A timely question

2014 post

It’s time to end the old and begin the new!

But before we do, it's customary for some of us to review the last 12 months.

One way to do that is to reflect on instances in which we've changed our opinions on things of importance—a useful practice for anyone who wants to maintain an adaptive, creative mind (especially in a world where public discourse is increasingly dominated by folks expressing dumbed-down certainties). This is a question I introduced on the Tom Peters website six years ago (which was inspired by Edge.org): “In the last year, what have you changed your mind about?”

I’ll start by answering the question for myself—because, well, you’re not here. And I’ll begin with a small hedge: I can’t say I’ve done a complete 180º on the following subjects, but where I once stood firm I now have a question.

On the topic of team development, I've acquired some skepticism about the notion that imposing "creative constraints" on work teams—in the form of limited resources and, especially, tight deadlines—is the best way to ensure the most innovative problem-solving. (Marissa Meyer, reflecting the Silicon Valley philosophy, once said that "creativity loves constraints.") But as Harvard's Teresa Amabile and colleagues have written about, the kind of expansive, exploratory thinking that produces break-the-mold innovation is usually inhibited by time pressures. (See my earlier post on this, in which I show how The Beatles tried both approaches, knocking out the creative masterpiece Rubber Soul in a matter of weeks, but taking four months to produce the wildly experimental Sgt Pepper's.)

On the topic of education, I once believed that public schools in the US were getting worse over time—and failing badly compared to other nations. But I'm no longer convinced. First of all, a closer look at American test scores (such as ones by the National Assessment of Educational Progress) reveals significant gains in reading and math over four decades. As for how the US stacks up against other nations, it has never tested that well comparatively—going back to the 1960s—so that may not be predictive of anything. (A nation's productivity appears to have little to do with its test scores.) Also, many nations, like China, have developed a more competitive teach-to-the-test culture which rewards rote memorization to the detriment of independent thinking, risk-taking, and innovation. Could the American public school system—which is still relatively decentralized, which celebrates individual differences, and which encourages thinking for yourself—be the primary reason for the US leadership in the creative economy? (Of course there are many urban schools that are failing, but the solutions for that require more than educational reforms.) More on this in the future.

On the lighter side of life, I once thought the printing press was our greatest innovation—along with the wheel, the electric grid, and (yes) the pill. But now I'm inclined to give first prize to rock & roll. What other phenomenon has unleashed so much fun, passion, personality, creativity, and authority-averse defiance into the world? What other invention has liberated a sense of PLAY in so many millions of human beings? And in only 60 years! There isn’t a day or night that goes by when I’m not given an emotional jolt by the popular music I hear—which is always some derivative of the rock revolution that began in the mid-50s and went international a half-century ago (this very season!) with the advent of The Beatles.

So, from the entire staff at BLFR: May you have a new year full of mind-bending epiphanies and tectonic shifts of cherished beliefs!

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  1. 1. I've decided to stop teaching others to write and do more of it myself.

    2. I stopped kidding myself that I could make my mother happy.

    3. I'm not done growing yet. 54 is barely started. I could easily have another 40 years. I'd better make them good. I had settled into "this is who I am and what I do" more completely than I realized.

    Huh. they're all internal.

    Do I accept the existence of a universe outside my own head? Have I changed what I believe about anything external? I still believe in self-employment, not jobs. I believe that character counts for more than empirical knowledge. Still apolitical. Still think music is more important than most knowledge, and that good manners, kindness, and generosity are more important than education, financial status, or political correctness.

  2. Internal is fine. Re your #3, that's what this is all about. I wish more folks could confront the fact that they've essentially decided for themselves, "I'm done with growing; what I know is right." Or they're "growing" by collecting more and better evidence for what they already know.

  3. Yes, Chuck, Elvis, Richard, Buddy, and Jerry Lee et al. sowed the seeds that have fully sprouted in Ms. Cyrus. (I don't think I want to push that analogy much further.) Even more so once the Fabs upended the pop charts. Come to think of it, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released 40 years and one week ago—on Dec. 26, 1963. Some say that was the beginning of the revolution. For me that was 2.0.

    As for my staff, I can't say enough about the eight of them. Like Joel, they take their personal growth quite seriously. And they're so supportive, they give me the oxygen I breathe! (In fact, I could almost say they take my breath away.) They're house plants of course.

  4. when I mentioned this blog to Vince, he told me he had just made a list of a number of scientific theories of aging he had changed his mind about in the past year, based on new discoveries. Thanks for this post as it got me thinking of my own list which will include reclaiming my health and well-being. happy 2014

  5. " What other phenomenon has unleashed so much fun, passion, personality, creativity, and authority-averse defiance into the world? What other invention has liberated a sense of PLAY in so many millions of human beings? And in only 60 years! "

    The internet.

    Happy New Year to all the good folks on this site!

    1. Rock predated the Internet by nearly three decades and would carry on quite nicely without it (tho we would have to admit that the rock world would be impoverished by the absence of this blog, including the acerbic wit of its commentators). HNY back at ya, Mark.

  6. I closed my mouth and opened my eyes, ears, and mind last year to discover I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. Still a work in progress....

      1. I'll commit at this point to just THE "Dave Wheeler"...That "THE Dave Wheeler" is just what the posters say!

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