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Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

A clever blog post title is a wonderful thing. What’s interesting is that I couldn’t improve on Adam Grant‘s book “Originals” title. In my previous post, I said that that book wasn’t for the individual looking for themselves. This one is, kind of.

The book begins with a quote from George Bernard Shaw,

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

or as Max Planck said,

New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.

Thats’s it. 250 pages and a slew of references.

To be fair, to leave things there would trivialize the book.

There is an odd sense of wandering I got from this book. At one moment, it speaks to those who seek out the creatives. This felt like an art collector was speaking. At another, it focuses on the hardships of being a creative. Just when you think you’ve got a sense of that, there’s a shift to the economics of utilizing creatives and then thrust into the environment which produced them.

All of these chapters could have been the basis of books in their own right. At the end of the book I had the sense that I’d read a primer on the human equivalent of livestock breeding of prized but temperamental Mishima cattle.

I would recommend this book to technology leaders as a reminder of how the world advances (not improves, mind you, but advances) and how to leverage the creatives. I also recommend this book to those who swim against the current. Appreciate that creatives are looked upon by many as a rare resource to be cultivated and value-extracted. Know that although most people will never understand that drives you, these people server to keep us growing.

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It’s been quite some time since my previous book review. As a result, I have a stack of books to review. Ironically, the first book is “The Motivation Myth” by Jeff Haden.

I always felt bad for Luke Skywalker when it came to his Jedi training from Yoda. “Do or do not, there is no try.” How is someone “too old to begin the training” expected to unpack that? As someone whose spent the better part of 40 years either learning about, implementing or teaching others how to do bleeding edge tech, I get the “shove them out of their comfort zone” thing. That being said, I also know that when dealing with creatures who learn by metaphor that you can’t expect someone to suddenly jump from 2D to 3D and be effective or even successful.

This book is a gentle reflection on why the concept of motivation (perhaps a better word would have been inspiration) has limited application in the sphere of accomplishment.

Each chapter is leads the reader confront a different myth regarding task success. It’s not some stoke-able flame, lighted path, aspirational mumbo-jumbo, or guru-led excursion through the swamp that accomplished tasks through you. It’s you, your hard work and preparation. Seneca the Younger said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Success is what happens when preparation meets execution.

At the end of the day, this book will benefit those who lack the mentors in their life to kick them in the ass every now and again. Self-doubt is inevitable, but action paralysis is not. Plan the work. Work the plan. Or as Gene Krantz (Failure is Not an Option) would say “work the problem.” Prepare, plan, execute, repeat.

Should you read this book? If you lead or mentor others, yes. It serves as a reminder that in a world of warm fuzzies, people have by-and-large come to expect success to come from outside themselves. We need to have high expectations for ourselves and others. If you are expecting that this book will make you as an individual successful, look elsewhere.

 

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I just finished reading Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Leonardo da Vinci. As with his previous biographies, this one is just as well-researched and presented.

Leonardo is one of those one name people. Long before Prince, Madonna or Usher (funny how they’re all designations of some sort) the name da Vinci was attributed to only one individual. All this fuss over a distracted, self willed, person who started far more things than he finished.

Yes, he was a prima donna. Yes, he tended to tinker over a thing far after the commissioner expected it to be complete. Yes, he was distracted by, well, just about anything. But, what a mind.

Best of all, he just didn’t seem to give a damn. About expectations, glory or money. Which is not to say that he didn’t care about comfort. He liked pretty things (and pretty people). But one gets the distinct impression that what he really wanted was to have a patron (patron sounds so much nicer than sugar daddy) who would appreciate the quality and not quantity of his work. He wanted the freedom to explore the universe (such as it was in the late 15th and early 16th century).

He loved pageantry. He loved to learn, to teach and to collaborate. He was a self-promoter who appears to have been not really up to the task.

He was always stretching, always reaching beyond his understanding. He was always reinventing himself.

People would commission him based on his past works. Many times this lead nowhere for them. With da Vinci, they should have been thinking about what he might do rather than what he had done. How poorly would he fare in today’s world where people are hired to essentially give repeat performances. This being especially true in the technology sector. Kind of like wanting to visit an exotic land where you stay at Holiday Inn, eat at McDonalds and everyone speaks English. Or in perhaps more relevant terms, you invest in a startup that’s going to change the world with a guaranteed return and no risk.

Leonardo was the definition of the deep bench. It wasn’t until the end of his life that he found in the king of France a person who got that you don’t “hire” a Leonardo for what he does, but rather for who he is and how he changes those around him. I find it quite disappointing they expectation that people have of being assured an immediate return at a cut rate. This is the measure of mediocrity in both the individual and business worlds. People want to be given a fish and have no patience to learn how to fish themselves. How much better would the world be if we sought out and nurtured those capable of creating a multiplier effect?

He was also very human. He could be unreliable and ill tempered. His relationship with his relatives was the stuff of reality television.

Isaacson does an excellent job of putting meat on the bones of this icon of creativity.

I’ve read quite a few treatments of da Vinci’s life s one is by far the best. So many seem to be intended to ride the tide of get-genius-quick that is so pervasive today. Nothing like everyone being above average. He didn’t become the man come icon overnight. He became who we know over a lifetime, with the attendant work. As Isaacson noted, he is seen as a genius rather than a craftsman because, but certainly not solely, of his habit of not releasing his work until it was perfected. Granted for most people this would be attributed more to OCD than genius (and with good reason).

Isaacson’s narrative style is engaging and I hope that someone takes the time to translate it to a long-form, visual format.

Overall, I came away with the sense that da Vinci was a real person who inhabited a real world. I can’t say I’d’ve liked to have lived there, but it’d’ve been fun to visit.

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