Friday, December 23, 2005

Return of the Land Yacht



Not all ideas make it off the drawing pages. Some remain on napkins, scraps of paper or lost in computer files. But Howard Doss got this dream off the paper and into actual use. A combination of a lot of interesting people, talent and ambition created America’s first production motor home, the Howard Safari. Built by Howard Industries of Saginaw, Michigan, the Safari rolled off the assembly lines from 1953 to 1956. More interesting than that is how the concept began. In an earlier blog entry, I refered to a study which showed how heterogeneous (mixed) teams produce the most creative things. Well, Doss and his team back in the 50's proved this.

Doss had been building trailers since the 1930's. But it was a well know comedian of the time, Herb Shriner who wanted to be able to drive the trailer and not tow it. Doss and his team discussed it, designed it and made it happen. The original self-propelled motor home was a 22 ft. structure set on top a GMC truck chassis. Doss brought in an up-and-coming designer to give the Safari a new look. His name was Albrecht Goertz. A quick Google search showed that this is the same man who went on to design the 240 Z for Datsun. He would also go on to work for BMW.

Apparently, "product placement" is not such a new idea. The original Howard Safari appeared in the movie Ring of Fear. It was also seen on movie reels of the day, and made an appearance on the Today Show with Dave Garroway and Jack Lescoulie.

This next bit has a little to do with genetics and history repeating itself. It’s now fifty years since the last of the Safari’s rolled off the assembly lines and in comes Marcel Berman, grandson of Howard Doss. If everything goes as planned, Berman hopes to return motor home greatness to the streets by way of the Howard Safari X8 Land Yacht (seen above). In fact, it's a completely new concept and if it's produced, it will be the first Super Sport Recreational Vehicle. You could even call it a "hot rod motor home." Whatever the wording, the potential for this vehicle is unlimited. It could be a promo vehicle for a learning or cyber lab… I used to work for ATT’s Cable in the Classroom program, which offered a CyberLab to students, teachers and general public. The idea was to bring the lab or classroom to the people, unload laptops and equipment and set up shop anywhere there was electricity and a DSL or cable connection. Operating out of the X8 Land Yacht would have been far more attractive – had it been available. I can also see this as a PR tool for a company, a mobile unit for police, fire, sportscasting, etc. Does John Madden need a new bus? Let's not forget any number of celebrities, silicon valley executives and movie studio lots too.

I’m thinkng out loud or on paper here, but what about getting noted car collector Jay Leno in on this as a sort of modern Herb Shriner. I think Jay would love driving a finished product. I’m sure Berman would love to provide him one (at a discount) if he were given some time on the show to promote it. There's other possibilities with TV. To generate enthusaism for the unique design and possibly generate some venture capitol, get the folks over at Discovery’s Monster Garage to add the cool factor, and now you’ve got Jessie James and his mechanics working on the next great Land Yacht. Again, just thinking out of the box here, but what about getting a high tech school or community college involved in the design and development. A percentage could go to them by way of scholarship money and the rest to the rightful heir... Howard Doss' inventive grandson.


You can reach the designer, Marcel Berman, personally at
howard_safari@yahoo.com


If you’d like to have your idea considered for publication, please send a sample of your work to lchazen@mac.com

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Need for Integrated Thinking – Commentary and Thoughts on " The Creative Generalist"

It's not easy to get through a week without coming in contact with a specialist of some sort. If you're an entrepreneur or work for a large company you might need the help of a web designer or will likely call on an IT person to fix a computer or networking problem. At any given high school, you might see a place divided into departments which specialize in one of the areas of education. M.D's specialize as do some dentists and the pattern extends into the arts as some painters, musicians and writers explore and develop one area to make it theirs.

Expert tutors, history teachers who focus on 18th Century Russia, podiatrists and cosmetic dentistry specialists all provide a valuable service. But, is there an opposite? Is there an area dedicated to the the "space between" or a way to connect otherwise unconnected areas? Is it even important to have someone in between the areas to connect the dots? Is there anything of value in “there” and if so, what would we call this? Author Steve Hardy has a name for it, as well as a website, blog and article recently published on the Changethis.com website. It is called The Creative Generalist.

