Curiosity is "a Better Question"

"The best answer is the next question.... The more curious you stay the better chance you have to be that person in the right place at the right time...." Comedian, Writer and Juggler Chris Bliss

Why stay curious? Featuring responses from 2013 speakers Chris Bliss, Ariel Waldman, Beth Comstock, Alex Stone, Lance Hosey, Maria Konnikova and the Innocence Project, let us share with you why curiosity matters.

Chris Bliss' full presentation of "comedy as translation" may be found here.

I hope to see you next year at the IdeaFestival, Sept. 30 - Oct. 3!


Nikky Finney on Poetry as Ballet: "The Knees Get Stronger"

Art is not about communication. It's about communion - Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, IdeaFestival 2013

A National Book Award winner for her book of poetry, "Head Off and Split," Nikky Finney talked about her life and poetry in an electric 2012 presentation, and subsequently sat down for the brief interview you can watch here.

Finney compares the practice of writing, which she traces to a very young age, to dance, specifically, ballet. But the comparison only goes so far: unlike the dancer, the writer's "knees grower stronger" over time.

Asked in an October Poetry Foundation interview whether poetry can be taught, she says it can:

It can be taught, yes! It can be learned. What you were born with: sensibilities, maybe, you’re born with spirits, maybe, but one of the things that drives me crazy are students of poetry thinking they can walk from their dorms into the classroom and write poems. There is a discipline of poetry, a study of things to pay attention to. There are also things that you have to come with that have nothing to do with the technical side of it. Recognizing who you are in the world and your empathy, your ability to not just look at your own life but at other people’s lives. Things can be taught and things can be practiced. You need to know that your poetry muscles can get bigger.

The challenge for any self-identified sensitive soul who wants to achieve in the arts is to channel that hyper-empathy in ways that do not come off as simply maudlin or teary. She further identifies "discipline," the often hard won recognition of "who you are in the world" and an ability to empathize, or put oneself in another's shoes, as key to that success.

I suspect that those three elements important to the success in many other fields as well. And while there are no guarantees that recognition for any single insight will be forthcoming, without "paying attention" and a commitment to look for and hear out the "other lives" and the other perspectives that enter our orbit, the creative project is doomed at the beginning. "Who you are in the world" requires each of us to live long enough in the question to recognize the answers when they appear. That process can and will be uncomfortable, but in my view discoveries that do not cost us anything are rarely evidence of promise but of pathologies.

Finney recently returned to her home state of South Carolina to teach at USC, having spent the prior 20 years at the University of Kentucky. It's the commonwealth's loss.

New and improved IdeaFestival Conversations will be posted beginning in January, and will feature some of your favorite 2013 speakers such as Maria Konnikova, Chris Bliss, Oliver Burkeman and Ariel Waldman. Until then, please visit IFTV to experience the IdeaFestival all over again!

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Stay Curious!


A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

IdeaFestival friend, guest blogger and Founder of We Blog the World Renee Blodgett graciously contributed this post about her experiences in South Africa in high school, as well as in subsequent trips back to what she describes as a country almost her own. The IdeaFestival thanks her for permitting us to reprint her remembrances of South African and of the life and work of Nelson Mandela.

As I reflect on Mandela’s impact and his important life work, I began thinking of all the talks I have heard him give including a dramatic one in person in the 1990s, and zeroed in my own South African story, one which he influenced by his actions, his courage, his resilience and his solitude. He changed how I absorbed not just culture, politics and history, but how I viewed humanity and the world.

My story goes deep. Endure me on an important life journey for a moment, starting in a pre-Mandela world.

Apartheid was still very much in place when I lived in South Africa as a foreign exchange student in 1984, two years before the country’s declared State-of-Emergency.  

Being white, I was placed with a well-off English speaking white family in a ritzy Johannesburg suburb and sent to a prestigious white school. In this bubbled existence, I was meant to be protected from the waging cultural war that was brewing under the surface. We wore uniforms and lived colonial lives, with two tea breaks a day at school, private tennis lessons and trips to the stables for horseback riding. And, it was oh so very proper. Girls hung out with girls, and boys hung out with boys even at co-ed schools.

Read the rest of the story at We Blog the World, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @weblogtheworld!

Renee Blodgett

Building Playgrounds

Does your organization make time to play or is it content to build playgrounds?

On his blog Sunday, facilitator Johnnie Moore made an important point about innovation that bears repeating. Moore uses the quote below from some slides annotated by designer Ian Fitzpatrick, who, speaking before the planning program at Boston University’s College of Communications, talks about playgrounds as idealized places for creativity and play, and then connects that to the professional practice of the audience members.


