Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Picture this.

12 Nov

Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, writer and teacher who was featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday.  Her new book, Picture This is a wonderful workbook for anyone wanting to inject the drawn line into their daily life. Her drawings create a fun and safe place to experiment with developing your own visual language, and we all have one if we simply put pen to paper and explore it.

Barry’s NPR interview brought to light much of her thinking on the power of drawing to tap into that often unreachable part of our brains; the area we want to reach into for innovative ideas or creative solutions in life and work.  Lynda Barry knows the drawn line is key. One caller to Barry’s interview said drawing in her sketchbook had enabled her to deal with debilitating anxiety without medication.  The relationship between brain chemistry and the simple act of drawing has been documented as a way to focus the attention of people in meetings.

Coming up in December, Adam and I will be working with 24 teen volunteers at the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.  These are bright and forward thinking students who have been chosen for this program for their potential for leadership in their communities.  We are tremendously excited to meet these future leaders and introduce them to the simple, but life changing, practice of keeping an illuminated sketch journal.

Whether you are looking to change your work life, your personal approach to the world at large, or to learn how to communicate more effectively, a powerful first step is to start drawing.  When you do, let us know how it goes.

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Living Differently

22 Oct

A recent article, How To Think Like Steve Jobs, by Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, got me thinking about how we can all live and work creatively, to be a more worthwhile addition to the communities and live and work in.

Steve Jobs is the pinup boy for successful, simplistic product design. He makes grandmas want gadgets. His success in doing this stems from the Apple slogan, an embodiment of his character, to ‘think different.’

But what does ‘think different’ mean, and how can it help us? Let’s break this problem down, and reassemble it.

Why would we want to ‘think different?’ Thinking differently will help us deliver creative breakthroughs, solutions to people’s problems that weren’t able to be solved with conventional thinking. We all want to do that.

So, if we believe the assumption that your thoughts are a product of everything around you, how can we come up with breakthrough ideas? The answer is simple… live different.

Steve Jobs has always made an effort to surround himself with non-conventional people and search for answers in non-conventional places. For example:

  • When hiring the original Mac team, he hired musicians, artists, poets, and historians. This made it work for everyone, not just techies.
  • When designing the original Mac, he integrated Calligraphy he learned after dropping out of college. This made it the first computer with beautiful fonts.
  • When he wanted the Apple II to be the first personal computer used in the home, he went to the Macy’s kitchen department. This made it easy to plug and play.
  • When starting Apple Stores, he didn’t hire a tech guy, he hired former Target executive Ron Johnson. This made Apple Stores world-class retail.
  • When developing the service model for Apple Stores, he didn’t analyze or Gateway Stores, he emulated the concierge at the Four Season Hotels. This created accessible, comfortable, world-class service.

How can you break away and ‘think different’ to bring new solutions to today’s problems?

For starters… find some new people, try to learn some new tools, and try to get inspiration from new places. Be dramatic. And have fun with it.

via Oxstones Investment Club

Popularity: 16% [?]


Every country on Earth is reforming education and learning.

21 Oct

Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert, gave an enlightening talk about education reform around the world. Education reform is happening less through legislation, and more through an awakening of what creativity, knowledge-gathering, and motivation really are.

Education reform is a critical topic as Thomas Friedman (of the NYTimes and ‘The World is Flat’) recently opined that, ‘America’s core competency is is ability to attract, develop and unleash creative talent.

Is that competency in danger? Are other countries struggling as well?

Sir Ken Robinson challenges a few key assumptions that stem from the intellectual culture of the  Enlightenment and the economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution.

  • Why do we batch students by age or year? Shouldn’t we batch students by their respective skill in a certain topic?
  • Why do we educate students in the same class sizes? Don’t some learn better in large groups, small groups, or even alone?
  • Why are all students forced to learn during the same hours? Some students are geared towards morning, afternoon, or evening learning.

The most alarming statistic Sir Ken Robinson provides is from a study on divergent thinking published in Breakpoint and Beyond. Divergent thinking is the ability to think of many answers to a specific problem… this is the first step to problem solving… before we get analytical and make THE BEST decision (this latter process if where business education focuses today). 98% of 1500 kindergartners scored at the genius level for divergent thinking. Their scores went down as they progressed in the education system.

What examples have you seen of successful education reform? What programs are creating vibrant students who are making a difference in the world?


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Where do good ideas come from?

19 Oct

A recent article on Steven Johnson’s new book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From‘ offers support for our practice of ‘paying attention to what you pay attention to,’ something which can only be achieved through journaling.

Steven debunks the myth that ‘Ideas just pop into people’s heads.’ Contradictory to the examples of how an apple hit Newton’s head and lighting struck Benjamin Franklin’s kite, ideas do not arrive in one fell swoop of glory isolated from the rest of our work. There is no muse.

But some may argue… ‘I definitely had the idea ‘click.’ Yes, there is a certain moment when we become aware of ideas… but they have been in our mind in some hidden form all along. I can often find precursors of thoughts posted in my journal 3, 6, 9 months before I realize what they really meant. After building enough of a critical mass in one specific subject or problem, the solutions begins to take shape and you can see all the other pieces merging into the final outcome.

