Saturday, August 28, 2004

Creativity and the Future

It has been said that mankind is the only specie that can contemplate its future. If that is so, then the study of the future is one of the highest forms of study that one can undertake.

Today, never has the future seemed more threatening. Arthur Clark has observed a number of year's ago talking about nuclear holocaust, "This is the first age that has paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we may not have one." Now nuclear holocaust doesn't cause fear as it once did, but terrorism, globalization and the battle for god does.

We all are interested in the future and have a view of the future whether we admit it or not. As Charles Kettering, one of America's greatest inventors said, "My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." Every decision we make is based upon a personal view of the future.

What does the future hold in store for us? A lot of change. Economists and futurists who have studied economic and innovation have been able to-discern trends. From these trends they have been able to develop models that can be used to predict future events. These models predict that we are entering a period of the most profound social and technological change in modern history. The surge of innovative activity will provide us with significant opportunity and challenge.

Creativity will provide the discoveries, inventions, innovations, and improvements that will fuel global economic growth. Creativity will be needed by us to overcome the national economic problems that we find ourselves in, to face ever increasing worldwide competition, and to meet the challenge of a time of rapid innovation. We must become students of the future so that we may plan to meet these challenges. We must be sensitive to the present so that we may be able to detect those factors that will have a bearing on our future. And we must be willing to change; to move our interests to that which gives us the highest return for our investment, keeping in mind at all times the broadest definition of ourselves. This is imperative in a time of change for it is only within broad concepts that we can adapt to change.

Von Fange wrote in Professional Creativity, "to make creative contributions, as Einstein indicated, requires that one always search for what is fundamental. Or, to phrase it another way, if buggy-whip people had realized that they were not in the business of making high quality buggy whips, but rather in the business, fundamentally, of stimulating further output from the prime mover of the family conveyance, their factories would not now be gaunt skeletons upon the American industrial scene." History is full of examples of companies and industries, which did not react to change. No stage coach company became a railroad company. No buggy producer succeeded in the auto business. No railroad or bus company entered the airline business.

Creativity seems to be inherent in our nature. We are created creative. We lose some of our creative talents as we age due to the boundaries that society puts around us or that we put around ourselves. To be creative sometimes requires that we breakdown these boundaries. Anyone can be creative. To profess that you cannot create is to set a goal you will certainly achieve. Creativity is elemental to all change whether it be discovery, invention, innovation, or improvement.

Creativity is bringing something new into being; an attempt at immortality for that new creation may live beyond the creator. Rollo May in The Courage to Create captured the thought this way: "Creativity is a yearning for immortality. We human beings know that we must die. We have strangely enough, a word for death. We know that each of us must develop the courage to confront death. Yet we also must rebel and struggle against it. Creativity comes from this struggle - out of the rebellion the creative act is born. Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one's death." Yet immortality through creativity does not come easy. Edgar Lee Masters has one of the characters in Spoon River Anthology say, "Immortality is not a gift. Immortality must be earned."

Creativity requires courage. Picasso stated, "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Creativity implies change and change implies abandonment of the old. It requires courage to break barriers. It requires courage to face the new. Jonathan Swift observed, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster." It requires courage to face the critics of change. It requires courage to face the anxiety produced by changes in our own thoughts. It requires courage to face the struggle, which is a part of the creative act.

In one of the Greek myths of the creation of mankind, Epimetheus, whose name means afterthought, a scatterbrained Titan who invariably followed his first impulse and then changed his mind, was given the job of populating earth. Before making men he gave all the best gifts to the animals, strength, swiftness, fur, feathers, wings, shells, claws, etc. until nothing good was left for man. At this point Prometheus, whose name means forethought, took over the job and he fashioned men upright, and went to the sun where he lit a torch and brought fire to man. And from fire, man learned many things that separated him from the animals. However, Zeus became angry with Prometheus, for giving man too much, and for having too much wisdom. Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock where each day an eagle came and ate out his liver only to have it grow again the next day.

