Archive for the ‘home•work’ Category


You Have My Permission To Plan And Live Your Perfect Creative Day, So What Are You Waiting For?

July 13, 2010

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities. • Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss

One of the students in a high school alternative program I taught in once looked around the classroom and said, “We’re all just a big old bag of idiosyncrasies, aren’t we?” I was pleased for two reasons: first of all, she’d chosen idiosyncrasy as one of her words of the week and had now used it correctly in a sentence, and second, because she was beginning to recognize one of life’s realities, that no matter how alike we may appear to be on the outside, each of us is an individual.

I thought about what this student said recently during another class I’m teaching. As homework, I asked students to design and live their perfect creative day. They were also asked to “capture” their day in a chewing gum box I provided thanks to Orbit® Mint Mojito, my favorite. I saved these empty boxes all year long, preparing for this assignment. Just in case you needed confirmation, teachers really are crazy.

Students shared stories of days with their children and partners and relatives. Boxes were turned into dioramas of Crater Lake and a beach in France. They held pictures and shells and rocks and other artifacts. Each story was different and yet each revealed a common theme, the desire to connect with space to refresh the mind, to forget the rush, to have permission to take time for delighting yourself and the others about whom you care.

One student told us that she hadn’t wanted to do the assignment. As a teacher and new mom taking graduate classes she had little enthusiasm for thinking about a perfect creative day. She pinned the box to the refrigerator with a magnet to remind her of this undone task. Her husband asked about it and when she told him why it was there, he got very enthusiastic. He took a day off from work, they took their baby to daycare, and they spent the day together watching movies, eating pizza, and luxuriating in the kind of coupleness that can get lost in parenting.

Another student talked about how much she enjoys having people over for games and barbecues. Her ideal creative day would be spent surrounded other folks. It energizes her. Her words reminded me of that other student years ago, the one who talked about idiosyncrasies, because although I love teaching and get endless energy from interactions with an enthusiastic class, my ideal creative day would be spent with no more than one other person, and it would be enough to be comforted by that person’s presence and only sporadically interact. I need time alone.

I need time to think. To write. To read. I like to wake up early in the morning so that I can do these things. I do not want to leap from bed and greet the day. I want it to arrive languidly, with reality seeping gradually into my being as I am gently drawn from the world of imagination into the daily whirl of accomplishment. In my ideal creative day, that segue into the daily whirl wouldn’t have to happen and I would be free to go wherever I wanted without obligations. But I wouldn’t plan anything. I’d go where my thoughts took me.

Here’s your home•work for today or whatever day you happen to read this: Design and live your perfect creative day. Store it in the gumbox of your mind and revisit it often to remind you to do this again. And again. And again.

I remembered a story of how Bach was approached by a young admirer one day and asked, “But Papa Bach, how do you manage to think of all these new tunes?” “My dear fellow,” Bach is said to have answered, according to my version, “I have no need to think of them. I have the greatest difficulty not to step on them when I get out of bed in the morning and start moving around my room.” • Laurens Van der Post


I Like a Teacher Who Gives You Something To Take Home to Think About Besides Homework*

March 7, 2010

To be bored is to kiss death. • Jorge Luis Borges

I wrote about Dyer & Gregersen’s (2009) discovery skills in an earlier post (Brownyn Fryer, September 28, 2009, “How Do Innovators Think,” Harvard Business Review). Today, I’m sharing some alternatives to homework that can help build these skills linked to innovation. They’ll help you avoid the boredom I’ve referenced earlier as well. After all, you can be bored to death.

According to a report for the International Journal Of Epidemiology in February 2010, specialists from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London studied more than 7,000 civil servants over a twenty-five year period and found that those who said they were bored were nearly forty percent more likely to have died by the study’s end than those who were not bored. (Jonathan Petre, February 7, 2010, “You Really Can Be Bored to Death, Scientists Discover,” Mail Online)

Here are the five discovery skills with some home•work to help build each skill:

Associating, a “cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.” Identified as a “key skill.”

Create a list of interesting nouns and choose two of them at random. Think about the words and what they mean and then begin thinking about how these two words/concepts could be combined. Some words to get you started: umbrella, television, piano, refrigerator, rocking chair, alligator, popcorn, hanger, bathtub, scissors, shampoo, dictionary, ruler, pencil, notebook.

Discovery of a solution consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking of something different. • Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Questioning, the “ability to ask ‘what if,’ ’why,’ and ‘why not’ questions that challenge the status quo.”

Comedian George Carlin was known for his comedic questioning, asking: If a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know? Why is “phonics” not spelled the way it sounds? And how come abbreviated is such a long word? Significant ideas can be inspired by seemingly insignificant questions. How many questions you can generate in an hour?

Nobody is bored when s/he is trying to make something that is beautiful or to discover something that is true. • W.R. Inge

Observation, the “ability to closely observe details, particularly the details of people’s behavior.”

Visit a public place—a restaurant, park, mall, or somewhere else with lots of people to observe—and become a purposeful people watcher. Determine what you’re interested in looking for before you start (parent/child interactions or clothing or footwear or cellphone usage or . . .I’m fascinated by the way people hold their cutlery. Until I started looking I didn’t realize there were so many ways to hold a fork. • Jim Zinn).

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. • Marilyn Vos Savant

Experimentation, “trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds.”

Be an outsider. Extend your comfort level. Go somewhere you’d don’t usually go, a place that is not part of your daily cultural experiences: a social event, a church service, a concert, an art gallery, a museum, a dance. Expand your interactions in class or at school by talking to or sitting with someone you don’t know.

In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind. • Louis Pasteur

Networking, “with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn.”

Conduct an informal survey of at least five people, recording their answers to a question of interest: What three books should every high school student read? What should schools teach? If you were a teacher, what’s the first thing you would ask your students? What’s your earliest childhood memory?

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. •Tom Rea

Make up your own homework to nurture your creative spirit.

I ain’t never bored. There’s too much to see and do in this new land. I’m makin’ a life out of nothin’ much at all.
• Hattie Anderson, pioneer, trail diary, 1840s

* Thanks to Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann for the title quotation.