Sometimes you get lost at the worst possible time.

A few years ago I was asked to edit an Excel document as part of a skills test for a possible contract position.  It was an intricate exercise, one that involved copying formatting from one Excel workbook and the content of another into an entirely new file with three worksheets.

Does your head hurt yet?

BDr7sR6KjraTo accomplish this task I spent several hours focused on the details.

My process included making sure all of the columns and rows were the same width and height, that the fonts and cell alignments were identical, that there were no spelling errors, and that there were correct comments for specific cells.

I even made sure there were 1,925 rows in one document — more than 1,000 of which were blank.

I also made sure to replace one phrase with another wherever it appeared (as I had been instructed). Remember that part (hint: foreshadowing).

When I thought I was done I looked it over. And then looked it over again. All of the content seemed to be in the right places; nothing appeared out of sorts. Apparently, however, I am blind — even with my glasses.

Remember how I mentioned foreshadowing? Well, as it turns out, much like those signs that read “Keep of The The Grass” I overlooked several instances where one word needed to be swapped with another.

One word. That I missed. Completely.

When I looked again with fresh eyes it jumped out at me from its hiding spot in the main headers. But why hadn’t I seen it before? And then I discovered the quote below from Khalil Gibran, which seemed to explain my experience:

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” — Khalil Gibran

Sometimes, in the heat of a matter, we forget the simple things — we lose sight of the forest for the trees. It’s easy to get caught up in details and forget the bigger picture, but doing so is important.

The goal, it would seem, is learning how to simply express the obvious; to become more aware by stepping outside of our focus and then refocusing.

Have you had a similar experience? If so, what strategy do you recommend to avoid making similar errors in the future? Maybe the answer is to focus intently on not focusing?

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!