By Carla A. Woolf
Creative development is probably the best medium and representative for every type of emotion we can conjure and experience, particularly for a species that thrives and survives on constantly acquiring and applying knowledge, which is contingent upon an emotionally developed brain that has evolved with a “neuroplastic” propensity for creativity. We are destined, to be engaged with the entwined elements of emotions, creative critical thinking, relationships and decision-making on a daily basis – these are the things we each ought to audaciously strive for, regardless of our stations in life.
In my personal creative experiences, being creative meant surviving and vice versa. It meant going beyond the confines of creative ideas that have already been juggled or developed, and it initially meant cautiously considering unspoken stipulations to choose between feeling that permission and approval must be sought before deciding how to create something, or just having the audacity to do what’s needed. Creativity may be described as having its hands in fun pursuits, or feeling fulfilled, or standing on the pinnacle of a highly advanced and accomplished idea, but for a great deal of my own life’s time, creativity was plainly about having to be resourceful.
Practicing and applying the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” became a rather regular occurrence. Later on in life however, it caused me to speculate whether unlimited creativity was really playing an active role in my determination to create ways into and out of my many limited circumstances. Creativity is, and had been a resourceful tool for getting out of tight spots, and it undoubtedly had a place in the lives of artists looking to produce their next masterpiece, but my senses told me that there had to be so much more to it than just that.
I knew that nailing it down concisely was never going to be part of my intent, especially because I’ve stood by the belief that creativity is the very essence of infinite knowledge. But I was to learn early on in life that audacity was to become the perfect partner in creativity, even more so than Bonnie and Clyde are perfect partners in crime. For example, when I was 12 years old I qualified to join a varsity basketball team. Initially, I was never put on the court because the money to purchase the standard uniform shorts was out of my reach and beyond my control. So, I tore apart pieces of some of the few clothes I’d possessed and sewed together a patch-up job that decently replicated the team bloomers. It helped that team members proudly applauded my “creation” and my little audacious endeavor put me on the court for every game thereafter. From a seamstress’s point of view, I had zero business whatsoever handling a needle and thread, but I did it anyway. What’s more, I boldly tackled a clothes-altering job at a local dry-cleaners for the next four years to pay tuition for the high school I chose to attend.
I continually discovered that in a world of assets, credentials, amenities, social status and all kinds of other associations, there is a sort of unwritten convention that unless you have permission as well as the correct tools or proper approval, then participating in certain circles and activities, or trying to share creative ideas with others that you are knowledgeably unworthy of sharing will be met with signals and snares of disapproval.
But all that had little effect on me. By the age of 13, I’d been smitten with audacious creativity. In the background it was a Cinderella life for me – I dared to imagine while I
sewed because foster home life offered abuse and a joyless atmosphere. School was my refuge and creativity was my companion. Every other task during that time in life was controlled by a head lady with an iron fist, it was only the audacity to be creative that helped me through that time, and even now, helps me to look upon the past with laughter, instead of tears of regret or misfortune.
Creativity does however require some basis of knowledge. Knowledge has a transferable flow with polarizing effects – it can be compared to an electrical current.
Electricity has a negative charge and a positive charge – or an anode and a cathode. Both are equally necessary and have equal values in the production of electricity. In knowledge processing, it is also, both the negative and positive, that must be included to create optimal knowledge possibilities. Applying only one of these values, or believing that one is entirely good and the other entirely bad, defeats the purpose and flow of both knowledge and electricity.
Conversations with others have overwhelmingly led to misunderstandings about this binary relationship between positive and negative. In nearly every verbal exchange, others assumed that I’d proposed that the ‘negative be turned into a positive’, or that I naïvely presumed that optimism meant only positive goodness, even at the risk of projecting false contentment. I’ve explained that such notions would be as silly as expecting to produce electricity with two positive charges. The last time I checked with an electrician I was positively informed that such a recipe for electricity was a completely negative possibility. Within these conversations, I may take the opportunity to elaborate that two negatives might make a positive in the English language, or that almost any culture endorses the idea that two negative behavior responses fail to produce a positive outcome. However, I always reaffirm that in cognitive processing, the negative is just as good as the positive and that the negative aspect of knowledge contains equally valuable optimal charges of applicable information that ought to never be dismissed, omitted or eliminated.
