Last week, after posting my last blog entry about Sir Ken Robinson’s riveting 2006 TED speech, I added a link to it from my LinkedIn profile status update, asking the question “Do schools kill creativity? Yes, says Sir Ken Robinson in his 2006 TED Talk!”

I didn’t think much of my decision to do so as I’ve been using my LinkedIn profile and my Facebook account to cross-promote my blog entries for quite some time. Additionally my most recent blog posts also display on my LinkedIn profile (as will this one). I typically receive a few comments on Facebook, but very few, if any, on LinkedIn.

This would be the case no longer.

Looking In from the Outside -- From 365 Days: 4/365 (December 4, 2008)After one positive comment from a colleague within my LinkedIn network, I soon found myself engaged in an unexpected, yet interesting electronic exchange about creativity versus innovation with another colleague.

His essential argument was creativity which does not result in a tangible good or service for which people will pay money is wasteful and void of value.

Further, he added society does not pay for the creative process, but the result of that process.

My counterargument was creativity is the foundation of innovation, that ideation without implementation is another word for brainstorming: an essential, though admittedly inefficient process.

What’s more, I argued the possibility of commoditization should not be the only indicator of value: a society worth living in should value ideas and reward creative thought. Notably, I found myself heretically disagreeing with management guru Peter F. Drucker’s canonical thoughts on the matter.

I’ve included a transcript of the exchange below, but I removed the name of the person with whom I had the conversation out of respect for his privacy (however, if you are in my LinkedIn network I presume it is something to which you have access):

Colleague: Sir Ken is great, but people aren’t paid to be Creative. Innovative, perhaps. The latter is operational; it includes implementation skills.

Me: Certainly the best ideas should be actionable. But can you have innovation w/o creativity?

Me: In a recent interview Guy Kawasaki talked about “ideas vs. action” as related to luck. I blogged about it: http://bit.ly/GoLuckYourself

Colleague: That’s my point. The obverse, that you can have creativity w/o innovation/implementation, is the concern.

Me: A valid concern, but re: ROI/measurement could it be argued that creativity indirectly leads to innovation by stimulating thinking?

Me: I suppose you don’t want to encourage aimlessness or hinder potential (w/ a BA in English and an MBA I see both sides).

Colleague: Everybody loves creative kids, but generally creative adults are misfits. Read Peter F. Drucker on “The Fallacy of Creativity.”

Me: But it is usually the misfits who make the biggest mark and through their rejection of assimilation render real innovation.

Me: Drucker says “creativity is no substitute for analysis and knowledge,” but I counter that creativity combines analysis and knowledge.

Colleague: Society doesn’t pay for (creative) process, it pays for contribution, for results. Process w/o results=waste.

Colleague: Matthew, I’m outta here! Have to create some clients!

Me: A society worth living in values ideas and rewards creative thought. Not everything can be commoditized.

Me: Process w/o results=brainstorming (which eventually leads to an idea that can be implemented).

Me: Thanks for the engaging discourse!

I appreciated this unique opportunity to engage in a spirited debate on LinkedIn. Ironically, one day earlier, I had espoused on Twitter that I often find myself unsure how to leverage LinkedIn because it seems to be the most formal and least interactive of all social media platforms I use.

How perfectly timed was this exchange to disprove my earlier assumption?! Coincidentally, I’ve been making efforts to participate more in the groups to which I belong and to add comments to the status updates of my colleagues.

In reviewing the exchange above, I realize there are some similarities between my colleagues thoughts and those communicated by Guy Kawasaki in my earlier blog post to which I referred my colleague. Specifically consider this passage:

“At the beginning of my career I used to think that the idea is the key, and once you get a good idea, implementation is easy. Now, I’m at the end of my career and I believe the exactly the opposite: I think good ideas are easy and implementation is hard.”

From that perspective I see my colleagues point: you can have all the ideas in the world, but until you do something with them or about them do those ideas really matter? In other words, you can think about doing something all day long, but until you actually do it, have you achieved your goal?