Ideas are woven combinations of all the people, places, and things we encounter and work with, slowly burgeoning until we become aware of them.

So go ahead and pay attention to what you pay attention to. Spend a few minutes each day for the next few weeks journaling and drawing… and see what happens when you look back at it all. If you already journal, share back any interesting events you’ve had in being retrospective.

via CNN: ‘Eureka moments’ and other myths about tech innovation

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Why “You just need to get started…” is bad advice.

28 Sep

In a recent collaborative post, Ramit Sethi (Stanford) and Cal Newport (MIT) challenge the self-evident truth of ‘You just need to get started…”

They advocate mulling over an idea much longer than is traditionally expected… and only acting on it when you have fully thought it through. This exactly aligns with how we leverage the journal in Drawing Down the Vision.

A journal is your catalog of your ideas. This historical record allows you to see how an idea evolved and merged with others. If you see the same blockbuster idea popping up over 6-12 months… you may want to revisit it in a more critical manner. See our Practice posts for practical guides on how to do that.


“How many times have you heard someone say, “You just need to get started”?

I’ve even said it myself — that the hardest part of nearly anything meaningful (health & fitness, managing your money, etc) is getting started.

But Cal Newport, a published author and PhD in computer science at MIT, disagrees.

Cal will show you why it’s important to look beyond quick tactical wins and instead focus on the strength of your idea, which takes painstaking practice and ongoing iteration.”

Ramit Sethi via IWillTeachYouToBeRich

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High School Dropouts and the decline of routine work.

18 Aug

Stamford, Connecticut has put together a task-force of 300 local business, political, and social leaders. This organization is called ‘Reinventing Stamford.’

One of their first publicized reports, ‘Pivot Point,’ highlights local, regional, and national issues that are being faced, and begins to propose solutions. One of the major issues is the state of educating our workforce, increasing their ability to handle the known issues of today and the unknown issues of the future.

In the graphic below, from Pivot Point, you can see the dramatic shift that has occurred in the task content of jobs from 1980 to 1998. Every level of education has seen at least a 10% increased in non-routine cognitive / interactive work. This type of work demands a high Creativity Quotient and ability to practice both convergent and divergent thinking… to understand all the variables affecting a situation and help come up with solutions which make the most of the resources at hand. This is exactly the type of skill that America is losing today, as highlighted in our article on America’s Creativity Crisis.

Change in Task Content of Jobs. This graph shows the change in task content of jobs, by the education level of the worker, from 1980 to 1998. The highest percentage increase towards expert thinking [Non-Routine Cognitive/Analytical] and Complex Communication [Non-Routine Cognitive/Interactive] were in jobs held by workers with only a high-school diploma. Source Murnane and Levy. Routine Cognitive, Routine Manual, Non-Routing Manual, Non-Routine Cognitive-Analytic, Non-Routing Cognitive / Interactive, Annualized Change in Task Measure, High School Dropouts, High School Grads, Some College, College Grads

Research on drawing shows that it is a great way to build up your QC and increase convergent and divergent thinking. So go ahead, and start practicing, and help expose others to working creatively.

Take a look at ‘Pivot Point‘ pages 14 and 15 to learn more.

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Creativity can be taught: Averting the Creativity Crisis.

17 Aug

Newsweek recently ran an article titled, ‘The Creativity Crisis.’

The authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman describe how America’s K-6 students are scoring dramatically lower in their Creativity Quotient (QC). This is startling because the correlation between lifetime creative output (books, software, successful companies…) and QC is three times strong than that for IQ. As we are gearing our schools for rote memorization to raise student IQ, we’re losing focus on their QC… the ability to relearn facts and rethink  problems in our constantly changing world.

The good news is, ‘Creativity can be taught,’ says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino. The article states ‘Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.’

The National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Akron, Ohio tramples the limits of American education, the system creating our creativity crisis. 5th graders nationwide are required by curriculum to memorize information about sound waves and practice persuasive writing. The Akron school sets up activities for students to develop solutions to real problems, such as how to limit the noise coming into the library through the street-facing windows. “ ‘You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ‘ says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. ‘Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ‘ ”

This is the reason Amy and I started Drawing Down the Vision. The creativity crisis exists not only in America’s lower schools, but also in its most successful companies. Our world is seeing new problem’s never before faced which demand creativity and leadership from all its citizens. While we teach Drawing Down the Vision through our three-hour workshop, it is really just an intro to a process you will apply each and every day of your life to practice and continue living and learning creatively.

We hope our writings here are helping to drive up the world’s QC.

Participants in the study were asked to take blank pages with random shapes and turn them into a story. Here, a bunch of triangles turns into 'James Joyce in a Confessional.'

Popularity: 18% [?]


Monkey Mind. Drawing in meetings.