As an adult, the impulse to be creative and recreate knowledge compelled me to redefine everything, with audacity as the driving force – because if I had to seek permission or approval from the proper channels, there would be little to define myself by. Creativity has been a staple mainstay. For instance, I have zero standing or credibility in the fields of Cosmology or Physics, but when I suggested the idea in the comments section of an online publication that “dark matter” would be better defined as “constant matter” – based on what little information Physicists do know about this mysterious form of energy – it had zero traction in the halls of science.
However, I did receive many favorable replies from the lay sector of science aficionados who agreed with my suggested title. It was an audacious suggestion, of course, but I was hardly apt to just sack and denounce my own creative critical thinking skills. What might it be worth to others to debunk the unwritten notion that approval must be granted from the correct channels or fields of knowledge? It seemed more than reasonable to assume conclusions that are based on tenets provided by the very fields that are appointed to handle such knowledge. Creativity requires audacity even at the risk of challenging the kingdom halls of scholarly establishments. It means confronting what we’ve been prone to just accept without question. It’s the field of science, in particular, that dares us to question everything but then questions our veracity and attempts to pose critical questions.
In another audaciously, even arrogant move, there was a paper I presented at an “open general public session” to some of the world’s leading neuro-technicians who’ve been appointed to create elaborate equipment for scanning and monitoring 100% of the neuronal activity of a “normal adult human brain”. I detailed an explanation suggesting that they simultaneously come up with a way to actually develop 100% of the human brain’s potential, otherwise all that’s really going to take place is a recording of 100% of the limited human brain potential we’ve tapped into thus far in the evolutionary process of progressing human cognition. I’d specifically pointed out that unless these two efforts were converged into a confluent goal, it would only be yielding a sort of false positive. I was met with stunned looks and zero scientific rebuffs.
Making it a practice to create unlimited knowledge possibilities is a necessary element in the process of making choices and decisions. It’s a skill we need on a daily basis as critical thinking adults. It means that uninhibited knowledge accessibility must be a natural born right for everyone, that is, if everyone is to become capable of making fully informed decisions. Anyone can attest to being non-creative, but we can never escape the human condition of having to make decisions, and complex decisions often require creative critical thinking. We must each believe that we can give ourselves permission to engage and push through the barriers of our already explored scales of creativity, which is the same as dismissing the belief that only certain people are endowed with the capacity to create new knowledge theories.
Human creativity and our ability to seek knowledge are elements that are as tied together as time and space. Surely Einstein knew this, and he had to have been audaciously creative in his own right – after all, he was just a patent clerk. He had to have known that creative thinking was daring to think as nobody had done before – with or without qualification. We all have this creative potential within us. Undoubtedly, it must be encoded in our cognitive abilities, which is why I audaciously dared to recreate the definition of “cognition”.
Indeed, it would seem overdue. The conventional definition has remained unchanged
for over 90 years. With all the cognitive discoveries that Neuroscience has been able to uncover in the last few years, as well as having debunked many old world concepts about some of the most basic traits of human potential – such as that sports are all brawn and zero brains, but that it is in fact both – it seems like a ripened time to alter the antiquated definition of cognition. And so, without permission or renown, and borrowing a few strands of information from Neuroscience about the human brain’s fundamental essentials for development, I boldly dismiss the old definition of “cognition”, which is, the ability to acquire knowledge via our senses. In its place, I’ve dared to recreate and considerate it as, the emotional ability to acquire and apply knowledge via our multi- dimensional senses, in conjunction with, the ability to use our sensory tools to create and intuit additional forms of knowledge from the fundamental forms of natural knowledge.
Creative development is probably the best medium and representative for every type
of emotion we can conjure and experience, particularly for a species that thrives and
survives on constantly acquiring and applying knowledge, which is contingent upon an emotionally developed brain that has evolved with a “neuroplastic” propensity for
creativity. We are destined, to be engaged with the entwined elements of emotions,
creative critical thinking, relationships and decision-making on a daily basis – these are the things we each ought to audaciously strive for, regardless of our stations in life.
