Creativity and Innovation update

August 28, 2017

A few posts on creativity and innovation you may have missed. On Umbrellas and lost memories

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[Image: Horst Geschka receiving a ‘special’ umbrella award at Darmstad From left: Professor Frido Smulders, Delft, Professor Horst Geschka, Darmstad, Professor Jan Buijs, Delft, Dipl-Kffr. Martina Schwartz-Geschka, Professor Tudor Rickards, Manchester]

 

 

John Bessant, a major figure in research into Innovation, has turned his attention to creativity in his latest book. His recent blog triggered memories of a special dinner in Darmstad some years ago.

 

In his recent blog, John illustrates how one creative idea came to fruition:

Creative inspiration: the foldable umbrella

Vienna. 1926 and Slawa Duldig was looking forward to a pleasant Sunday walk in the gardens of the Kunst Historisches Museum, a favourite haunt. Except that the prospect on this May morning with its ominous looking clouds was not so inviting – and so to prepare for the likely showers she took a heavy umbrella with her. She captured her frustration in her notebook  – ‘Why on earth must I carry this utterly clumsy thing? They should invent a small foldable umbrella that could be easily put in a handbag’. A great idea – but ‘they’ hadn’t yet done it and so Slawa decided to remedy the situation.

She was a sculptress, a successful artist used to working with ideas and giving them form.  She played around with the notion, sketched some designs and realised that to fit in her bag the umbrella would not only have to be small, it would need a folding mechanism.  Where else had she seen something like that?  A flash of insight and she was off peering excitedly into shop windows and talking to the owners of businesses specialising in window blinds.  And she’d need some kind of frame, lightweight, to give shape – so another shopping expedition to stores specialising in lampshades.

Gradually, just like one of her sculptures, the prototypes took physical form and her experiments continued. Having tested them out she finally decided to patent her idea – by now called the ‘Flirt’ – and lodged it in the Austrian Patent Office on September 19th, 1929.  The world’s first folding umbrella was born and these days around 500 million of its descendants are sold each year.

Umbrellas

Umbrellas conjure up creative thoughts and memories. From a personal perspective, I recall an evening in Darmstad to celebrate the retirement of creativity guru Horst Geschka when Horst was presented with a special umbrella. I suspect the idea came from Jan Buis, pioneer of design studies at Delft, a dear and much lamented friend. The dinner  morphed into creative chaos around the theme of umbrellas. Unsurprisingly, much is now a blur in my memory. Anyone there with a better recall please contact me.

A better recall

Grateful thanks to Frido Smulders, (see image above of this fine gentleman, scholar, and another good friend) who helped me correct various errors in my original draft of this blog. Frido also provide information about the Festschrift book edited by Martina for her father’s celebrations. (Immer eine Idee Voraus, Harland Media, Lichtenberg, 2010).

 

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Charlottesville: On the moral case for passing judgement

August 14, 2017

America today is debating the implications of the extremist demonstrations in Charlottesville, and weighing leadership responsibilities for the rioting and murder of a peaceful counter-protester

The unpleasant and unacceptable demonstrations resulted in the death of a peaceful protester, and two police officers acting in the line of duty.

President Trump eventually made a statement which sounded statesmanlike but brought down on himself criticism for his failure to make any reference to the nature of the demonstration.

The objections to this were summarised by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris

From Senator Harris’s statement

As we all now know, this weekend in Charlottesville, hundreds of white supremacists gathered with torches, shouting racial, ethnic and religious epithets about Black and Jewish people, chanting Nazi slurs, waving the Confederate flag and banners emblazoned with giant swastikas. A peaceful protester was murdered. Two brave police officers lost their lives.

And as the country grappled with this tragedy, we were told that “many sides” should be condemned. Many sides.I often advocate that we look at many sides of an issue, walk in someone else’s shoes, and identify and reject false choices.

But there are not “many sides” to this.

“Many sides” is what kept children in this country at separate schools and adults at separate lunch counters for decades.

“Many sides” is what turned a blind eye when Emmett Till was lynched and stood silent when marchers were beat in Selma for “disturbing the peace.”

“Many sides” is what my parents and thousands of others fought against during the Civil Rights Movement.

“Many sides” suggests that there is no right side or wrong side, that all are morally equal. But I reject that. It’s not hard to spot the wrong side here. They’re the ones with the torches and the swastikas.

 

Beyond the moral injunction

The Senator shows the importance of looking at context behind the literal words. President Trump said that all violence should be condemned. No argument with that is there? Until the context is added. Then, the high moral tone of Presidential words requires more precise interrogation. Is he saying that ‘We the people’ are failing to condemn violence against White Supremacists, and that he will help us reach his own moral high ground?

Is this a President who has a track record of seeking to defuse violence, and who avoids condemning those “on other sides”?

And what about Jeremy?

