In 1978, Reader’s Digest commissioned me to write an article on how to improve your creativity. I’d not thought of the piece in several decades, and might not ever have done so again were it not for the Japanese educational publishing house, Obunsha. Their editors wrote earlier this week to request permission to reprint a few paragraphs from the piece in a textbook to be published next month for students learning English as a second language .
Obunsha didn’t indicate whether the excerpts would be used to demonstration how to use the English language presentably or how not to, but either way I’m honored that they managed to find the piece after all these years. They reminded me that the article was originally published in Kiwanis Magazine, the civic club periodical. But that was just RD being RD: the extremely successful (in those days) magazine made sure it always had articles that it wanted to excerpt on hand by commissioning people like me to write them and then placing the results in publications like Kiwanis Magazine and pretending to discover them and reproduce them for their millions of readers.
The article titled “You’re Smarter Than You Think,” was popular enough that the Digest reproduced it for years as a reprint. These days it does seem a little dated (especially the examples), but I think the advice in it is as useful as ever. Hope you enjoy it!
YOU’RE SMARTER THAN YOU THINK
(c) 1978 Dudley Lynch
• Police in a midwestern city were stumped. A fast-moving burglary team kept breaking into clothing stores, stripping the garment racks like hungry piranhas and slipping away before police could respond to the alarm systems. Was there any way to stop them—or at least slow them down?
Suddenly, one detective had an idea. “Alternate your hanger hooks,” he told the city’s merchants. “Turn one toward the wall, and the next toward the aisle-all the way down the rack.” When the next alarm went off, police caught the hapless thieves still removing garments one at a time.
• An old frame church in New England stood in desperate need of exterior paint, so the minister recruited a half-dozen volunteers from his congregation. But he couldn’t get them to show up for the job-until he had a devilish inspiration. He divided the building into six segments, then, in bold letters three feet high, painted a volunteer’s name on each segment. Shortly thereafter, each recruit dutifully arrived to paint his segment, fulfill his pledge—and avoid all that public notoriety.
• Not long ago, when I was pushing my wife’s stalled car with my own, our bumpers locked. With a strong friend, I tried to bounce the bumpers loose. No go. Next I tried a jack. That didn’t work either. Then my wife suggested backing my car up on the curb and leaving her smaller car at street level. Eureka! The cars immediately sprang apart.
We’ve all met people like this, with an uncanny knack for solving problems, and we wonder how they do it. They don’t appear to be geniuses; yet, somehow, they think differently from the rest of us.
Over the last 15 or 20 years, social scientists have been taking their first serious look at this power of creative thinking, and have written more than 1500 doctoral theses and 2000 books on it. On available evidence, scholars now believe creativity is far more common than previously thought. In fact, most researchers claim there is a spark of genius in each of us, waiting to be freed.
Here, from experts in several fields, are five tips for freeing your creativity potential:
Rekindle childhood curiosity. A man I know spent an hour trying to rescue his young son’s pet frog from the bottom of a narrow shaft on their property. He used a long stick, then a rope with a loop at the end, then an open-ended can on a string. Nothing worked, and he finally gave up. Minutes later, his five- year-old son appeared at the front door-with the frog! The boy had hit on the idea of flooding the shaft with a garden hose and floating the frog to the surface.
In the wild kingdom of their imagination, children are forever coming up with creative solutions. Unlike adults, children have an open pipeline to the seat of creativity: the right hemisphere of the brain. But when they start school, the “left brain”—the seat of logic—begins falling victim to the fears, rules, obligations and concerns of the adult world and, before long, imagination is in retreat.
What sets the creative person off from the rest of us is that he or she has somehow managed to hold onto a childlike curiosity and an unbounded sense of creative possibility. To help rekindle your own curiosity, start by widening your horizons—especially your reading horizons. Ray Bradbury, a prolific writer of science fiction, stuffs his mind with everything he can lay his hands on—essays, poetry, plays, lithographs, music. “You have to feed yourself information every day,” he says. “When I was a kid, I sneaked over to the grown-up section in the library. Now, to make sure I’m fully informed, I often go into the children’s section.”
Ask the right question. For months, a group of YMCA Indian Guides had planned a “father-and-son” weekend in the wilds, where they hoped to make plaster casts of animal tracks. When the weekend finally arrived, it poured rain, and no one could go out. Then one imaginative leader had an idea. Why not use the plaster to make casts of each father’s hand, along with that of his son. “It was one of the best things we ever did,” a YMCA official recalls. “It saved the weekend.”
The idea would never have developed if the leader who thought of it had stayed with the obvious question:”How can we make plaster casts in the rain?” They couldn’t, of course. The “right” question was: “How can we have fun with the plaster we’ve bought?”
Dr. Frederic Flach, New York psychiatrist and leading authority on creativity, says that restating the question can often be the first step toward discovering the solution. “Instead of asking, ‘Should I get a divorce?’” suggests Dr. Flach, “you might ask, ‘Does it make more sense to be on my own?’ Similarly, instead of wondering,’Should I quit my job?’ you might ask,’To what degree does the work I am doing reflect my basic interests?’”
Angelo M Biondi, executive director of the Creative Education Foundation, likes questions that begin, “In what ways might I…?” He recently offered advice to a friend in business. Head of a small company, the friend was debating whether or not to fire an unproductive assistant. A better question, Biondi suggested, might be: “In what ways might I improve this employee’s performance?” That led to questions about why the employee was having trouble; the employer soon discovered that his assistant had marital problems that were diverting him from his work. A family counsellor saved the marriage—and the man’s job.
Put ideas together. More often than not, creativity is the spark that’s struck from pairing two or more existing ideas. SES ASSOCIATES, a Cambridge, Mass., “think tank,” was asked by a major food manufacturer to find a better way to package potato chips. So SES associated two ideas: potato chips and wet leaves. Why leaves? Because the first question the SES creative types asked was:”What is the best packaging solution you ever saw?” Someone said the bagging of wet leaves. “Try to shove a load of dry leaves into a bag, and you have a tough time,” he explained. “You are packing air, just the way the potato-chip manufacturers do. But if the leaves are wet, you can pack a lot of them in.”
