Match These Taglines With The Right Company

I’ve been watching the Weather Channel every morning with my son, Graham. A while back, I started writing down the taglines from the advertisements. The tagline is the catchy slogan that comes at the end of the commercial, after the company name. I started to notice that many taglines could work for lots of different companies. It’s not always easy to match the tagline with the right company! Try to match the number with the right letter:

  1. “Together all the way”
  2. “I can do this”
  3. “To help life go right”
  4. “What’s in your wallet”
  5. “Fine products made to last”
  6. “Show more of you”
  7. “Ready for the workday”
  8. “Experience an original”
  9. “Get yours”
  10. “Be good at life”
  • A. Cintas
  • B. Met Life
  • C. Otesla (a drug)
  • D. Cigna
  • E. State Farm
  • F. L. L. Bean
  • G. CNBC
  • H. Capital One
  • I. The Mattress Store
  • J. Met Life (yes, Met Life has two taglines on the list)

And here’s a creativity exercise for today: Create a tagline for you, that captures your personal brand.

Answers: 1D, 2J, 3E, 4H, 5F, 6C, 7A, 8I, 9G, 10B

Are You Too Old to Be Brilliant?

When are brilliant scientists the most brilliant? What age are you likely to be when the Nobel committee comes calling? Pick one of the following answers:

  • You need a lot of expertise and wisdom to make a big breakthrough. You need professional connections, lots of research money, and big laboratories. Scientific breakthroughs come from people in middle age, or maybe even at the end of their careers.
  • It’s the young upstarts who have lots of energy and fresh ideas. After all, the old scientists are stuck in ideas from the past. They’re already past their prime. They’re tired and don’t have much energy any more. Am I talking about myself at the ripe old age of 56? I didn’t get much sleep last night, and my knees are kind of sore :)

A new study gives us the answer: None of the above. There’s no relationship between age and creative scientific contribution. The authors of the study analyzed 2,856 physicists, working from 1893 to the present. They found that the best predictor of exceptional creativity is productivity. It’s lots of hard work. The scientists who do the most experiments, and test the most hypotheses, are the ones with the big contributions. The researchers found that once they’d controlled for productivity, age doesn’t add any additional predictive power.

The researchers identified a second variable that’s related to scientific impact: They called it Q, and it includes intelligence, motivation, openness to ideas, ability to write well. Another surprise: The variable Q doesn’t change over your career. (Otherwise, you’d be back to the theory that age predicts creativity.)

It’s still true that younger scientists are more likely to make a significant contribution. But it’s not because a person has more brilliant insights in your 20s, and it’s not because their ideas are fresh and unbound by old-fashioned tradition. It’s because they work harder and that’s why they’re more productive. So if you’re older, there’s still hope.

Now if only I could get a good night’s sleep.

Turtles and Creativity

Who knew that turtles played a key role in the downtown New York experimental music scene?

A recent New York Times article calls it “a substantial, and neglected, history of turtles in experimental music.” Reporter William Robin did interviews with influential composers in musical Minimalism, including the members of an influential group from the 1960s, Meredith Monk and La Monte Young, and their Theater of Eternal Music. The composers were exploring the idea of slowness, and they both had turtles as pets. One of their compositions was called “The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys.”

Mr. Young said “we were creating sound that had to do with permanence” and “Turtles are these incredibly continuous and ongoing creatures.”

On a side note, the cover image of my 2006 book Explaining Creativity (first edition, but buy the 2012 second edition!) is a painting of a turtle, done by a Native American artist, representing his cultural group’s creation story, which involved a turtle.

We would sing for our turtles. We told ourselves that they liked it. They didn’t deny it. –La Monte Young

explainingcreativity

The Path to Creativity

In Austin, Texas, “Voice and Exit” is a cool gathering of tech visionaries and experts in human flourishing. At 8:30 Friday night, I kicked off a series of 10-minute talks, in front of 300 hipsters, in a converted produce market in Austin’s East Side–surrounded by fair trade coffee tables, massage artists, virtual reality rooms, and hammocks. Here’s how I started the 10-minute talk. It’s the core message of my ZIG ZAG creativity advice book:

Creativity is not mysterious. Creativity is not a rare insight, that comes to you suddenly, once in a lifetime, to change the world. It’s just the opposite. Creativity is a way of life. It’s a process. The process starts with an idea. But it’s not a big insight–it’s a small idea. And that small idea can’t change the world by itself. In the creative life, you have small ideas every week, every day, even every hour. The key is to learn how to bring those ideas together, over time, and that’s the essence of the creative process. The latest creativity research shows the daily practices that exceptional creators use to keep having those small ideas, and how to bring them together in a creative process that consistently leads to successful creative outcomes.

For the whole talk, wait a couple of weeks and the video of my talk will be posted online. I’ll let you know!

Apple is Losing to Microsoft in Innovation and Design

I’ve been advocating for Microsoft for a few years now. Their vision has been ambitious and exciting: To create a single platform that adapts to all form-factor devices, from smartphones to tablets to desktop computers. The “tile” interface that Microsoft released in Windows 8 was the first new user interface design since the 1970s (when Xerox PARC created the “icons on a desktop” visual metaphor). Microsoft got panned for being TOO innovative! I think it’s because everyone is so used to Microsoft being an also-ran.