About Carla A. Woolf
Carla A. Woolf is a former CDA certified Preschool teacher turned independent researcher and is the author of two books (“Connecting the Dots – The Cognitively Correct Way to Speak with Preschoolers” and “The Dots Connected – What Does Childhood Really Have to do with Adulthood, plus Intuition’s Role in Fulfilling Total Brain Development and the Unlimited Potential of the Human Mind”) So far, she and co-author of “The Dots Connected” are the sole pioneers of a new field designed to offer specific insight into how the basic core elements of early cognitive development are an intuitive process that is equal to, and inseparable from intuitive language development, which establishes the precursory components for the brain’s ultimate ability to exercise higher precognitive thinking. She leads workshops to help early educators and parents understand how language can be encoded to activate the human brain’s full potential.
Thought walking gives you different ways to focus on your problem and different ways to interpret what you’re focusing on.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the famous French philosopher, did his best thinking on trips he made alone and on foot, which he called thought walks. Similarly, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the brilliant German author, took a walk whenever he wanted to think and come up with new ideas. It was during his long hikes in the mountains of Berchtesgaden that Sigmund Freud worked out his imposing structure of the unconscious, preconscious and conscious that has been bound the twentieth-century psyche ever since. In fact he told his good friend Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin doctor, that his book The Interpretation of Dreams was designed to have the effect of one of his hikes through a concealed pass in a dark forest until it opens out on a view of the plain. Taking a walk stimulated and refreshed their thinking.
Whenever you’re deeply involved with a problem, take a thought walk. You will find walking around your neighborhood, a shopping mall, a park, the woods, industrial complex and so on to be highly stimulating. Look for interesting objects, situations, or events that are interesting or that can be metaphorically compared with whatever project you happen to be working on. For example, suppose your problem is how to improve communications in your company. You take a walk and notice potholes in the road. How are “potholes” like your corporate communication problem? For one thing, if potholes are not repaired, they get bigger and more dangerous. Usually road crews are assigned to repair the potholes. Similarly, unless something is done to improve corporate communications, it’s likely to deteriorate even further. An idea with a similar relation to “road crews” is to assign someone in the organization to fill the role of “communications coach.” The role would entail educating, encouraging, and supporting communication skills in all employees. And just as road crews are rotated, you can rotate the assignment every six months.
A thought walk is one of my favorite techniques to stimulate creativity. A while back while aimlessly walking around my neighborhood a noticed a U.S. Postal truck delivering mail. The road was in poor shape and had many large potholes that the truck had to avoid. The postal truck and poor condition of the road inspired an idea.
The postal service has thousands of trucks that travel on fixed routes and transport mail to every nook and corner of the country. Fitting the trucks with smart sensors the trucks can collect important data on weather, communications, infrastructure and several other systems that determine the development and safety of the country.
The data gathered by these truck-mounted sensors would establish a baseline map of ordinary conditions, making it significantly easier to spot a problem or anomaly. Such a system could aid in homeland security by rapidly detecting chemical agents, radiological materials and, eventually, biological attacks; it could also assess road quality, catalog potholes and provide early warning of unsafe road conditions like black ice.
A system like this could also detect gaps in cell-tower coverage, weak radio and television signals and sources of radio frequency interference. This data could help provide uninterrupted communication services and promote more efficient use of broadcasting. I have a colleague working with the post office now to develop and implement this idea. This is a valuable resource that can make the postal service profitable.
Sometimes while walking I will simply list objects or experiences that I find interesting. When I return, I draw a picture of the object or experience and list all of its characteristics. Then I list all the associations I can think of between each characteristic and a problem. I ask questions such as:
How is this like my problem?
What if my problem were a…?
What are the similarities?
This….is like the solution to my problem because…?
How is …like an idea that might solve my problem?
What metaphors can I make between….and my problem?
Thought walking where you force connections between your problem and interesting observations is incredibly productive. A designer friend of mine and another designer were thought walking together in New York City. They were discussing new product ideas when they stopped by the site for Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower in New York City. The spire of the building is planned to be 1,776 feet high – 1776 was the year when the United States Declaration of Independence was drafted. They were intrigued by the idea of using invisible information to generate visible forms that have meaning.
When they returned to their office, they mulled over possible ideas of using invisible information to create visible forms. Leafing through catalogs they came across ads for sweaters with computer generated space invader designs. Combining the sweater with the freedom tower inspired their idea. They came up with they call voice knitting where an audio input (a song or a voice) is computer translated into a simple visual form to give a sweater or other piece of clothing its own unique style and vocal fingerprint of the owner.