Good idea, the researchers thought, and they tried packing wet potato chips. But it didn’t work; when the chips dried in the package, they crumbled. That led to the development of a tougher chip that, when wet, could be pressed into a uniform shape. Today, this product is recognized by millions of Americans as the potato chips that come in a can instead of a bag.
William Gordon, president of SES, stresses that such creativity cannot happen without “the emotional willingness to risk failure.” In other words, even the craziest of ideas should be considered, since every truly original idea may look a little crazy at first. Thomas Edison, a man with 1093 American patents in his name, once confessed: “I’ll try anything—even Limburger cheese!”
Sleep on it. When faced with an intractable problem, try putting it completely out of your conscious mind; let it incubate. At the moment you least expect it, a creative solution may pop up.
In 1865, German chemist Friedrich Kekule fell asleep puzzling over the structure of the benzene molecule. Kekule dreamed of thousands of atoms dancing before his eyes, some forming patterns and twisting like snakes. Suddenly one snake grabbed its own tail. In a flash, Kekule awakened with the idea of a closed-chain structure of benzene—a brilliant scientific discovery.
Others have also hit on their best ideas while their mental engines were idling. It was said of Mozart, for example, that his music wrote itself while he traveled, strolled or dozed. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabor says that, like Einstein before him, he gets his best ideas while shaving. Then there was seven-year-old Susie, whose problem was simply that the braided string belt had been pulled out of her pajama bottoms. How on earth, she wondered, can I ever thread it back through again? She put the problem out of conscious mind. A short time later, as she was getting an ice cube out of the freezer, an idea suddenly hit her. She could wet the belt, freeze it in a circle, then guide it through the pajama opening. It worked!
Practice. Like jogging or speaking a new language, using creative techniques may feel awkward until old habits have been unlearned. To help, try some of the following creative calisthenics. For example: Write three-word phrases beginning with each letter of the alphabet (”Buy better bargains” or “Tell tall tales”). Devise a new, witty definition for these words: a bore, a politician, an expert, a grapefruit, a revolution, hope, patience, lust. Make a list of five blue foods, or 15 ways to use a feather, or six new names for the United States of America. Or try this: think how it might feel to be, say, a stapler, or a Volkswagen, or a fish. Then write down what you think.
Most of all, develop and practice a “passion for living.” Pablo Picasso marveled at everything. “I look at flies, at flowers, at leaves and trees around me,” he said. “I let my mind drift at ease, just like a boat in the current. Sooner or later, it is caught by something.”
By being alert to what is around you, your mind and imagination can’t help but begin to stir in new, mysterious ways. “The larger the island of knowledge,” said the late clergyman- scholar, Ralph Sockman, “the longer the shoreline of mystery surrounding it.” And, somewhere behind that shoreline, pushing it out toward the horizon, is our power of creativity.
I never write “a” book. In the two years or so I’m at the task of producing a new work, I write the equivalent of several books. Write and cull, write and cull. The false starts and other anomalies that don’t seem to get me where I want to go at the time are cut and pasted into my Clipboard File for that particular work. Occasionally, I go back and peruse what didn’t make it into print. Or possibly did make it and I don’t remember saying it quite that way. I took a look at the Clipboard File for LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water the other day. Here are some culls from the culls:
IF YOUR AXONS AND DENDRITES ARE PUZZLED ABOUT HOW TO IDENTIFY DOLPHINTHINKERS, WE HAVE A SUGGESTION
The best way to spot a dolphinthinker is to go stand in the crowd and watch for the people who, however they manage to do it, display an uncanny knack for wading in the chaos and fashioning something good from it. Artists can do this, of course. And musicians and other creatives. (Even writers occasionally.) And some of these may, indeed, be dolphinthinkers. But if so, it is not their art or their music or their writing as such that qualifies them to be to be thought of as dolphins. Rather, to say it again, it is their zeal for the pragmatic—for finding what works and, in a larger-than-could-be-intrinsically-expected, energy-radiating way, transforming it into very much the right, good, smart thing to have done next.
THERE’S A GOOD REASON WHY THE DOLPHINTHINKER KEEPS STRESSING THE IMPORTANCE OF THINKING PRAGMATICALLY
Dolphinthinkers avoid the utopias and the utopians. They may mean well, but has always been the case, they are nearly always dreamers without visible, viable means of support. Barry Goldwater came close, but in the end he gets no cigar. Extremism in defense of idealism is a vice. And utopians are invariably extremists. Without a middle, the center doesn’t hold. Another reason to stay pragmatic.
THE IDEA OF ABUNDANCE HAS RUN INTO STIFF HEADWINDS OF LATE, BUT WE NEED TO KEEP IT POINTING DUE NORTH
The strategy of the dolphin is an abundance-seeking strategy. Your author believes it is the best strategy on most occasions that you can possibly adopt. It is the most powerful strategy available for realizing significant personal, organizational and civic/cultural/governmental goals and hopes consistently in change-driven times and for contributing to the probability that life—all life—on the planet, and perhaps anywhere in the universe, will continue. Without abundance, there can be no sustainability. What we need to achieve sustainability—of our environment, of our scarce resources, of our species mates, of our own health and happiness and humanity—is available only through pursuits of abundance like those framed in this work.
IF BRUTUS WILL PARDON THE RIPOFF OF A WELL-TURNED PHRASE, WE’VE COME NOT TO PRAISE THE STATUS QUO BUT TO DO SOMETHING ELSE TO IT
The dolphinthinker’s ability to find functionality is a result of her ability to step back and look at the big picture. And then, not be panicked or flummoxed by it. But, rather, be intrigued. To remember the truth in Marshall McLuhan’s observation: “Darkness is to space what silence is to sound, i.e., the interval.” In this second decade of the 21st Century, there’s plenty of venues to choose from. An unprecedented number of critical components in our lives, communities, nations and businesses are broken. So dolphins are going to be arriving at more and more contemporary locations not to praise the status quo but to splinter it. To shatter ossified systems and outdated power alignments. To break up the logjams of the unresponsive and the irresponsible. And to interrupt and dislodge the suffocating, stultifying grip of what is no longer functional and suitable or never has been.
