Byron's Babbles

Our Wandering Minds

Our imaginations allow us to be in multiple places at once, even if it’s just in our minds. So true! And, my mind has been transported to so many new and excited places because of the books I’ve been reading the past couple of weeks. This post is another one of several these past few days inspired by Patti Callahan Henry. Here, in the month of April, I have read three of this best-selling author’s books:

1. The Favorite Daughter

2. Becoming Mrs. Lewis

3. Once Upon A Wardrobe

The latter two were written out of Patti Callahan Henry’s love of C.S. Lewis‘ writings. Her work is incredible! Patti has the ability transport us to the setting of the story. I am not just reading the story, I am there. I always come away inspired by her work and in a state of reflection about what I’ve learned. In fact, I just started reading Lewis’ fantasy novel, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which was the through line of Once Upon A Wardrobe. I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe years ago, as a youngster, but I am reading it now in a totally new and exciting frame of mind. C.S. Lewis would be proud I am now old enough to read fairy tales again.

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” ~ C.S. Lewis

In Once Upon A Wardrobe, Padraig Cavender told Megs and George Devonshire that, “We are never just in one place at one time. Because of our imaginations we are in many places at any given time.” Meaning that our imagination allows us to be mentally present in many different places and situations at the same time, even though we are physically only in one place. Our minds can wander and imagine different scenarios, which helps us to be more creative and innovative in problem-solving and decision-making. Can you think of a time when you used your imagination to problem-solve or make decisions?


Imagining Narnia

Have you ever had an experience where your imagination helped you understand or appreciate something in a way that reason could could not? Megs and George Devonshire did in, Once Upon A Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan Henry. George wanted Megs to get C.S. Lewis to answer the question, “Where did Narnia come from?” George’s question refers to Lewis’ fantasy novel, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. In one of Megs’ visits to The Kilns it was stated that, “Reason is how we get to the truth, but imagination is how we find meaning.” This phrase in the book suggests that reason is a useful tool for discovering the truth, but imagination is essential for finding deeper meaning and significance in our experiences. George reminded us in this great historical fiction work of Patti’s that Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Imagination can truly take us beyond what we know, or think we know, and help us see the wider world.

Mere facts and information may not be enough to fully understand and appreciate the world around us; we need to use our creative and imaginative faculties to uncover the more profound truths and connections that often lie beneath the surface. I love how Once Upon A Wardrobe and all of Patti Callahan Henry’s great historical fiction works models this so perfectly for us. She takes historical facts which always seem to have gaps or facts that are not known and she uses her extensive research to guide her imagination to making sense out of all of it. We always need to remember that our imagination can help us find meaning.

Being Childlike

The other day during a Zoom meeting I said that I thought that I had matured a little over the last year. Then, one of the participants said, “Well, just don’t quit being childlike.” I thought about that and actually wrote it on my notepad. Now, as I come back to that note I guess I look at being childlike having all to do with growth, curiosity, and feeling free enough as individuals to be ourselves without unduly formed restrictions. Those things really have nothing to do with maturity and all to do the positive qualities related to children. Things like innocence, trusting, unguarded, or being vulnerable like a child. It also means taking off the many masks of propriety imposed within our society that limit our creativity and sense of exploration. I do allow myself to play, and to be silly.

I probably wouldn’t have written a blog post about this, but when reading yesterday in Mo Rocca’s awesome book, Mobituaries, yesterday he wrote that someone had described Sammy Davis Jr. as being childlike, not childish. This made me think more about the difference. Sammy certainly was fun, relaxed, spontaneous, creative, adventurous, and silly. At the same time that he was entertaining us he was doing a lot of great things in the world. Certainly not childish behavior. Childlike, yes; childish, no.

Therefore, being childlike has everything to do with growing, being curious, and being ourselves without those unduly formed restrictions that society wants to place on us. I sure hope I don’t grow out of being childlike!

Imaginative Play Zones

Albert Einstein famously said, “To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” And even Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” If children are more creative than adults, it’s not because they have a superior imagination. They just don’t suffer from self-doubt and fear to the extent that adults do. In this respect, at least, we could all afford to be more like children. We don’t question kids being more creative than adults; we all intuitively just know it’s true and we view it as a natural state for children.

So why do kids have the aptitude for creativity? Play! And, remember they have not yet developed, or been taught the self doubt and fear part to the extent we adults have, either. In studying the work of Dr. Stephanie Carlson, an expert on childhood brain development at the University of Minnesota, she taught us that kids spend as much as 2/3 of their time in non-reality— in imaginative play. This is why when I am providing development for adults I always try to spend some time channeling their inner child. Adults want to, and effectively, learn like kids. We want the play, time for imagination, and a safe place for trying new things.

