Innovation, Reflection, vision


I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop this morning preparing to write something about framing when a woman outside caught my eye.  She was motionless on the sidewalk of a busy street below where streetcars and heavy traffic move constantly.  The scene looked something like this:

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My camera shots don’t show everything close by –  the woman crossing the street was almost run over by a passing car, a streetcar or two passed, and a bike nearly ran into the woman on the sidewalk.  Her world was framed by a device that measures about 2.5 x 5.5 inches.  As you can see, she was totally absorbed in it.

We are shrinking our frameworks – and ironically expanding them at the same time.  Our phones allow us to go anywhere in the digital universe.  The question is whether the digital framework will affect our sense of possibility in the real one.

Most of us have been exposed to the  diagram puzzle below where we are asked to connect the dots using only four lines without lifting the pen/pencil from the page.

The square is a shape that we know all too well and the shape suggests a straight-forward solution – except that it takes five lines instead of four.  The real solution requires us to move outside the frame.

We can observe that we first focused on numbers and measurement in trying to find the solution.  But what we have to do is place the image in a much larger box to see more possibilities


The new frame doesn’t necessarily have to be square.  It could be a rectangle or ciccle.  It just has to be bigger.

When we  look for new possibilities, thinking quantitatively will not always work.  Other elements also come into play in  real transformation.  Moving from one frame to another can depend upon  seeing relationships – sometimes with people,  but also relationships in a universe filled with “joy, grace, awe,  wholeness, passion and compassion” as the writer of The Art of Possibility says. When we expand the frame,  it opens up more than we can initially ask or imagine.



effectiveness, Innovation, Technology

Disruption and Governance

Former Clerk of the Privy Council of the Government of Canada has written an interesting article published today in The Globe and Mail on the effect that the speed of technological change has on governance.  He focuses on government, but the changes and his recommendations have application to other enterprises of all sizes as well.

Technological Change Necessary Governance Responses
Speed up of pace of change Move from hindsight to foresight
Scope of change: vast and shifting Structures need flexibility
Disruptive change involves risk taking Become more innovative and tolerant of risk
Innovation crosses borders Crowd source public insights
Platform-based technologies with non-linear scalability and low marginal costs Think long term and anticipate the effects of the changes
Changes evolve through trial and error Look ahead to both benefits and costs to the wider society
Creation of virtual communities of interest with unfiltered commentary Use social media well;

When technologies disrupt and cause social problems, distrust of institutions follows.  Not only do we need to grow through innovation, Page says, but we must respond with new policies to meet the present and coming disruption.

Creativity, Innovation, Learning, Reflection

Transformation – and how it happens

I spent the morning seeing pictures and hearing about a recent trip to China – two working professionals spent a month there last November on holiday. One is a lawyer.  Her husband is the dean of a cathedral in a neighboring city.  He started by saying that getting his visa was more difficult than for any other member of the touring group.  Apparently he was seen as a threat who might be up to converting the 1.5 billion Chinese he’d run in to.

They had marvelous pictures – and raved about the luxurious accommodation and the food.  The dean remarked that for him, what was odd was not visiting any place of worship of his own denomination during his time on the mainland – though there was clearly lots of exposure to temples and shrines.  The way he described the experience – and especially the contacts with young English speaking guides was “transforming”.

This made sense to me.  On thing that bugs me about any enterprise is how often we seek transforming experiences is by hanging out with people so much like ourselves. In his book, Imagine, How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer notes how the strength of the high tech industry in Israel is influenced by the fact that most young men have compulsory military service a few weeks of the year.  It means that they make loose connections with people frequently and reconnect – and this spills over into new ideas from varied sources and capabilities in different fields.

But Lehrer also notes that our  “friends” and connections so beloved of social media – surely loose ones – are no substitute for real learning from others.  Thinking that others really care about what I have for dinner, or where I am right now, or my latest selfie may just represent the triumph of ego over reality.  But I find there are benefits of following different folks on Twitter who come from different fields and perspectives.  Some of them are good curators of new ideas well worth a read.

