Growing Beyond One’s Potential

Pea Sprout by Evelynishere*

Pea Sprout by Evelynishere*

Children are given problems to work on that no one believes they can solve—certainly not the young researcher who designed the study to test children’s responses to setbacks and failure. But when, instead of expressing anger or frustration or simply giving up, one boy “pulled his chair up, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and said, ‘I love a challenge!’” and a second boy remarked, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!,” that young researcher—once she picked herself up off the floor—found herself increasingly interested in what she came to call these boys’ “growth mindset.” Continue reading

Challenge Your Challenges

Scott Noppe-Brandon and I believe fundamentally that imagination can be developed and stimulated. It’s not a “you-got-it-or-you-don’t” thing. And the evidence of this is all around us. Just the other day, for instance, Netflix announced the winners of a $1,000,000 prize for the team that could develop the most effective predictive modeling software (“if you liked Benjamin Button, you’ll also like…”). You can read about it here. By putting forth a bold goal with a big prize, Netflix sparked the imagination of countless programmers and customers around the world. In our book, Imagination First, Practice #25 is called “Challenge Your Challenges,” and it proceeds from just the same instinct that the Netflix folks followed.

One of the best ways to open people’s minds to wider fields of possibility is to examine the big challenges (if any) that currently define the scope of your field—and then to bust those challenges apart for even bigger ones. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for powerful social change ideas are examples of great well-known challenges that prompt a scaled response of “What if?” But our point in the book is that everyone, in every workplace or social setting, can similarly set and define such challenges. Once the big goal is defined, and a comparably big reward is attached to it, it’s then a matter of trusting the ecosystem to generate new ideas and new ways of doing things. Not all the things that get imagined will be practicable; not all the things that are practicable will be genuinely innovative. But it all starts with expanding the pool of what’s possible. And challenging you challenges is a great way to start.

Imagination Conversations

Corporate Lawyer Stanley Pierre-Louis moderates an Imagination Conversation in June 2009

Corporate Lawyer Stanley Pierre-Louis moderates an Imagination Conversation in June 2009

Love of the arts has guided and inspired me my whole life. I was a dancer before I was an executive: I breathed and lived the arts. They have, in large part, made me the individual that I am: using the arts as the foundation of understanding I have approached the people in my life and taught my children.

At Lincoln Center Institute, which is a part of Lincoln Center, my love of the arts is shared across the board, from staff to leaders of LCPA’s affiliate organizations. As well, we all share the understanding of the mission and importance of the arts in the lives of all.

“Scott,” you say, “you’ve got a terrific job and we’re jealous. But what is your point?” The point is that I have always believed that the arts—or art for art’s sake, if you will—were a blessing in and of themselves: an extraordinary expression of humanity that has a transformative ability within our society and allows us, people from vastly different traditions across the globe, to meet and to share our cultural aesthetic in peace.

A rich and self-sufficient treasure then, I thought. But I have had to revise my thinking. I did not change an iota of my belief, but I’ve had to add new elements to it. The arts will always be an unequaled educational experience. But the scope of that vision has widened. The arts now have to be part and parcel of educational preparation for college, and, above all, for the workforce. The arts are a natural portal into imagination, its product and its fuel. Imagination is, in turn, the fuel of creativity and innovation, essential components of a résumé in this century. Lincoln Center Institute’s 50 Imagination Conversations project is an ambitious new initiative to explore the role and importance of imagination in all areas of human endeavor, from the artist’s studio to the classroom to the boardroom. Continue reading

The Role of Imaginative Play

barell_playgrounds perm grantedHow do adolescents and teens “play”? John Barell’s Playgrounds of Our Minds (1980) “casts education as an adventure,” writes Lynn Neuman, a dance teaching artist for Lincoln Center Institute, in her review for LCI’s Resource Center Blog. Although written decades ago, Neuman connects the ideas in Barell’s book with what she sees as a 21st-century imperative for students to develop skills of “flexibility, adaptability, innovation, and creativity.” While it is almost “child’s play” to consider early childhood education as within the realm of imaginative play (pun intended), Barell focuses on high school students and provides strategies and tools for teachers. Check out the full review here.

In the Air

 Blowing away a dandelion clock by doegox*

Blowing away a dandelion clock by doegox*

Sometimes a notion seems like it’s airborne and traveling at the speed of light: one moment it’s implanting itself in unsuspecting minds in one place, the next moment it’s doing the same thing miles away. The belief that our young people need to develop their imaginations is one such notion. While we at New York City’s Lincoln Center Institute are busy promoting imaginative learning through our work with schools and through the Imagination Conversations, Richard Hills publishes “Creativity and Imagination: Where Have They Gone?” in the San Francisco Examiner.

A poignant opinion piece written from the perspective of a father of three teenagers rather than an academic or educator, Hills’s article bemoans budgetary cuts to school arts programs and emphasizes that “Imagination and creativity”—the very capacities fostered by encounters with works of art—“are the tools we need to solve problems.” Fortunately, Hills goes on to suggest some simple ways to compensate for the holes in our children’s school curricula: Take them to a botanical garden, a museum, an aquarium. Encourage them to read and write, keep a dream journal. Although these activities may seem minor compared to what we education advocates are doing to make America more imaginative, they’re just as important: they open individual minds. LCI looks forward to a time when both parents and educators will work within their respective spheres of influence—and together—to foster imagination in American youth.

Hills’s dispatch from California is a sign of the rapid, spontaneous spread of the imagination agenda. Where will it show itself next?

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

The Labor of Imagination

Assembly Line by Jim Crocker*

Assembly Line by Jim Crocker*

When we think of assembly lines, many of us envision men and women in identical uniforms standing side by side before a conveyor belt, tools in hand, against a dense backdrop of plastic and metal, performing the same basic tasks ad infinitum. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Chaplin’s Modern Timesthese films are timeless in their representation of the popular conception of the assembly line as industrialism’s great homogenizer, soul-crusher, inducer of unspeakable boredom. What we don’t think of in relation to assembly lines is imagination. Why would we? What room is there for imaginative thinking in the Dickensian toil of the line worker?

New Yorker staff writer Peter J. Boyer’s reportage challenges these assumptions. In his April 27, 2009, article, “The Road Ahead,” he discusses the opening of a Nissan automobile plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, in the early 1980s. It was a bold step—the largest Japanese investment in the United States to date, to be run according to the Japanese method of manufacturing and workmanship. So how did this anomalous experiment become the most productive auto plant in the U.S. by the end of the decade? Continue reading

The More You Know, the Better You Can Imagine

The Creative Habit is…perfect for people who believe—or may come to believe after reading this book—that creativity is the result of rigor, diligence, and a defined everyday process,” writes Lincoln Center Institute teaching artist Lynn Marie Ruse in her review of choreographer Twyla Tharp’s 2006 “practical guide” to creativity. Ruse’s review for LCI’s Resource Center Blog is a passionate call for teachers and teaching artists to take up Tharp’s challenge—to learn and use and teach the creative habit. She aligns the ideas and practices of Tharp’s book with LCI’s approach to imaginative teaching and learning, suggesting that students immersed in the activities of a habitual creativity might “increase the flexibility” of their minds. Check out the full review here.