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23 MAY, 2011

Little Bets: A New Theory of Creativity and Innovation

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What Chris Rock has to do with Steve Jobs, Stanford and the secret of cross-disciplinary creativity.

Innovation theory is great, but the dangerous disconnect there is that no matter how compelling the ideas, theses and arguments, we often fail to make the leap between how this theory both applies to our everyday real-life experience and is a reflection of the everyday experience of real-life innovators. This disconnect is exactly what Peter Sims’ addresses in his excellent new book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries — a fascinating, eloquent and rigorously rooted in reality exploration of the creative process in innovaton. At its heart lies the concept of the “little bet” — a small, low-risk action taken to discover, develop and test an idea, a potent antidote to some of innovation and creativity’s greatest obstacles: perfectionism, risk-aversion, endless rumination.

The seed of this book was planted while I was attending Stanford Business School. One of the most common things I would hear people say was that they would do something new — take an unconventional career path or start a company — but that they needed a great idea first. I had worked before then as a venture capital investor, and in that work, I had learned that most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas — they discover them.” ~ Peter Sims

From how Chris Rock crafts new comedy routines with small audiences to hone his delivery to how Amazon’s Jeff Bezos extracts insights about opportunities from smaller markets, Sims enlists an incredible range of creative, strategic and business innovators to illustrate how “little bets” work — architect Frank Gehry, Twitter founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey, musician John Legend, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, companies like Pixar, Google, General Motors and many, many more — swiftly swaying from psychology to business strategy to neuroscience to theory of mind and just about everything in between.

Lucky people increase their odds of chance encounters or experiences by interacting with a large number of people.

And since we’ve already established how much I love book trailers, it’s worth noting Little Bets gets bonus points for this one:

More than anything, Little Bets is a living testament — the opposite of a fluff-lined “manifesto” — to the power of life experience in innovation, of insights and principles and creative codes developed through years of being intellectually and creatively active, curious, and awake in the world, rather than staring at the PowerPoint slide on the screen of an MBA lecture hall. And what makes the “little bets” approach most noteworthy is that it applies to anything from artistic endeavors to policy to social entrepreneurship to real-time media and beyond.

One of the things that constantly surprised me was how many similar approaches and methods spanned across the vastly different fields. Story developers at Pixar, Army General H.R. McMaster, a counterinsurgency expert, and Frank Gehry use the same basic methods and of course make lots of little bets. They even use similar language and vocabulary – like “using constraints’ or ‘reframing problems’– but they all learned their approaches through their experiences, not in school. General McMaster may have said it best when he said that the parallels between these very different experts were ‘eerie.’” ~ Peter Sims

Part Spark, part Making Ideas Happen, part something else entirely, Little Bets is one of the most compelling journeys into the roots of creativity to come by in a long time. Amazon has a fantastic, revealing Q&A with Sims that will give you a taste of this gourmet meal from the kitchen of true innovation.

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23 MAY, 2011

Cement Eclipses: Tiny Street Art Sculptures by Isaac Cordal

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What tiny people have to do with the sleepwalking hypnotism of urban routine.

I love the work of London-based street artist Isaac Cordal, whose makes big social commentary by way of street art sculptures with tiny human figurines. Since 2006, Cordal has been placing minuscule cement pieces on streets, sidewalks, walls and other corners of the city across Europe, exploring “the voluntary isolation of human beings” from nature. Cement Eclipses is a beautiful new 256-page anthology of images from the project, many never-before-seen, offering a thoughtful look at his tiny-big gifts to the public and inviting an exploration of their meaning in a sociocultural context.

Cement eclipses is a research project of urban space that runs between the fields of sculpture and photography. The sculpture is used as a starting point and photography as a witness to the execution of installations for later viewing or exhibition.” ~ Isaac Cordal

My favorite has to be this piece titled Sleepwalker, which adds to the come-hither allure of the tiny scale the ephemeral mystery of playing on shadow:

Vulnerable and expressive, the vignettes in Cement Eclipses are as much a conversation about solitude as they are an invitation to examine our role as citizens and fellow human beings in a shared urban reality.

via Colossal

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23 MAY, 2011

Egypt in the Early 1900s: Rare Vintage Lantern Slides

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What sunset on the Nile has to do with landmark innovation in photographic imaging.

The lantern slide — a transparent image on glass that was magnified and projected onto a surface using a sciopticon “magic lantern” — came of age shortly after it was first introduced by Philadelphia daguerreotypists William and Frederick Langenheim in 1849. The lantern slide greatly broadened the audience for photography, then still a young art, introducing it into academia and the cultural institutions of the day by allowing teachers and museum curators to illustrate their lectures and presentations with projected images.

We’ve seen an heard a lot about Egypt this year, in light of the recent political turmoil. We’ve even had some remix fun with it. (In a no-laughing-matter kind of way, of course.) But beneath what has turned into a highly politicized media talking point lies a remarkable, dignified country full of beauty and tradition. Much like last week’s rare and fascinating look at vintage Japan aimed to rekindle the respect for and fascination with a culture consumed by the recent tragedy and subsequent media coverage, today’s look at these breathtaking vintage lantern slides from Egypt is very much an invitation to take a look beyond the veil of immediacy and revel in the inherent beauty of this land, courtesy of Brooklyn Museum’s fantastic archival lantern slide collection.

Egypt: Partly submerged palms above Nile dam, Upper Egypt

Copyright, 1908, by Stereo-Travel Co. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arab water-carrier girls

Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Policeman, Cairo

Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

Egypt: Camels, desert.

Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Donkey and Cart, Kasr-en-Nil

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street, New York. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arab porters, Alexandria

Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Donkey Boy, Cairo

This slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Buffalo Market, Gizeh

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street, New York. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arabian Horse and Sais, Cairo

This slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Hooper. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Pyramids of Dashur from Sakkara

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street. Hooper. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arabic Window and Native Bazaar, Cair

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Pompey's Pillar, Alexandria

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Sunset on the Nile

Brooklyn Museum Archives

For another perspective-shift on this fascinating culture, don’t forget last week’s Cultural Connectives — an inspired effort to better understand Arab culture through typography.

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