Tag Archives: creativity

The Logic of Balance

Moreau Business

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance by Gary Moreau (CreateSpace, 188 pages, $9.95)

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance by Gary Moreau is an engaging work.  Moreau focuses on the point that business leaders tend to be guided either by their heard or their hearts (guts).  Most see it as a choice between, say, the colors blue (head) or red (heart).  But leadership may be purple; that is, it must rely on a balance between logical thoughts and instincts.

In Moreau’s words, “this book is all about context.”  The business environment, its context, is rarely solely about reason or logic.  It’s a blend of the two.

Moreau spends equal time illustrating the benefits as well as the weaknesses of relying on data-driven decision making and instinct-driven decisions.  Both will work at some points, but will fail if relied upon to the exclusion of all else.

One of the fascinating points made by Moreau is that many of the visionary individuals that our society holds up as models of business and societal leadership – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, Jr. – had significant ideas (the “what”).  However, they had no specific plans (the “how”) for implementing their ideas.  That’s because sky-viewing visionaries must rely upon ground-based planners.

A great leader, as Moreau notes, follows his or her conscience.  This “sits at the crossroads of deduction and reduction.”  Yes, true leadership, in implementation of great ideas, requires balance.

Another key point made by Moreau, a valuable one for business managers, is that the world is a very big and tough place.  We tend to give too much credit to individuals for business successes and too much blame for failures.  The truth is that business leaders – CEOs or managers, cannot control the world.  A business failure may rest upon poor timing, poor global conditions, or many other factors.

There are a couple of issues with this work.  Firstly, Moreau engages in political discussions that are out of place and simply do not belong in the book.  In this, he fails to subscribe to his rule that context is key.  (Since he mentions Trump and Clinton, it’s surprising that he does not use them as examples of contrasting leadership styles.)

Secondly, like Joshua Wolf Shenk, the author of Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (2014), Moreau tends to go too far in separating matters into one camp or the other.  In Shenk’s book, every artist was separated between being either a John Lennon (an instinctive artist) or a Paul McCartney (a hardworking artist).  But the world is more complicated than that.

In Understanding Business, Moreau is like the proverbial hammer that sees everything as a nail.  Everything is either mind or gut.  I suspect that at some point a writer will produce a book about successful business leaders and artists who fall into the in-between category.  (Joni Mitchell comes to mind as a musician who is equally instinctive and highly rational/logical/detail-oriented.)

Still, Moreau’s book provides valuable points for business executives.  For example, at one point he notes that a business leader should make a deductive decision using logic, but then test this decision using instinct.  That executive should ask, “Does it feel right?”  Excellent.

Finally, Understanding Business drives home one major point in these stressful times.  This is that business leaders must value and respect their staff members.  Executives cannot just talk the talk, they must walk the walk,  It does not take long for workers to realize that they are simply cogs in the machinery of their company.  When this realization hits, the company they work for can and will suffer.

Moreau Business 2

If you own or operate a business, large or small, you may wish to read Understanding Business.  It will serve you well.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

 

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Take it Easy

moments-mindfulness

Moments of Mindfulness: Anti-Stress Coloring & Activities for Busy People by Emma Farrarons (Boxtree Ltd., $9.95, 112 pages)

It’s a first aid kit for stress wrapped in the covers of a book – more than just a coloring book and less than a full-blown self-help treatise.  Author/illustrator Emma Farrarons infuses each page with her cheery and charming approach to life. Her drawing style is flowing and energetic, in a positive energy way.  A third of the book is devoted to mindfulness activities that are scattered among the pages.

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The activity topics vary widely from small exercises like neck stretches that can be accomplished anywhere to regular daily tasks done at home such as ironing and food preparation.  There is even a template for embroidery.  Farrarons realizes that life in general offers opportunities for releasing stress and becoming mindful, hence the suggestions for walking along a different route to work or while out walking for exercise.

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The book is 5″ by 7″ by one-half inch, making it just the right size for slipping into a tote bag or jacket pocket.  There are many small sets of colored pens and pencils available for purchase in art supply stores or over the Internet to complete an anti-stress kit.  Of course crayons will work as well.