WHY DOLPHINTHINKERS TEND TO PAY CLOSER ATTENTION TO BRAIN ISSUES THAN THE AVERAGE NEOCORTEX
We never want to forget that our human brain is nothing if not a veritable Houdini. One of its favorite tricks is what researchers call “the confirmation bias.” We don’t have to be taught how to use this bias. It comes built in, possibly (or so evolutionary psychologists suggest) because long, long ago, when so little about the surrounding world could be reliably modeled or measured, thinking that we live in an easily “knowable” world was a help and a comfort to our distant ancestors. In any event, the tendency of our brain to seek out and to interpret information in ways that fit our preconceptions continues to fill our wakeful moments with unhelpful nonsense.
THE DOLPHINTHINKER’S IRON FIN IS NOT SOMETHING WORN LIKE A LOADED GUN DRAPED OVER THE BICEPS
In fact, when a dolphinthinker is forced to resort to iron-fin qualities and actions, it usually comes as a surprise to all but other dolphins in the mix. The dolphin’s iron fin doesn’t telegraph menace or danger, not until the need emerges for a dolphin to exhibit steely resolve. Then and only then is when the dolphin’s iron fin rises into view. And then, there must be no doubt, no delay and no holding back. So to think like a dolphin, you must be able to wear dual fins comfortably, proficiently, interchangeably. One is an everyday fin for navigating the little stuff of ordinary life. The other is a tough-as-nails fin for interacting with the world’s, the marketplace’s, the organization’s, the community’s or the family’s most destructive and recalcitrant deviants and actions.
For more information about LEAP!, go here.
None of us sees the world as “it is,” therefore; we can only see the world that we think. If we can’t think it, then what it is that we can’t see doesn’t exist for us at all. At least, not yet.
Herein lies the dolphin thinker’s difficult-to-explain advantage. From the dolphin perspective, you can potentially see all the current worlds crafted of all the variations of the human mind that have checked in at the front desk of awareness thus far. You can see these minds at work. And you can understand, in great measure, why they are choosing the route they select, what the up sides and the down sides to their choices are and, to a considerable extent, where the train wrecks from their shortcomings and weaknesses are likely to happen and why.
These aren’t the famous “parallel universes” of quantum physics. Parallel universes may be nothing more than conjectures in the minds of those who talk about them. If they are real, parallel universes are separate worlds stacked from here to infinity, incorporating the opposite of every yes/no decision you and everyone else who ever lived has ever made and acted on, and if this myriad of worlds are real, there doesn’t seem to be much leakage, if any, between them. If and when worlds are parallel, where you are, you might say, is what you get. Or to put it another way: in for a penny, stuck there for a pound.
The dolphin thinker’s world is something else. Oxymoronically, the multiple worlds that the dolphin thinker can see, and often does, are all part of a piece. A singular world in that if you know how and where to look, you can find every physical component to be found in any one of the worlds in all the others.
But that’s the rub: knowing when and how and where to look, and what to look for. In the advance toward dolphin thinking, the brain has become progressively more skilled at:
• Making connections.
• Discerning cause and effect.
• Anticipating consequences.
• Spotting and avoiding its own chimeras—the false threats and shadows, the pipedreams and nonsensical defenses it fashions of fancy and not of fact.
• Withholding judgment until it can know more.
• Delaying gratification until the timing is right.
• Seeing a whole serration of choices, instead of no choice at all, and getting better and better at favoring those choices with the best odds.
As the humanly conscious brain has matured over the centuries, it has grown more and more adept at knowing how and where to look—for what, for what reason, to what end.
Think of seven simultaneously-at-work worlds, including the dolphin thinker’s world, partitioned off from each other by layers of glass. Between each of the glass partitions, a separate kind of world is being lived, up close and personally, by the occupants of that layer. Each of the actions taken in each layer contributes to the composite of all the possible worlds, but with a critical caveat.
Not all the actions, ingredients, possibilities or even participants in these worlds are visible to participants in other worlds—except for one. That capability, that responsibility, that “complication of consequence” belongs only to the user of the dolphin thinker’s mind, who sees through all the glass partitions all too clearly.
Explained this way, you may now realize that you’ve been experiencing dolphin thinking without realizing what it really was. There are salient clues. Have you come to realize a certain, new sense of isolation, conversationally and intellectually? Do you note a growing sense of boredom or impatience or maybe irritation at the opinionated chitchat of longtime companions, with whom you used to converse easy enough? Do people to whom you try to explain things and suggest things to, people who used to hear you out with no unease or lack of enthusiasm, now look at you like the proverbial deer in the headlight when you discourse at any length? Do you wonder if you any longer share many of their key values? Fit snugly into their comfort zone? Really belong any longer in their world?
It may be become you are closing in on the dolphin thinker’s capabilities.
If there is a single, concrete feature supporting all other features of dolphin thinking, it is this mind’s tendency to come at each and every situation with a healthy, robust, undiluted, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may kind of optimistic pragmatism—an upbeat, advanced, quick-study, highly generalized common sense.
This is the argument I advance in my latest book, LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Smart, Right Thing Come Hell or High Water. Details about the work are here. Hope you’ll take a look!
At this hour, the world now stands on the verge of yet another great technological revolution. It has been mainly been gathering steam since the 1980s. Each day brings us closer to a time when a Star Trek-like economy may be possible. In fact, as the days go by and the breakthroughs and advances pile up, it is less and less a stretch to suggest that the looming next great wave of technology—Wave 4—can provide us with the very technologies that could solve our greatest problems if used properly.