A creative generalist might be a blog writer, author, teacher, business consultant or, more importantly, someone who is not easily described or categorized. People in such positions should take note because this is now one of several articles and books on the importance of conceptual thinking and the need for people with this skill. One can abstract from Hardy’s writing that a creative generalist has the ability to see a larger picture, one that niche specialists may be missing. And it is in this broad area in between specialties where, according to Hardy, we get some of our best ideas. Such ideas, he says, “are the product of divergent thinking, lateral steps and questions dealing with completely unrelated notions. They “come from a kaleidoscopic grab bag of other ideas – whether ancient, recent, calculated or silly.”

Broad and specialized thinking are both important and should exist and inhabit the same organizations. What I think articles like this promote, though, is a meeting place between the two camps – a place where ideas, people and projects can take new shape and direction. In other words, thoughts, ideas, departments and specialties are great in and of themselves, but are greater and offer more potential if someone were there, maybe as a conduit to join things together. If this movement continues, it may not be unusual to see more conduit-like positions opening up in companies and organizations.

The need for interconnectedness stretches across many professions. Hardy mentions urban design, marketing campaigns, environmental policy and disaster response as areas where integrated thinking is needed. The 911 Commission Report and commentary on the U.S. Government’s response (at all levels) to Hurricane Katrina all seem to say something about a general lack of integration in our thinking.

At the micro level, one might consider the architecture of a school – how some teachers and departments feel alienated. A creative generalist might think to put the theater, music, media or library at the center of a building as these are important centers of creative energy – necessary to sustaining an optimistic mood for learning. People having to pass by books, magazines, multi-media displays or vibrant music will help carry the curious or creative energy outward, easily creating a theme or fabric for the school. By not paying attention to subtle matters as teacher placement or building design, an otherwise great, energetic teacher could end up on the outskirts of a structure where they struggle to be heard. If you’re interested in the importance of building design in thinking, read Sylvia Nassar’s account of the Rand Corporate building and its importance to creative thinking and problem solving – in the book A Beautiful Mind. I also recommend reading about “connectors” in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point.

As a test, let’s apply these concepts to something outside the typical business or organization – to the production of a musical. I recently played in the pit orchestra for Beauty and the Beast and had the opportunity to make some observations. Like a technician in a company, the musician executes their part according to the specific instruction of the composer and under the guidance of the conductor. He or she follows an unwritten code of conduct - communicating sometimes with the section leader but rarely (especially if one is not the section leader) interacting directly with the conductor, and almost never with the composer. The composer runs a dialogue in his or her head, but rarely communicates his or her ideas with the technician. I guess that would depend on the creative preference of the composer. Sometimes, self-absorption and inner-dialogue work best for the creative person, so you can’t really blame the composer.

Most would agree that the hierarchy of musical performance is important to delivering the intent of the composer …. but what if we were to open this up a bit? Author and consultant Peter Drucker observed the dangers of the assembly line worker more than 50 years ago, noting that it was important to keep control of the organization by following objectives, but to allow creative latitude by the employees (see the November 19th issue of the Economist). Reduce someone to the role of assembly line worker, without the opportunity to add their thoughts or creativity, and one has a recipe for fatigue and burn out.

In the case of the musical, to play the notes without interaction with the actors, composer, or writer is frustrating to a conceptual thinker. It would seem strange to set up meetings so that all these folks could communicate at some level, but think of all the possibilities! Players communicating with their section leaders, section leaders meeting with other section leaders, conductors meeting with producers and the occasional actor conversing with the orchestra might just lead to a great, energetic merger of all things creative and lead to a dynamic, finely tuned production! This is probably happening in many places but I have to wonder about of all these minds and talent operating in isolation and what comes to mind is the problem of autocratic rule. The trains run on time, but what do you really have?

