Slanted and Enchanted

One of the best things I like about Guy Kawasaki's book Enchantment is his take on scientists. They're good at understanding and describing the physical world. Human behavior? Not so much. He noticed as a young person that most 'expirements' involved bored undergraduates looking for a few dollars. More importantly, scientsts care about effect size: the difference between the control group and the experimental group. 

I was  thinking about this last week when I took a course on creativity that spent precious little time talking about the science of creativity. If you want to talk to scientists, you better have some facts to back up your plans. Not these guys. Instead of droning on about the number of patents created by students of this course, we spent a lot of time talking about framing problems. Or, reframing the problem, really. Get people to look at them in different lights. Like looking at problems from a variety of perspectives. Or, list the things you know about this problem and slowly take them off the board. Does that help you fix it? 

We played precious few role playing games during the two-day session, but the one that was interesting involved one person interiewing the other on how that person became an instructor for a group of elephant skydivers. What did I learn? Some people can suspend disbelief and talk a line of bull. Others are hardwired not to. For the purpose of the course, suspending disbelief is important for pushing together ideas. Ideas that may not sell right now, but they may spark other ideas from other people. Think Steven Johnson's theory that good ideas are built on a lot of existing parts. Once one idea is out there, he writes, really smart people can latch on to that and make it work in another realm.

In his book Where Ideas Come From, Johnson tells the story of post tsunami Indonesia, where baby incubators were necessary but in short supply. Always breaking, never having the right equipment, and even if you could get the right parts, nobody knows how to fix them. However, Timothy Prestero found that incubator parts weren't around, but people certainly had no problems getting their automobiles fixed. Soon enough the incubators were  running on car parts -- light bulbs and all. Lot's of replacement materials, and your mechanic could come and fix it. 

Another nice thing about the class is I get to bore my colleagues with aphorisms about "don't say 'but', say 'and.'" And play movies like this: 

For people who've worked in my library for a long time, and have had their ideas shot down in the past, change can be a hard thing to pull off. The people in my class -- spread out all over the organization and a few guests from the local community -- change was hard to do. They've been there before and were legitimately worried about being perceived as troublemakers or weirdos. 

I wonder, though, if being a good huckster has something to do with the ability to pull off change. You've got to sell other people on it, reminding the group at least five to seven times why change is necessary, according to some studies. Also, you've got to let people know what's in it for them. 

Who is going to do that better? A scientist or some bullshitter. I'll go with the latter.