We are speaking of swiftly developing technologies like biotechnology, bioengineering, nanotechnology, macro-robotics (in contrast to invisible “nanobots”), machine cognition, exotic energy and new materials science. The spin-offs of these extraordinary new era of tool-making could provide any number of artifacts that could change the game completely:
• Age reversal
• Human lifespan increasing to hundreds of years
• Download of human consciousness into a robotic shell
• Space exploration and the discovery of intelligent alien life
• Downloading knowledge directly to the human brain
• Eliminating disease
• Reclaiming the planet and restoring the ecosystem
• Eliminating the need for money
• Providing the basics for a comfortable life for everyone for free
• The end of war
• Sentient artificial beings
• The creation of new forms of biological life
• Any injury rendered temporary
• Super-sensory capability
• Intelligent environments that respond in a customized way to the user
• Local auto-fabrication of hard products
• The shift to local market economies
• Space travel available to everyone
• Colonizing and terraforming of other planets
This could lead to a world that engenders almost universal freedom, prosperity, liberation from slavery or near-servitude or the need for people of even modest means to work at all. A world where all mindsets—carp, shark, Aquarian carp and the dolphin varieties—and worldviews could prosper in socio-economic-political systems where the highest status is assigned to those who provide for the common good. (The sharks could continue to compete for celebrity and recognition, but this time, they would be rewarded for finding new and better ways to improve universal quality of life, not for how often they win.) In ways that to now have been the province only of utopian thinkers, science fiction writers or sunny-side-up Pollyannas, and only in their imaginations, we humans could begin to think of ourselves as truly free from many of the dangers, hindrances and irritations that currently still beset us.
Now, your author isn’t ignorant of this vigilance-commanding reality: technological advances are double-edged swords. As an extension of who we are, our tools can be used for good or ill. Biotechnology can be used to create devastating new biological weapons. Intelligent robots can be used as slaves or as soldiers. Nanotechnology can be used as a weapon or evolve on its own into a grey goo that eats the planet. Life extension and age reversal can end up being offered only to the wealthy and powerful. The characteristics of babies allowed to be born can be inhumanly manipulated. The terraforming of other planets could ignore the needs of indigenous species. And on and on .… This is why every great jump in technological capability creates new issues, big issues. Issues that cannot be adequately addressed by the institutions that created them (“Einstein’s paradox”). The emerging Wave 4 lineup of world-class challenges literally cries out for a great “insight” awakening to address the changed environment and our enhanced capabilities. The new issues are going to dictate the need for profound changes in a people’s current social, political and economic systems.
But there’s one thing we must never forget. Great technological achievements don’t tag along after significant, game-changing political, cultural and spiritual awakenings. Instead, they precede them! That is, technology shifts first!
It is the toolmaker who is civilization’s trendiest game-changer, trooping ahead of the politician, the psychologist, the priest, the rabbi, the imam and the ethicist. As the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel explains in The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism: “It is the lag between technological transformation and the human capacity to cope with change that has repeatedly provoked the crises that usher in profound reconsiderations of ethical values, that produced new agendas for ethical and social reform, and that give rise to political movements to implement these agendas.”
Being a part of a new “insight” awakening is a reoccuring theme of my latest book, LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Smart, Right Thing Come Hell or High Water. Essentially, my argument is this: The most effective thinkers in the new technological wave that is emerging are going to be those who are open to and equipped to use what I’ve sometimes called “good gumption” powers and skills almost automatically, consistently and relentlessly. Among those skills are these:
• The confidence to confront. And then, if possible, to include.
• An automatic aversion to incompetence. And shortly afterwards, a game plan.
• Wonderment, then exploration, then activation. Just because it’s your nature to be a designer.
• The judgment of the merciful & the passion of the justice seeker. And the wisdom to know the difference.
• Resilience, so you can always find your way back.
• The super-glues of self-healing, raised to a whole new level.
For more information, on this and all my major “thinking skills” works, please go here.
On a fall day in 1961, in his classroom at Union College in Schenectady, New York, the late Dr. Clare W. Graves hurried to a blackboard. Writing as fast as he could, he jotted down the rudiments of an explanation both for conundrums that had been plaguing his own research and for the fundamental confusions and contradictions that had so long flummoxed psychology—the inability of psychology’s greatest theorists to come to agreement on the ideal human mind. As Graves described it years later, his basic realization was this:
The psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change….Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other states of being. When the human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology which is particular to that state. His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, belief system, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, conceptions of and preferences for management, education, economics, and political theory and practice are all appropriate to that state.
Translation: there is no single way to describe a mature human because, in the truest sense, there is no such thing as a mature human. Maturity is as maturity does. And what the psychologically healthy person does best is to change with the times. The change always involves substituting new ways to think and behave for old ways. And the substitution may occur—needs to occur—again and again. Human maturation, Graves concluded, is an ever-ongoing process!
For most of our lives, the healthy psychological journey is calibrated to aim forward. According to Dr. Graves’ research data, along this journey, our mind veers—oscillates—first toward one philosophical extreme, then reverses itself and moves toward the opposite. That is to say, from a worldview with expressive, individualistic values, we subsequently migrate to a worldview witsawh sacrificial, group-oriented values, and then we reverse the process. And we do it again and again, back and forth, climbing a spiral staircase of psychological and mental development, for as long as circumstances permit.
Following such a pattern, a healthy person’s psychology tends always to be moving toward increasing complexity and more openness to nuance as it takes its cues from its environmental and technological surroundings, which are themselves growing ever more tangled and demanding over time. Bottom line: there is no single correct description of the mature human. Already, there are several, with hopefully many more to come.
DR. CLARE W. GRAVES
(Photo courtesy of
Chris Cowan, NVC Consulting)
For psychology, this realization was a badly needed curative mega-dose of Vitamin C for a chronic head cold of confusion and self-contradiction. For the world-at-large, it was a eureka moment that forever changed how we understand our human nature.
Now Dr. Graves could explain to his students and anyone else who was listening why the greatest names in psychology had not been able to agree on a universal definition for a psychologically mature human. They were like the blind men describing the elephant (the one with the trunk said the beast was like a rope, the one touching a leg said it was like a tree, the one fingering a tusk, like a sword, etc.). For whatever reasons, each of psychology’s great savants had chosen to describe what it is like to be psychologically mature at a different stage of human mental development! Each of their elephants was a badly misconstrued caricature of the whole, and a grossly oversimplified view of a very complex pachyderm.
