Think It Through!

11 08 2017

IBM founder Thomas Watson became famous, in part, because of a slogan he’d picked up as a young sales manager for National Cash Register Company.  He made it the defining motif for Big Blue from the 1920’s to the present.

Think.

“Think” signs were plastered all over IBM so that every employee, from the janitor to the senior vice president, would capture the vision that strategic thinking would help the company to grow and flourish.  He made a forceful case that the phrase “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars.  Many IBM employees—engineers and others—would carve out big chunks of time every day simply to think.

One of the reasons why things tend to stress us out us is the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and solving the problem by thoroughly understanding it.  We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially solutions.  This applies to any area of life, not just mechanical headaches like a malfunctioning smartphone.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking, which he labels simplism, is the plague of our times.  And the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!

I know a dad who regularly counseled his adult sons when first entering the real world of work to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action.  My wife likes to call this process “playing the tape to the end.”

Here are some tips to improve your own strategic, solution-based thinking:

  • Create an undistracted atmosphere.  Turn off your smartphone for a while and give yourself to the task at hand.
  • Think with pencil and paper in hand.  Or pen and Moleskine. Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings.  Writing things out clarifies your own muddy thinking.
  • Look at your challenge from multiple angles.  Da Vinci again.  He used to sketch things from three different angles, including upside-down, so that he would not miss details and had a better picture of the whole.  Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica, used to state a thesis. Then he’d come up with every possible argument against his thesis.   Then he’d finish with even more powerful arguments in favor of his position.
  • Try seeing your riddle through the eyes of a child.  Albert Einstein was famous for this.  His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity.  A true “outside-the-box” thinker.

Remember that thinking is hard work, but well worth the effort.  You will be surprised how many more solutions will emerge as you give patience and focus to thinking things through.

 

Suggested Resources:

Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser (Guy P. Harrison)

Leonardo’s Notebooks: Writing and Art of the Great Master (Leonardo da Vinci & H. Anna Suh)

 

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Perspective

10 07 2017

Leonardo da Vinci used to draw things upside-down.

Parents of little children are encouraged to crawl around on their hands and knees to see the world as their kids do.  “Hmm, what can I grab?” (This insight courtesy of my lovely and sharp-as-a-tack wife.)

Why?

Perspective.  Often we need to approach everything from sketching a portrait to seeing the world through another set of eyes, like those of pre-toddlers, to seeing the upside of our current difficulties by entirely different approaches.

We’re human.  That means we have limited understanding of stuff, imbalanced and one-sided approaches to knowledge and problem-solving.  We need people and new views and algorithms to see the many dimensions of the things we face day-to-day.

One thing knowledgeable  art teachers do is teach their students how to see.  It’s not as obvious as you might think.  We tend to have certain universal ideas about how things look.  A hot dog is long and tubular.  Eyes tend to be oval and dark in the pupils.  Hands generally have four fingers and a thumb, the middle finger being the longest.  So we draw what we think, rather than what we actually see.  Instead of seeing digits, one learns to see light and shade.

We all find, if we haven’t already, that we need the input of other people and other approaches to help us experience the relief that a balanced perspective brings.  Got laid off from your job?  Maybe it’s because there’s something much better suited to your skills and temperament just ahead of you, if only you’ll apply yourself.  Someone did not return your text?  Maybe it’s because they’re callous and ill-mannered.  But it might just be that they know you love them and they don’t need to respond immediately.  They’re safe with you.  And probably buried in some task.

It takes humility to admit that perhaps you’re viewing things, usually the stuff that bugs the crap out of you, in an incomplete way.  Our minds seem hardwired to assume the worst.

Often it’s not so bad after all.

Here’s some things I’ve learned about acquiring that treasure called perspective:

  • Ask those who know and love you if you’re viewing something bugging you correctly or are defaulting to worst-case scenario thinking.
  • Find a way to draw your circumstance, problem, difficulty upside-down, like da Vinci. One of the easiest ways is to mentally put yourself in another person’s shoes to understand them.  Your boss probably doesn’t have it in for you; he or she is probably overwhelmed with stress.