A debate about this concept, according to Hardy, is now going on in the business community – between a general and specialized approach. The answer calls for conceptual thinkers who can see the value in both sides and ways they can integrate.

Here’s how that might work. Some individuals specialize in their departments to refine or explore something. They deliver their information to a “hub” where it is mixed and molded with what other specialists have discovered. Proximity, architecture and flow of information are all important here. The generalists work in the hub to mix, create new ideas and move the company or organization forward.

Writers and comedians have been successfully using this methodology for centuries, merging ideas to form larger concepts. Who hasn’t heard a joke starting out something like “a Priest, Rabbi and farmer walk into a bar.” The listener is already smiling because he or she can’t wait to see the result of this weird combination. Politics (avoiding polarization), system design, attitudes and architecture all play key parts in keeping ideas headed towards the hub. And, if allowed to take root, this movement could have major implications. By being aware of the phenomenon and respecting people with a “creative generalist” talent to see the method through, real change can happen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More on depression and creativity

Here is my response to the posted comment below:

Thank you for your comments, and sorry for the delay in my reply. The "fun" part is that I get to sometimes experience the matters that I write about. Hence, the lag time. I liked and agree with what you said - that depression (as well as other "disorders") can be a continual source of creativity and deeper thought. Speaking of which, if you get a chance, I recommend an article I saw recently in Atlantic Monthly concerning a new examination of President Lincoln's battle with depression. Had he not suffered from depression, the outcome of the war may have been different. Thanks for the book idea. I hope you'll return to the blog in the future.

Best wishes,

Lee

p.s. How did you come upon the site?

On Sunday, October 16, 2005, at 09:56AM,

A.B.

Dear Mr Chazen,

I enjoyed your though-provoking post. I think that in our pharmacuetically obsessed society, there is denial of natural human sadness --- and that perhaps depression need not bea "disease" but may be indeed about growth. I am now reading "Where The Roots Reach for Water"(North Point Press) by Jeffery Smith and I highly recommend it. And keep up the good work!

--Posted by A.B. to Right Brain World at 10/16/2005 09:56:01 AM

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Put Something on the Marquee

When I was in the student council in high school, one of my jobs was to publicize school events by putting announcements on the marquee (is that the right spelling?) out in front of the school. On one occasion, with the help of a friend, we put "something on the marquee," on the marquee. I think a total of three people got the joke.

Speaking of things from the past, I just found a bunch of old files from my high school teaching filing cabinet. I used to keep records of the hilarious or ridiculous things students would write or say. Here's a few samples:

"After the bomb was dropped, Japan understood that we were very mad."

Yes, using atomic weapons is a very good way to demonstrate anger. People really know how you feel when you do that.

"Adolph Hitler killed himself by committing suicide."

Personally, I've always found committing suicide to be one of the best methods of killing yourself.

One student was able to morph Ike Eisenhower with Albert Einstein in a clever way by saying "Albert Eisenhower was one of the smartest presidents we ever had," ... or words very similar to this. Man, I miss teaching.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Wanted: Right Brain Thinkers for Top Government Positions



On Friday night I wrote a blog entry, posted it, then took a break. I turned on the news and was reminded of the devastation and suffering. Being strongly affected by this, I went back to my computer and removed the blog entry. It just didn't seem appropriate.

It’s now a few days later, and I’ve decided that work needs to continue. If that work can get people to start being more critical and imaginative in their thinking, then all the better.

The 911 Commission Report(see section 11.1) attributed the failures of 911, at least in part, to lack of imagination. That's right. At the heart of our problem in the protecting of our homeland, is a lack of creativity. Yet, ask, anyone in the field of education how high creativity ranks in terms of federal and state priorities, and you will get some confused looks. It's right there in the report if anyone want to take a closer look. And now, in the wake of the disaster that swept through the Gulf Coast, we see a clear lack of imaginative and creative problem solving. The idea that a levee could break and flood New Orleans seemed to our government to be out of the realm of possibilities.

Abstracting this further, one could say that the standardization of education, the use of multiple choice testing and a lack of a push for creative and critical thinking in the classroom, has lead this country down a dangerous path.