Even today, using the full complement of advances and discoveries in the sciences in the past forty-plus years, it is not easy to describe the research problem that Dr. Graves laid out for himself after his first breakthrough discoveries. I can show you what I mean by updating how he posed it.
Start with the DNA equivalent of 715 megabytes of information contained in everyone of the body’s estimated 50 million million cells.
Move on to a person with a brain more complex than anything else organic in the known universe.
From there proceed to a mind that, indubitably, is utterly dependent on that brain, but, in ways we still haven’t managed to explain, is indisputably more than “just a brain.”
Assemble a world of 7-plus-billion of these minds and organized them into 6,000 separate cultures.
After that, factor in the reality that we are swimming in the wake of, and sometimes mid-stream of, the 100,000 distinct systems of belief and meaning-formation conjured by the mind since the beginning of consciousness.
Now Graves was ready to ask his question: Is it possible to develop a coherent theory and explanation of how we scale up our thinking biologically, psychologically and sociologically from such improbably variegated beginnings to encompass such hopelessly complex outcomes?
(See more at www.braintechnologies.com)
Graves wanted to be able to explain how the mind changes and when it does, what is happening to us biologically. He wanted to be able to predict psychologically what new characteristics a changed mind will exhibit and how to anticipate them. Sociologically, he wanted to know—in substantial detail—what kind of world each new kind of mind is likely to build for itself and how the various “worlds” that humans construct for themselves could both conflict and cooperate. He wanted to be able to talk about all this not in bits and pieces as most scientists tend to do, tightly focused as they are on their own chosen part of the problem, but in an inclusive, coherent framework. And he still wasn’t finished. He wanted a system that would equip him to make defensible projections about where the mind might be heading next. In summary, he wanted a single scholarly model with a humongous outreach. He wanted, as one Canadian magazine writer who interviewed him opined, A Theory of Everything. (All of our dolphin-thinking-themed books
at BTC discuss Dr. Graves’ theory and its applications in detail.)
In assembling such a model, Graves catalogued and explained the first great mind of the species, the one whose hegemony now appears to be coming to an end. He nailed it. Brilliantly. And he spotted and scouted out the first clear signs of an altogether different cognitive arrangement.
He did so at a time when most serious thinkers, including those in psychology and the rest of the social sciences, still considered the brain to be a “blank slate”—a tabula rosa, an empty page. One that “has no inherent structure of its own.” One that can, therefore, “be inscribed at will by society or ourselves.”
In fact, to this very day, as Steven Pinker, professor of psychology in MIT’s department of brain and cognitive science, has explained in The Blank Slate, most intellectuals still fail to appreciate the extent to which innate qualities of the brain influence the specific content and the colors on the pages of the storybook we call Our Very Own Personal World. This is of supreme importance because the brain arbitrates everything we know, do, believe. In the words of Dr. Edward O. Wilson, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, longtime Harvard University biology professor and pioneering synthesizer of the sciences, “Everything that we know and can ever know about existence is created there.”
Evidence against the brain/mind being a blank slate is now coming from many directions. For example, evolutionary psychology and anthropology are on the trail of a lengthy slate of universal traits that people in all of the world’s cultures have in common. Dr. Pinker and others have assembled lists of more than 300 such shared traits. Typically, traits range from childbirth rites to incest taboos to beliefs about death to a hypnotic fear of snakes to repertories of facial expression for a few basic emotions to the way mothers and infants bond. When every infant arrives on this planet, its head is already filled with scribblings that Mother Nature has been laboriously assembling for eon upon eons. Clare Graves was correct: the brain/mind is no blank slate. In the clever phraseology of renowned zoologist W.D. Hamilton, “The tabula of human nature was never rasa.” And no one, before or since, has offered us a better theory for explaining the consequence of this than Dr. Graves.
One of the delights of hanging a potent metaphor (which we’ve been told the dolphin strategy is) “out there” where all kinds of people are talking about changing the world is that you end up hearing from all kinds of people. For years now, we’ve been hearing from Keith Bowman, a self-professed “Gen X-er” with an eclectic imagination and a bulldog’s tenacity for pursing a variety of people, places and things, but he’d never told us his “Brother Blue” story until now. Here it is:
Many years back I was sitting on a park bench in Harvard Square, I idling away the time, when I found an African American man of about 60 was staring back at me. He was dressed from head to toe in blue, with a blue vest, blue pants, blue beret. He also had lightly tinged blue glasses and balloons attached to his arms. Harvard Square had long been known as a Mecca for the homeless and that’s who I assumed this man to be and long practiced in the dealing with such people, I attempted to break eye contact and look away. He leaned forward, removed his glasses and stared directly into my face. I noticed when he took his glasses off that he had imprints of a butterfly on each palm. Then he spoke. “From the middle of the middle of me, to the middle of the middle of you.” I was too stunned to respond, which was fortunate, because my strange bench partner was not allowing for a discourse, this was a performance. He then launched into a story. At first I thought it was just an inane ramble, but as he continued his tale of a man and his three daughters, I slowly began to realize something, he was telling the story of King Lear. I only knew this because in my sophomore class of English (which I was missing at that moment thanks to my truancy) we were studying King Lear. I have no memory of time; I was literally stunned into silence. This man moved through time and space with his tale seemingly without effort. After he finished he got up and began to walk away and I managed to mumble a request for his name. He looked back, smiled and said, “Brother Blue” and then left. It turned out that my homeless bench companion was a world famous storyteller who performed across the globe for over 60 years until his death in 2009. My experience with Brother Blue was a transformative one.
And how! This chance encounter with Hugh Morgan Hill, the African American educator, storyteller, actor, musician, street performer and living icon in Boston, in Cambridge, at Harvard University, MIT, and in the global oral storytelling community, changed Keith’s life. And is still changing it. Today, if you asked Keith what he’s involved in, be prepared to receive the short answer and the long answer. Here’s the short one: He’s working on a Ph.D. in educational studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. His field, he explains, is “loosely called Digital Humanities. And my subfields are Narratology, Media Studies and User Experience(UX).” But if you press him to reduce what he’s interested in to one word, and I have pressed him, it’s “storytelling.” And it all started with Brother Blue. (You can see Hill in action here.)
