Aloha and mahalo for your support!

Thank you to everyone for the amazing emails. I appreciate your support and your comments very much. Some of you have sent some fantastic slides and some of them may just find their way into the book (please keep ’em coming!). In the previous post I mentioned that I will not be blogging much until I am done with all writing and design. All design work must be done sometime in September; the writing needs to be done in August. The book will be published sometime before the end of this year by New Riders (an imprint of Peachpit Press). Many people said they would like me to share the process of writing/designing the book on the blog form time to time or just post some pics. I can do that.

The cutting is the hardest part
The biggest problem I am having right now is the cutting of written material. It is really true what Mark Twain said so many years ago: Writing a very long document is easy, what’s excruciatingly difficult is writing something short, tight, and great. But I want this book to be very visual and practical and be a good blend of inspiration and education; there is no point in repeating the obvious or writing a 300 page manifesto.

In Hawaii this week working (or worrying about working) on the book 24/7. Below are a few pics from Silicon Valley and here in Hawaii.

Silicon Valley


ABOVE: Spent two days sharing ideas with Nancy Duarte (far left), CEO of Duarte Design, the biggest and best presentation design firm on the planet (two of her brilliant, awesome assistants also joined us). Duarte have relocated to their own extremely cool and large building in Mountain View in the heart of the Valley. I could talk to Nancy about design and presentations until the cows come home. Interestingly, I don’t think we ever really talked about PowerPoint or Keynote. We talked about story and message and visual communication, structure, and on and on. I guess this underscores the idea that great presentations and great design are not about tools or technique, they're about ideas and getting messages to stick (more on that later). Oh, and Mark Duarte let me play with his iPhone. I’m hooked. Blown away in fact. Must….have…iPhone….now…..Argh!


Stopped by Guy Kawasaki’s house for some words of wisdom about writing, etc. As always, Guy’s words were inspiring. Thanks Guy! Also met some friends at Apple to get their advice on the book, writing tips, etc. Cupertino and Palo Alto have the best climate; it seems like it is always sunny and 79 degrees.


Snapped these pics while out on a run the first day. I was in search of inspiration or perhaps just finding a healthier way to procrastinate.

Sunrise from the hotel balcony.

And a few minutes later, a rainbow.

Working in the hotel room. Although I have more written material than necessary and several outlines on paper, I still put it up on the wall where I could get a better picture for the flow and feel for the narrative. (A note to myself on the TV: don’t waste time!).

Back out on the beach I stumble across a hula lesson and take this snap.

Back to work, this time on the balcony over looking Waikiki Beach.

Thanks again everone — a hui hou!

David Byrne on PowerPoint: Freedom — who needs it?

David_byrne While researching the history of PowerPoint I stumbled across this absolute gem of an article on David Byrne’s presentation on PowerPoint at the 2005 Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium at UC Berkeley. This quote from the article ties in well with our discussions on limitations, freedom, and creativity in the context of presentation in the previous two posts. "When you pick up a pencil you know what you're getting — you don't think, 'I wish this could write in a million colors,'" says Byrne. Here are a few more quotes from the Berkeley article:

"I love not having an unlimited palette. In that sense it's like a pencil. You don't expect to have other typefaces or fonts; you have fun with what's there. Freedom — who needs it?"

In the UC Berkeley article Byrne admits that most PowerPoint presentations are often filled with irrelevant, gaudy, and vacuous graphics that take the place of actual content. But, says Byrne:

“You can't blame it on PowerPoint. …You see it on the TV news, everything's filled with graphics and icons — it has the illusion of content but there's very little being communicated."

Byrnes_book Byrne admits that the limitations of the PowerPoint tool can lead to pretty awful stuff visually, but that it’s constraints can also lead to creative and compelling visual displays as well. Byrne published and expensive art book called Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information in 2003 to mixed reviews. If nothing else, Byrne’s approach to using PowerPoint may help some look at the tool in new ways.

NPR: David Byrne's PowerPoint Art (with audio interview)
Does PowerPoint make us stupid? David Byrne turns PowerPoint into art
Wired Magazine: Learning to love Powerpoint
Wired Magazine: Turning heads with PowerPoint
Cheese Bikini on Byrne's 2005 Berkeley talk
David Byrne's website

Can limitations and restrictions be liberating?