I applaud the creative artists, teachers and thinking people who come to this site to read and share ideas, and I wish more people like this would rise to levels of importance in the country. It's clearly time that we open up the doors of bureaucracies and large, traditional institutions to more non-linear thinkers. More differently intelligent people need to be allowed in to the decision-making centers of this country.

The collective brainpower of Americans IS imaginable, and probably greater than any computer network in the world. That in mind, shouldn't someone be asking us, even challenging us to not only work harder, but to think more creatively and contribute collectively. If the government’s leaders would call upon scientists, academics, artists and other thinkers to rise up with solutions, they might just have responded with answers to a deteriorating levee system. A strong national leader would compliment and honor the talent of its citizens by asking such questions.

The President, just like a teacher, can and should be a facilitator of such action. In a classroom project that I administered over a seven-year period, I witnessed the benefits of bottom-up or “emergent” behavior. As I veered away from top-down control of my classes, students rose up to create rules, form groups and prepare for different scenarios. Feeling as though I had witnessed an exciting phenomenon, I dedicated my thesis research to the study of chaos and complexity theories as they relate to education. Conclusion: people, when given the opportunity and challenged from the top, can rise up from below, use their minds and achieve unimaginable results. A feedback loop is created. The teacher facilitates and the students respond with new information and directions. The teacher makes adjustments and responds back with new plans or instructions. The classroom becomes a living organism and both teacher and student benefit. This same kind of relationship can be formed between Dr. and patient, and yes, President and citizens!

The blogosphere, itself, is such an emergent tool. The other night, I watched Denzel Washington in The Hurricane. One thing struck me… when he went to write, he felt as though he was connected to all the other imprisoned writers in the world, i.e. Nelson Mandela, Huey Newton, etc; that they were rising up together, transcending their cells to become one voice, sending a strong message. The blogosphere can send that message, and can affect change.

Below, is the original post from last Friday. Some of the ideas therein can be used to get students (adults too) to think more creatively and critically.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Podcasting and "Wiki" Cities



The idea of someone still reading from a textbook to their classes has never seemed more distant, especially with all the exciting options now before us. I'm wondering if any student has actually said how much they prefer answering the questions at the end of a chapter -- to working on a project (embedded with content) that involves some form of technology. I recently came upon Dr. Bob Houghton's (of Western Carolina University) site. There, you can find all kinds of information about the educational possibilities of podcasting and "wiki" sites.

During Global Challenge (tm), I discovered that if information is "embedded" in the larger context of something fun or interesting, it will likely be more deeply absorbed. This does not mean that we shouldn't try to make content interesting in and of itself. Educators should. The idea of surrounding content in a larger framework suggests that one cannot always download or spoon feed tons of information down a student's throat. There tends to be a natural gag reflex. Podcasting, blogging, websites and wiki sites would add an interesting dimension to this game. A couple of ideas come to mind: Students possessing the nation of Djibouti could deliver a weekly radio address on the state of their nation. For a final project, students could summarize what they learned on a blog, and on that blog could be an interview or debriefing with fellow teammates or between opossing teams.

For more information on this "emergent" style of learning, please visit The Space Between Classes, workshops and tutoring are available to interested parties.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Right Brain Thinking is the Key


Writer Dominic Basulto says: "Investors in the U.S. tech sector, take note: in a global knowledge-based economy, the company with the better talent wins." With hope, corporate CEO's will realize that better talent also means more "right brain" thinkers. In this article, Basulto refers to Daniel Pink's new book "A Whole New Mind."

Friday, August 12, 2005

Creativity and Mental Illness

This is excerpted from a paper I wrote while attending graduate school in Chico, CA. I thought it might be helpful to the artist out there who wants to know more about the connection between depression (and other mental illnesses) and creativity. If the findings are correct, and the "mentally ill" have so much to offer, then what does this say about the treatment of this segment of society?