Creating, Creativity, Innovation, Learning, Reflection, remembering

My Media Life So Far #11 – Back to the City

When we moved back to Ottawa I joined the faculty of Canterbury High School, an arts high school that specialized in orchestral, band, and piano and the visual arts – a dance program was added much later – and the school attracted students from all over Canada’s capital city.  It was a pleasure to go to school assemblies and art shows that displayed creative student talent. My subject area is now listed as Literary Arts. Piano seems to have disappeared. Even in the ’80s the school had a piano studio with electronic keyboards that allowed a number of students to practice without disturbing one another. I didn’t trade in my own piano for an electronic one until 2005. Vocal arts, composition and guitar are now part of the program.

I was interested in how the way that students performed in English related strongly to their subject major – and perhaps more than anything – the teaching philosophies of their instructors.  The instrumental music students were disciplined and structured, rather like the Germanic department head. The band majors appeared to absorb the more relaxed style of the assistant head, who had formerly been a member of the RCMP band. The most daring and innovative of my English students reflected the teaching of John Topelko, the head of visual arts, and continuing as a working artist until a recent stroke. He also hired other artists and told them to get teaching qualification at summer school on their own time.

When I arrived, the principal was Russ Jackson, is still regarded as a  Canadian football hero with a continuing interest in the game.who had pursued a dual career in sports and education. It was a bit disconcerting to have him conduct a routine inspection unannounced when the lesson of the day was an essay entitled, “Let’s Abolish Sport”; but he was always as open to new ways of thinking in the classroom as he was on the football field. I started one year with a class of 43 students which had to be split in half. When a young teacher arrived who wanted to try team teaching  with a new classroom configurations of desks in the round, Russ was the first to encourage us to try it out. He allowed the school to group all the professional development days into a single week so that we could bring in some experts in group dynamics –  a pretty new field in the thinking of schools at the time – and the staff also got a chance to skate the entire length of the Ottawa Canal after school and party at Russ’s place afterwards.

We were also inspired by the head of the English department at a neighboring school, Brian Doyle. Doyle encouraged teachers to become participants in learning and taught that by example. I imitated his poetry contest in my own classroom. Each student was asked to write a poem and I had to contribute one as well. All of these were submitted, numbered and sent to the typing class for a more professional presentation. A complete set of poems was given to each student and they were read aloud and discussed. I reminded the students to be diplomatic in their assessments because the anonymous entry under discussion might be mine. The result was to produce student comments from an eleventh grade class such as “The second line moved me” or “That image was adroit”. In the end there was a vote for the three best poems and the authors were then revealed.  I was gratified to come third.  An interesting side result was the posting of student work on the copious bulletin boards.  When I posted material relating to famous authors, it was usually defaced or scribbled on. Student work never was.

Another of Doyle’s great ideas was the “novel diary”.  Instead endless discussions of plot and character, Doyle suggested that students read a chapter a day and write a half page or more of their reaction to the novel. Marking these was easy – 100% if you wrote something and zero if you didn’t.  He noted that a quiet place to read at home was one thing that many students never had; that situation mirrored his own growing up, He suggested that a classroom might be a quiet place to read instead of endless prattling from a talking head. While the students read A Separate Peace, I read what they had written and wrote back.  It was an early one-to-one e-mail – like correspondence, though of course we didn’t know of such a thing at this point. Both the writing – freed from the usual pompous red penciling of grammar and spelling – was honest and flowing, and the students and I enjoyed sharing their growing understanding of the novel. More than one moved from “This is the worst book I ever read – it stinks” to “This is the best novel I ever read and it makes me want to be a writer”.

Doyle’s other great idea came from the same problem that I had experienced earlier –  what to do with a limited textbook budget. He bought 30 subscriptions to The New Yorker. The covers provided endless inspiration for writing, Woody Allen parodies of Bacon provided models for further parodies by the students, and the advertisements influenced their taste.  The New Yorkers circulated for years and may still be in use.

Another thing that made a huge difference in the classroom was the ability to photocopy. School office secretaries used Gestetners to mass-produce announcements to be sent home but they were not part of a classroom teacher’s repertoire and we were generally limited to books and blackboards. (I had to explain to a grandchild recently what a blackboard was.) Though photocopying had been around for quite a while, it took time for school boards to even think of providing them for teachers.  Suddenly there was the ability to copy any article from other sources.  Teachers went wild. Fairly soon we were given individual codes to monitor our use of paper. We never even thought of how this practice might violate copyright.

