the morning’s breakfast meeting about “The future of the university” we talked about the new possibilities opened up by the Internet, for example the possibility that physical campuses will go away, to be replaced by Internet-based lectures and exams. To date, too few of these new technologies are grounded in learning sciences research. I’m leading a new program at the University of North Carolina, with the goal of grounding ed tech innovations in the learning sciences. That’s the best way to help our students learn most effectively. I don’t know how the Internet will transform schooling. But I will make one prediction: One hundred years from now, no one will be lecturing any more.
Messy Desks Make People Creative September 23, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in New research, Uncategorized.
Tags: disorder, joseph redden, kathleen vohs, messy, ryan rahinel
Everyone that I know who has a messy desk claims that it’s a sign of creativity. I have to admit, I’ve been skeptical…it just sounds like a convenient excuse. Well, if you need an excuse for your messy desk, you will love this new scientific study from the University of Minnesota*, because it finds that a cluttered office made experimental subjects more creativity.
The researchers created two offices to use in the first experiment. One was extremely tidy and organized, and the other was unusually cluttered. (If you can get access to the online article, the photos of the offices are fascinating. The orderly office looks like no one works in there, like a furniture showroom. The disorderly office looks like every office I’ve ever seen, including my own.) Then, undergraduate students were randomly assigned to spend about ten minutes in one of the two fake offices. They sat at a desk and filled out questionnaires that were unrelated to the study. After ten minutes, they were told they could leave, and they were offered either an apple or a chocolate bar. The students who sat in the clean and tidy office were twice as likely to choose the apple! They also chose to donate more money.
So the researchers kept going, and decided to evaluate creativity. The students randomly were assigned to work in one of two conference rooms, but instead of filling out a questionnaire, they were asked to come up with new uses for Ping-Pong balls. (The photos here are hilarious–the messy conference room has papers scattered on the floor, and every square inch of table space is covered with random papers.) All of the ideas were judged by two independent raters for their creativity. The students in the messy offices generated more creative ideas.
One final test, adults were brought in to work at one of two desk spaces. (Again the photos are really funny. The disorderly space has about 20 pens and pencils lying on the floor, among other messy things.) The participants were given a choice of adding a healthy boost to their lunchtime smoothie, either the “classic” or the “new”. Those who had spent time in the messy space were much more likely to choose the “new” one. The researchers argued that this means the disorderly environment led people to break free from tradition, to be more open to new things. (On the other hand, it could lead you to eat way too many chocolate bars!)
Surely some of these participants must have wondered why the researchers were such slobs? Or, did they blame the subject who was in the room just before them? Maybe just trying to come up with an explanation for such a messy space is enough to stimulate creative juices.
*Vohs et al., 2013. Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity. Psychological Science, 24(9), 1860-1867.
Spatial Ability and Creativity September 23, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in New research, Uncategorized.
Tags: benbow, lubinski, smpy
In the late 1970s, the psychologists Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski identified a highly talented group of 563 13-year-olds; all of them scored in the top one-half of one percent on the SAT. This study is known as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY). These teenagers were given a broad range of psychometric tests, and one of those was a test of spatial ability. Benbow and Lubinski have stayed in touch with these highly talented individuals, who are now in their late 40s, to see which of the tests–given to the teenagers–could predict various adult life outcomes.
In a recent scientific article*, Benbow and Lubinski, along with two other Vanderbilt University researchers, looked at the creativity of these 40-something adults. They classified the person as creative if they had obtained a patent, or if they had published a refereed journal article. The journal article publishers were grouped into three categories: arts humanities and social sciences; biology and medicine; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Those who published journal articles scored better than the other 13-year-olds on the SAT verbal measure; those who had patents scored below the group’s average SAT verbal.
Those who published in the arts and humanities had scored below the 13-year-old average on SAT math measures; the other published authors, and the patent holders, scored higher than the group’s average on SAT math.
And here’s the really interesting finding: Overall, the SAT math and verbal scores accounted for 10.8 percent of the variance in adult creativity. When spatial ability was added to the mix, it accounted for an additional 7.6% of the variance in adult creativity, above and beyond what the SAT score accounted for.