Consciousness, introspection, self-awareness, and abstract thinking have no basis in scientific measurement (Swerdlow, 1995). Science, however, seems to be heading in this direction. Humans have this need for explanation, and as such, we have discovered that the planum temporale in the left hemisphere, a part of the brain associated with auditory processing, is larger in musicians than in non-musicians, and is larger still in musicians with perfect pitch. Other research indicates that van Gogh may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, which triggered electrical hyperactivity of the brain (Swerdlow, 1995).

There are more recent cases which point to physiology as it effects the creative process. By the 1950’s, Howard Hughes had established himself as a filmmaker, inventor, designer, engineer, industrialist and businessman. By the 1970’s, he was said to be one of the most eccentric people in America, living in isolation, giving out strict orders to his staff on how to maintain cleanliness, once test landing a plane some five thousand times when only twenty or so was necessary, and generally living out a life of extraordinarily bizarre behaviors. Yet, no one questioned this, intervened or even insisted that he get help!! Why? Perhaps, they thought this was common for a creative genius, man of his caliber, or normal for the rich and famous to act peculiar. What we know now is that Howard Hughes was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (Osborne, 1998). PET scans reveal that the brain of someone suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder is overactive, particularly the section known as the caudate nucleus. The entire frontal cortex of a person with this condition literally lights up when compared to a person without the condition. The mental activity that made Hughes a great genius, was also slowly killing him.

What I have learned in my study of this disorder is that what makes some people crazy, can also make them creative, or great if they choose. Winston Churchill and Martin Luther, both great leaders in their time, suffered the effects of mental illness. Churchill had terrible depression and Martin Luther, though it wasn’t called this at the time, had obsessive compulsive disorder. Martin Luther was said to be scrupulous, literally asking for forgiveness more than twenty times a day for acts committed that day (Jamision, 1995). There is an endless list of people that I have read or heard about that suffered from mental illness and were also creative. Is there a connection?

It would be hard to imagine that there is not. The brain is acting in such a way as to stimulate thought, insight, imagination, excitement and emotion. What we do not manifest into some creative outlet is likely to take its toll in another equally profound way. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a doctor concerning his son and his son’s outrageous, counter productive behavior in my classroom. When we discussed the possible reasons, his answer was that his son acted this way, not because he meant any harm or disrespect, but because “his brain required it.” Acting out, creating, being weird, whatever we wish to call it is really the brain’s way of achieving the balance it needs.

Edward O. Wilson, in Consilience, discusses this very notion on the section involving dreaming. He reports that in a dream state, the person is really insane. What he means is that these images, thoughts, impulses, if occurring during a cognizant, awake state would classify any of us as insane. What is going on during one of these states is interesting. The amines that the brain normally produces – such as norepinephrine and serotonin run low. Wilson suggests that the brain, in a dream state, is compensating for low levels of these chemicals by producing fantastic images. Take this a step further and one can see why artists and creative people tend to be so depressed. They too are compensating. They want so badly to get out of this state and the only option is a creation of their own doing, something so amazing that it literally alters their brain chemistry! It would naturally follow that the deeper one feels depression the more creative they are apt to be. The "normal" nine-to-five crowd, to some, is uninspiring and unimaginative. Well, they don’t need to be. Their brains do not require it.

Julia Cameron (1992), in the Artist’s way, confirms this, though in a less scientific way. She says, that our brightest ideas are often “proceeded by a gestation period that is inferior, murky, and completely necessary.” People seeking to reach that perfect state of creativity toy with these brain levels, trying to find the perfect amount of sadness or joy or whatever emotion will propel their project to great heights of pure creativity. When such levels are insufficient, they turn to exercise, thrill seeking, or worse, coffee, tobacco, alcohol and worse yet, drugs. It is really a never ending battle for the perfect state of being, and the perfect state of creative contribution.