I’d say it was really a true epiphany. I know that word is heavily overused and I really don’t like sounding so high falutin’ . . . but it really was. After those first words I went into a profound trance and didn’t emerge until I had that flash of inspiration. Which Blue just riffed right off. What I’ve come to understand is that it was the dance between us (although I never would’ve even guessed that at that point) that was creating the experience. I guess to keep it simple: He caught me. Caught me like a sunset catches someone, or a first kiss, or just a delicious summer breeze on a muggy night. It really was a case of aesthetic arrest.
Hugh Morgan Hill died in 2009, depriving the likes of intellectual and literary luminaries like Stephen Jay Gould, Howard Zinn, Seamus Heaney, Kabir Sen, Warren Lehrer and on and on and on (see the previous Wikipedia link for a list of people he influenced) but the intellectually peripatetic Keith Bowman had long since scouted up additional mentors.
One was Walter Jackson Ong, the polymathic Jesuit Priest who taught at Saint Louis University for 30 years and once headed up the Modern Language Association of America as its president. Here is Keith on Ong:
Later on I ran into Walter Ong, Jesuit Priest, and heir apparent to his friend and advisor Marshall McLuhan and he told me about his theory on “Seconadary Orality.” Basically that we were hardwired to this kind of thing and were overcoming the “Guttenberg Parentheses,” and thanks to the burgeoning explosion of technology, we were emerging back into an Oral Tradition, from whence we came. He always said the “parentheses” part, slightly tongue in cheek, never dismissing written literature. He had no illusions that the written word was going anywhere, he just had this strong belief that at our core we were storytelling creatures, designed to swap stories first and foremost in an Oral Narrative.
Ong died in 2003. By then, Keith had managed to navigate his way into the inner orbit of another of America’s cutting-edge experts on the modern role of narrative storytelling. He’d done so with the assistance of Brother Blue’s spouse, Ruth Edmonds Hill, oral historian at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She had sent him to Kevin Brooks, another academically trained communications whiz who had pushed the postmodern world’s media technology envelope at Motorola, Apple and Hallmark Cards. Keith shares this:
Kev was doing something that really lit me off. He was at the MIT Media Lab doing his dissertation under Janet Murray and he was stuck until he ran into Brother Blue. Then a door opened for him and he completed his dissertation utilizing much of what he had learned at the knee of the master. His theory, the Metalinnear Narrative, speaks to what is now known as Transmedia Storytelling. And it has been really fundamental jumping off point for me. We had some wonderful conversations and I really saw him as a mentor to me. . . . He got some dream job with Hallmark in Kansas City and got married. So all seemed blissful. And then very tragically he died way too soon. Blue was pushing 90 when he died so although tragic for the community, I don’t think it was that big of a shock. But Kevin had one of those awful stories of very quick onset pancreatic cancer.
Which brings us to how Keith Bowman sauntered into the Brain Technologies’ bullpen. It happened because of his interest in the theory and writings of the late Clare W. Graves. Listen to Keith tell it:
All of this, storytelling and story listening represents a socially contracted learning process. That’s not to say it always works, it more often doesn’t, but I really think in many ways “evolving” at least in the social way, is “learning.”
Give you an example. I am a person whose culture gave every bit of their message to me to remain in a blue collar, working class world. For whatever reason, the message didn’t take. It was all around me, but just didn’t take. I am not even sure why.
I wasn’t a superstar student in secondary school. I was the first in my family to graduate high school in 1991 and I had no foreseeable funds or external motivation to even go to higher education.
But the itch needed to be scratched, so I found a way out of no way. I immediately found out I had a lotttttttt of catching up to do! Not just in subject matter but in social conditioning. You are taught different things in different social classes. I’m convinced of it, because I went through the process.
It’s not been in anyway easy, there have been a whole lot of sacrifices I have made and just some really dumb things I have done out of pure ignorance. But when it works, when it is the next, best, right thing it is something learned.
So at least for me Graves seems tied right into this, although he’s talking about whole groups of people. But I certainly went through evolutionary stages myself.
What I think I like about Graves so much is that there’s not endpoint. This ain’t’ your Mother’s Maslow Pyramid we are talking about. It goes onward and upward.
I also find Graves very illuminating in learning abut myself. My advantages and pitfalls. When I took [BTC's Asset Report®: The Book of You, based in part on the Graves theory], I fell very squarely in the Trailblazer home base. This made perfect sense to me intuitively, and the pitfalls that go along with it have certainly been mine. We Blazers go large breadth and not enough depth sometimes. And the two strategies for moving forward either Breakthrough or Escape, describe me almost to a scary point.
[But] I am a child of the television age. I am a Gen Xer, so we were the first generation that Sesame Street was aimed at. That has just had a profound effect on me for whatever reason and so what differs from me through Blue is I do it through media.
I’ve made student documentaries and interned on professional ones. But really, what I am truly interested in is the “structure” of story. What lies just under the surface. That’s where I am headed. And especially how has that been altered by this age we live in.
Keith never met Brother Blue beyond that one encounter. But it changed his life. And based on what we now know about Keith Bowman, I’m not doubting but that he’s one of those pursuit-minded, ever-questioning, always-learning minds who we depend on to change the world. And that, dear hearts, is “from the middle of the middle of me, to the middle of the middle of you.” RIP, Brother Blue! And onward and upward, Brother Bowman!
Let’s say that you are what the business community calls an entrepreneur. You’ve enjoyed success selling a product line that you largely invented yourself. The trips to the bank over the years haven’t involved overly large sums, but they have kept you solvent and comfortable—and independent.
In addition, let’s say that you get a call from an individual you’ve known but a short time and communicated with only on the phone and via e-mails. He professes to have a strong admiration for one of your products.
He says it can play a perfect role in an ambitious start-up opportunity he’s involved with. He doesn’t want to own your product, or even to pay you anything for it upfront. He’s asking you to sign away control of your product to him and his partners in return for a contract promising big royalties on future sales. In six years, his calculations paint you as one of America’s latest multi-millionaires.