Yet, I also question how you can contribute without having invested time into the creative process? And, any reasonably person accepts that the creative process is, by nature and almost by requirement, inefficient and irregular.

Perhaps this is a chicken and egg scenario? Or, strangely, does it somehow connect to the age old existentialist question of “if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

What do you think: is creativity without contribution a waste?

Have you met TED?

Founded in 1984 TED is an annual conference of ideas intended to unite leading thinkers and doers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. During each conference speakers share their thoughts in 18 minutes sessions. For those not part of the limited in-person audience, TED has made videos of more than 1,900 talks available online.

The collection of presentations is nothing short of infectious. And I mean that literally: at the February 2009 conference in Long Beach, CA Bill Gates released a jar of mosquitoes, emphasizing that people in developed countries are not concerned enough with the impact of malaria in the developing world.

Sir Ken Robinson speaks about creativity and education at the February 2006 TED Talk.Another talk of particular interest to me as an educator and lifelong learner was given by Sir Ken Robinson at the February 2006 conference in Monterey, CA.

Robinson — who earned a PhD for research into drama and theatre in education — is a British creativity expert who challenges the way we educate ourselves.

Recognizing that formal education is unequally focused on linear, quantitative subjects, Robinson proposes a radical re-imagining of our school system that more effectively cultivates creativity and acknowledges multiple types of intelligence.

I can relate to this as I’ve always been one to “think different” (as the famous Apple advertising slogan once encouraged us to do). Specifically, I test poorly on standardized tests: my brain just isn’t wired that way. This is a significant concern as I draw closer to applying for PhD programs.

I need to find an effective and, given my present circumstance, outrageously affordable way to elevate my GRE scores to ensure my application is viewed competitively by admissions committees. (Perhaps at a later date I will discuss my thoughts on the highly questionable financial stranglehold ETS — Educational Testing Service — has on the high education process).

I personally enjoyed the video a great deal — it reminded me of my teaching philosophy which is anchored in the idea of generative learning. The “tipping point” that motivated me to post this blog was that shortly after watching it I logged into my WordPress.com account and read that the system now supports embedding TED videos.  Serendipity!

I couldn’t resist the urge to share this video. Although the talk occurred more than three years ago the ideas seem timeless and more relevant than ever. My two favorite lines from Robinson’s talk are:

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it.”

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Truer words were never spoken!  Additionally, I also found these comments particularly insightful — especially since they reflect my views on education and seem to validate my desire for an interdisciplinary doctoral program:

“We know three things about intelligence:

One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.

Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things…

And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct.”

And so, without further adeiu, here is Sir Ken Robinson (you can also watch it on the TED website and follow along with an interactive transcript):

Hopefully you found this talk as encouraging as I did. You can also read a transcript of Robinson’s entire talk. Additionally, earlier this year Robinson published a new book, “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” which presents a deep look at human creativity and education.

I invite you to explore some of the videos on the TED website or to visit the organization’s “TEDTalks” YouTube channel. I don’t think 18 minutes of your day could be better spent!

It’s all Greek to me.

theta-chi

My college fraternity, Theta Chi, was founded on April 10, 1856 at  Norwich University in Norwich Vermont by two undergraduate military cadets: Frederick Norton Freeman and Arthur Chase.  137 years later — on February 7, 1993 — I was one of 56 undergraduates who founded what became the Theta Sigma chapter at UC Santa Barbara on March 4, 1994. Sadly, the chapter closed in the mid 2000’s.

As an undergraduate, I embraced the opportunities presented and served my chapter as Historian, Secretary, and, my personal favorite role, Chaplain. I also participated in local, regional, and national events. I embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm; interestingly, my fraternity experience was a uniquely entrepreneurial endeavor.

I am keenly aware of how important my four undergraduate years with Theta Chi Fraternity were. The activities I participated in taught me important lessons that gave me a competitive advantage over individuals who were not involved with the Greek system; the seven skills my involvement with Theta Chi taught me include:

1. Time Management Skills
From appointments to meetings, deadlines to simple errands, each of us has far too much to accomplish in the few short hours available to us each day.  College life is no different, in fact in many ways it is more complex.