As I worked with teachers this past week we discussed creating psychologically safe places for our students to learn and try new things (the things we are teaching are new). But, we must also not forget our adults – we need a psychologically safe place as well. How about we create imaginative play zones?

What Will You Regret When You Are 80 Years Old?

I finished the great book, Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path To Breakthrough Ideas, this past week. In the book, authors Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux, and Michael Wade presented an incredible framework for innovation and creativity. The framework is based on five strategies that do NOT need to be accomplished in any linear fashion:

  • A – Attention – look with fresh eyes to observe problems that need to be solved, opportunities worth addressing, and solutions that can be dramatically improved or revised
  • L – Levitation – step back from the creative process to gain perspective and enrich your understanding
  • I – Imagination – recognize hard-to-see patterns and to connect seemingly disparate dots to imagine unorthodox combinations
  • E – Experimentation – test ideas quickly and smartly, with the goal of improving – not just proving – your idea
  • N – Navigation – deal with potentially hostile environments and adjust to the forces that can make or break your solution

At the end of the book, the authors helped the reader work through some important hindrances to innovation like human emotions and personality traits. I was struck by the discussion of “regret” that can easily derail even the most ALIEN of thinkers. In Alien Thinking we are taught that “When setting off on a journey of innovation or discovery, you will have to overcome your fears about what might happen.” These fears come in the form of “anticipatory regret” and “existential regret”. Having just founded my own business and making the decision to go out on my own, this discussion in the book really resonated with me.

In addition to overcoming fears of what might happen, most of us, when innovating or trail blazing, will have to deal with “anticipatory regret.” This is the regret we imagine ourselves feeling if the decision we make or don’t make ends up being a mistake. This is pretty powerful stuff. Science can help us with this, however, because the science says that we tend to regret actions not taken far more than we regret failed attempts.

This is where Bouquet et al. explained that “existential regret” can be used as a tool. Existential regret is the regret of how we will later feel if we don’t try; or play it safe. While doing some further studying in this I found the stories of Jeff Bezos when he was trying to decide if he would quit his great job to start what is now the Amazon empire. He used a framework he called “regret minimization.” He projected himself out to the age of 80 and imagined what he would regret. He found that he would deeply regret not having tried to make big on that thing called the internet. Now that is Alien Thinking. Now that is “levitation”- all the way to the age of 80.

We must learn to channel our fears and thoughts of regret to be a positive driver and help us work out the kinks in our wild and alien ideas. Using existential regret can help us sift through our own personal goals and core values to make a weighty call.

Testing Everything & Conceiving Different Outcomes

While this post will probably pose a controversial idea to those “Scientific Method” purists, my post is meant more to be thought provoking. As a person who taught the Scientific Method to agriculture science students for years, I understand why hypotheses have been a part of the method since the 17th century. But, some, okay a lot, of things have changed and advanced since the 17th century. In the great book Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path To Breakthrough Ideas, authors Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux, and Michael Wade argued that the use of hypotheses are, in many cases, no longer necessary given the immediate and real-time abilities for data analysis we now have in a digital world. Think about all the things we used to have to wait long periods of time to get data back on, that are now immediate.

This made so much sense when we think about confirmation bias, the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. If we make no assumptions and just let the data go where it goes, would that not be better – and more accurate? Granted, I have not completely thought through all this. The way we would traditionally set up the hypothesis test is to formulate two hypothesis statements, one that describes the researchers prediction and one that describes all the other possible outcomes with respect to the hypothesized relationship. With the aid of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, digital twinning, and many other digital capabilities could we find relationships, or lack there of, that we would have never thought of in a world using the alternative and null hypothesis? The point to remember here about stating hypotheses is that a prediction (guess) is formulated (directional or not), and then a second hypothesis is formulated that is mutually exclusive of the first and incorporates all possible alternative outcomes for that case. When the study analysis is completed, the idea is that we will choose between the two hypotheses.

Alien Thinking

Bouquet, et al. posited that “The Alien experimenter doesn’t need to formulate a hypothesis – just come up with an experiment and then measure the results.” This will better allow us, they went on to say, “…conceive different outcomes, as well as the ability to measure and learn from them.” So maybe, just maybe, it is time to rethink the long tradition called the hypothetical-deductive model, and begin a new tradition of Alien Thinking.

Imagining In Your Mind’s Eye

I am sure this is going to be the first of many posts about the new book I am reading by one of my favorites, Malcolm Gladwell. The book is The Bomber Mafia and it is awesome! One of the topics that came out in the book was the idea of seeing things in your mind’s eye. Gladwell discussed that this is something that engineers do very well – seeing something in your mind that hasn’t even been created or creating an image in your mind of something you are not presently looking at or have never even seen. Being the husband of an engineer I can tell you this is a trait – her mind just seems to work differently at times. It turns out, however, we are all able to do this to a certain extent. I just had to dig in and learn more about this.