01 Jul

Al Franken sketches Jeff Sessions during Elena Kagan hearings

No matter which side of the political spectrum you may land on, one has to admire our politicians for simply sitting through the seemingly endless, though important, hours of meetings and hearings that keep our country in sync.  A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about one such politician who was seen/caught sketching during a hearing.

Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota and a member of the judiciary committee, was sitting through the confirmation hearing of potential Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan.  During the long and arduous process, Franken was seen sketching the likeness of fellow judiciary committee member, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Depending on the political slant of the source, reports of this sketchy behavior ran from mildly amused to downright furious at this apparent show of boredom and lack of respect for our country’s due political process.

In Eastern traditions, there is a term called the Monkey Mind. It reflects our inability to mentally ‘sit still’.  Everyone has experienced this with the mind racing from thought to thought like a monkey jumping from tree to tree (especially during work meetings).  There are many thoughts on how to quiet the monkey mind, from yoga and meditation, to exercise and diet change.  During the research process for Drawing Down the Vision, we came across an article which states that doodling can help you pay attention.  After years of getting in trouble in school for doodling, it was refreshing to see evidence that students who draw during a lecture may actually be retaining more information and paying closer attention.

Which leads me back to Senator Franken.  Perhaps Franken was drawing in order to stay more focused on the content of the hearing.  Perhaps all of our politicians should be provided with some sketching supplies. Next time you are in a work or committee meeting where the content is important but difficult to stay excited about, try picking up a pen and paper and drawing.  You could sketch the furniture in the room, the people around you, or something from your inner landscape. Try to visually represent the information to help you see things differently. In the end, you may find you have quieted the monkey mind and are a more focused and active participant in the meeting.

Popularity: 14% [?]


A drawing a day turns into a business.

10 Jun

Adam came across the Obsessive Consumption project recently on Twitter.  Kate Bingaman-Burt has been documenting her personal consumption habits for years by drawing everything she buys.  Over time, this self-processed obsession has become an entire line of graphic work that is now shown in galleries as fine art, published in books and even printed on pillows.  Her drawing work is sought after by companies such as IDEO, ReadyMade Magazing and the New York Times.   All this by drawing everyday.

Now mind you, she is a working artist, and many of you may not consider yourselves to be artists.  But the exercise of drawing daily can still be a valuable tool to tapping into your very own brand of creativity.   There is a wealth of research available out there about tapping into the right side of the brain which houses the more creative, holistic thinking processes.  Listening to music, going for a scenic drive or a long run, and of course, drawing, are all ways to tap the less used hemisphere of the brain.  Have a look at Bingaman-Burt’s work and be inspired to try documenting something in your own life.  You could doodle what you buy like she did, or the dogs you meet, like I often do.  Currently I am spending quite a bit of time in the garden trying to figure out if certain plants are flowers or weeds.  I was recently informed that the thistle-like flower I have been so keen on is actually a weed that will quickly push out all of my other plants.  So I pulled it up… but not before I did a quick sketch of it!

Popularity: 17% [?]



08 Jun

It’s a fast paced world we live and work in nowadays.  We are constantly berated by information and data points that warrant our interest and demand our attention.  Two recent reports by NPR and the New York Times looked at the issue of endless access to technology and the impact it has on our brains according to recent research.

Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows is the subject of the NPR story, began to take a hard look at his own inability to concentrate when he realized that the more online time he spent, the more difficulty he had in reading a long article or sitting for a good long while with a book.  The work that started as an article in the Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, has now become The Shallows, where Carr investigates what the internet is doing to our brains.

“…Carr argues that even if people get better at hopping from page to page [on the internet], they will still be losing their abilities to employ a ‘slower, more contemplative mode of thought.’ He says research shows that as people get better at multitasking, they ‘become less creative in their thinking.’”

It is just this ‘slower mode of thought’ where the most creative thinking occurs.

In the New York Times, Matt Richtel’s article, Your Brain On Computers: Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price, follows the Campbell family as they try to keep up with everything technology has to offer without losing themselves in the process.

Both articles speak to what’s great about technology as well as what can be problematic.  In this day and age, someone with the right set up of wireless internet access and personal computer options can work just about anywhere.  No longer are we chained to our desks and telephones during business hours in order to get work done.  In fact, there are no more business hours.  Every hour is business hour.  And that’s the rub.  While technology enables us the freedom to use our time how we may want to, many people find it hard to turn off the computer and smart phones for fear of missing something.  In this heightened state of waiting, we are actually missing the chance for our brains to slip back into a more relaxed state where new ideas can be sown and come to fruition.

Obviously we here at Drawing Down the Vision love a good dose of technology.  Here I sit at my studio computer writing this blog post.  Our access to ever evolving technology and communication options is how our message will ultimately reach the masses.  But we know that in order to center in what will become the next piece of compelling art work or lucrative business idea, we need to unplug and get our pens to paper in our sketchbooks.  By balancing what the modern world has to offer with what creativity needs to flourish, we can ensure that technology will be a tool that we use in our work versus something that changes the way our brains work.

So slow down a little, turn your gadgets off for a few hours.  And draw…

Popularity: 8% [?]


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