A World Of Readers, Thinkers, And Sleuths

“Let your mind wander through time and space, and follow its trail with curious grace.”

With regards to reading books, I’ve gone through several phases in my life. I enjoyed them as a young kid, then hated them in middle school, and was swamped by them in high school. I read mostly magazines and equations in college. But in grad school, I learned to find time for books outside of class and homework, and began understanding them more clearly. And now, well, I don’t really have a definition for it… but I’ll try.

I love books. I absolutely love books and I think they love me. Old books, new books, bright books, dusty books, hardcovers, paperbacks, biographies, picture books, ones with funky-looking text, ones with big characters, cookbooks, humorous musings, philosophical contemplations, new takes on old theories, old takes on novel wonders, manuscripts, adventures, essays, creative ramblings, confessions, ones with good names, and especially the nameless ones. There are so many books to love, and I love them all. I love that I can love them all. They are there for me when I want them and there for me when I don’t want them. I can read when I’m happy, read when I’m sad, read when I’m puzzled, or read when I’m mad. I don’t have a deadline for a book and I’m not tested when I’m done with it. I can pick it up when I want, and can forget about it if I want to do that too.

The book store is one of my favorite places. I really can’t believe how many books have been written. These are the words and thoughts of people from all over the world, on all types of topics, in a sometimes-organized-often-disorganized effort to better understand our world. These are the words of the millions of deceased – those that saw what I could not see – and willingly tried to explain it to a world of readers with whom they have no acquaintance.

It’s also funny that book stores are categorized, because the case can be made to fit any book under a thousand headings. That being said, I’m always surprised at how well most authors can maintain the scope and focus of a single book. I find my mind wandering constantly and, as a result, feel that this is the natural way for me to write and express my thoughts and feelings. Scope and focus are nice if and only if scope and focus are how you feel you can best express your thoughts and feelings to the world.

With that in mind, let me express a small array of thoughts:

1. Books, and literacy in general, provide a channel through which we all can better understand the world in which we live.

2. Reading and embracing books at a young age (including picture books) fosters creativity, analytical thinking, and a drive for discovery and understanding.

3. No book is a bad book, and everyone is an author. We all have something to say, and everything said is worth a read.

4. Writing and reading enables self-realization coupled with the ability to wear other people’s shoes. Books connect and network our planet – the living, the dead, and the unborn.

Lastly, I want to quickly describe a couple web resources that help organize that which we read while making it a most economical endeavor. Aside from all the free content I can get from the web, these are a few of the mechanisms I use to discover, monitor, research, and purchase books:

  • Amazon – I use the built-in “Wish List” feature to maintain a collection of every book in which I’ve had some interest in purchasing or researching more. The Amazon iPhone app is also great – for adding books to the wish list and even purchasing books within a few clicks. I’ll usually walk around the book store, find a title I like, read the front/back covers, flip through a few pages, then look it up right away on the Amazon iPhone app, read some reviews, and either add it to my wish list or immediately purchase a used copy (for around 1-50% of the in-store/new price). Amazon itself is also a fantastic place to find similar books, related but higher-rated books, or books on any other random topic in which you might have a short- or long-term interest.
  • Google Books – I use a lot of Google products because I like having many dimensions of my life synced in the cloud under my one Google profile. Google Books is another one of these and is where I keep track of what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read. I can read reviews (including those from Amazon), write reviews, add personal notes, and even read excerpts (if not all) of the book online. A very nice online, personal library.

That’s about it for now. Love books. Read books. Write in your books. Share them with others. Talk about your books. Recommend your favorites. Have fun with them!

The Intersection Of Expertise

As I begin my job search (25 applications in 2 days so far!) I keep asking myself how to describe what I’m looking for in a job and in what realm do I wish to work? There is no specific job title that describes my experience and education (e.g. “doctor” or “software engineer”) and there is no one department in which I’ve worked or wish to work (e.g. “Operations” or “Logistics” ). Yes, I have an academic background in mathematics & statistics yet it’s difficult to communicate why I have that academic background. I do not necessarily want to become a statistician but rather I fully understand the quantitative nature of things and the power that numbers, math, and quantitative methods have in all aspects of business, government, and life.