Ben Durrell, who’s now with Artists for Humanity, but spent years heading up exhibit and experience design at the Boston Children’s Museum, gave a talk at this year’s Planning-ness summit in which he asked people to draw the place they played as children. He later related that almost no one draws pictures of playgrounds.

Playgrounds are adult constructs of idealized child play: safe, repeatable, easily constructed from component parts, requiring that the child bring little of their own to the experience — these are my words, not Ben’s. They serve a parental need, clearly — give the children a place to play outside, in clean air — but they’re not designed purely for children, who often prefer a made up game in an open field.

I bring this up because I think that we, as marketers and advertisers, build a lot of playgrounds. We bandy about references to ‘user-centrism’, but frequently we find ourselves in the business of creating safe, repeatable, componentized experiences designed largely to bathe people in brand juice. I think we can do better.

I was struck by the idea that the playgrounds one might encounter in parks are necessarily an adult project, and secondly, by Fitzpatrick's connection of that idealized result to the real world practice of marketing and communications. Like the building of playgrounds, marketing is much too often backward looking. Unlike play, which has no preferred outcome and may with enough time reveal something extraordinary, marketing too often prefers "safe, repeatable, componentized experiences" - as, sadly, do many of the clients creative agencies serve.

Elsewhere Fitzpatrick asks his audience to seek out experiences, which is another way of saying get out of your head, and about building practices of curiosity (I loved that idea!), one of which he labels "falling in love with people." He contrasts that "humanistic" idea with "systemic" thinking.

To practice curiosity is to, necessarily, seek out the messy (and occasionally amorphous) perspectives of others. To be great at planning, or I’d posit at any pursuit charged with shaping things for people, requires both that we embrace and develop a profound respect for people who are not like us....

As an aside: when you’re getting to know the people for whom you’re designing and making things, avoid the temptation to derive truth from the most charismatic among them.

Fitzpatrick has made his slides available on Slideshare.

Make the IdeaFestival part of your practice of curiosity. Plan to attend IdeaFestival 2014, Sept. 30 - Oct. 3. And take the feed so that you never miss a blog post again.

Stay curious!


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by EdiSellsTulsa

The Trouble with Lists

Only the curious have something to find. Nickel Creek

It's that time of the year again, when lists suddenly appear everywhere.

Between now and the year-end you can expect to see a huge number of "best-of" lists ranging from books to movies to restaurants to the top stories as reported by newspapers and news outlets. Listicles have become a popular format for writing and, to a lesser extent, reporting.

In an article in The New Yorker this past weekend, IdeaFestival 2013 speaker, neuroscientist and author of "Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes," Maria Konnikova, describes the appeal of lists to the human mind, saying they provide pre-packaged information that takes a lot of the guesswork out of "acquired data."

[Lists] create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—a bit like sipping green juice instead of munching on a bundle of kale. And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.

They also appeal to our urge to categorize and to the desire to make choosing easier.

Lists also appeal to our general tendency to categorize things—in fact, it’s hard for us not to categorize something the moment we see it—since they chunk information into short, distinct components. This type of organization facilitates both immediate understanding and later recall....

... In 2011, the psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke investigated what, if anything, could alleviate the so-called “paradox of choice”—the phenomenon that the more information and options we have, the worse we feel. They concluded that we feel better when the amount of conscious work we have to do in order to process something is reduced; the faster we decide on something, whether it’s what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to read, the happier we become.

The trouble with lists is that while they reduce cognitive load, they don't necessarily lead to generative thinking. Konnikova touched on this during her IdeaFestival 2013 talk, live blogged here:

But to get to novel or hidden solutions, one must take different paths. For imaginative solutions we need to have a well-stocked attic, to be well read, to have a standard set of information about the world around us. Those data points are the raw material for expansiveness of thought.

Holmes' "three pipe" approach asks us to take a step back, to give the mind time to rummage through the attic. It's particularly important when, as she demonstrates using some clever optical illusions. The hidden information is often there, waiting for patient exploration.

In a recent post at Farnam Street, the "Five Skills of Disruptive Thinking," Shane Parrish echoes that thinking using Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen's The Innovator’s DNA to make the points.

I bet I know what you're thinking. Among the "five skills" are an ability to think laterally, to connect, as it were, the previously unconnected dots. And echoing Konnikova, Parrish also lists "observing" as a key skill for discovery, which suggests the need for time, which, sadly, most of us seem to crave and none of us seem to have.

Here's a suggestion. The next time you see a listicle, stop what you're doing and go pick out a short story by Chekhov or Cheever. Or jump to to choose a essay or journalistic expose or biography to read. Relax into the words for a while. Any of the authors you choose will likely respect you much too much to give you the answers.

Stay curious.


Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Ian Muttoo

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