Choices Having grown up in the abundance of the US, I was basically taught that freedom is, among other things, the maximization of choices. The more choices the better. All those choices. All that abundance.157 kinds of breakfast cereal…how to decide? The freedom to choose, at least on things that matter most, is a wonderful gift indeed. Yet, in our daily lives we too often burden ourselves with petty choices, unimportant matters, and frivolous decisions. In today’s world we may have political/social freedom (if we're lucky), but often lack “a freedom of mind,” the very freedom that can matter most when aiming to construct creative solutions to complex problems. Our minds — even our lives in general — have become complicated by clutter.

Is freedom the maximizing of choices?

PlainsimpleSteve Hagen says in Buddhism Plain and Simple that " freedom lies in maximizing petty choices." We all know this, of course, but still we battle with the unnecessary and the nonessential, not just in our professional or creative lives but in life in general. No one likes the idea of restrictions or of “no choice,” of course. Having no options and no choices can certainly be a bondage, but choices — too many choices — can be a bondage as well. Too many choices — options, features, functions, etc. — can become a bondage that slows creativity. Choices are great, but many of us (me included) obsess about the pursuit of obtaining more and more choices.

"True freedom doesn't lie in the maximization of choice, but, ironically, is most easily found in a life where there is little choice."
                                               —   Steve Hagen

Ad critic Bob Garfield in his book And Now a Few Words From Me talks about the "tyranny of freedom" and the ad industry's obsession with "breaking all the rules." Garfield reminds us that in the case of a child, for example, "the lack of boundaries does not liberate, it enslaves..." Garfield's point is that what looks superficially to be confining can sometimes be the path to liberty. In the book Story by Robert McKee (part 3, principles of story design) the author uses a pointed quote by T.S. Eliot to kick-off his discussion on the importance of setting boundaries:

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl."

                                                             — T.S. Eliot

Learning from the pros: the art of working with restrictions
Clock Last December my friends Jasper von Meerheimb and Sachiko Kawamura, designers for Universal Studios Japan (USJ) here in Osaka, gave an excellent presentation for Design Matters Japan on the issue of how restrictive conditions put on creative projects can lead to inventive solutions. In their presentation they talked about how one develops a concept and implements it under such constraints as limited time, space, and budget. For professional designers, the idea of creating great work under myriad constraints and limitations imposed from the outside is simply the way the world of design works. Whether constraints are good or bad, enabling or crippling, is in a sense irrelevant; constraints are simply the way of the world. Still, as John Maeda points out in The Laws of Simplicity, “In the field of design there is the belief that with more constraints, better solutions are revealed." Time, for example, and the sense of urgency that it brings is almost always a constraint, yet "urgency and the creative spirit go hand in hand..." says Maeda.

The need for creating our own constraints
Kid Using creativity and skill to solve a problem or design a message among a plethora of restrictions from the client, from the boss, etc. is old hat to designers. They live it. Daily. However, for the millions of non-designers with access to powerful design tools, the power and importance of constraints and limitations is not well understood. For those not trained in design, the task of creating presentation visuals (or posters, websites, newsletters, etc.) with today's software tools can make one either frustrated by the abundance of options or giddy in anticipation of applying their artistic sensibilities to decorate their work with an ever-increasing array of color, shapes, and special effects. Either condition usually leads to designs that suffer. What we can learn from professional designers, then, is that (1) constrains and limitations are a powerful ally not an enemy, and (2) creating our own self-imposed constraints, limitations, and parameters is often fundamental to good, creative work.

               “Such power there is in clear-eyed self-restraint."
                                                        — James Russell

In the world of presentation design, software gives us a huge amount of options, so many options that the novice is often either crippled by the complexity of choice, or indiscriminately applies tools and effects without restraint to suit his particular taste. On this point John Maeda says that "...while technology is an exhilarating enabler it can be an exasperating disabler as well."