Spalding Gray (1985) writes about this in his cult classic, Swimming to Cambodia. As an actor in the movie The Killing Fields, he swore not to leave Thailand until he had achieved what he called the “perfect moment.” To paraphrase, the perfect moment was to him, that moment when everything came together, producing an amazing experience (Gray, 1985). This was the experience that one would remember most, the experience that would define the journey, the one to tell family and friends about. For Michael Jordan, it was important to leave basketball at the peak of his game, probably in a moment not too different from what Gray was writing about. Jordan, was in effect, the writer of the play on his life. As director, why not make it dramatic, thrilling, emotional, or even perfect?

Does this have implications for education? Without a doubt it does. Here we are, teachers directing students, literally taking away their control, their ability to form personal meaning and imposing, almost forcing content down their throats. Yet, we somehow expect them to learn from this?! Eric Jensen’s (1998) research in Teaching with the Brain in Mind would probably caution against this, noting that “emotion helps reason to focus the mind and set priorities. Many researchers now believe that emotion and reason are not opposites. For example, our logical side says, ‘set a goal.’ But only our emotions get us passionate enough even to care enough to act on that goal.” (Daniel Goleman, 1995) argues that emotions are equally important to basic logic when making a decision. Perhaps the answer to this is to allow the students more control in decision making, in personal choice making, not just at home but at school.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Disco Dave, the Freight Train and the Church



The week starts with anger over what was to be a beautiful concert. Imagine a full choir and orchestra playing beautiful music by Brahms and Beethoven in a cathedral. Everyone – a professional in attitude and appearance, ready to inspire and be inspired. Minds open, focused and ready to perform. Because of the sensitive acoustics of the church, every sound is amplified, so we will have to be careful and thoughtful with our volume. Then, the sound begins. Not the sound of the choir – not the sound of the delicate oboe, nor that of the violins, brass or soloists. The sound is that of a man in the pews whispering into his wife’s ear. He’s sitting there, one row removed from the French Horns (where I’m sitting) with his arm wrapped around his wife, not unlike a teenager in the back seat of a Plymouth Fury. His shirt, I noticed, was unbuttoned at least one button too many. Maybe they were going to a disco contest after leaving the church. “Get a room,” crossed my mind.

I thought, well, that’s nice, I can hear this guy, but I’m sure he’ll stop. I should also note that he’s within my peripheral vision, so in between the whispers, I can see him looking at his watch! Is he commenting on everything he hears? If he is, how can he listen in order to have things to comment on if he’s always talking? Well, then it must be about personal matters. “Honey, did you pay the Capitol One bill?” If it was consistent, like at the beginning and end of the piece, I could work that into the program mentally. But, it’s sporadic and the unique sound he’s producing is cutting through the music. The sound is unlike any of the instruments and voices and is starting to sound like a freight train to me. There’s a freight train running through this beautiful church! My concentration is off and I’m starting to get angry. I’m going to walk over to him any minute now. I’m going to tell the conductor to stop the concert. I’m going to walk over to this man and give him my horn, and ask him to help out, because I can’t concentrate! To paraphrase the commedian’s response to a heckler, “Sir, this is what we do. It’s what we enjoy. I don’t go over to State Farm or wherever you work, with a wooden ladle and a bowl of marbles, and mix them around while you’re working, do I!?” Imagine me going over to your desk at State Farm with my fictitious wife, Bunny. I’m dressed in, I don’t know, a spandex body suit, and with Bunny next to me, I stir the bucket of marbles every thirty seconds while you’re trying to conclude a transaction on hail damage. Psychologically, that might inflict the same kind of damage.

The second half starts, disco Dave, is back with his wife, the music begins, and ladies and gentleman, please open the church door and let the freight train back in again. It starts, and it cuts, sporadically, through every piece of music, all the way to the end.
There’s been a slight change in tonight’s program. In addition to the beautiful requiems, we would now like to add Marble Mixing in B flat major for wooden ladle, bowl of marbles and pan flute followed by Freight Train in G Minor, performed by Union Pacific railway and chamber orchestra. There’s a reason I don’t carry a sledge hammer. I relayed the story to my brother, who told me about Isaac Stern who performed in Sacramento a number of years back. In the middle of his concert, the popcorn eating and conversation got a little too loud for his taste - only he did not continue. He stopped and walked out, never to return again. What my band director in college used to say now makes perfect sense. The director told our wind ensemble to be quiet, because we begin in silence. After all, the painter would not begin painting his masterpiece on a smudged canvas, would he? A few years back, I would not have understood what Mr. Stern did that night in Sacramento, but it is now clear as dead silence is to me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Has anyone seen my stem cells?