Moments of Mindfulness delivers on its promise.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The First Album, The First Book & more

meetthebeatlesalbumjacket1964full

Let’s suppose you’ve spent a few years in a rock band, The Runners. You haven’t starved, but you’ve just managed to get by in terms of life’s necessities. Finally, the band releases a first album, It’s the Runners! It may not be as big as Meet the Beatles!, but it’s brought you enough income to pay the rent for a year and buy a reliable car. Do you produce Son of It’s the Runners! or something completely different? (Either way the critics are standing by to slam your decision.) Most likely you’ll record something that’s as close as possible to the first album, and wait a while before electing to modify your style, your sound.

This is a roundabout way of explaining why I’m fond of debut novels. The first novel by an author, like a first album, is generally the result of years of preparation and effort. And it’s usually quite obvious in the pages of an initial effort. There’s an earnestness, a feel, a serious energy that’s often lacking in subsequent works. After all, the first book is a “go for broke” product. If it gets published and sells well, the writer has a new career.

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Yet, it seems like what follows for a successful debut novelist is parallel to what happens with the band recording a follow-up record. The author may think, “Why rock the boat if I’ve discovered a winning formula?” Thus, what results is a second novel that’s quite similar to the first, but without the same punch. (“Let’s Twist Again” to “The Twist.”) And it appears that publishers strongly encourage the successful debut novelist to turn out the second book pretty quickly; before the book one buzz wears off. This may be why second novels often start off well in pages 1 to 150 or 200, but conclude with what seems like a rushed and unsatisfying group of pages marked 151 to 350 or 400.

But let’s suppose, for a moment, that the second book is just successful enough. It may not approach the sales of book 1, but it may hit the 80 or 85% level. What happens then? Well, the author may decide to write the same type of book, the same style of story, over and over again for a reading audience willing to accept and purchase what can amount to a type of self-plagiarism. This is not terribly, horribly rare when it comes to authors who achieve mid-range or greater success. In fact, I remember a case not so long ago…

There’s a popular fiction writer whose books sell quite well. And reading one of her books is extremely enjoyable. But if you read any of the other novels she’s manufactured – a term I’m using deliberately – you realize that they are all basically the same story. Only the names have been changed to protect the original characters. So it was not quite shocking to receive an information sheet from her publicist a short while back about an upcoming release: “It’s completely different!” Whew, I thought, it’s about time.

And this is, of course, what happens next with both authors and bands. Eventually, they get tired and worn out with making money by repeating the same old thing. So then they record or write something that’s… “Completely different!” And it’s either viewed as a work of genius (think Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s) or as turning their back on their fans, their original audience.

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This is when the reviewer-critics attack or praise with their pens, but in my view this is secondary. What truly counts is the judgment of book and record fans/purchasers. They may decide that the more unique a work is, the better it is. Or they may hate something that reads or sounds too “different.” Either way, the “new thing” shouts out that the artist is willing to take a risk because this is what art, what life, is about.

I may be wrong, but I think that if the “new thing” came from the heart (rather than the head) of the artist – and was not simply contrived for commercial purposes, the audience will come to accept and/or love it. And in a very roundabout way, this article is an attempt to explain why I may love a writer’s first book, but not her second, third, or fourth. And it’s an attempt to explain why I might find that she’s regained her voice – her true, instinctive and once-again original form, with her fifth book.

But maybe it’s just me.

Joseph Arellano

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It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

(But We Like It)

It's Not Only Rock 2

It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity by Jenny Boyd Ph.D. with Holly George-Warren (John Blake, $14.95, 322 pages)

A book that does not quite live up to its subtitle.

“Musicians are the mouthpieces for our age.”

“Musicians are the torchbearers, the spokespersons of our time.”

Jenny Boyd George Harrison

Jenny Boyd’s (George Harrison’s one-time sister-in-law) book might have been called Conversations Touching Upon Creativity. This is a book in which she quotes numerous musicians, including Harrison and Ringo Starr, about the magical, mystical and mystifying process of creating music. But the book only takes us to the edge of the process and never smack-dab into the middle of it (e.g., the source of creativity). Boyd, in fact, seems unable to define what creativity is or exactly how it works. And the quotes she includes are often contradictory; for example, on the effect of drugs and alcohol – some musicians see these as a boon, others as a bane.