The take-home message is that spatial ability contributes to adult creativity, even after you take into account a relatively standard measure of human ability, the SAT. This means that standard measures of ability and intelligence might be missing some people with exceptional spatial ability, and those people seem to have elevated creative potential. The authors conclude:
Without spatial ability, the psychological architecture supporting creative thought and innovative production is incomplete.
Kell et al., 2013. Creativity and technical innovation: Spatial ability’s unique role. Psychological Science, 24(9), 1831-1836.
Ten Lessons for Design-Driven Success September 20, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Uncategorized.
Tags: alinea, Apple, dan pink, fab, fast company, Flipboard, genius bar, innovation by design, Warby Parker
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Check out Fast Company’s 10th annual issue devoted to “Innovation by Design”, showing how good design drives innovation. These are their ten key factors that drive the “new kind of creativity”, and each one is elaborated in one of the articles in this special issue:
- Design starts at the top. In innovative companies, the CEO is very close to the top designer. “Only the CEO can get the entire company to focus on something,” says Google designer Jon Wiley.
- Apple was the first to show the way. Max Chaifkin contributes an oral history of Apple’s design, arguing that Apple’s design strategy has been completely misunderstood.
- Good design often takes years, not quarters, to bring results. Sometimes a failed product, like Apple’s 2000 Cube, sows the seeds for later successes.
- There are many different ways to build a design and innovation culture. Google, for example, does not have a chief designer and doesn’t have any design “rules.” At other design powerhouses, there’s a lead designer in the C-suite. It depends.
- Sometimes innovation and design doesn’t seem to be the wisest financial design. It can cost a lot of money, and the revenue stream isn’t always obvious. Apple stores all have a Genius Bar and their services are free. What other retail chain devotes 20% of floor space to something they give away for free? And yet, Apple Stores have the highest sales per square foot of any retailer.
- Today’s consumers want good design more than ever. The examples of success are online bazaar Fab, and Samsung, and new brands including Nest and Warby Parker.
- Watch consumers to get new ideas and good design.
- Design has to be embedded and linked to every other aspect of the business. Manufacturing, marketing, finance. It can’t just be shape, color, or even just interaction design.
- You need both the big picture, and a mastery of the small details. Examples include Jawbone, Flipboard, and J. Crew.
- Treat every day like it’s the first day of your business. Jeff Bezos of Amazon uses the expression “day one” to emphasize that Amazon is still just at the beginning.
I particularly liked their timeline of key design moments from 2004 to 2013, starting on page 35. Remember when Chicago’s Millennium Park opened in July 2004? It seems like it’s been there forever! Remember when Dan Pink published A Whole New Mind in 2005? Read these prophetic words:
It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.
This is a must-read issue! (October 2013)
Tags: bang & Olufsen, boss orange, hugo boss, jarrettsville, michelin, royal copenhagen, san pellegrino, ursula
I have an exciting book on my desk that I’m reading. It’s a collection of business ethnographies–by anthropologists who went into a specific company and closely studied how they get work done. That might sound boring, except that these chapters are each studies of a creative company, and the anthropologists focused on how creative work is done. If you’ve ever wanted to be the “fly on the wall” at the most innovative companies, this is the book for you!
Here’s a sample of the chapters in the book, Exploring Creativity: Evaluative Practices in Creative Industries:
- How editors and publishers choose which books are likely to become best sellers, with a focus on the publication of Cornelia Nixon’s 2009 novel Jarrettsville (by Clayton Childress)
- How creative teams at Hugo Boss develop new clothing brands, such as BOSS Orange (by Kasper Vangkilde)
- How Royal Copenhagen develops new lines of dinnerware, such as Ursula (by Brian Moeran)
- How Bang & Olufsen develop innovative new products, such as BeoSound (by Jakob Krause-Jensen)
- How film festival prize juries rank movies (by Chris Mathieu and Marianne Bertelsen)
- How Michelin and San Pellegrino evaluate restaurants (by Bo Christensen and Jesper Strandgaard Pedersen)
Full disclosure: All of the authors met a few years ago at the Copenhagen Business School, and I was invited to listen to the research and then to write the conclusion chapter for the book. The overall themes that I identify in my conclusion chapter are:
- At what point in the innovation process are evaluative decisions made?