Learning to embrace and learn from constraints
Wabiabi Self-imposed constraints can help us formulate clearer messages, including visual messages. In the various Zen arts, for example, you’ll find that careful study, practice and adherence to strict guidelines (or “constraints”) serve to bring out the creative energy of the individual. For example, Haiku has a long tradition and strict guidelines, yet with much practice one can create a message (in 17 syllables or less) that captures both the details and the essence of a moment. The form of Haiku may have many rules, but it is the rules that can help one express their own “Haiku moments” with both subtlety and with depth. In Wabi Sabi Simple, author Richard Powell comments on wabi sabi, discipline, and simplicity as they relate to such arts as Bonsai and Haiku:

“Do only what is necessary to convey what is essential. [C]arefully eliminate elements that distract from the essential whole, elements that obstruct and obscure....Clutter, bulk, and erudition confuse perception and stifle comprehension, whereas simplicity allows clear and direct attention."

                                                                   —Richard Powell

Limitations as liberating filters
Curtis Hillman Curtis, in his book MTIV: Process, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer, talks about limitations serving as filters that force us to make our designs/messages better. “Limitations can be seen as liberating frameworks that force you to streamline your work, making it accessible to the most people possible, both technologically and aesthetically.” Hillman talks about how their shop has learned through time a practice to view limitations not as annoyances but as "welcome editors" that keep them on track. This helps them boil designs down to the essence of what they are trying to communicate without the unnecessary or the extraneous. Self-editing is an important skill, though Curtis admits that all creatives (writers, designers, etc.) struggle with self-editing:

You may include things you believe to be crucial in a design, but those elements are often only crucial to you.”

                                                          — Hillman Curtis

I really love MTIV and highly recommend it, though I must admit that it is the wonderful design of the book itself that draws me in.

Setting our own restrictions

StoryRobert McKee in his book Story speaks of the importance of what he calls “The Principle of Creative Limitation.” McKee stresses that self-imposed limitation is vital and that the first step to developing a great story is to create a small, knowable world. McKee is speaking about the restrictions that the structure/setting relationship puts on the choices for the creator of a story. But this restriction does not inhibit creativity (for the writer in this case); “it inspires it.” Writing a great story or developing a compelling presentation (or website, etc.) is about making creative choices. A screen writer will write far more material than she can use. The genius is in what she leaves in and what she cuts out.

“Creativity means creative choices of inclusion and exclusion.”

                                                     — Robert McKee

The same can be said for crafting a presentation; success fundamentally depends on making good decisions about what to leave in or cut out. With presentation, you have to decide what little chunk of the thing it is you’re going to talk about and that is it. You can go deep or you can go wide, but you can not do both, and frankly you can’t even go that deep or that wide either. It is after all just a short presentation — an ephemeral moment in time — so think carefully about what will be included and what will end up excluded.

Life is about living with limitations and constraints of one type or another, but constraints are not necessarily bad, in fact they are often helpful, even inspiring as they challenge us to think differently and more creatively about a particular problem. While problems such as a sudden request to give a 20-minute sales pitch or a 45-minute overview of our research findings have built-in limitations — such as time, tools, and budget — we can increase our effectiveness by stepping back, thinking long and hard, and determining ways we can set our own parameters and constraints as we set out to prepare and design our next presentation (or next design project, etc.) with great clarity, focus, balance, and purpose.

A couple of good articles from A List Apart dealing with related issues (in the context of web design).
A Tao of webdesign
Much ado about 5K

Presentations and the "Laws of Simplicity"

Maeda_cover John Maeda's book, The Laws of Simplicity, is a good quick read. I love the clear presentation of the ideas in the book and the fact that the author imposed a limit of 100 pages for himself, an idea consistent with his Third Law: "Savings in time feels like simplicity." This book is not the final word on the topic of course, and in fact more is to come soon on the topic by MIT press. While the book is not perfect — the acronyms (SHE, SLIP, etc.) complicated things for me a bit — it is still better than most other books on simplicity aimed at business people. I must have three or four other thick business books on my shelf with the word "simplicity" in the title. Long winded, business books that espouse the need for simplicity today yet are filled with academic "blah, blah, blah" to get them to the obligatory length for a "serious business book." Maeda's book is different and it's fresh.