While the book is readable and somewhat entertaining and some of the statements from major musicians are interesting, there’s far too much reliance on lesser figures. Sinead O’Connor, for example, seems to be quoted on about every second or third page. The reader would have been better served if Boyd had focused on a few particular songs or albums and discussed with their creators the steps they took from first thought to finished recording. (Not surprisingly, such books already exist.)

Boyd is caught up with exaggerating the role of modern day musicians, portraying them as societal leaders and major change agents: “Artists are not afraid to break down the old to make way for the new….” Since this is what she clearly and strongly believes, she may wish to consider writing a follow-up book about this thesis. However, this work led me to realize why even Bob Dylan has disdained the role of prophet, socio-political leader or “spokesperson for his generation.” That crown may be too heavy for any musician to wear.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Songwriters On Songwriting

Individuals with a strong interest in the subject of songwriting and creativity may want to read Songwriters on Songwriting: Revised and Expanded by Paul Zollo (Da Capo Press), which covers the topic in 752 pages.

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It's Not Only Rock 'n' Roll

A review of It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity by Jenny Boyd with Holly George-Warren.

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Color My World

Drawing on the Right (nook book)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards (Tarcher/Penguin Group, $19.95, 320 pages)

Just imagine, by following the text carefully and participating in the exercises in a book, you can learn to draw. This is not some huckster come-on or phony art school premise. Author and teacher Betty Edwards has expanded and updated the fourth edition of her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Ms. Edwards has carefully translated her thorough and patient teaching style into a truly worthwhile course in drawing. Moreover, she has taken the basic concepts, tools and philosophy behind the value of learning to draw and set forth a detailed and well-illustrated guide for everyone. If you can hold a pencil and are able to see, you can draw, not just ordinary stick figures, but rather, fully-developed and recognizable portraits.

Drawing on the Right Side includes ample historic context for the role that drawing and illustration have played over the last few centuries. As recently as the 1800s, the need for accurate drawings was critical to the success of newspapers, magazines and books. With the technological advancements associated with photography in the ensuing decades, the importance of drawing, and specifically the teaching of drawing, slipped into the background. With the transition to this invention, artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Georges Seurat were free to express themselves and explore artistic techniques without the expectation of producing accurate naturalistic pictures. That’s not to say that these artists skipped learning the skills required to render shapes and appealing compositions. In particular, van Gogh spent serious time and effort learning to draw.

Ms. Edwards sets the reader at ease by demystifying the process of drawing. She grounds her methodology in carefully researched neurological facts. The left side of the brain is vastly different than the right side. The left is the logical, sequential and verbal side; whereas, the right side is all about spacial and relational interpretation and sensing. Be assured it takes a bit of effort to override the over-developed left side in order to get to the creative, artistic ability we all possess.

As someone who participated in live classes based upon these techniques years ago, I know they produce truly gratifying results. There’s nothing missing here. Anyone who wants to know how to draw will be able to do so by committing to doing the exercises and reclaiming their youthful view of drawing and creating.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is also available in a hardcover edition, and as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download.

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Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (updated)

A review of the classic drawing instruction book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, now expanded and updated.

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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.00, 279 pages)

Ever wonder if those fabulous songs, novels and paintings that make life so much more enjoyable can only be created by a few brilliant and troubled people?   Maybe you aspire to be more creative, or you wish it for your children.   Jonah Lehrer, the thirty-something scientific writer, has done an in-depth study of the creative process.   He begins his latest work, Imagine, by focusing the first half on the individual and the way the parts of his brain interact.   The second half of the book explores what happens when groups of people work together in the attempt to be creative.

Because Lehrer is an engaging story-teller, the reader gladly accompanies him as he learns about what led to some of the most memorable individual creativity of recent time.   For example, Bob Dylan is the subject of the first chapter.   Later in the second part the reader hears the back story about some of the most amazing corporate breakthroughs that produced winning products like the Swiffer Sweeper.

This is no magazine quick-read or glossy book with simple highlights to quote at the next family gathering.   Rather, Lehrer blends his discussion on neurology with diagrams and clearly written text that is fascinating, rather than academic or – heaven forbid – boring.   He concentrates on what makes us who we are and our unique humanness.   As progress is being made in the exploration of the human brain, new findings and concepts have come to light.   Our brains can be seen in action through the use of equipment such as the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.   The results of these studies and experiments that were conducted while scientists were peering into active brains are fascinating.   Lehrer uses the “You Are There” technique to draw the reader into appreciating the scientists and researchers he showcases along with their contributions to understanding creativity.