Last, but not least, I taught improvised drama – with neither proper training or a licence. It was inspired by the writing of Brian Way, who along with Peter Slade was one of the early proponents of child drama and its value in forming an understanding of theatre and expression of emotion. I tried to see Way on a sabbatical in England in 1977 only to discover that he had moved to western Canada. The 70’s was also the decade that allowed experimentation of the 1968 Hall Dennis Report whose recommendations mirror the recent ones of Sir Ken Robinson more than 40 years later. They were espoused by the best teachers and not surprisingly, scorned by other teachers, politicians and the media.

Innovation, Learning, Technology

Hands on

Yesterday I was asked to complete a survey of digital use. The survey was intended for professionals and volunteers in a large organization and asked questions about the use and frequency of laptops, tablets and smart phones as well as apps, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin in our lives.  The purpose is probably to make plans for future use of these technologies at an organizational level.  The professionals will probably be in mid and late career. My guess is that many of the volunteers will be of a certain age and frequently retired. A similar questionnaire at the national level revealed that most of its readers still prefer print.

Excluded in the questionnaire of course are the young.  So I have been struck by the very young as described in a recent survey:

“These are the results of a study commissioned by Internet security company AVG on how children aged 2-5 interact with technology. 2,200 mothers with Internet access in the USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia and New Zealand were polled.”  You can read more about it here.

(You can also try clicking on the image to read the stats)

This was a study about toddlers.  I have watched my own grandchildren navigate Play Station 3 controllers and journey through the advanced levels of the Lego games with aplomb. If you want quiet in the car on the way to the swimming lessons, hand over the Ipad and the Iphone.  The small boys are actually progressing well in both areas. They are learning to swim well. The younger one is fine in school as long as activities are hands on. Listening to a story several feet away from the teacher and sitting still in a group of wiggly three-to five year-olds is a somewhat different story.

The digital divide is enormous.  As a self styled geeky grandmother, I can keep up in lots of areas – though I’m not entering the Lego gaming world. It was one thing to have to learn a lot of stuff from our children. But there is now a two generational divide that will challenge us all.  For organizations that want to move forward, how do we negotiate such different paths and preferences at the same time?

Creating, effectiveness, Innovation, John Cleese, planning

So how did it go?

Yesterday I wrote about and illustrated Cleese’s creative process and then took up the challenge of following it.  So how did it go? In a word – badly.  That was the judgment at the end of this trial run.  When one follows Cleese’s pattern of operation

  • He suggests that one provide Space – freedom from all distractions. The space was provided, but not immediately.
  • Time –  the time followed exactly the pattern of step three where one sits down, but instead is distracted to do other things – I ended up doing a number of things to clear the time so that it would be unimpeded –  and that was basically dishonest
  • Time – Once started, I found myself charging in too fast – probably in response to steps one and two above
  • Confidence – I started with too much and then noted it waned as I proceeded, instead of the other way around
  • Humour – comes more slowly. I stopped after nearly an hour and a half and accepted that I had ruined the original drawing. The light of day confirms that impression.

So the choice now is give up or keep going

  • I’ll go the second route.  After all, this project was the second try on the subject.  Sometimes it takes more than one – and learning as one goes. It’s not about perfection – it’s just about better.  This time it isn’t about drawing.  It’s about learning the process.  Stay tuned.

Cleese on Creativity

Sometimes my best role is to be a curator of the wisdom of others:  The whole video is well worth a watch if you have 30 minutes.  If not, take in the main things that are needed.  Creativity is not talent based – it’s operational.  And what it needs is the following

  • Space  (outside the normal routines of work
  • Time  (about 1.5 hours max, Cleese says)
  • Time (no, the repeat is not a mistake. It is time to make a choice between all the usual things we always think up to help us avoid preceding with the first and second above
  • Confidence – the ability to continue in a playful mode without judging at this point – that can come much later
  • Humour – the ability to retain perspective.  Wait for the story of the sex life of a pilot if you can

So here is the link

And now I am off to work on a painting for an hour and a half!  Here is where I am at so far.