creativity, innovation, mystery and the bottom line

Often connections reveal themselves in most unexpected ways. Today, it was on my drive home from Northern Voice with Amanda Coolidge. We were talking about creative stuff we liked to do as kids (pretending, drawing, making stuff up) and how we forget about some of that when we become self conscious teens and overburdened adults. Amanda had observed earlier that the most interesting speakers at NV this year were storytellers and I agree. No ppts necessary, just a compelling story, interesting point and the courage to share.

After I dropped Amanda off,  I started thinking about my world as a kid – I had time, space, and minimal supervision. Sure, a recipe for trouble – and I brought on my fair share of that, but that space and time gave me something much more. My friends did not all share my interests or my culture – but we shared a neighborhood. We played in the construction sites of suburban Calgary, unknowingly slept on beds of fiberglass, told scary stories in bedroom closets with flashlights, waded through giant mud lakes, rode our bikes through gulleys and culverts, pulled up the floorboards of abandoned buildings to find old, yellowed news clippings, discovered Southern comfort, boys and the sophistication that only a menthol cigarette could provide.  I was steeped in an environment that was full of mystery, unexpected turns and opportunities to create and innovate – that was just my life as a kid.

What are the connections between that reflection of a past self and what I’ve learned from some smart people over the last few days?  I think they are (somehow) related to a bottom line about what we need to thrive as fully functioning human beings.

Today, Bryan Alexander led off a great day at Northern Voice with a keynote about (among other things) the power of mystery and the unexpected for keeping us engaged in discovery.  What do you do when you are watching a film and the central event is implied but not known? Or when you are reading a story and something unexpected happens?  What are the questions you ask yourself? out loud? to others? Does it make you want to go further and find out or shut down in favor of something more “known” and (perhaps) comfortable?  Mystery and our response to the unexpected can teach us alot about ourselves. I suspect his bottom line has something to do with facing fear, being brave and observing the shadows.

Yesterday, I tuned in to Stanford’s Office Hours on FB to listen to George Kembell (from d.school) talk about creating the kinds of environments that make innovation possible.  His action list included: level status, increase diversity, be open to risk taking, focus on people, get out to do new things (out of the office and into unexpected experiences) and make time. His bottom line? “Who can I talk to  and what can I try?”

David Suzuki (in a recent CBC interview) recently described his new show the Bottom Line as stories about people who love the earth. The bottom line for him it seems is (ultimately) if you love the Earth – you won’t screw it up.

So, in drawing a few connections between the wise words of these smart people  I don’t know (but admire), I may have gleaned a simple (not easy) plan for regaining a little of what fed my soul as a kid:

  • be brave, fear not and observe the shadows
  • talk to new people and try new things
  • love the earth

My bottom line? Life is complicated – suck it up – there is no “easy button”.

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4 thoughts on “creativity, innovation, mystery and the bottom line

  1. “time and space with minimal supervision” combined with “talk to new people and try new things” sounds like the recipe for innovation. We need to do more of that!

    1. Bryan, whew! I’m glad my attempt at a loose interpretation of the intent of your talk was OK. I really enjoyed it and am inspired as I think about how to weave the unexpected into to a few things I am working on this summer – thanks!

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