Much of the book's content can be found on Maeda's blog, The Laws of Simplicity. So if you want to save some money, it's basically all online. I think it was Seth Godin who said books are now a kind of "leave behind" for people once they have heard your story. People expect some sort of hard copy even if it is all online. If it is "your latest book" so much the better. There is just something about a book in the hand that is so much more "real" and "engaging" than the seemingly ephemeral text on a screen. My copy of Maeda's book (which I've read twice) is now rendered "very used" with folded page corners and pages filled with notes to myself, underlined passages, sketches, and even a coffee stain or two. (Yes, I know that this style of writing in books shocks some people, but at least it keeps them from borrowing my favorite books <g>). I'm buying several copies of The Laws of Simplicity and giving them to friends for Christmas. Its approachability and brevity make it a great gift for the busy entrepreneur. 

Maeda organizes the book around what he calls the Ten Laws of Simplicity. I read each law with presentations in mind, but you can apply the laws to really any design problem or business or technology challenge. In future I'll discuss the first nine laws in the context of presentations, but for now I'll discuss only Maeda's tenth law which he calls "The One." If you can't remember the nine laws, Maeda suggests, then just remember the tenth law in the book's final chapter. The tenth law is meant to encapsulate the other nine. In this chapter Maeda talks about what he calls the "champagne approach" which lead to this single simplified expression, or the Tenth Law:

"Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful."

The champagne approach: "Become like bubbles in a glass of champagne, floating upward in unexpected, elegantly fluid ways."
Maeda's "champagne approach" was inspired by the French rugby coach, Jean-Pierre Elissalde, who assessed that the Japanese national team (which he would coach), though technically solid, were too predictable. Their mechanical precision was too easy to anticipate and to stop. They needed to play on intuition and gut feel as much as calculated precision. Like the Japanese rugby team, we too need to become like bubbles in a glass of champagne, floating upward in unexpected, elegantly fluid ways. Learn to operate on intuition not just intellect. It is not just about mechanics and doing everything "technically correct." Doing it "by the book" or "by the numbers" is rarely a good approach in a live presentation, an activity which is very much a human one and requires a human touch.

Below are Maeda's three keys that comprise the Tenth Law.

Key 1: AWAY. More appears like less simply moving it far, far away.
Maeda refers to examples such as the simple Google homepage which of course sits atop a very complex network of computers and databases. For the end user Google is supremely simple, visually and otherwise. The result is local, Maeda says, and it's made simple by moving the actual work to a location far away. In the world of the 20-minute or even one-hour presentation, it is not possible to show or to talk about all of the background, all of the research, past failures, the reams of data, etc. that support your conclusion or have served as the antecedent to your current opinions about the issue you are today presenting. So, given time limits and the limits of the medium (an ephemeral live talk rather than material documentation in the form of a 400-page book), you state your case and give the appropriate evidence to support your story, but most of the background or details about that evidence are not introduced during your talk. This does not mean that those details are not important or that by removing it far away (figuratively) that you are embarking on a journey of superficiality. Many presenters fail because they did not first think hard about how and what to "remove far away."

If you try to tell them everything, you tell them nothing. I am not suggesting you water down your story to talking points and the repetition of simple statements for a mass audience, a technique favored by politicians and ad agencies pushing bubble gum and potato chips. Instead, by moving important material far away, for the moment, you can make your message more powerful. In the context of presentations, moving info away can help you and the audience see the forest for the trees.


Key 2: OPEN. Openness simplifies complexity.
"There are signs," says Maeda, "that a 'for free' open approach can lead to a 'for a fee' approach." If selling anything requires trust on the part of the buyer, it's odd that more organizations do not get that if you have an open approach and even "give it away" to some degree that this can lead to very good long-term benefits for both the organization and the customer. Maeda uses the example of the "Ruby on Rails" Web frame work by 37signals which is free but has related for-pay services. There is greater risk in an open approach -- whether we're talking about presentations or business in general -- but there is the possibility for greater reward as well. It's up to you. It's not easy and it has risks, risks too great for many perhaps. As Maeda points out, "I Love You" for example is perhaps the risky phrase of all, yet the rewards are immeasurable, are they not? An open approach to your presentations, or even to your approach to life in general, requires a belief in yourself (and your message, your mission, service, etc.) and the courage to muster up an equally risky phrase: "I Trust You."


