I need to think things through to fully grasp them, 

to bridge them with something I already know.

Here you will (soon) find short writings on mostly professional stuff.

This is not a blog. I’m not writing for producing content’s sake.

InGenius by Tina Seelig - a book review

The book is a basic introduction to the world of creativity and innovation and it includes a vast amount of concrete examples. Here and there, in my opinion, it presents even too many examples and is stating the obvious. Still, all in all, this book makes a valuable reading and provides fresh and practical insights into the sometimes mystified phenomenon of creativity.

One key learning for me was the interesting observation that constraints, used wisely, often increase creativity and make the results better, even though people don’t necessarily initially welcome these constraints. It touches the concepts of experiencing and remembering selves, introduced by Daniel Kahneman in his TED talk The riddle of experience vs. memory, in the sense that the process may not be pleasant, but the memory (and the result) is.

Another takeaway for me was the phrasing the author used when saying that ”the question you ask is the frame into which the solutions fall”. I found this idea intriguing and pragmatic. Following this idea, it pays to carefully form the question to which you are looking for an answer, because the findings are very much affected by what we are searching for.

Tina Seelig’s excellent guidelines for a brainstorming session are sure to come in handy in many situations – actually I’ve already used them more than once. The key contrast to everyday thinking was that brainstorming is definitely not just people getting together and throwing ideas around, but a skill that requires practice and a process with certain rules and proven-effective phases. Space, participants, group size, topic, props, how to start/warming up, rules, prompts, rhythm, capturing ideas, allotted time, ending, picking favorite ideas, expressing opinions are the key areas to consider when organizing a brainstorming session.

Seelig points out that how one perceives oneself affects to the perceptions toward the outside world. For example, people who consider themselves to be lucky pay better attention to their surroundings than those believing to be unlucky. Acute observation is a key skill to gaining valuable knowledge and boost creativity. Repetitive actions make us tune out. We tend to focus our attention at eye-level and to objects that we expect to see. Magicians use these tendencies to trick us. Comedians often observe mundane phenomena and present those in a funny way. True observation is a very active experience and helps to become more attuned to the world around us.

One also needs to find an effective way to capture one’s observations and give expression to them, for example, by painting, writing, photographing, dancing, singing, playing etc. Focused observation is a powerful way to tap into the knowledge around you. This knowledge is fuel for creative endeavors. Observe, register and capture – those are the key things when it comes to curiosity. For me personally, the idea of giving expression to my observations in some other form than writing or talking was interesting, and something I’m going to experiment with in the near future. Especially the idea of drawing appeals to me.

Spaces and environments matter greatly to creativity. They can stimulate nervous systems and imagination. A space or habitat is the set in the narrative by which you take on your role. Setting up the space can limit the results of your work significantly. Also, the view out the window and the ”soundtrack” has a big impact on the people inside (health, feelings and taste). Culture is, according to Seelig, like the background music of any workplace, any team, any family etc. She emphasizes this point by describing a scene from a movie which completely shifts meaning when the background music is changed. Creative spaces lead to more creative work. It’s important to remember that people, too, are part of the spaces they inhabit.

I enjoyed Seelig’s simple message about what is essential in teamwork: different perspectives, respect and conflict resolving. She introduces a method called Six Thinking Hats, which can help underline and understand the different approaches and personalities that people invariably have within the context of any team. This is one exercise I would like to see in use more often in workplaces.

Experimentation and learning from mistakes are key to any creative efforts, according to Seelig. It is essential to increase features, tweak and experiment and pay attention to what works – and build on that. Early prototyping and testing are strongly encouraged. This reminds me of the process of Väinö Linna writing his novel Tuntematon sotilas. It is said that he would have his war buddies come over at least weekly to review what he had written, commenting, giving ideas, making the story more lively and authentic. And it worked very well, the book having been praised very true to actual events and recognizable to many war veterans. So, experiments are an important source of information. In contrast, explicit instructions will kill curiosity.

Tina Seelig finally points out that creative and entrepreneurial success has a way to inspire others and thus affect whole cultures. She takes an example from Estonia, describing how the sales of Skype to eBay for 2,6 billion dollars in 2005 created a wave of enthusiasm toward entrepreneurship, many wishing to reap same kinds of rewards from their creative endeavors. Similar things happen all the time all over the world, big and small, where leading by example inspires others to join in the similar paths of creating something valuable and adding value for other people through creativity and innovation.

Tina Seelig speaks in her book for creativity and the potential to create priceless ideas. She has theorized the entire creative process into a figure called the Innovation Engine, which has six interconnected elements. It is visualized in the form of a Möbius strip (see picture above).

