Monday, July 31, 2006

Where Do Finance and Art Overlap?

A very smart acquaintance called David Neubert posted a piece on behaviorial finance. The creative aspects to financial effectiveness echo interviews from the financial services world, and it makes me wonder: if finance is really primarily a creative business, why are artists usually at the bottom of the economic ladder?

Going Backward to Move On: Finance, Art, and Some Common Ground

Part of what some in artificial intelligence call "ontological commitments" -- the decision by an individual or group about the meaning and priority of a particular concept, word, or behavior -- include assumptions that are either implicit or explicit. In other words, every situation or statement constitutes a set of arguments, most of which are invisible.

Where Does This Come From?

Academics know this sort of framework as social constructivist thinking. Theater people reveal it through defamiliarization. The Russian Formalists and eighteenth-century thinkers also explored these concepts.

However, no matter what you call it, this was discussed as early as Plato. Just one more example of how language divides thinkers and requires that people in each century and discipline reinvent the wheel.

An Example: Ontological Commitments and Entailments, Arguments and Assumptions

It's not an accident that many office buildings have lobbies that dwarf those who walk through them. The design was conceived to assert the argument that those in the building are powerful and outsiders should feel intimidated. The assumptions -- or entailments -- of such architecture are implicit. You can find these attempts to intimidate credible or not. Usually once revealed, the argument loses much of its effectiveness.

And buildings designd to dwarf have been around forever. Think of how you feel entering a cathedral, hallways in grand houses, or any palace in Europe or Asia. Those people knew what they were doing.

Back to David Neubert and Finance

My question to David is this: what are the overlaps between the creative processes that artists use and those that are used in successful financial transactions? My challenge is how can they be articulated so that people in each discipline understand the processes of the other?

Here's an Idea

David has considered teaching a course for artists and writers about finance. If you're interested, send him an email on his board. What if he doesn't charge for the class but in return is able to create a book out of the class's experience? If each creative person records expectations, surprises, frustrations and so on throughout the course, wouldn't that go a long way toward developing a common vocabulary?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

James W. Pennebaker and Thinking Across Contexts

Jack Park sent me a link this morning to James W. Pennebaker's site. I've heard of Pennebaker as an influential pyschologist and researcher but had not got around to reading his work.

Among other things, Pennebaker explores the meeting points among language, identity, perception, and the world outside our heads. Jack would call these "entailments" or underlying assumptions and connections with which any statement (or what Jack would call "ontological committment") is burdened. I think of them similarly but used in my classroom the language of theater and convention.

The implications of Pennebaker's work reinforce the need I've been banging on about for excellent writing teachers. As a developmental tool, writing not only allows others to know what we think and whether or not we're persuasive (in business or elsewhere) but allows us to see whether we're bluffing or not (both in the context of our own argument and in others' responses).

Writing forces us to think across contexts because in each instance we tell stories (see Jack's augmented storytelling). In that sense, the story determines the character that tells it, and the effective writer can move emotionally, intellectually, and empathically -- sometimes in a fashion that seems automatic. By breaking down these characters, the conventions to which they are attached, and what they leave out, it's possible to reveal the arguments upon which every situation relies for credibility.

Writing offers a context in which we can innovate as much when we write as when we read. Furthermore, excellent writing is the result of developing innovative skills --of identifying our own curiosity, credibility, creativity, and the ability to persuade. If you can do it for multiple audiences and causes in writing, you can do it anywhere. Some people can talk a good line in every day language and not be able to put it down on paper. It's rarely the other way.

Last, Pennebaker begins to offer tools that seem credible to those who find value in measuring things for business and academic contexts. It takes writing out of the realm of the woo woo and creativity as a singular quality and clarifies the importance of rigorous analysis.

Friday, July 21, 2006

More TED Talks

Continuing from the last post, for those of us who have not had the opportunity to attend TED in person, many of the talks have been made available online this year. Such generosity seems more in the spirit of TED than any one of the talks themselves -- or of all of them combined.

For more insights across disciplines, check out their website.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sir Ken Robinson: Out of Our Minds

Sir Ken Robinson is perhaps one of the most creative and effective speakers on issues of innovation in business. Not surprising that he has done a lot of work with children and education to find out where grown-ups come from. He's not to be missed.

Still, I think his definition of creativity needs both some breaking down and some expansion to be both approachable and more scalable. Creativity, as I've posted, is the ability to learn continuously across contexts. It's the ability to identify where meaning resides across situations, both for you and for others, and to respond effectively (in whatever sense that accomplishes your goals). This also can be broken down into sustainable tasks. But see past posts for that.

The TED Conference has made available some of the presentations from this year, and Sir Ken was one of the speakers. For those who haven't heard him speak in person, here is a great sample of his very smart work.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Power Point: Too Often a Misnomer

If there's one thing every English teacher emphasizes other than good grammar, it is that sounding out the details of an outline -- AS an outline -- will put just about anybody to sleep.