 

Suggested Resources:

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition (Betty Edwards)

Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm (Robert J. Wicks)

 

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The Place of Self-Discipline With Creativity

20 09 2013

Creativity and Self-Discipline

I’ve been thinking about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative giants–in music, literature, and art–of our time and of history.

Classical guitar virtuoso, Julian Bream, having enjoyed decades of success and now in his late seventies, still practices four to five hours a day.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Before they attained international superstardom, the Beatles played eight hours a day in clubs in Hamburg, Germany, honing their skills.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

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Wonder

17 07 2013

WonderA few years back, my wife and I attended a party for some friends who were about to move 1300 miles away.

I had a nice talk with a friend I’d not seen in a while about our children.  One of his sons, fifteen at the time of our exchange, is a budding writer.  He wrote his first book when he was twelve, two hundred pages worth.  At twelve.  His father beamed with pride and wonder at the level of imagination and creativity his child poured into his writing—the worlds that emerged from his unencumbered thinking and exploration of ideas and marvelous possibilities.

I told him that he and his wife obviously did something right simply by allowing the imagination of his child to flourish and express itself.

What a gift…..

I am intrigued and fascinated by the title of a book by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I Asked For Wonder (see above).  Not money.  Not intelligence.  Or fame.  Or any of a thousand pursuits we’re told will give us a happy life.  But wonder.

Are you able, like Einstein, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or any one of thousands of children you’ve seen, to let your imagination run free?  To think outside the rigid boundaries of what is acceptable or standard and find creative and beautiful realities, solutions and contributions to your world?

Ask for wonder…and watch what happens.

And Billy…keep writing!

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Think!

6 02 2013

ThinkIBM founder Thomas Watson became famous, in part, because of a slogan he’d picked up as a young sales manager for National Cash Register Company.  He made it the defining motif for Big Blue from the 1920′s to the present.

Think.

“Think” signs were plastered all over IBM so that every employee, from the janitor to the senior vice president, would capture the vision that strategic thinking would enable the company to grow and flourish.  He made the compelling case that “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars.  I understand that some IBM employees—engineers and so forth—would carve out significant blocks of time every day simply to think.

One reason why things tend to overwhelm us is that we may have nurtured the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and then finding a solution by thoroughly understanding it.  We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially resolutions to problems that niggle and irritate.  This applies to any area of life, not simply mechanical malfunctions or engineered designs for everything from highway infrastructure to software apps.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking is the bane of our age and the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!

One father I know regularly counsels his adult sons to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action.  My wife likes to call the process “playing the tape to the end.”

Here are some tips to improve your own strategic, solution-based thinking:

  • Create an undistracted atmosphere.  Turn off the technology for a while and have your secretary or your family members hold your calls.
  • Think with a pencil and paper in hand.  Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings.  Writing something out has a way of clearing cloudy thought.
  • Look at your challenge from multiple angles.  Da Vinci again.  He used to sketch things from three different angles, including upside-down, so that he would not miss details and had a better picture of the whole.  Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica, used to state a thesis and then come up first with every conceivable argument against it.  Then he’d formulate arguments in favor of his proposition.
  • Try to see your conundrum through the eyes of a child.  Albert Einstein was famous for this practice.  His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity.  A consummate “outside-the-box” thinker.

Remember that thinking is laborious but well worth the effort.  You will be surprised how many more solutions will emerge as you give patience and focus to thinking things through.

Image Credit





Creativity and Discipline

22 11 2012

I’ve been thinking about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old at the time.  Ninety-three.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.  Mega best-selling novelist Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

Image Credit





Carl Sandburg On Loneliness

31 08 2012

“Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio or looked at television. They had ‘Loneliness’ and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work.”

–Carl Sandburg

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