Most of the elements are under one’s own control. Inner concepts represent the innovator (you), outer represent the outside world. As you look the concepts aligned, the inner always affects the outer, and vice versa: imagination is required to create a habitat that fosters innovation (and imagination), knowledge is needed to leverage all kinds of resources and attitude is the way to start any change potentially eventually affecting the whole culture. The idea is that you can start anywhere to ”dig in” to creativity.

Although an impressive way to visualize the different aspects of creativity, I did not find the Innovation Engine particularly useful or interesting. To me, it is too theoretical. The previously presented learnings were of much more interest and pragmatic use for me personally.

Surely, one of the key functions for the existence of this book is to establish and solidify Tina Seelig’s status as an expert in the field of creativity and ensure a beautiful professional career as a teacher and a consultant. The book, along with providing interesting introductory information especially for the novice, serves this purpose quite excellently.

Man's search for meaning by Viktor E. Frankl - a book review

This classic book consists of two parts. The first being a portrayal of the author’s real life experiences in death camps during the Nazi holocaust. The other part is dedicated to logotherapy, the form of psychotherapy Frankl developed based on his experiences during his imprisonment. The book is relatively short and doesn’t take too long to read, but at least I had to read very slowly to be able to carefully reflect upon the deeper meanings in the second part of the book.

Frankl argues, that no matter how much suffering, which he sees as an integral and unavoidable, even necessary, part of life, there is nothing that can deprive an individual the inner freedom to choose one’s own reaction and attitude towards the circumstances. Frankl deals with the most difficult aspects of life, and manages to maintain a glimpse of hope on the side all along the way. His message is demanding, but it has resonated well with readers as it has been translated into 24 languages and has sold over ten million copies to date.

Frankl poses thought-provoking questions when talking about the meaning of life, and he also provides the reader with clear answers. He argues that there is no general answer to this question. Rather, the meaning is different for every person and it changes from situation to situation, minute by minute. Frankl says that asking this question in a general manner is the same as asking from a chess master ”Tell me, master, what is the world’s greatest chess move?”. One cannot separate a move from the specific gaming situation or from the personality of the opponent, Frankl argues. The key is to recognize that you are being asked this question. So, you have to give an individual answer, out of your particular life situation, taking into account your personality. This brings us to the central theme of logotherapy: responsibility.

The aim of logotherapy is to make a person fully conscious about his responsibility. This is where, according to Frankl, the true meaningful content is to be found in a person’s life. Everyone can choose for themselves for whom, what and why they are responsible. Following the logic behind logotherapy, however, the meaning is to be found out in the world. It can be found in three ways: By doing some deed, by realizing the true value of something (nature, culture’s great achievement or another person through love, for example) or by suffering. According to logotherapy, person’s mission is not to pursue pleasure or to avoid pain, but to discover the purpose of one’s life. If the suffering has meaning, or can be seen as meaningful, life is meaningful. Thus, the ability to suffer and find meaning through it is central to the theory of logotherapy. Suffering is something that can never be taken away from anyone. Frankl argues that ”the meaning of life is limitless, because it encompasses even the potential meaning of suffering”.

I found this reading very meaningful and rewarding. Frankl handles issues and themes that people generally avoid thinking and talking about at least in such reassuring and solution-oriented tone of voice. Subjects range from death and suffering to the unwillingness to live. His rational, hopeful, understanding and wise perspectives gain a lot of credibility from his personal experiences in the death camps. I’ve seen these ideas represented surprisingly many times by surprisingly many other people, usually omitting to give credit to Dr. Frankl. I think there ought to be more people in the world like Viktor Frankl. Perhaps there is?

The relevance of the book to experience designing? Certainly, when staging a super experience, it has to be meaningful. This book provided me with invaluable insights on the deepest questions and answers that a human being can ask – from the meaning of suffering to the meaning of life itself. I would say that reading this book was time especially well spent.

I complemented my reading by watching a 1987 movie Escape from Sobibor, which I highly recommend, and also by reading an interview from April 1995, when Viktor Frankl turned 90. In this interview, his wife confirms to the interviewer that they still get an average of 23 letters a day saying ”Thank you, Dr. Frankl, for changing my life.” It is very difficult to do other than to salute and to pay homage to the man and his legacy. And what would be the meaning of even trying.

 

References:

Scully, M. Viktor Frankl at ninety: an interview. URL: https://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/04/viktor-frankl-at-ninety-an-interview.

(Escape from Sobibor (1987) can be found for example from Amazon Prime Video)

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