Creativity and Innovation update

August 28, 2017

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

DarmstadtTR 023.jpg

[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).

 

Advertisements

The Trap: TV series models the leaders we deserve

March 24, 2007

the_trap_screenshot.pngThe Trap explores the impact of game theory on contemporary life. It suggests how such social beliefs and actions may be helping create the leaders we deserve.

The BBC TV series, The Trap, promises to become a cultish success. Before its first broadcast, web-surfers were alerting their networks to its importance.

Part 1 of 3, F**k You Buddy: A series of films by BAFTA-winning producer Adam Curtis that tells the story of the rise of today’s narrow idea of freedom. It will show how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War. It was then taken up by genetic biologists, anthropologists, radical psychiatrists and free market economists, until it became a new system of invisible control.

Lumbering along after the trend-setters, I caught up with the second episode last Sunday. Curtis offers his thesis in a way that is likely to promote discussion.

The web community offers its increasingly significant early indications of beliefs and arguments. Discussion has tended to polarise, with contrarians positive towards the programme for its revelation of the dystopian conditions in a globalizing culture.

In the UK, The Guardian offered about as thorough a critique as could be hoped for. Sometimes the blogging discussions transcend the traditional efforts of journalists, but Oliver Burkeman’s piece is a hard act to follow.

An audacious hypothesis

The trap according to Burkeman offers an audacious hypothesis whereby:

the paranoid theories hatched during the cold war would come to inspire a peculiar, cold-hearted idea of personal freedom – one that helps explain everything from the rise of Prozac and Viagra to Labour’s obsession with healthcare targets, from the military crusades of George Bush and the rise of the Iraqi insurgency to the rampant diagnosis of attention deficit disorder in children.

Burkeman captures one strong concern of some bloggers subsequently, that Curtis engages in ‘conceptual long-jumping’. He, like the bloggers, picks up on Curtis’ treatment of the beliefs of radical psychiatrists. The Trap presents R D Laing as contributing to the belief that madness is totally a socially constructed phenomenon. This may, or may not be what Curtis believes. His approach permits him to present himself as committed to a defense of individual freedom and leaving the viewers to take the debate forward.

As he tells Burkeman:

If there’s one thing that links all I do, it’s trying to make people pull back, look at their time

To which, Burkeman, who is largely sympathetic to the project, comments tartly that

The Trap occasionally feels as if it is stepping a little too far back, wrapping the whole past half-century into a single argument

The Trap and Leadership

I take Burkeman’s point, while feeling (in common with a view expressed in other blogs about the programme) that the Curtis perspectice can not be completely dismissed. Critical theorists such as Gibson Burrell and David Collins have been plugging away in a similar vein in their examination of received wisdom of leadership and organizational studies. They argue that the dominant paradigm severely distorts and diminishes the complexities of human beings engaged in working and organizing.

Judging from the comments they have provoked, the programmes have succeeded in helping (making?) people ‘pull back’, the better to reflect on wide social trends. They may also help us reflect on cherished notions of leadership.
The broad thrust of the argument is that an influential intellectual movement has, for several decades, reduced human behaviour to a kind of Hobbesian self-interested scrabble. From such a perspective, leadership is a construct of social control, cynically espoused for self-interested motives. It aligns with the theoretical perspective that all politicians are ‘only out for themselves’, and that claims to be acting out of a ‘higher’ sense of duty are efforts to manipulate.

This is in precise opposition to the humanistic psychologists such as Abe Maslow and Carl Rogers.

In an earlier blog I suggested that the ideas of Carl Rogers provided a rationale for trust-based leadership. I could have added that humanistic psychology also lies at the heart of the new leadership paradigm, and the idea of the transformational leader, elevating the moral and social sensitivities of the wider social group.

From a Hobbesian or Rogerian perspective we end up with leaders we trust. Hobbesians expect and respect one kind of ‘strong’ leader for exercising social control; Rogerians another frespected for removing impediments to moral development.

In either case, we end up with leaders we create, sustain, and deserve.