How many times have you felt the drain of creative energy thinking that it is gone, only to find it renewed after a day's rest? Creativity requires courage. Creativity also requires thinking. T. J, Watson in his collection of essays, As A Man Thinks stated it this way. "Thought begets the will to create." All thinking is mentally directed creativeness. We think only when we wish to achieve a conclusion that, by implication, did not exist before.

We do not do enough thinking. In a study of American businessmen it was found that they spent less than 3 percent of their time thinking. George Bernard Shaw observed, "Few people think more than two or three times a year. I've made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week."

What is thinking? To think is to exercise the powers of judgment, conception, or inference; to reflect for the purpose of reaching a conclusion. We must learn to exercise these mental powers. We must also learn use the right side of our brain. Researchers have found that while the left side is used for logic and speech, it is the right side that is connected with the insight associated with the creative act. Unfortunately the left side dominates our thinking and communication, and its methods dominate social convention and business.

In the final analysis, the ability to create is in each of us. We must find the way to unlock that creativeness. Quoting Krishnamurti, "In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, then the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself."

Paul Schumann

Friday, August 6, 2004

Fear of Failure

I was tired. It was night, and I was driving back from the airport after my third successive week of travel to teach and lecture. The classes had been particularly draining. The students had been demanding in the positive sense; they were hungry for knowledge that could provide them. I was drained and anxious to get home.

As I drove, I remember that the street I was on - and that very stretch of road - was where (less than a year ago) I had gotten my only speeding ticket in more than 30 years.

I looked down at my speedometer. The speed limit is 35 MPH on this section of road. In a few blocks, it became a more reasonable 45 MPH. I couldn't see the speedometer. Inadvertently, I must have dimmed the dash lights. I reached down to turn up the lights so I could see, but I couldn't find the light switch. Angered by my ineptness, I looked down through my wonderfully new bifocals and still couldn't find it.

I glanced back at the road only to find I was heading directly for a sign in the road median as I neared an intersection. I jerked the wheel and swerved to the left. The car hit the curb with the two right wheels. As the car rebounded to the left, I pulled to the right, taking note of a car in the left-hand lane coming up behind me. I careened back to the right into my lane. Sometime during this process, I had put on the brakes, because I realized that I had slowed down.

The tires on the right side of the car were flat. I drove slowly, bumping along, trying to get to a place to pull off the road. Consciously I starting thinking about the event that had just transpired, all the rest of the actions had been beneath the conscious level, at a speed far faster than that of logical thought.

That little excursion, that lack of conscious attention to direction, that attempt to avoid failing as I had when I got the speeding ticket cost me two hours of time waiting for a wrecker and a taxi ride home, and it cost me money, too.

Focusing on previous failures increases the possibility of future failures. It has been said that a cat, once burned by sitting on a hot skillet, will never sit on a hot skillet again. This is true, but the cat also will never sit on a cold skillet!

Our organizational cultures dictate that once we have failed, we will never fail that way again. We put in place tests, procedures, and practices to prevent that particular failure from recurring. This tendency to set up preventive measures often leads to a burgeoning complex of bureaucracy that is easy to add to, but hard to subtract from.

Karl Wallenda, one of the greatest tightrope walkers of all time, fell to his death two weeks after discussing with his wife, for the first time, his fear of falling. After the discussion, he became preoccupied with safety precautions, something he had never worried about before. Fear of failure leads to failure. We should focus our energies on success assurance rather than failure avoidance.

Eleanor McCulley pointed out to me that it is impossible for a person to visualize a negative. That's why, for example, when you tell a child, "Don't jump on the sofa!" that the child jumps on the sofa. Mentioning what not to do draws subconscious attention to the very behavior you don't want.

John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, had a wonderfully funny and insightful talk on the power of making mistakes. He pointed out that a self guided missile makes thousands of small mistakes along its path to delivering its payload. Small mistakes are made and corrected in order to not make the big mistake of missing its target.

Isn't that what you try to do in raising children? Don't you let them have a little rope and learn from small mistakes rather than controlling them so tightly that when they do get free, which they always will, they make a big mistake that is life altering? And, isn't that they way that you mentor leaders? Give them assignments with ever increasing risks and complexity?