It’s taken three years, but the tech industry is finally waking up to the fact that Microsoft is pulling ahead of Apple. In the same three years, Apple hasn’t done much at all. It seems that all Apple can do is sell iPhones at ridiculous prices for their huge profit margins. And we know from tech history that this strategy always loses eventually.

MIT’s Technology Review  magazine is the latest tech insider to come on board with Microsoft, in this article titled “Microsoft is looking like the new Apple.” Here’s the start of the article:

This week, one giant technology company looked like an innovator, launching a sleek new suite of forward-looking hardware to help media professionals work more effectively. Another added a row of buttons to an existing computer. In the past, Apple would have been the former—for the moment, at least, that role has shifted to Microsoft.

“A row of buttons.” Ouch.

Dancing in the Street

Here’s the creative process behind the hit song by Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street.” It’s a story of collaboration and of the zigzagging creative process, as reported to Marc Myers in the WSJ.

  1. In early 1964, songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter was in a Motown studio, playing around on a piano and trying to come up with a song. She started with her left hand, playing a bass rhythm. Then, she developed a melody and some chords. But what she had in mind, she couldn’t play with just two hands. So she went to another songwriter, Paul Riser.
  2. Paul and Ivy talked it out, and then Paul wrote out the music. Paul then created a chord sheet for the house rhythm section, the Funk Brothers. Paul and Ivy knew that the Funk Brothers could make just about any sketch of a song turn into something awesome. The goal was to get the rhythm track on tape, to then work on some lyricS.
  3. Ivy took the tape to producer Mickey Stevenson’s house, because Mickey had a rehearsal room in his attic. Ivy wrote melancholy lyrics; that’s the way he heard the song.
  4. Marvin Gaye just happened to be at the same house. Marvin and Mickey needed a song for singer Kim Weston. Ivy’s ballad lyrics seemed perfect for Kim, but then Marvin had a different idea for the song.
  5. Marvin thought the melancholy lyrics weren’t right for the music. Marvin thought the music was upbeat, just like “dancing in the street.” Then, he realized that could be the name of the song!
  6. Ivy returned to the song and wrote completely different lyrics, for this new idea. Marvin then added various new lyrics.
  7. They still thought the song was going to be Kim’s song. Marvin was recording a vocal demo, to play for Kim, but he couldn’t sing it quite right. Martha Reeves just happened to be in the studio at that time, so they asked her to give it a shot. To everyone’s surprise, Martha totally nailed the song.
  8. The producer Mickey Stevenson said, “I was in big trouble. The song was supposed to be for Kim, and Martha had just aced it.”
  9. The next step was to add in the horn arrangement, and to overdub some percussion effects, like tambourine, and background vocals.

The song turned out to be very different from what we knew as “the Motown sound.” It was funkier, with its prominent bass line and drum beat. It was one of the most influential songs of the 1960s.

Many people think that songwriting is a solo act, where the writer spills her heart out and expresses deeply felt emotions. But just like every other form of creativity, the solitary creator is a myth. Songs, almost always, are created like everything else: Through a collaborative, wandering, unpredictable process.

Free Improvisation in Music Groups

There’s almost no research on group musical improvisation, and I’ve wondered about that for years. I’m a jazz pianist, and I’m fascinated by how different people can come together, and collectively create something that no one could have thought of alone.

So I’m excited to see a new study, of group free improvisation in music trios.* Two of my most respected British colleagues co-authored the study: Graeme Wilson and Raymond MacDonald.

They brought together 3 trios of improvising musicians, from Scotland and the North of England. The musicians were from a range of backgrounds, including voice and electronics. And just for extra measure, they also studied 2 more trios of visual artists who work with sound performance. The trios improvised in a studio for about five minutes. Then, the researchers interviewed each performer separately, replaying the tape of their improvisation, and asking them to explain “what they understood to be communicated by their own and other improvisers’ contributions” (p. 1032).

The main finding was that the musicians spent a lot of time thinking about whether to “maintain” what they were playing, or to “change” to something different. If they decided to change, either it was an initiation on their part, or a response to someone else’s contribution.  This is an “active and iterative” process.

If a change was a response, it was either an adoption (doing something really similar to the other musician’s initiation), an augmentation (adopting one element of the partner, but modifying another element), or a contrast (play something really different, but that’s complementary). Here’s the bottom line:

The representation is of an open-ended iterative cycle where all choices lead to a subsequent reconsideration, with each trio member constantly “scanning” the emergent sound of the piece and actions of their collaborators. The improvisation was sometimes characterized by interviewees as an external entity or process, within which events arose independently of those creating it. (p. 1035)

That’s exactly my own experience with group improvisation, and in my own research, every musician that I interviewed spoke in very similar terms, about iteration, interaction, and the emergence of something greater than the individual musicians.

* Wilson, Graeme B., Macdonald, Raymond A. R. (2016). Musical choices during group free improvisation: A qualitative psychological investigation. Psychology of Music, 44(5), 1029-1043.