In a few days, you fly half-way across the country to meet him and his partners. You demonstrate how your product works—and your small, private audience seems attentive and approving. You listen as they describe the IPO they plan within a year and how you will get stock options. Bonuses. A seat on the board of directors. And if you prefer, you can have an executive suite with a six-figure salary and a heady title like Chief Intellectual Officer (how many companies has one of those?). You can see it in their eyes. Nobody, they are thinking, walks away from these kinds of goodies, especially if they’ve just fallen in your lap.
On the way back to your motel room, you feel the adrenaline kick in and do a fist-pump in the hallway. “Yes!” shouts someone with a voice remarkably like yours When was the last time you felt this excited? Or received this kind of outside affirmation for what you have accomplished?
Then suddenly, you sense a distinct shift in your thinking.
Soon you are searching your memory bank, looking for similar experiences. Then you start to examine the logic of it all, evaluating the explanations you have been hearing, sniffing for possible partial truths and deceptions.
You know the exact moment that you decide that your negotiating strategy will be to give them plenty of solid, useful information, solicited or not, and see if this produces anything approaching reciprocity in return. Ask a lot of questions. Volunteer how you think they can best used your product—and use your own skills. You’ll not try and entrap anyone. Your strategy simply calls for raising issues that deserve answers and test the players to see if you can determine if they are who, and what, they profess to be.
And then you will wait and watch and listen before you decide.
It doesn’t take long.
What you do soon detect in a ping-pong exchange of phone calls and e-mails with first one, then others of your suitors are several not-so-subtle insinuations: They really look at your product as a commodity, not a respected, top-of-the-line specialty creation, as they had first indicated. From what little they are willing to tell you, they plan to take the model underlying your product and build other products around it, but they plan to pay you royalties only on sales of the basic tool. They aren’t ready to tell you how they plan to use your product, but you must agree to give them carte blanche to do as they please. They have already decided what to charge their customers for it, without consultation or even negotiation with you, and expect—demand, actually—that you fall in line. They are making noises about already having a replacement product far better known and more prestigious than yours if you don’t like their version of the deal. And you learn that they have now decided, after thinking about it, that they don’t really want you on the corporate board and instead have penciled you in for an advisory group.
“Run!” you hear yourself say. “Run, run, run! Let this one go.”
That’s a key dictum of the dolphin strategy: Know when to stay out, and you won’t find it difficult or impossible to get out later.
Are you disappointed at the outcome? Of course.
Do you have any regrets? No.
Your valuable product is not in jeopardy. You’ve still got your business and your wonderful customers. You’ve protected your integrity. You got this one right.
We’ve frequently featured the founder of Charlotte, N.C.’s Salum International Resources Inc. on this blog. And for a number of reasons: the compelling life story that Carlos Salum has to tell about growing up under a dictatorship in Buenos Aires, his activities as a world-class professional tennis (and “peak performance”) coach and his ongoing successes as an executive leadership and personal skills adviser. He is also one of BTC’s most frequent users of Asset Report®: The Book of You.
But when National Public Radio’s Michel Martin went to Charlotte the other day and sought out Carlos and several others, it was to explore their influence as new Latino voters. While they make up only 9 percent of the state’s population and 2 percent of the registered voters, they could be an important influence on the tight Senate race next week between incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Thom Tillis. Many of the state’s Latinos are first-time voters.
On the NPR website, Carlos was quoted as saying:
Twenty-three years living under military dictatorships, that’s something to you. And when you come to this country and vote for the first time, it makes you feel that you have an opportunity to sit at the table and make an impact.
His always dignified (and photogenic) visage was also featured in the photo seen at right below.
Carlos sent this reply to a request for an update on his recent and upcoming activities:
“In Charlotte, I’ve continued organizing private dinners for Charlotte leaders at TheSircle Executive Club I founded four years ago, in residence at The Ritz Carlton. I’m also consulting some of the top influencers in the city as a leadership performance advisor.
CARLOS SALUM ON NPR
BTC's Charlotte associate in the news . . . again!
“For the past two years, I’ve collaborated more closely with the Latin American Chamber of Commerce Charlotte, where the Latino population and its social, political and economical influence continues to grow at a fast rate, teaching a course on Peak Performance and Breakthrough Thinking for its Leadership Institute. The NPR interview on Voting Rights is connected with my increased participation in Latino issues in this region.
“In [my upcoming trip to] Europe, I will be a keynote speaker at a UBS Wealth Management offsite, as well as conduct meetings for the organization of a Foundation’s Global Forum in 2016, which is connected with the World Economic Forum. I will also meet with private clients during my trip and with the president of the Swiss Management Association, who’s one of my advisors.”
Chapter 6 of my latest book, LEAP!, provides a detailed account of Carlos’ remarkable life prior to coming to Charlotte. (He told NPR that he chose North Carolina for his new home because of the weather. He likes four seasons!)
We’ll be hearing a lot more from Carlos Salum! Meanwhile, his pro-active energies, imaginative marketing and successes as a performance counselor to influential people in business (particularly in Europe) and in civic circles (particularly in Charlotte) are an inspiration to us all. Congratulations, Carlos! Keep on making waves!
For more than 20 years, one of Brain Technologies’ most influential and successful associates has been a personable, resourceful, highly educated self-starter who calls the Philippines home. That is, when she is home.
Which was the primary point of her latest honor—the prestigious Bagong Bayani Award, bestowed annually by a government ministry (labor) and an educational foundation on a few Filipino citizens who have done an outstanding job of representing a workforce more than one million strong that leaves the Philippines every year to find job opportunities and generate income for themselves, their families and the Filipino economy.
Dr. Perla was one of 16 individuals and two groups who received the 2014 Bagong Bayani (which means “new hero”) award. They included a housekeeper who won the first season of “The X Factor Israel” TV-show-based singing competition and the 291 Filipino crew members of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, who performed heroically when the ship sank off Italy in early 2012.
You can see her receiving the beautiful statuette and accompanying medallion in photos taken at the September 22 award ceremonies in Manila below.