There are some requirements for achieving notable creativity.   It’s not a matter of being zapped by a great idea.   As Lehrer states, “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of working memory.   For one thing, there is a strong correlation between working memory and general intelligence, with variations in the size of working memory accounting for approximately 60 percent of the variation in IQ scores.”   Moreover, the poems, plays and novels we have enjoyed from writers like W. H. Auden or William Shakespeare, were not produced in brilliant flashes of insight.   The authors dedicated time and energy to writing and rewriting their works until the result was perfection.

Lastly, Lehrer makes a great case for nurturing the youth among us by fostering in them what he calls “the outsider view.”   It’s not memorization or rote school work that will foster creativity; rather, it’s taking a step back, detaching from the obvious and fostering an alternative view.

“According to the researchers, the advantage of play is that it’s often deeply serious – kids are most focused when they are having fun.”

Imagine is a well-paced learning experience that keeps the reader’s attention and is never overwhelming.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Jonah Lehrer earlier wrote How We Decide, which is reviewed here along with The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar:  https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/the-art-of-choosing/ .

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (author of How We Decide).

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Help Me

Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time by Paul Hammerness, M.D., and Margaret Moore, with John Hanc (Harlequin, $16.95, 272 pages)

Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers (Riverhead Hardcover, $25.95, 304 pages)

Often the focus of self-help books is the reader’s feelings of discomfort, inadequacy or anger.   That said, the two books reviewed here are pragmatic and filled with specific science-based ideas formulated by well-respected professionals in their respective fields.

The first book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time, was written by the team of Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Paul Hammerness, M.D., Margaret Moore, a certified wellness coach and cofounder of Harvard’s Institute of Coaching with assistance from John Hanc, an associate professor of journalism and communications at the New York Institute of Technology.   The premise of Organize Your Mind is that daily stress is produced by too much to do and this overload, in turn, produces a sense of helplessness.   The book looks at how your conscious actions can bring about a sense of mastery and control to daily life as well as assist in long-range planning.

Each area discussed is introduced by Dr. Hammerness in what he calls “The Rules of Order.”   Each of the rules is about brain functioning and how it relates to ones’ actions and feelings.   The six rules are followed by pragmatic action steps outlined by Coach Margaret.   Accompanying each rule are highlighted sidebars filled with explanations and contextual comments that enhance the reader’s experience.   Dr. Hammerness includes suggestions for readers whose issues extend beyond the scope of the book.   He takes a kindly attitude and suggests that there are situations where professional help beyond that offered in the book is indicated.

The chapters and rules are cumulative which allows the reader to follow along and build skills.   The tone of the authors’ writing is non-judgmental, realistic and yet not a buddy-buddy one.   There are really good puns scattered in the text.   Alas, this reviewer is not able to quote any of them as an advance uncorrected proof was provided by the publisher.

Highly recommended.

The second book, Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World was written by Sam Sommers, a remarkably young-looking psychology professor at Tufts University.   Sommers is also an expert witness who is called upon to testify as to whether actions and statements are racially motivated or merely meaningful descriptors that may be admitted as evidence in court proceedings.

This book is an excellent complement to Organize Your Mind that can be best appreciated if read as a follow-up in the reader’s self-improvement strategy.   Sommers makes good use of scientific findings to support his conclusions.   However, his assertion is that introspection will not bring someone to discover the means to the life they wish to have.   Rather, his focus is on the ways that environmental influences assert significant power over the decisions people make and the actions they take every day.   Watchfulness and awareness of the context (location, group or ethnic background) in which one finds one’s self can lead to a significantly different outcome, such as summoning police assistance, questioning odd behavior or just realizing that people mindlessly parrot what they think is true.   An excellent parallel can be made with reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, particularly Tipping Point.   Several of the studies he cites are common to both books.

The chapter structure of Situations Matter follows that of a survey book.   Sommers does tie back to his beginning hypothesis that we see the world as a “what you see is what you get” sort of place.   (The computer shorthand is WYSIWYG.)   He also makes good use of examples from his university classroom exercises.   The tone of the book is friendly and it reads like a transcript from the psychology class you wish you’d taken.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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