My manifesto on art and life

My life is the sum of what I have created and what I will create.

If we judge everything we do as creative, we set our own bar for what we put out into the world.

Rather than setting goals, step back and evaluate what I am creating and what do I want to create. Creation is more than goals.

Collaborate with others because life is more interesting creating with people.

And more complicated.

Borrow and lend freely.

Success is judged by others. 

When I judge it myself I am mostly wrong.

How much do I care what others think?

Comparing to others limits creativity. 

All that really matters is what is left behind when I am no longer here.

My manifesto on art and life








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Innovative disagreement

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

– Rumi


The debate raging about what constitutes a healthy diet can be confusing for those of us in the dangerous position of having only a little bit of knowledge.

Professor Tim Noakes, a top rated scientist who has a lifetime achievement award from the National Research Foundation for his pioneering work in sports science, has in the past year weighed in against the establishment by challenging the so called “balanced diet” or “food pyramid” as is popular in the United States.

At the December 2012 University of Cape Town centenary debate entitled “Cholesterol is not an important risk factor for heart disease and current dietary recommendations do more harm than good”, a lively and sometimes confusing battle of the scientists raged between Dr Jacques E Rossouw and Prof Noakes.

I was struck by the shrugs and sighs and comments passed under people’s breath throughout the debate. Clearly many of the audience were colleagues from the medical fraternity and while it seemed only a few were supportive of Noakes’ views, the overriding feeling coming out of the debate was frustration and exasperation. When the moderator of the debate, Prof Jimmy Volmink, the Dean of the medical school concluded the evening by insinuating that Noakes was essentially a “bullshitter”, I wondered whether there was a more creative way to move beyond bitter and sometime acrimonious disputes of science.

The answer may lie in an approach from Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

One of the most influential scientists in his field, he has had his fair share of conflict with people who disagree with the work he is doing. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow he says, “On a few occasions I have responded to criticisms that I thought were grossly misleading, because a failure to respond can be interpreted as conceding error, but I have never found the hostile exchanges instructive. In search of another way to deal with disagreements, I have engaged in a few “adversarial collaborations,” in which scholars who disagree on the science agree to write a jointly authored paper on their differences, and sometimes conduct research together. In especially tense situations, the research is moderated by an arbiter.”

He goes on to say, “My most satisfying and productive adversarial collaboration was with Gary Klein, the intellectual leader of an association of scholars and practitioners who do not like the kind of work I do. They call themselves students of Naturalistic Decision Making, or NDM, and mostly work in organisations where they often study how experts work.” The NDMers adamantly reject the approach that Kahneman’s takes to the area of intuition accusing him of being too focused on failure and influenced by artificial experiments rather than the NDMers approach of studying actual people.

With the battle lines similarily drawn, adversarial collaboration would seem to me to be a constructive and creative way to move the debate on diet forward.

In the case of Kahneman and Klein above, their joint paper in American Psychologist (Sep 2009) is entitled, “Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree”. Exploring the field of intuition (the type covered by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink) the abstract lays out their approach.

This article reports on an effort to explore the differences between two approaches to intuition and expertise that are often viewed as conflicting: heuristics and biases (HB) and naturalistic decision making (NDM). Starting from the obvious fact that professional intuition is sometimes marvelous and sometimes flawed, the authors attempt to map the boundary conditions that separate true intuitive skill from overconfident and biased impressions. They conclude that evaluating the likely quality of an intuitive judgment requires an assessment of the predictability of the environment in which the judgment is made and of the individual’s opportunity to learn the regularities of that environment. Subjective experience is not a reliable indicator of judgment accuracy.

Could Professor Noakes jointly write a paper on the subject with one of his adversaries. I believe this would offer an opportunity for much learning both by those involved and by the rest of us interested in the debate. It would also confirm my hunch that while there are differences, there are also many areas of agreement.

Disagree and move the debate forward










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Great questions

The best questions are those that don’t have an answer.

If the question is all over with a quick answer consisting of a word or two then we have missed the opportunity to ask a great question. Great questions allow us to grapple with big ideas. Ideas that make a difference. Complex and strategic ideas.

Great questions can change everything. They get us to reconsider, to ponder and to grapple with our existing thoughts. They can be the small lever that makes a big change in how we approach our challenges. 

They sometimes make us feel uneasy, they could even be unsettling.

In the end though, a great question will always come through, delivering rich and useful insights.

Pondering great questions can change everything

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It’s always more complex

At the start of a new project we are always unrealistic about what needs to be done.

The reason for this is that we cannot think about all the steps that are required to create our new offering. The gap between the theoretical project and the actual project is always bigger than we think, and more complex.