The Spectator found a way of dealing with today’s story by referring to the repeated use of a similar sounding argument by UK labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. In particular, Corbyn is often challenged for his association with revolutionary figures. Corbyn asserts that he wishes to avoid, not promote, violence by meetings with, among others, the IRA leadership decades ago, while they were still engaged in bloody violence against the state. If I follow the logic, the objection is that Corbyn did not condemn the IRA violence, thus showing he is on the side of the IRA.

Enough people voted for Corbyn in June to suggest the case against him in this respect is not a powerful one.

Post Script

Within minutes of my posting the above, news reached me that Kenneth Frazier, the Afro-American CEO of Merck, had quit an advisory council over the President’s failure to deal adequately with the implications of the Charlottesville events. Mr Trump found time to tweet some unpleasant comments about the defection, before offering a moving and complete repudiation of racism in all its manifestations.

So, that’s all right then

To be continued


How not to write a novel

August 4, 2017

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How Not To Write a Novel, by Newman and Middlemark, [Book review]

In a last-minute search for a birthday present recently, I was browsing for a book at the Simply Books No 1 emporium. As I did so, my eye was caught by an instruction manual entitled How Not to Write a Novel, (HNTWAN), by Sandra Newman and Howard Middlemark.

I added it to my shopping trolley. This proved to be a sound investment. As they say in many a blurb, I read it long into the evening, as the battles for tennis supremacy at Wimbledon passed me unheeded across the room. The book promises to supply 200 ways your book will fail to get published. In a mischievous and at times snigger-producing way they do just that. Page after page I found examples of why I should stick to self-publishing. I extract some which I underlined for future reference. You may wish the use what follows as check-list.

“What works for me”

The belief that what interests you interests everyone. A passion for an obscure chess club may not sustain interest of itself. The universals of passion, unfulfilled dreams, treachery, a quest may be there, but there is still need of an engaging plot. A central dilemma is needed for connecting the pawn pushing to those wider themes.

“The slow build-up”

Bit like the start to this blog post (oops). This is where the opening pages could be left out with no damage to the story:

‘Reggie boarded the train at Montauk, found a seat… read a newspaper…

(10 pages later) As the train pulled out of Montauk …

(10 pages later) …and that was how I met your Aunt Katherine.’

“The false clue”

A vivid detail which has no further relevance. Aka The gum on the mantlepiece, cleaned up later, leaving readers puzzled unless they learn the gum was quickly cleaned up by a fastidious character in the book

“Plot polygamy”

In which plot line after plot line tumble across the pages in confusing fashion…

“Not avoiding the rule of three”

As a public speaker, I believe utterly in the rule of three. Telling what you intend to say, saying it, summarizing what you said. For novelists, or humble thriller writers, the rule of three is a non no. (Aka:where the set up reveals or weakens the payoff.)

“The second fight in the Laundromat”

Damn. I have an exciting fire which breaks out in chapter ten, and now I would like to write another in the climactic scene in chapter fifty two.

“Santa’s too sexy for his beard”

In which she a protagonist sees through the ‘best friend or nice neighbour’ . The authors give this the thumbs down. ‘[S]he must be attractive on some level, not just safe. We get enough of that.in real life.’

“Confessional from the super-villain”

Compulsive and implausible spilling the beans In the interests of plot closure by the super-villain.

“Vocabulary flauting”

Speaks for itself, often in irritating fashion. (‘Nobody likes a show-off’)

“Cliches”

‘Cliches become cliches for a reason.’

“Lists”

Don’t use lists  A well-respected novelist argued the opposite and I guess ‘use lists with caution and awareness’ might be a refinement to this principle. Lists are for description not as an inventory.

“Time management”

Useful extended treatment. How you can cheat on linear time in writing fiction, but not if it jars in the reader’s mind.

“Relentless accounts of natural functions”

Too common, and obvious (when pointed out). Even crude characters do not belch and fart every time they appear.

“Dialogue”

Advice worth the price of the book. It takes practice or an innate gift to write like you you think your characters people speak, (or even harder to write in the way readers accept as the way the characters ought to speak).

“The dangers of elegant variation”

For example, when the author goes to stupid lengths to avoid using ‘he said’.

“Style and lack of it”

Rich set of thought-provoking suggestions. Virtues and dangers of the narrative voice, reported internal monologue, multiple points of view, and more.

“Sex, jokes and post-modern flourishes”

If you can’t write any of these well, stop fouling up your chances of successful publishing. Your best is not good enough. The crushingly bad examples of how not to write sex scenes are particularly funny, but you will have to read the book to enjoy the humour of the accidently botched lubricious.

“Marketing No Nos”

More deadly humour here on how not write to publishers.

For me this was a five-star read. I found the book seriously funny, and seriously thought-provoking. So did earlier reviewers.