They were given to her in ceremonies at the Philippines International Convention Center. Since representatives of her employer abroad were asked to attend, two senior administrators of Assumption University’s graduate school of business in Bangkok were present. They were Dean Dr. Kitti Photikitti and Associate Dean Dr. Kitikorn Dowpiset. She was also accompanied by her husband, Dr. Oscar Tayko, a retired professor of agriculture and also a tireless cooperative development advocate/practitioner in the Philippines.
The citation accompanying the award makes mention of BTC’s four-brain (BrainMap®) model, which has been a bedrock of much of Perla’s professional and academic work. It is also a mainstay (along with three other BTC brain-function-tracking models and their accompanying assessments) in the AU business school’s organizational development programs.
Among her many achievements, the citation notes this: “In 1994, she designed a masteral program in Organizational Development (OD) for Assumption University and nurtured it through the years that led to the graduation of more than 400 holders of masteral degrees and 46 doctoral degrees.”
HONORED IN BANGKOK BY HER PEERS!
Perla is the one getting the flowers!
The recognition has kept coming. The Bangkok university’s top officials honored Perla recently with a dinner at the Four Wings Hotel attended by the institution’s present president and its president emeritus, among other dignitaries. Three other Bangkok-based BTC associates were there, all of them affiliated with AU: Dr. Dowpiset, Dr. Sirichai Preudhikulpradab and Dr. Maria Socorro Cristina L. Fernando.
Absent Dr. Tayko’s tireless, persuasive efforts, the story of Brain Technologies in Southeast Asia would be a very different tale. We’ve made our appreciation known to Perla, and it is greatly gratifying to us that she has received such notable attention in her own country.
Oh, you might be interested in where Perla has been lately. She was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a few days, teaching an OD class, then back to Bangkok to do a program at AU’s Organization Development Institute, which she helped found, and to see the business school’s current crop of graduates on their way. She plans to be home in the suburbs of Manila soon. But she won’t be there long; winners of the Bagong Bayani Award never are. We are so proud to know her and count us as “one of us.”
When things that humans are doing or had hoped to do show signs of flying apart or coming to a halt, the first impulse of the dolphin mind is anything but heroic. Almost certainly, it’s not what most folks probably would expect. In such “London Bridge is falling”-type circumstances, the first urge of the dolphinthinker is to . . . skedaddle. To be in the next county or maybe the next country, long gone and far, far away, by the time the fandango reaches the fan. This means keeping an eye peeled for gathering storm clouds, potential train wrecks and other ominous signs of non-productivity and trouble.
On reflection, such an impulse shouldn’t be surprising. After all, one of the most predictable change-outs that accompanies the transition to dolphin thinking is a marked reduction in the urge to be sacrificial. Those who experience it can be expected to take a much dimmer view than before of hanging around danger zones overly long or not removing oneself from the chaos once the bullies, bad apples and other ne’er-do-wells suggest that “lady luck” is about to take a holiday.
This was probably why, when your author first began to introduce people to the benefits of thinking like a dolphin, I wasn’t at all reluctant to urge quick-trigger exit strategies on them when they realized that things weren’t working out. “Morph, mobilize and migrate,” I called the process. Initiate a quick change of heart and goals. Rent yourself a truck or hire a mover. Load up your possessions and go somewhere where the world works differently—works better. Where competence is not something you keep hoping for but something you can breathe and luxuriate in and not have to hide it with artifices or waste valuable time explaining why it’s a good idea.
But no sooner did I begin to peer out the portholes of a new century than I began to notice that our morph-mobilize-and-migrate strategy for dealing with intractable incompetence seemed to be failing the “what works” test. The idea of suggesting that people get out of the pool and mosey on when faced with persistent breakdowns in a place where nobody seemed much interested in breakthroughs suddenly seemed as helpful as telling people who needed heart surgery to check out the garden tools section at The Home Depot.
So . . . you’re telling people to get out of the pool if they sense a rising tide of confusion, ineptitude and passivity? Where are they supposed to go? You counsel them to hit the open road—which road? You urge them to migrate to more competent, more promising surroundings? If you don’t mind, please point out these recommended safe havens of yours on Google Maps or MapQuest.
It was hard to ignore this reality any longer: there are getting to be fewer and fewer dependable, credible, guaranteed-to-be-there-very-long livable hidey holes of competence left anywhere on the planet and soon, there will be virtually none.
And not only that.
The time when dolphins could enjoy being free spirits and the apotheosis of independence—proud lone eagles of the world’s idealistic seas—seemed over and done before it was close to getting started.
Capable as his or her thinking abilities are, in this new world of speed and greed and these new times of flux and uncertainty, the individual dolphinthinker seeking even for a time to be a highly transient “a power of one” is about as vulnerable as anyone else.
What’s a dolphin to think? What’s a dolphinthinker to do? Joshua Cooper Ramo lays out the crux of the problem in The Age of the Unthinkable:
As much as we might wish it, our world is not becoming more stable or easier to comprehend. We are entering, in short, a revolutionary age. And we are doing so with ideas, leaders, and institutions that are better suited for a world now several centuries behind us. [This] revolution is creating unprecedented disruption and dislocation.
At this point, you might think that the dolphinthinker can only do what any other thinker can do, regardless of which variety of mind he or she thinks with: hunker down, try to muddle through and hope for the best.
And it may come to that.
But to expect this outcome would require ignoring the other instinct that rises up in the dolphinthinker’s mind when yesterday’s solutions degenerate into today’s quagmires: to summon the pod. And to demonstrate—not that anyone who shows up when the summons goes out will expect to be applauded for such a result—what the impact can be when users of a new kind of mind come together with the intent of taking teamwork to whole new levels.
Best, then, that the dolphinthinker get prepared for what seems very likely to be the dolphin mind’s biggest assignment yet. For the next several years and probably several decades—at a minimum until “Artificial Intelligence” (whatever “AI” eventually turns out to be) upends and transfigures the whole question of how decisions and all else gets made—few responsibilities are going to weigh more heavily on the dolphinthinker than this one.
Sisters and brothers, good of you to come!