Archive for September, 2009

Life Explained

Keith September 30th, 2009

OK, so it’s not original – but I rather like it. Received by email from my son:

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican fishing village. A tourist complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish, and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long.” they answered in unison.

“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”

The fishermen explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take siestas with our wives. In the evenings, we go into the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. We have a full life.”

The tourist interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?”

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?”

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years.” replied the tourist.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the tourist, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks, and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fishermen.

“After that, you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends…”

And the moral of this story is: know where you’re going in life – you may already be there!

Creativity and Constraint

Keith September 2nd, 2009

At yesterday’s Creative Performance Exchange meeting, we held an “unconference” session.  People nominated to present twenty minute “mini-sessions” on a range of topics at one of three tables, and the rest of us chose to sit in on whichever topic was of interest.  We cycled through the mini-sessions three times, so there were nine in total.  Great fun, and a great way to spark new ideas and innovation.

One of the sessions I attended was led by Don Miller, of the Melbourne Centre for Ideas. Don briefly spoke about the comparison between western ideas of freedom, and how “total” freedom can actually limit creativity. (My paraphrase.) The point is – when we are given some form of constraint, we can often become more creative.  Some creative fields come with built-in constraints.   For example, an architect will usually be constrained by the available land area, and by design restrictions imposed by materials, technology, planning regulations, etc.  When we start to test imposed limits, we can also frequently break new creative ground.

To my mind, a classic case of this is the design of the Sydney Opera House.  When Jørn Utzon first drafted his designs for the famous “sails”, it was said that it would be impossible to build with the concrete technology available at the time. The design was changed during the development process, yet it is unlikely that the current globally-recognised design would have ever been built if the construction limitations had not been pushed as they were.

Don led us in a brief exercise to illustrate creativity under constraint. We were asked to spend 10 minutes writing – on whatever topic we chose – with the constraint that every word must include the letter ‘e’.  We were also asked to write at least six lines of text. 

Given that ‘e’ is the most common letter in the English language, this is not as severe a constraint as restricting other letters, yet still enough of a constraint to encourage some creativity! For one thing, it completely rules out the conjunctions ‘and’ and ‘but’, forcing some creative use of punctuation to replace them.  (Try it for yourself.)

At the end of the session , we all read out our pieces.  The seven or so of us at the table were all able to complete the task, with a very varied set of results.  One was a “meta-text” – a piece about the task itself.  For reference, here’s my piece:

Wearily, Eve went westerly.  She previously called her boyfriend, when her vehicle expired. He delayed. She waited; she waited. Darkness fell. Remoteness, loneliness grew. She called repeatedly – response lacked. Heavily, she trudged ahead, seeking help.

Lightness somewhere, beyond the trees. Her prayers went heavenward; her feet westward.

Where’s Edward?

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