Dear Best and the Brightest,

Well, a couple of days have now gone by since camp, and I've learned that there are things in the world besides stem cells. And you have to admit, is there really anything quite as nice as a “pluripotent” stem cell? Sure there's the adult stem cells, bone marrow and the possibilities of umbilical cords, but can we ever match the potential of the embryonic stem cell? Ah, but you say what of tampering with the creation of life, and I say excellent thinking, but what of the cells that get thrown out from the IVF clinics? My question is, where do they put them... you know, when they throw them out.... "say Jim, did you throw out the old bag of embryonic stem cells?” Answer: “No Irwin, trash day isn't until Thursday.” I mean, how does it happen? And speaking of the unknown, we’ve all heard of Milk of Magnesia. Do other things come from “Magnesia?” Can I get this in juice form, as in “juice of magnesia?” Maybe there’s a sandwich, like the “Chicken of Magnesia Sandwich.”

But, back to stem cells for a minute. Maybe we could have taken a filed trip to the nearest IVF clinic and asked the kind folks in the white lab coats how this really happens. You see, instead of having all the answers now, what we do have is much better questions, and that was the whole point. In the course of one very excellent week, we discovered the middle ground, which is all but lost in American politics and culture. The credit goes to you for your excellent analyses and discussion. I'm really proud of the progress everyone made during the week – to be able to learn the mechanics of formal debate and examine and form opinions about a complex scientific topic in one week is simply amazing!

I'm interested in getting your thoughts and opinions about camp, learning and the world, which is why I set up this blog. Please post your thoughts at this site. The blog is an empowering place, so get your ideas out there and the world can know that you have something to say too.

Though you came from different places in the world with different backgrounds and cultures, not a hateful word (to my knowledge) was spoken all week long. Thanks for your open mindedness. Thanks also for an inspiring week. Collectively, you have the brainpower to make great contributions and changes in the world.

Lee

p.s. I don't know yet, legally, if I'm allowed to offer any courses and private instruction to you (for those interested). There was some talk of doing this, but I'll have to find out first. When I do, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What is Consilience?

Originally written for EDTE 290 (Seminar for Culminating Experience, Dr. Kit Newman, CSUS)

Summary and Analysis of Consilience, by Edward O. Wilson.

In Chapter two of the book Consilience, biologist Edward O. Wilson explained the concept of the term “consilience” and proposed how we might begin to merge fields of study. According to Wilson, William Whewell first used the term in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences in 1840 and explained it as a “ ‘ jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.” Wilson went on to explain how we can make use of this philosophy to solve some of our current problems such as ethnic conflict, arms escalation, overpopulation, abortion, the environment and poverty. He proposed that we could better solve these problems by “integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities.” By taking this approach Wilson said diversity and depth of knowledge will increase and that “order, not chaos, lies beyond the horizon.” 

Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his books On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (1990, with Bert Holldobler) and has been a teacher at Harvard University. Consilience was both praised and highly critiqued when it was published in 1999.

Using Wilson and others as my guide, I propose that education can thrive on the “edge of chaos” (Wilson, p. 97). The classroom is, after all, an unpredictable environment, where agents of change and disruption threaten to overturn the imposing order at any given time. A student mood swing, an ADHD outburst, a students day dream, a drug problem, a recent fight at the school, overcoming peer pressure, distraction from noise, fluorescent lighting, confusion over subject matter, pressure to meet district and school standards all threaten to interrupt order, goals and academic progress. 