Much of the complexity is caused by too much activity or information. When we think strategically about our project we can simplify things by forcing our thinking into a sharp yet detailed picture of the future. This way we focus our minds and keep unneeded items out of the way.

A tool like can help you to sharpen your thinking. By answering a few open questions about what you want, you are quickly presented with a strategy that makes sense to all involved.

If you ask your partners to also complete a 1strategy, in a few minutes you can check that you are all on the same page.

1strategy net to create your strategy on one page





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Two types of learning

In the one type of learning we get exposed to some facts and we need to repeat them back to prove we know them.

This is useful for an ever decreasing number of activities.

In the past we would value someone who could repeat a lot of facts.

Today recognition has moved to the person who can synthesise a lot of facts and make sense of them. We no longer need to remember any fact because they are all only a Google away.

Synthesis is a different type of learning and is required today even for young children.

Think back to what you learned at school. What can you recall? Maybe a handful of the thousands of facts that you knew at the time of your tests and exams.

More valuable than the facts are the techniques you learned for finding the facts and for relating facts to real world applications. This is synthesis.

Remembering facts requires you to have a good memory.

Thinking strategically requires you to be good at synthesis.

If you re-read the first sentence it really sounds preposterous doesn’t it?

Synthesis learning













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Finding Sugarman – Finding Ourselves

The Oscar nominated film Searching for Sugarman is profound on many counts.

Besides the heartfelt story and poetic music that I grew up to, it is a good balancing message for the Malcolm Gladwell / personal development pundits who say that once you do your 10,000 hours all will be ok.

Well actually it is not ok. Proclaimed by many as an equal of Bob Dylan, Sixto Rodriguez’s music didn’t sell. With no future as an artist he gave up that career returning to manual labour as a construction worker.

He spent years in the wilderness far away from the world of music. Then two curious fans wondered how it was that half a million of his albums had sold in South Africa (population then of 40 million) and yet he was unknown in his own United States. They tracked him down and reunited him with his fans.

Now his story is growing in popularity along with his music. He has concerts scheduled across the world. His fame is a result of actions far beyond his control and unrelated to the quality of his art.

The message is that art should not be done for the audience but rather done as an expression of ourselves. If the audience responds then brilliant, if not just carry on.

We are moving away from the industrial age labour of the office cubicle. Today the world values the individual art of entrepreneurs and those of us prepared to break out of how work has been defined for the past century.

This shift makes the story of Rodriguez probably one of the most valuable of our time.

Quotes from Time magazine interview with Sixto Rodriguez (28th January 2013)

Time: I’m guessing you’re not doing much demolition any more?

SR: I was doing demolition yesterday. I’m renovating my home.

Time: You’re doing your own demolition? At 70?

SR: I live below my means. I think that’s a good discipline because you never can tell. I’m not an ascetic. I just think that’s wiser.

Full interview  

The original Sixto Rodriguez album Cold Fact - Only sold in South Africa












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Creation and destruction

A friend told me once how in one night vandals destroyed six months of building work at the house he was building.

Creativity in business is similar to this. New ideas that take a lot of risk, vulnerability, hard work and commitment can be destroyed in seconds.

Typical approaches to idea destruction are:

  • Comparing new ideas to failed old ones
  • Trying to get a fixed answer about the risks of the new idea
  • Trouble shoot the proposal to find all potential faults

We have to think differently to foster idea creation. Especially if we want to turn those ideas in innovation.

New ideas are like newborn babies. They are vulnerable. Like a baby, they need nurturing, support, flexibility, love and care. Most important they need the right space to grow.

It is far easier to destroy something than it is to create. Make space for the creators so that their ideas can grow.

Vandalism kills creative ideas








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Making something outa nothing

I tweeted a quote I saw earlier today from Theodore Levitt the American economist. He said, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing them.”

It made me think of Outa Lappies,  the ingenious artist who lived outside Prince Albert for many years before dying in July 2011. I remember Outa (his real name Jan Schoeman) telling me that he liked to make something outa nothing. His art would consist of unusual and original creations made from pieces of glass and tins that he collected from peoples waste. What most people regarded as having no value, he would create into something of value. You can read more about Outa in the Karoo Places article.

Then this story of the Landfill Harmonic came across my desk and I was touched by the resourcefulness of the children living on a landfill in Paraguay who make music using instruments built from the trash.

Perhaps facing less choice makes it easier to walk out the door and innovative.  

Outa Lappies from near Prince Albert













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PS and PPS on failure

Two quotes I omitted from the previous post on failure – JK Rowling (Harry Potter) and Steve Jobs (that fruit company 😉 on their failures:

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  

– J. K. Rowling

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life”

– Steve Jobs in his Stanford commencement speech

JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame and Steve Jobs from Apple






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