So where does this leave me? Well, unemployed and confused, for one. But that’s okay with me. I’m confident that with my capabilities, no matter how hard they may be to communicate in an application or even to a recruiter, I’ll find the position that leverages my abilities and motivation.

That being said, I think I’m at least getting close to describing where I stand, and in real-world terms. It’s at an intersection of sorts – between quantitative methods, scientific and technological realms, and the human element. It’s interdisciplinary – can fit within any group or team or stand alone as an independent researcher or consultant. It’s also dynamic – parallels the speed with which modern business operates and the flexibility required to optimally support the needs and requirements of many types of personnel.

I’ve used a similar image a few times, in posts on knowledge innovation and math in 2010 and beyond. Here I’ve intersected three main topics while including some of my strengths in the middle. Now if I could only match those to a job title…

At what intersection do you operate?

shapes and squiggles

Armed with a pencil and paper, you can simplify about 99% of the world’s problems.

Despite a couple decades of extra-substantial technological growth, there are two things that can never be replaced: the pencil and paper. For the toughest analytical challenges, only so much can be done computationally to simply and digest such problems. For these challenges, the solutions should start with a pencil and paper.

The first step in breaking down a problem is the conversion of the problem from the brain’s three dimensional space to a the two dimensional space of paper. In mathematics, there are several examples of such similar breakdowns: matrix decompositions, polynomial factorizations, projections, transforms, etc. The breakdown is necessary to see things in a new light, a simplified light, and a light that otherwise may not have been turned on.

Step 1. Grab a pad of paper. Do not put boundaries on where you can write and draw.
Step 2. Grab a pencil. Sharpen it and keep the pencil sharpener close.

So now that we have pencil and paper in hand, what do we draw? Well here’s my point. There is a geometric toolbox that provides a valuable framework for the problem solving environment. These are the shapes and squiggles.

1. Matrices

Two-by-two matrices are especially valuable for initial sorting of qualitative data. Assign a binary variable to each axis, name the cells, and define the relationships. Categorizing concepts and attacking each cell independently can help find hidden relationships and provide insight for subsequent analyses. See my previous post on matrix power for more on matrices.

2. Graphs

For more quantitative and scaled concepts, draw a set of axes to start. Visualize relationships between variables by drawing lines or curves and then attack each extremum and graphical sector. Plot knowns and/or hypotheticals on the graph and decipher the meaning of specific coordinates. Jessica Hagy’s blog ‘Indexed’ is a good example of translating mind to graph.

3. Lists and Mind Maps
The proper organization of information is often the most valuable visual tool in solving complex problems. Of course there are technologies to assist in the visualization and organization of information (mind maps, spreadsheets, etc.) but it’s important to use pencil and paper as the primary stepping stone to using some software/web app. Check out a mind map on different mind mapping software and a post on five great uses of mind maps.

4. Circles

Circles have shape and have a shape that is unique. They overlap well, fill space comfortably, and are easy for the human mind to spatially interpret. Eulerian circles (or Venn diagrams) are the simple example of circles put to use on paper for analytical means. There are several other adaptations of circles for comparative reasoning, such as with GL Hoffman’s “gruzzles”.

5. Doodling

The mind works in mysterious ways. Drawing without bounds can release otherwise inexpressible thought. There’s the somewhat structured doodling such as with UI mock-ups, schemas, and decision trees, and very unstructured doodling that might look like an impossible maze of dots and lines. The importance lies in the fact that your brain knows most about the problem, and the pencil is driven by the brain. Any new representation put forth on paper, by your brain, is a new representation of that problem not previously seen. In other words, “doodling allows the unconscious to render in symbolic expression”.

