By Charlie Allenson
That’s a pivotal line from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. By coincidence, it was also the theme of a recent IB workshop: How to Pay Attention. And I was so pleased to be one of the presenters, along with Sharon de Korte.
How to Pay Attention was a workshop based on a combination critical thinking experiential and improv comedy exercises. It started with what was a decidedly trick question. Just moments after we called the workshop to order, a women walked in, asked a question, came toward the front of the room and asked the question again. Then left. We asked the participants to write down everything they remembered about the woman — clothes, hairstyle, what she was carrying, and the like. It was no surprise that so many of the blanks that needed to be filled in were wrong, and had been filled in by what the brain thought should be there. The participants thought we had tricked them – simply by not telling them that they needed to pay attention or what they should pay attention to. But isn’t that what so often happens in life? So it turns out not many actually paid close attention, which brought us to our first points of discussion: What’s important to pay attention to? How do we decide what’s important?
After some discussion the conclusion was you really don’t know what’s important until you need it. So how do you pay close attention to conversations, your surroundings to almost anything without having your mind explode? In just a few exercises, we gained some tools and insights into how to better pay attention and still keep your sanity.
Yes, And… We tend to think with our egos and not pay attention to what others are saying.
For example, you can have a conversation where someone says, “That program is too expensive.” You’d normally answer, “Yeah but it’s not.” And they’d say, “Yeah but it is.” Yeah, but it’s not” And on and on getting nowhere except pissing off your potential client. Now take that same conversation and substitute “and” for “but”. Yes, and… (You
don’t have to actually say, “Yes, and” just think it). “Yes, and I see your point. Let me show you how much you’re getting for your money.” It’s a way to keep the conversation going. And the longer you can keep it going, the better your chance for a positive outcome. It’s a simple, powerful premise that by just substituting the word “and” for the word “but” you can pay better attention to what’s going on and acknowledge the other person’s opinion (even though you think it sucks). Here are some of the insights by some of the participants:
- Constructive not destructive conversations
- Be more open to listening to the conversation
- Solution driven
- Turns negatives to positives
- Helps build a relationship.
- By paying attention, the experience was more memorable
- It was a broader experience
- Shows you how not to take things for granted
- Engages your curiosity for what, why and how things exist
- Appreciate the process of paying attention
Watch and Learn Pay attention even when not a word is spoken: Non-verbal communication. Participants were asked to construct an environment using only one repetitive motion. By paying attention the movement, each person could add to the scene by performing a complimentary movement. The challenge came in the form of interpreting what that first physical motion was by paying close attention. Here are some thoughts:
- Paying attention to body language can give you new insights
- Paying attention can help you put the pieces together
- Helps you see things through the eyes of others
So what did participants learn about paying attention? Paying closer attention is rewarding in its own right because you become more engaged with others and the world around you. And it helps you challenge your own assumptions and opens you to more possibilities and new solutions.
One exercise to try on your own: On your commute to work each day focus on a different object – doorways, trashcans, what people wear (e.g., shoes, watches, coats). It’s a great way to practice paying attention and keep your mind focused and fresh.
So pay attention. Because paying attention will pay you back.
Charlie Allenson is an Adaptive Thinking Coach with Improving with Improv
Archetypes for Problem Solving
By Remo Nuzzolese
Take a dozen brilliant New Yorkers from around the world and leave them in our hands at an off-Broadway theater for the evening.
Fashion designer Vicky from Brooklyn becomes a ruthless Villain, that guy from the cool agency on Madison Avenue turns quickly into an almighty Magician, Wall Street guru Milla distributes pearls of wisdom like a Wise Old Man helping John, the Hero going to Mars to reunite with wannabe Scarlet O’Hara, the Lover.
All this as someone is playing a Piano in the corner, three Midtown executives are climbing on a shelf pretending to be on the moon and someone else is back to planet earth trying to open a bottle of wine with an improvised corkscrew.
One hour later, the same group of people is building a functioning model based on archetypal emotions and analytical thinking skills to address the solution of difficult problems in a creative way.