Thought walks give you different aspects to focus on and different ways to interpret what you are focusing on. An engineer was contracted to find ways to safely and efficiently remove ice from power lines during ice storms. He was blocked. He took a break and went for a walk. He visited a store that had several different varieties of honey for sale in a variety of different containers. The store advertised the honey with a cutout of a large bear holding a jar of honey. He bought a jar and returned to his office.
While simultaneously thinking about honey, bears and his power line problem he came up with a humorous absurd solution to his problem. The solution was to put a honey pot on top of each power pole. This would attract bears and the bears would climb the poles to get the honey. Their climbing would cause the poles to sway and the ice would Avibrate@ off the wires. This silly idea got him to thinking about the principle of “vibration,” which inspired the solution. The solution the power company implemented was to bring in helicopters to hover over the iced power lines. Their hovering vibrated the ice off the power lines.
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.
THE CREATIVITY POST
Jul 25, 2012
America has a Culture of Learned Helplessness
WHO WAS THIS MAN? He grew up in poverty in what modern psychologists call a dysfunctional family. He was tall, gangly and foolish looking. His clothes were always too tight and small. Following are some of his life experiences:
• AGE 22, FAILED IN BUSINESS.
• AGE 23, RAN FOR STATE LEGISLATURE AND WAS DEFEATED.
• AGE 24, FAILED AGAIN IN BUSINESS.
• AGE 25, ELECTED TO LEGISLATURE.
• AGE 26, REJECTED BY THE WOMAN HE LOVED.
• AGE 27, HAD A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.
• AGE 29, DEFEATED FOR SPEAKER.
• AGE 32, DEFEATED FOR ELECTOR.
• AGE 33, MARRIED A WOMAN WHO WAS FOUND TO BE MENTALLY UNSTABLE.
• AGE 34, DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS.
• AGE 37, ELECTED TO CONGRESS.
• AGE 39, DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS.
• AGE 46, DEFEATED FOR SENATE.
• AGE 47, DEFEATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT.
• AGE 49, DEFEATED FOR SENATE.
ANSWER: The man was Abraham Lincoln and at age 52 he became President of the United States. Lincoln did not choose his experiences of failure and defeat, but he did choose how to respond. He realized that he was not reacting to an event but to how he interpreted the event. His life is testimony to the uniquely human potential to turn defeats into triumphs and to turn ones predicament into a human achievement. For those events that were not up to him it was his own attitude that determined their influence on him. When he was no longer able to change a situation, he changed himself. Lincoln’s attitude was characterized as the “American Spirit.”
Lincoln was not born with a positive “can do” attitude. On the contrary, his life is testimony that a positive attitude toward ones experiences takes considerable effort. The path of least resistance is always not to try and give up. Lincoln learned to expect difficulties, and, so was not traumatized and defeated when faced with problems but viewed them as part of the natural course of events. Lincoln learned the harder one works to sustain a positive interpretation, the more one appreciates life.
Sidney Weinberg is another example of the American spirit. He was born in 1891, one of eleven children of Pincus Weinberg, a struggling Polish-born liquor wholesaler and bootlegger in Brooklyn. Sidney was short, a “Kewpie doll,” as the New Yorker writer E. J. Kahn, Jr., described him, “in constant danger of being swallowed whole by executive-size chairs.” He pronounced his name “Wine-boig.” He left school at fifteen. He had scars on his back from knife fights in his preteen days, when he sold evening newspapers at the Hamilton Avenue terminus of the Manhattan-Brooklyn ferry.
At sixteen, he made a visit to Wall Street, keeping an eye out for a “nice-looking, tall building,” as he later recalled. He picked 43 Exchange Place, where he started at the top floor and worked his way down, asking at every office, “Want a boy?” By the end of the day, he had reached the third-floor offices of a small brokerage house. There were no openings. He returned to the brokerage house the next morning. He lied that he was told to come back, and bluffed himself into a job assisting the janitor, for three dollars a week. The small brokerage house was Goldman Sachs.