In addition to contending with the basics (e.g., laundry, bills, groceries), college students must also contend with the far less predictable rigors of academia.

For fraternity and sorority members time is stretched even thinner.  With weekly chapter meetings, committee meetings, participation in Fraternity-Sorority Council events, philanthropic endeavors, house maintenance duties, and other time commitments, we have a great deal to contend with on a daily basis.  However, I believe that my fraternal experience taught me the modern art of prioritizing.

In order to win the war against time, the powers that be invented the (infamous) Day Planner, the modern day equivalent to a sidearm.  Although I now use this scheduling device on a daily basis, during my years as an undergraduate member of Theta Chi, I was constantly forced to balance my numerous fraternal, academic, and personal commitments in a similar fashion.

When I served on the Executive Council, effective time management skills were absolutely essential, as they are now, in the real world.  Through my involvement with Theta Chi, I learned the value of prioritization.  Because of this skill, I fulfilled all of my responsibilities, while graduating a quarter early, with honors.

2. Communication Skills
During my four years with Theta Chi, I served in a variety of positions that required an ability to effectively communicate, however, none were as demanding as Chapter Secretary.  During these two important years, I strengthened my ability to not only express my thoughts clearly through written media, but I also developed a powerful oratory ability.

My position also required that I maintain an open line of communication with our International Headquarters and National Officers who expected a high level of professionalism at all times.  Now, as an employee in a corporate culture, I am able to apply the professional communication skills I learned while an undergraduate during my daily interactions with everyone from my immediate supervisor, to the President of the company.

My fraternal experience also gave me the opportunity to improve my ability to effectively socialize and network with a broad cross-section of people.  Although a strong command of the written word is essential to success in business, perhaps the foundation upon which any business transaction rests, is verbal communication.

A recent survey of large corporations indicated that an ability to effectively communicate verbally is the most important quality an employee can possess. The importance of verbal communication is perhaps most evident during the critical interview process, when it becomes your responsibility to intelligently expound upon your written resume.  You may have the best credentials in the world on paper, but if you cannot convey your abilities verbally, you will most likely encounter difficulty in any real world scenario.

Hashing during membership recruitment, general chapter meeting, and elections, whether you are running for office, or simply participating in the process, are all perfect opportunities to develop your public speaking acumen. Furthermore, the success of your fraternity or sorority depends upon the active participation of its members, and communication is the foundation upon which participation can grow.

3. Collaborative Skills
Dedication to teamwork is an essential trend within corporate America, presenting a member of a fraternity or sorority a valuable personal marketing tool.  After all, the point of the Greek system is to mold a disparate group of individuals into a cohesive body, committed to the fulfillment of a common objective, as defined by the Ritual.

An effective Ritual stimulate its members individual talents while also reminding them of their commitment to something far larger than themselves. Through the Ritual, a member of a fraternity or sorority will hopefully develop an understanding of their own potential in relation to the needs of the group (society) of which they are a part.

A positive fraternity or sorority experience allows a member to try new things and, by doing so, nurture preexisting talents and discover an impressive latent ability. From something as mundane as By-Laws, to an event as pivotal as the performance of the Ritual, a fraternity or sorority allows its members to sample new things, within a relatively sheltered environment.

Furthermore, the communal living structure of a fraternity or sorority teaches its members to peacefully coexist with people who are often very different than them, but again, are bonded together by a common vision (the Ritual).  An ability to get along with a diverse cross section of individuals is absolutely critical to success in the real world, and, more specifically the corporate world.

As much as we hope for personal success, we also must stop and realize that we are also parts of a greater whole.  Because of this, it is important to remember that our actions affect more than ourselves, and our success often relies on the work of others. The balance between individual achievement and a responsibility to your God, your country, and your fellow man, is a precarious one, but is one that can most effectively understood through involvement in a fraternity or sorority.