Then, along comes chaos theory, consilience, emergent behavior and creative problem solving. These all offer a solution. What I am suggesting is that we tap into this energy, and acting as a catalyst, put this organism into motion. Like the sending of an e-mail message, we write and structure it, and with the push of a button, send it on its way. Though there is a lot of activity there – the working of the computer, the use of language, the Internet, electricity, binary code, web servers, URLs, etc., the e-mail is sent and finds its recipient in seconds – making its way through the maze of cyberspace in what seems to be a miracle. 

Bloom, back in the 1950’s, would have probably agreed that the structured regurgitation of information may give us temporary order. But, in the long run, we end up producing automatons. Instead, I would argue, as Wilson does, that we begin to merge fields of study together, learn what we can from this new synthesis and apparent disorder, so that we can solve larger problems. 

For example, we create a problem based class, and look to student creativity to solve seemingly complex problems. As I will submit later, Global Challenge – a classroom microcosm – is one such way to put these theories into action.

Whether Wilson realized this at the time or not, he is suggesting or supporting some concepts that are very relevant to primary and secondary education. Often in his book, he uses the terms “conceptual unity,” the “communal mind,” and “microcosm” to explain his view of how things should come together. Later, he tackles the difficult topic of complexity or chaos theory. Further on, I will show how these theories should be connected to educational design.

Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1999.

From the second introductory page to the book: (condensed and paraphrased)

Wilson received his B.S. and M.S. in biology from the University of Alabama and , in 1955, his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard. He is the winner of the 1977 National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1990), the International Prize for Biology from Japan (1993), the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (1990) and the Audobon Medal of the National Audubon Society (1995).

Mixed Groups and Creativity

This is a paper I wrote for a graduate class at CSUS. Looking back on it, I realize this has implications for many things outside of just education or corporate settings. You could say we are an innovative nation despite our current polarization. I think this essay supports further research in chaos theory as it applies to education and other organizations.

Article Summary One
by Lee Chazen

for ED 250
Educational Research
Dr. Z. Davis
California State University, Sacramento


Team Performance and Satisfaction:
A Link to Cognitive Style Within a Process Framework
Min Basadur, Milena Head
Journal of Creative Behavior, Volume 35, Number 4 Fourth Quarter 2001

As a graduate student and developer of curriculum, I was interested to learn more about classroom and group dynamics. In particular, I hoped to find out more about how groups and individuals behaved based on configuration and program structure. The article in question addresses the need to understand this framework in a corporate setting. The rationale for the study was to see if heterogeneous teams, based upon different cognitive styles, produced more creative results when compared to a homogeneous grouping.

The study "investigates a different basis for creating diverse teams for improved performance. Rather than blending different personality types, the focus is on blending different cognitive problem solving process styles." The rationale, then, is clear and easy to understand. How do we structure better performing teams? With so much in our society (schools, corporations, organizations) dependent on group performance, a study of this sort seems timely and relevant.

The authors set out to find whether or not there was a "magical mix" of team members. Specifically, the experiment examined different configurations of groups - dividing MBA students into 49 teams of four members each. Teams were split into heterogeneous, widely dispersed groups (on one end of the spectrum) to homogeneous with three cognitive styles completely missing (on the other). In every category of assessment, it was determined that the heterogeneous team satisfaction was the lowest, but the hypothesis was proven correct: that the heterogeneous blend of Cognitive Problem Solving (CPS) performed better than the more homogeneous group.

The product produced by each team was evaluated using four criteria and rated by independent judges. An average was then created or calculated for this variable. The result was that "mean scores generally increased as teams became more heterogeneous."

The study was interesting, thorough and substantive. There are implications for organizations, corporations and educators. As I was reading this, the phrase "friction makes the pearl," came to mind. Though it is sometimes more difficult to work in a diverse group, the results can be so much more creative and thorough. The nature of democracy, for example, can pit many groups against each other (as in the case of Democrats and Republicans) and though it takes work to reach a consensus, that final conclusion is an interesting, synthetic, well-intentioned outcome.

The authors point out that a larger study of this type is needed, but this first step shows some interesting trends.

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