We're all working hard. I sense that we're tired and that some are at the point of despair. We are reminded constantly of things we shouldn't or can't do, and we are taught that failure is unacceptable. Our attention to failure avoidance commands much of our energies.

Where is the positive vision of success that enables us and that admits that learning through failure is an acceptable outcome? What are you doing to help establish that vision? What is your vision for yourself and your organization?

Paul Schumann

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Anticipating and Integrating Change

My great grandfather traveled from Germany to Galveston, Texas as a teenager. Alone, but with the skills of a carpenter, he found his niche in Galveston. As you know, Galveston is an island and any water wells driven into the island always produce at best, brackish water. In the late 1800's Galveston was growing fast. People needed water. He used his skills and applied them to the production of cisterns. Cisterns are like large barrels, in this case made out of cypress wood. Residents collected rainwater in them from their roofs. Making cisterns was a growth business. My grandfather also made cisterns. But eventually technology developed that allowed a water well to be drilled inland and a pipe laid under the bay that brought fresh water to homes. No longer any need for cisterns. However, I still remember as a kid that cistern water was preferred and my grandfather's house had a cistern until it finally rotted out.

The business created by my great grandfather and carried on by my grandfather died. Change forced him to change himself and he joined a fast growing industry - trains. He became an engineer for the Santa Fe and drove passenger trains for awhile. When I knew him, he was working only in the switch yards, no longer on the long runs.

My father entered the railroad industry as well. He went to work for the Pullman Company as an electrician and mechanic. The Pullman car was the premier way to travel during the golden age of the railroads. It was high quality, first class all the way. We moved to Houston and he climbed up in the company as far as an uneducated man could in those days.

He had a midlife crisis, one brought on by technological change. Airplanes starting substituting for trains. The decline was relentless. He was out of work and no longer had a career. It crushed him and he started a gradual decline until illness disabled him for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, I was aware of this history and cognizant of what was happening to my father. I vowed that I would never let anything like that happen to me. So I joined IBM and went into the semiconductor industry. Guess what happened?

Well, I anticipated that change and after spending about ten years in the field I moved off into another field - the integration of computers, instrumentation, application knowledge and software to create the first independent business unit in IBM. But after about ten years in this field, I anticipated change again and moved to another field. Actually, it wasn't change I anticipated but the lack thereof within IBM. We were trying to do things differently in our innovative endeavor. I could see that the types of changes we were promoting were actually needed by the whole company. However, the culture was too strong and the changes weren't sticking, much less diffusing.

So I spent the next ten years working on cultural change. I had a successful cultural change program, but the change process was too slow. The world was changing faster than the change inside IBM. So I took retirement to try another path. I became a consultant.

Many others, as well as I, anticipated the profound change we're experiencing now some ten to fifteen years ago. It was called the "post (or trans-) industrial" age by many, the "information age" by some and we called it the "interactive age".

However, it is one thing to anticipate the change and quite another thing to integrate that change into the way one lives and works. This change is seismic. It is rattling the foundations of everything and it is affecting everything and will affect everyone.

Some jobs are gone forever - no longer needed or outsourced to other countries. Many skills are obsolete (some would say most). Knowledge is transitory. Social contracts have changed. The very nature of work is changing. The calculus of "pay" and "work" is shifting beneath our feet.

Change can be ignored, but it's not a pleasant path to follow. It's a path of decline and obsolescence. There are three ways to integrate change into our lives and work - adapt, exploit or deflect. To adapt to change is to go with the flow. To exploit change is to search for the undiscovered opportunities that are always present in change and find ways to take advantage of them through innovation. To deflect change means to not like the future you see and to try to stop that future from happening. This is not advised and will be unsuccessful unless you are sure that the driving forces for change support your preferred future. Present day fundamentalists are tying to prevent the change that is occurring through a wide array of political, military, religious and violent tools.

Ah love, could you and I with fate conspire and remake the future nearer to the hearts desire, might be the modern lament of Omar Khayyam

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." This advice has been attributed to Yogi Berra, but I'm not sure he actually said that. Regardless, it is good advice. We are at a fork in the road, and we must take it.

Paul Schumann