It has always been amazing to me how I can run into a former student and my mind maybe can’t come up with the name, but I can remember where she liked to sit in the classroom and see the classroom as if I am standing there 25 years ago. Then I sometimes imagine a completely redesigned classroom. Neuroscientists have shown that imagining an object activates some of the same brain regions as looking at that object. When we look out at the world around us we depend on light to bounce off objects and enter our eyes. This light is then converted it into electrical signals. These electrical signals travel to our brain where basic visual features, such as lines, angles, and previously seen patterns are processed. The electrical activity then goes to the front part of our brain where visual areas perform complex processing, and in a few hundred milliseconds of light entering the eye, a perception of the object is created in our brain. This is where the brain takes our previous memories and patterns to form the image.

The latest research suggests that when we imagine an object, the brain activates the entire representation of that object at once rather than building it up in the steps outlined above. The context for this learning in Gladwell’s great book was Carl Norden, a Swiss engineer, who developed the Norden Bombsight. Norden believed the device would lower the suffering and death toll from war by allowing pinpoint accuracy during bombing runs. He imagined the design for the device, that used 64 algorithms, in his mind’s eye. It even had an algorithm taking into account how much the earth would spin in the time it to a bomb to reach earth from 30,000 feet. Gladwell stated that you find paperwork descriptions or drawings. He did all his work in his head.

Gladwell pointed out that these great developments happen from someone becoming obsessed. What are you obsessed with?

Explore And Heighten On President’s Day

Interestingly, the holiday we celebrate today is officially Washington’s Birthday, not President’s Day. In 1971 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law, Washington’s Birthday (February 22) was moved to the third Monday in February. This put the holiday in between Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Washington’s. It also gave us another three day weekend – the intent of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill. There was a push to change the name from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day, but that did not pass – we just all call it President’s Day.

As I take a moment to reflect on this day, I remind myself of advice I give to others: study humans, not heroes. I believe this is important in teaching history and civics as well. While we have the advantage of hindsight when studying the past, always remember those who lived it, did not. One of my favorite authors, David McCullough, put it this way, “Nor was there ever anything like the past. Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either. It’s very easy to stand on the mountaintop as an historian or biographer and find fault with people for why they did this or didn’t do that, because we’re not involved in it, we’re not inside it, we’re not confronting what we don’t know—as everyone who preceded us always was” (McCullough, February 15, 2005, in Phoenix, Arizona, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar on the topic, “American History and America’s Future.”). We need to remember that history was not created in a vacuum and could have gone a bunch of different ways.

As we reflect on our Founders and past Presidents we need to remember they were human beings, just like us, with flaws, sins, and both terrible and good qualities. We’ve had leaders do some terrible things and we need to study those things and call them out to make sure and not repeat them. We also need to learn, grow, and continue to improve and get better. In the world of improvisation there are the five syllables “explore and heighten.” This is where we usher in our imagination, where ideas are born, where our power finds its source, and where we discover what’s waiting for us. I believe this to be the genius of our American community. We know everything can and should be improved upon. So, on this day of reflection, let’s renew our resolve recognizing our errors of the past and continued improvement for making the world a better place for ALL.

Tomorrow. And The Day After Tomorrow.

Posted in Creativity, Curiosity, Global Leadership, Imagination, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 17, 2021

I am reading a great novel right now about an alien from the planet Vonnadoria who takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin. I’m not going to tell you much more than that about The Humans: A Novel by Matt Haig because I would recommend reading it and I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I can tell you is that it is eye opening to think about some of the stupid things we do, or don’t do, when seen through the eyes of a much more advanced species. Just to give you a for instance, have you ever thought about the fact that contemplating about the weather is the chief human activity?

This morning as I was reading I was struck by something the alien said, “I mean, this was the species whose main excuse for not doing something was ‘if only I had more time.’ Perfectly valid until you realized they did have more time. Not eternity, granted, but they had tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after the day after tomorrow. In fact I would have had to write ‘the day after’ thirty thousand times before a final ‘tomorrow’ in order to illustrate the amount of time on a human’s hands” (p. 197). This made me think that sometimes we don’t appreciate “tomorrow” near enough. I realize that we don’t know for sure if we have tomorrow, but I have to say, the odds are in our favor. Research even shows that putting something down, taking a break from a creative session, or just sleeping on something can help our imagination or creativity. So why don’t we do it?