From that point, Charles Ellis tells us in his book, “The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs,” Weinberg’s rise was inexorable. Early on, he was asked to carry a flagpole on the trolley uptown to the Sachs family’s town house. The door was opened by Paul Sachs, the grandson of the firm’s founder, and Sachs took a shine to him. Weinberg was soon promoted to the mailroom, which he promptly reorganized. Sachs sent him to Browne’s Business College, in Brooklyn, to learn penmanship. By 1925, the firm had bought him a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. By 1927, he had made partner. By 1930, he was a senior partner, and for the next thirty-nine years-until his death, in 1969-Weinberg was Goldman Sachs, turning it from a floundering, mid-tier partnership into the premier investment bank in the world.
The rags-to-riches story-that staple of American biography-has over the years been given two very different interpretations. The nineteenth-century version stressed the value of compensating for disadvantage. If you wanted to end up on top, the thinking went, it was better to start at the bottom, because it was there that you learned the discipline and motivation essential for success. “New York merchants preferred to hire boys who lived in poverty, on the theory that they worked harder, and were more resolute, obedient, honest, grateful, loyal, and cheerful than middle class boys,” Irvin G. Wyllie wrote in his 1954 study “The Self-Made Man in America.” Andrew Carnegie, whose personal history was the defining self-made-man narrative of the nineteenth century, insisted that there was an advantage to being “cradled, nursed and reared in the stimulating school of poverty.” Carnegie believed that poverty forces you to confront adversity and you soon learn how to embrace and overcome it. It is by overcoming adversity that your character becomes strong and your life becomes meaningful.
The character of Lincoln and Weinberg were not exceptions. Once upon a time in America character, integrity, hard work, and independence were the norm. Americans took pride in overcoming adversity and learning from it. They were strong individuals and supremely confident. Americans believed that all one was entitled to was a natural birth. Everything else was up to the person. This was “The American Dream.” Thomas Jefferson summarized it this way: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; however, nothing on earth can help the man with wrong mental attitude.”
Today, the American Dream has been shattered. After World War II, intellectuals proselytized “inevitability theories” about how everyone’s life was shaped by genetic or environmental factors that were beyond their control. There began a promiscuity of the teaching of helplessness and the “can do” American spirit was replaced by the “we are all helpless victims” spirit. If your destiny is already predetermined by internal and external factors that you cannot change, why work hard and try to persevere and succeed? Our helplessness is learned.
A classic example of learned helplessness is from the motion picture “Freedom Writers,” which is a movie about a young teacher who tries to inspire students who have learned to be helpless. The students allowed their ethnicity, their economic status, and their social environment to determine the fate of their success. Often, members of the same social environment think in similar patterns, drawing the same inferences and or conclusion.
Many politicians, community organizers, community leaders and spokespeople for minorities preach the concept of helplessness and continually reinforce it in their campaigns, speeches, and social actions. Your adversity was caused by other groups, government, other political parties, banks, corporations, other religions, the other sex, the wealthy, or something in history that happened hundreds of years ago. The message is one of entitlement. If you are not able to provide, it is not your fault. You are entitled to financial, housing, food, education, and employment assistance from society. Society is responsible for your well being, not you.
The emphasis is not on the individual learning how to overcome adversity; the emphasis is on how to use adversity to gain socioeconomic entitlements from government. The more adversity one can claim they face, the more benefits that person will receive. For example, the more children a single unemployed mother has the more financial rewards she receives. The larger a welfare family becomes, the more benefits the family receives. Government has made it more attractive to for people to default for government assistance when faced with adversity rather than overcoming it as our ancestors did.
We now elect politicians based on the entitlements and bounties they generously offer with tax dollars. The helpless have become dependent upon the politicians for entitlements, and the politicians have become dependent upon the helpless for votes. Illegal immigrants are now gaining socioeconomic benefits and civil rights for their potential votes. In fact, many politicians were the teachers and promoters of helplessness as community organizers, counselors, and lawyers before they were elected. Other politicians come from the public sector where they promoted the same agenda.
When you listen to the campaign promises of politicians, you will hear them tell you about the benefits and rewards voters will receive from them if they are elected. In addition, they will tell you about the entitlements their challengers will take away from citizens if they are not. Political campaigns are now all about who can give the helpless the most. We no longer ask “What can we do for our government?”as JFK suggested when the American dream was strong and we reached for the stars. Now we stand in the mud and ask “What can our government do for us.”
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://creativethinking.net/
Tags: activism, education, learning, philosophy, psychology, society, work
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