Because problem solving is about mastering the right emotion and thinking skill at the right time, archetypes come in handy when we need to access deep and ingrained elements of our identity and of those who collaborate with us.
Being so versatile, archetypes are also applicable to models and processes, as our brave dozen has demonstrated. That’s how the passion for one’s goal can be channeled with a Lover’s attachment or the playfulness of the Jester can be useful to generate a non-judgmental environment for idea generation.
As in every epic story the important thing is to put all the elements in the right order, but that’s nothing for someone who’s gotten to Mars, killed a Dragon and found the man of her dreams, all in one evening.
So join us if you want to solve your most difficult problems, there is a real warrior hidden in Patty from Accounting, and we can find it!
* I’ve disguised the identities of the participants to this event but the actions performed by them are totally authentic. Including the make of an intergalactic defensive shield made of energy waves coming right from their bare hands.
Searching for Creativity
An Innovation Scavenger Hunt in Central Park
"Wow, look what they’re using for a goal post."
"Is Nature creative?"
"Check out those giants bubbles!"
On August 21st 2012, 15 New Yorkers gathered in Central Park and set out to search for innovation. Stavros gave some structure to our search by explaining The Four P’s (People, Process, Press, Product), a framework for studying creativity developed by Mel Rhodes.
With smart phone in hand, and twitter in the cloud, our teams set out. We snapped our first few pictures: An elegant bit of architecture, yoga, some musicians, and before long we started to get some really interesting photos of creativity at work: A flower blooming, a girl lying down in a tree, roller hockey players using a tipped over traffic cone as a goal. Even one of those little helicopter-like seed pods struck us as nature being creative.
After our scavenger hunt, we gathered around a picnic on the grass. We shared the photos we’d taken with one another, and got caught up in tasty food and philosophical debate. Hope you’ll join us next time!
If we open our eyes to it, we’ll notice that creativity is all around us, and if we open our minds to it, perhaps we may even find some inspiration.
To see the full stream check out #InnovationBound on twitter.
For info on future events, check out our Facebook Page or our Meetup Group.
Imagining The Perfect Virtual Learning Environment
On July 28th educators, technologists and other professionals came to together to imagine the future of education. Participants started by outlining parameters. They asked themselves questions like, “What might be all the different student demographics?” “Through what mediums can education happen?” and “What might be the various durations a session may last?”
Next participants split up into small teams and choose a set of parameters for which to design their virtual learning environment. The ideas that came out were phenomenal! Some decided to teach “know-it-alls” martial arts through an online multi-player gaming platform. Another group focused on how to assess learning style/preference in an engaging way. MoshMind (patent pending…) was another design which combined meditation and mobile technologies. The ideas were highly elaborate and original.
The education system is facing some challenges and plenty of flack, but judging from the ideas that came out of these collaborations the horizon is bright.
Taking Innovation to the Skies
On April 27, the Innovation Bound meetup tackled a challenge posed by the military by way of Innocentive: come up with a better way to air drop humanitarian supplies in crisis zones. The current method is efficient and fast, but the cargo cannot be safely dropped over populated areas. Our challenge was to improve on or re-invent the system.
Our participants went to work, and in a few short minutes the ideas started rolling in.
"Giant inflatable balls full of aid could roll out of the back of the plane."
"Maybe all of the materials used for the airdrop could be re-purposed for building materials and other things."
"What if each of the individual packets were connected and then rolled into a barrel shaped mass at manufacturing?"
By the end of the workshop, participants had formed teams and detailed three very different and very novel ideas for a better way to airdrop humanitarian aid.
At the end of the workshop one participant, a teacher, expressed, “I was hesitant about attending and participating because of the very technical nature of this challenge. I thought, ‘what do I know about planes or aid?’ but over the last couple of hours I’ve changed my mind entirely. We’ve all been able to lend our unique perspectives and add value.”
An Innovative Outcome is one which has a strong element of originality and which appropriately addresses the challenge at hand. The unique perspectives of our participants enabled them to bring that strong element of originality to the table. When combined with the experience of an expert, in a collaborative way, powerful innovations come to life.