- What “evaluative regimes” are applied when making these decision–aesthetic, craft, manufacturing, brand? And what criteria apply in each of these regimes?
- In creative industry firms, new innovations always are evaluated for how they fit with the existing line of products. How do these firms consider the relationship between new innovations and existing brands and product lines?
- What happens when different evaluative criteria are in conflict? For example, at Royal Copenhagen, a new line of dinnerware (“Ursula”) was well-received aesthetically, but the company was not able to make the line at a cost that the market would bear (the “manufacturing” regime).
- Which evaluative criteria are explicit and documented, and which are implicit and tacit?
- How do evaluative regimes emerge over time? Where do they come from?
- Which individuals in the organization participate in creative evaluation? How does their position in the organization affect their influence on the creative process?
And, I identified a few questions for future studies of creative industries and evaluative practices:
- Most of the chapters focus on successful creative innovations. Is the innovation process different for failed ideas, for dead ends?
- Most of these chapters focus on fairly “highbrow” innovations (Bang & Olufsen, 3-star Michelin restaurants). Does the innovation process differ with lowbrow creative innovations?
- What role does the market, the consumer, play in these evaluative decisions? Perhaps the process will change due to crowdsourcing and “disintermediation.”
All in all, a very exciting collection of studies, and must-reading for anyone who studies innovation and new product development.
Tags: learning sciences, morgan professor, school of education, university of north carolina
I have some exciting news: I’m moving to a new faculty position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I will be the Morgan Distinguished Professor of Educational Innovation, in the School of Education. Readers of this blog know that “educational innovation” is exactly what I study, so this new position is a wonderful match!
In addition to joining the learning sciences program, my first responsibility will be to create a new master’s degree program in Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Here’s an excerpt from the job description:
The new professor will provide leadership in studying, designing, and developing new innovations. He or she will work with students, faculty, and the School and University leadership to create programs of study and forge collaborative partnerships among the academy, industry, government, and the schools.
In particular, the successful applicant will lead an interdisciplinary graduate program designed to help transform education by creating synergies among three elements: innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Goals of this program include creating a new generation of educational innovators and entrepreneurs and encouraging designs of sustainable organizational forms that promote educational renewal and change.
There’s no existing program like the one envisioned here, and I’m really excited about this opportunity to make a difference in education, both in North Carolina and at a national level. If you work in educational innovation, technology, or entrepreneurship, please contact me, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And stay tuned to this blog…I may take a break for a couple of months this summer while I move to North Carolina and get settled, but starting in September things will begin to move fast.
The Torrance Center for Creativity April 19, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: paul torrance, TTCT
This week, I’m visiting the legendary Torrance Center at the University of Georgia. I’m honored to be delivering the 2013 annual Torrance Lecture, invited by center directory Bonnie Cramond. My topic was “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration.”
Paul Torrance was one of the first-wave creativity researchers, who helped to found the field back in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1950s, he developed the first version of his creativity test, which soon became known as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, or TTCT. This test continues to be the most widely used creativity test in the world–often used for admission to gifted and talented programs, for example. You can read more about this history in my 2012 book Explaining Creativity.
In the mid-1960s, Torrance argued that schools should teach creativity, and that curriculum for all subjects should be designed to foster creative learning outcomes. He even developed a series of curricular materials that teachers could use to help students be more creative. He was way ahead of his time–in the last ten years, education leaders around the world have been advocating for creative learning as a “21st century skill,” and I also believe that we need to do a better job of fostering creativity in our students.
He lived a long and productive life, most of it at the University of Georgia, passing on in 2003–and leaving part of his estate to UGA to fund the Torrance center’s ongoing research.
It was awesome to stand in front of the glass display case containing all of Dr. Torrance’s awards. And I wish I’d had more time to peruse his book collection, which lines the walls of the center’s conference room. It was a wonderful visit–to be surrounded by people dedicated to the study of creativity.