The alien went on, “The problem lying behind the lack of human fulfillment was a shortage not just of time but of imagination. They found a day that worked for them and then stuck to it and repeated it, at least between Monday and Friday. Even if it didn’t work for them—as was usually the case—they stuck to it anyway. Then they’d alter things a bit and do something a little bit more fun on Saturday and Sunday” (p. 197). If you’re like me when I read this, I felt a little stupid. Kind of spot on, don’t you think? By the way, the alien proposed a pretty good solution when he said, “One initial proposal I wanted to put to them was to swap things over. For instance, have five fun days and two not-fun days. That way—call me a mathematical genius—they would have more fun” (p. 197). So, why do we, as a species, admittedly, have a lack of imagination?

We need to think beyond fulfilling the bare minimum requirements with what we bring to the table. What can we do that is a bit more memorable, with a bit more flavor and a bit more of an impact on everyone, the basic just won’t cut it. We’d be better off experimenting. The cost of bringing something new to the metaphorical table is, of course, you’re going to make someone uncomfortable, change someone’s routine, or upset somebody. The trade-off for experimenting with new ideas, creating new ways of doing things, or working on something new is that you will make something valuable and unique, but what you create won’t be for everybody.

Having just said that about being creative and experimenting I have to include the last thing the alien said about our week, “But as things stood, there weren’t even two fun days. They only had Saturdays, because Mondays were a little bit too close to Sundays for Sunday’s liking, as if Monday were a collapsed star in the week’s solar system, with an excessive gravitational pull. In other words, one seventh of human days worked quite well” (p. 197). As I write this on Sunday morning I’m thinking, yep, that’s about right. If we want to be comfortable and blend-in, doing what we’ve always done is the safe bet and a great way to do just that. But if we want to stand out and do things more uniquely, we must embrace the fact that we’re going to be uncomfortable and make others uncomfortable doing so. We must understand and be okay with the fact that the cost of valuable and unique might be turning off somebody, somewhere, who doesn’t want to be uncomfortable themselves, or who don’t believe their comfort should be the cost of a great idea.

Do You Feel Like I Do On Christmas 2020?

Heath & His Milking Machine!

Here it is, Christmas morning on Day 288 of the Global Pandemic in 2020. It’s easy to get caught up in all that is chaotic in the world right now, but I also want to pause and reflect on this day of the celebration of birth. This is the day that many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus. This day has, and will continue to serve as a day of birth to many new interests for kids. Think about that Lego set or rocket model that spurs an interest in engineering or being an astronaut for a little girl. Or, the electric keyboard that encourages the musical aspirations of a little boy.

I realize there are more significant influences on a child’s career choice than toys or the things they play with on Christmas morning as kids. But, children need access to a healthy play diet. It’s why I believe programs that make sure children get a toy at Christmas are so important. Playing boosts a child’s belief. No child plays with Legos and learns how to build houses, but she might learn how to overlap bricks to create a stable structure. Or, her brother and her might decide how to change the design of the picture on the box as they build. It’s more about confidence and familiarity than an actual skill set.

Toys and playing can compliment attributes in our children such as having their own mind, standing up for their own beliefs, showing initiative, having goals, and finding passion and purpose. I was reminded of all this while reading Peter Frampton’s incredible book, Do You Feel Like I Do? A Memoir, this week. Early in the book he told the story of his dad playing Father Christmas. Their tradition must have been to put the presents at the foot of the bed and his dad was making noise with the wrapping paper. Peter woke up and busted his dad. Of course, no kid’s going back to sleep, so he began to play with acoustic guitar Father Christmas had brought him. I loved the last part of the story in the book when Peter Frampton said, “But I didn’t know how to tune the bottom two strings. Dad said, ‘It’s three in the morning; can’t you go back to bed?’ ‘No, no, come on!’ So he came in and tuned the two bottom strings for me. And from 3:30 in the morning on Christmas when I was eight years old, I haven’t stopped playing since” (p. 11). Was that where the career of an awesome and very talented rock star was created? Probably not completely, but it certainly played a part in his development, or Peter would not have told the story. For one thing, think of the morale boost for a kid to get a musical instrument from his parents. Wow, my mom and dad believe I have talent!

Of course, all of this from the father of the boy who got a milking machine from Santa. In my defense, that was what he asked Santa for. But, that little boy grew up, and is now studying Animal Science at Murray State University and has a respectable herd of Jersey dairy show cattle. Did it all happen because of the milking machine that we assembled on the living room floor and then carried to the barn that Christmas morning? No, but Heath has never forgotten that Santa invested in his interest of dairy cows. Thus, the intersection of purpose and passion were beginning to be defined for Heath.

Now, let’s not overthink this. The most important thing is to make sure our kids have the chance to play. If they have specific interests, great, but it doesn’t have to be a guitar or milking machine. Let’s let kids play with a wide variety of toys and give them the opportunity to discover their interests, passion, and purpose.