So why, all these years later, do business people focus meetings around reading off Power Point slides? Did nobody go to high school?

Identifying the Unique Qualities of A Medium

With a theater background, I started working on the Web because I didn't understand why professionals in 1990s (yes, late adopter, me) were not taking advantage of its value as a performance and interactive medium.

From a theater perspective, it's a lot like putting talking heads onstage with no movment or change -- why not just turn on a television?

On the Other Hand

Power Point can be used creatively and with excellent performance value. For those who want an excellent example, please check out this one on Identity 2.0.

Nancy White points out that Dick Hart's style seems a lot like that of Lawrence Lessig's and that it could old very quickly. Still, it's a good example of ways in which the unique properties of power point should be developed if presentations are going to continue to rely on the medium.

How effective could a speaker be if (s)he continued to find approaches not yet considered?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

First in Class: (How) Do Americans Think About It?

I started this blog to explore creativity and silos -- how conversations stop when language changes, how language-related expectations define status, and how such issues divide groups who could learn from each other. The idea is to explore the connections among silos, show boundaries that we think of as inpenetrable to be transparent.

If it's a commonplace to say that no idea is entirely new, then it stands to reason that the more we can learn from each other, the less frequently we have to reinvent the wheel.

What Exactly is a Class Act?

Going back to a post from a week ago, I've been considering the issue of class in America when it comes to analyzing data and theorizing about trends.

Notes from a Barbecue

On July Fourth, I raised the question of Jay Goldberg and his friend Howard Globus as we gathered at the house of David Spector (one of Wall Street's earliest Internet innovators and entrepreneurs) and Michelle Smith (ex-software developer, currently social worker-in-training).

Howard (whose last name I don't know) suggested that money and education will change your class in the right combination, but it's really civility that sets the classes apart. After all, we consider well brought-up children to be those who shake hands, send thank you notes, open doors for others (particularly boys for girls or for those in need of help), and so on. Those who lose with dignity are said to "show a lot of class." So is class determined primarily through one's code of manners?

But Then, What of Background?

In England, if you are Jews, a people of color, or anyone else that could be seen as "unEnglish" is considered outside the class system entirely. And in the US, such people would probably never be admitted to the Daughters of the American Revolution or exclusive clubs. Where does all this fall into the mix?

Another Idea

Jay Goldberg offered a compelling point to this argument. In the US, we're inventing ourselves at every minute in a way that is not possible in countries with longer histories. Class is part of this. Jay suggests that class comprises the expectations that others have of one and how one sets those up. In other words, if you can fit in through manner, dress, education, background or whatever conventions constitute that class, you become part of it.

This, of course, doesn't solve the problem of acknowledging the specifics of class in American trend projection. We're more like a group of countries than one nation, and geography needs some discussion in terms of identity as well.

And what of the Digital Divide?

Mario Gastaldi wrote to me with an interesting point. It sounds obvious, but it's worth saying: although technology can be a great leveler, it's also tremendously divisive in terms of opportunity. The Digital Divide in schools is a big issue, but we rarely discuss it in terms of business. How can it be factored into conversations about American trends by people like Linda Stone? She's brilliant, no question, but there's still more to be said.

This, of course, only begins a conversation. All further thoughts are welcome -- and appreciated.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

CTC Attendees Respond: Measuring Results

I've got quite a lot of positive feedback on the my suggestions for redesigning the Collaborative Technologies Conferences. The only name I'll mention is Ken Thompson because he has a suggestion for meausring the conference's success. Seems like a good way to end this series on CTC.

Ken said:

I think you are on to something here

"What if a presenter were paired up with a vendor and told to make the presenters' ideas work with the tool? What kinds of new ideas might emerge, and what could be learned by those presenting and the sessions' participants?

Or what if vendors worked with presenters or read up on their ideas, and their demonstrations in the "vendor room" were geared around the sessions?

Either way, these practices would eliminate the sense that vendors are only there to sell -- and a hard separation between technologies on display and the processes they are supposed to enhance.

What if a presenter were paired up with a vendor and told to make the presenters' ideas work with the tool? What kinds of new ideas might emerge, and what could be learned by those presenting and the sessions' participants?

Or what if vendors worked with presenters or read up on their ideas, and their demonstrations in the "vendor room" were geared around the sessions?

Either way, these practices would eliminate the sense that vendors are only there to sell -- and a hard separation between technologies on display and the processes they are supposed to enhance."

Imagine 2 axes of outcome from a conference

On X-axis we plot 'learning gained' (1-10)

On Y-axis we plot 'networking achieved' (1-10)

What did people get out of CTC?

Me - My Role was Team Coach/Technologist - I got (3,6)

What about you?

We could talk about the different styles of conference and getting clarity on peoples learning objectives for their roles before they attend.

CTC organizers, what think you? Any other ideas?

More from other CTC attendees at their Wiki -- I'd link directly, but you need to register.