The shapes and squiggles live on. And the shapes and squiggles will always live on because they are the simplest yet most powerful functional tools our mind can use to express our conscious, subconscious, and unconscious thoughts.

on creativity

Overview


It’s imperative that curriculums (especially for early education) are built on more than just core subject matter. They also need to be strongly founded upon core ideals, values, and principles. The teaching of such values (although much harder to guide, manage, and track) is absolutely essential to the intellectual growth and prosperity of emerging generations.
What values are most important to push early in a child’s development? Honesty & trust. Altruism & empathy. Individuality & originality. Happiness & humor. Confidence & faith. Creativity & innovation. Innovation & creativity. Creativity!

I’ve posted about holistic education before and creativity is one of the three main pillars of such education – It’s seen in the SunWALK model of holistic education as “one of the three intrapersonal ‘primary colours’ or modes of engagement, of the human spirit, that are utilized in facing, individually and interpersonally, progressively more challenging tasks to nurture the development of abilities.”

Creativity is essential to the development of other abilities and the fundamental ability to engage/interact with people, nature, and the world in which we live. It’s from creativity that the purest dreams and ideas are born.

Definitions


So how is creativity defined? Let’s look…

Wikipedia: “Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity is fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight.”

Children’s Health Encyclopedia: “Creativity is the ability to think up and design new inventions, produce works of art, solve problems in new ways, or develop an idea based on an original, novel, or unconventional approach.”

Some more definitions can be found at a great post by Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point “On Defining Creativity”.

It’s important to note that creativity and intelligence are not synonymous. There are plenty of studies addressing possible correlation between IQ and creativity, but the main point is that with a positive surrounding environment and culture, we must believe creativity can exist in any individual of any level of intelligence.

Qualities

  • Impulsivity and spontaneity – Just do it! / Just think it!
  • Nonconformity (not going with the majority) – Stray from the beaten path.
  • Courage – Naturally be unafraid of trying new things.
  • Self-Confidence – Have no susceptibility to peer pressure.
  • Persistence – Learn when to maintain thoughts or set thoughts aside.
  • Balance – Convergent / divergent thinking – Learn to hypothesize, speculate, and evaluate multiple conclusions while reserving the ability to logically find and support a single conclusion.
  • The “One Brain” Concept – Right brain thinking and left brain thinking together are the best engine of creativity.
Some Take-Aways

  • Need to create good inner resources in children. Multi-dimensionality is key.
  • Give children an active role in their own learning.
  • Educators need to be aware of the “blocks to creativity” or things that can interfere with it. SunWALK says there are two types of blocks: Environmental (the lack of a motivating physical surrounding, trustworthy acquaintances, or positive leadership) and Cultural (the fear of making bad choices, lack of an appetite for chaos, and the general lack of enthusiasm). It should be noted that the positive case of “blocks” would be that Environment and Culture become “enablers” of creativity.
  • In order to foster creativity in schools, education should be based on the discovery of knowledge and the development of critical attitudes, rather than on the passive absorption of knowledge.

Simple Creativity Exercises

  1. Spell all the letters of the alphabet using letters other than the one you are spelling. Now try it without using any vowels. CAY-YII-FEE-EYE-EHDT (that ‘N’ was very hard)
  2. Draw an adjective, act a noun, describe a verb.
  3. Create an equation that has never before been created. Describe its elements, fundamentals, and purpose.
  4. Contemplate a newly-shaped earth. What would a cubed earth be like? What if the world really was flat? How would business, transportation, politics, weather, etc change?

Quotes

  • “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm
  • “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
  • “Creativity is the ability to see relationships where none exist.” — Thomas Disch
  • “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook
  • “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
  • “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” — Joseph Chilton Pierce
  • “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” — Goethe
  • “To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” –Osho
  • “We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own and other’s people’s models, learn to be ourselves and allow our natural channel to open.” — Shakti Gawain
  • “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” – Einstein
  • “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” – George Bernard Shaw