4. Social Skills
Fraternities and sororities were started with the hope that through a system of values (the Ritual), members could improve themselves, their brothers or sisters, and humanity. Although the methods of our Rituals differ, the messages most likely revolve around the following concepts:

1. Respecting other people’s views, opinions, possessions, and  rights.

2. Creating positive results for ourselves, our fraternity, and our community.

3. Taking accountability for our personal actions and those of our brothers.

4. Realizing a need, problem, opportunity or deficiency, and resolving it.

These easy to understand, yet powerful values represent the cornerstone of every fraternity or sorority.  And, not surprisingly, they are a vital part of every business and personal encounter in the real world.  Anyone who understands and practices these four concepts will be an asset to any company. Motivation, dedication, and innovation are by-products of any fraternity or sorority, and are the essence behind real world success.

Further, just as our own organizations have Standards Boards and  Codes of Conduct that hold us accountable for our actions, house maintenance duties that teach responsibility, and methods of soliciting participation, so do all successful business, and, in a less formal way, all families.  Without an awareness of these four important values, anyone will most likely encounter trouble in their future endeavors, personal and professional.

5. Competitive Skills
Greek Week festivities, participation in Intramural sports, attendance at local, regional and national fraternity or sorority events, undergraduate (and alumni) involvement with collegiate activities, and a strong presence of fraternal spirit are all ways in which you can increase your potential for success in the real world, while having fun in the process.

The power of fraternal spirit and a healthy desire for competition should not be underestimated.  As Charles Darwin so effectively realized, only the strong survive.  And what better way to ensure your survival in a highly competitive society than by getting involved in a wide spectrum of activities, either through your place of employment or beyond the walls of your office.

You will not only meet new people, experience new things, but you could pave the way for future success. Additionally, employers are constantly on the lookout for energetic, motivated individuals, whose effusive personality more than compensates for their lack of experience. Credentials get you to the door, personality can get you the corner office.

6. Adapting Skills
During my undergraduate years in Theta Chi, it was rare when a day went by without some element of “the great unknown” affecting it.  Although we tried to plan events so they would run smoothly, inevitably, something always interfered with this simple goal.

While it is essential for a fraternity or sorority to maintain an organized infrastructure, any Greek organization must be able to quickly respond to a rapidly changing environment.

Again, life in the real world is no different.  I re-prioritize my project list on an almost daily basis in response to the constantly changing, and often unpredictable needs of “Upper Management.” During the past year, there were at least a half dozen times when I was almost finished with a project only to have it suddenly fall by the wayside, in deference to a more urgent project. As frustrating as this situation is, because of my fraternal experience, I can rapidly adapt to a constantly changing environment.

7. Professional Skills
Although college is a time of great individual liberties and personal discoveries, it is nevertheless a highly regulated experience.  From mid-term schedules, to term paper requirements, college students learn to function in a world with a great affinity for bureaucratic red tape.

Unfortunately, the paperwork jungle only gets more dense after graduation. However, a fraternity or sorority is an incredible resource through which a member can learn to function within a distinctively corporate hierarchy.  There are numerous positions within any company that are remarkably similar to those in a fraternity or sorority.

For example, almost every company has a CEO or President (Chapter President),  CFO (Treasurer), Documentation Manager (Secretary) Training Manager (Marshal/Pledge Educator), Marketing Manager (Rush Chairman), Environmental Health and Safety Manager (Risk Manager), to name a few.

Additionally, just as a fraternity or sorority experience begins with a pledge quarter, so too are (usually) the first three months of any job considered an introductory period.  Most companies also have a handbook, which functions very much like a Ritual.

There are also opportunities for career advancement in any place of employment (annual elections), performance reviews (membership reviews), facility maintenance (house cleanups), and company (chapter) pride.  The list of similarities is endless, and an astute member of the Greek community will capitalize on as many as possible.

In Closing
It is important to remember that there are an unlimited number of opportunities available to any fraternity or sorority member.  This article highlights only a small number of such opportunities. Fraternities and sororities empower their members to shatter John Stuart Mill’s claim that, “The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.” We should not be afraid to expect more from our affiliation with a Greek Letter Organization, in fact, it is our duty.  Only through an active participation in our Greek experience will you discover the key to unlock the doors of real world success.