Key 3: POWER. Use less, gain more.
Here Maeda is talking about power, energy, battery life, etc. However, the application of "Use less, gain more" can go beyond energy. One could apply it to any resource including time. Time in fact may be our most precious resource of all, now more than ever. There are many ways to look at time. Usually we think about time in terms of "How can I save more time?" Sure time is a constraint for us, but when planning a presentation, what if we took the notion of "time saving" and looked at it from the point of view of our audience instead of our own personal desires to do things more quickly and save time? What if it wasn't just about "our time" but it was about "their time"? When I am in the audience, I appreciate it so much when I am in the presence of a speaker who is dynamic, has done his homework, has prepared compelling visuals which add rather than bore, and generally makes me happy I have attended. What I hate more than anything — and I know you do too — is the feeling I get when I realize I am at the beginning of a wasted hour ahead of me.


But does your approach save time?

Garr_in_starbucksOK, so sometimes the approach I advocate may use more time not less time for you to prepare, but the time you are saving for your audience can be huge. Again, the question is: Is it always about saving time for ourselves? Is it not important to save time for others? When I save time for myself I am pleased. But when I save time for others by not only not wasting their time but instead by sharing something important to them, I feel inspired, energized, and rewarded. I can save time on the front end, but I may waste more time for others on the back end. For example, if I give a completely worthless one-hour long death-by-PPT presentation 10 times to groups averaging 20 people, that equals 200 hours of wasted time. But if I instead put in the time, say, 25 hours or more of planning and designing the message, slides, etc. over a couple of weeks, then I can instead *give* the world 200 hours of a worthwhile, memorable experience. Software companies advertise time-saving features which may help us believe we have saved time to complete a task such as preparing a presentation, but if time is not "saved" for the audience — if the audience wastes their time because we didn't prepare well, design the visuals well, or perform well — then what does it matter that we saved one-hour in preparing our slides?

One way I look at the spirit behind "Use less, gain more" is simply to "not waste," especially to not waste that which is not really mine to begin with such as other people's time. Preparing well can help make sure we do not waste the resource of other people's time. Another very simple way to "Use less, gain more" is to make certain our presentations or our pitches always end just a few minutes early.

Note: My wife took this snap of me in a downtown Osaka Starbucks yesterday with her mobile phone (which, by the way, is so complicated I have no idea how to use). Maeda's book is not meant to be the last word of simplicity or even to provide many etched-in-stone answers. Perhaps the odd look on my face proves that the book asks more questions than it answers...but that is not a bad thing at all. Especially while kicking back for a few hours in a café. I rather like questions.

Buy the book
Jon Maeda's website
The Laws of Simplicity website

Nobody's perect (redux)

Oh_crap If you use technology to support your presentation it's just a matter of time before it fails you. Ending up like this guy in this 1995 Apple commercial is every presenter's nightmare. The secret of success is not just in doing everything possible to reduce the risk of technical failure. The key is in the recovery and in the contingency plans you have in place (something the fictional character in the commercial did not have). For example, you can have two notebooks connected to your projector or a notebook and an iPod (via S-video in) just in case your computer unexpectedly acts nuts (see video). Today I often travel with just the one PowerBook and keep a PDF of the slides on a USB drive that I upload to one of the client's PCs just in case my computer acts up. Earlier this year a client's new Epson projector inexplicably would not recognize my PowerBook. That's never happened before and I would have been dead in the water, but I brought a USB drive with the the PDF file. It worked perfectly. There were no transition effects, but that is not a big deal. The show must go on, and it did...from the backup PC.

Even the master of the demo and the keynote, Steve Jobs, is not completely immune from technical glitches. It's been a while since Steve has had any serious bloopers in a keynote. Still, "Shitake happens," as Guy would say, even to Steve Jobs. But Steve and crew always have backup systems there that can be accessed at the flip of a switch (and he has indeed flipped that switch a time or two over the last few years). Our buddy Seth Godin sent me a link a couple of weeks ago to this YouTube video on Apple keynotes and demo bloopers over the years. I linked to this video in a February post called "nobody's perect" (the typo really was an accident and just too ironic to fix). There have not been too many Apple bloopers, but edited together here in one montage it is really quite amusing.

Jobs: "That's why we have backup systems"

Peter Cohan in his 2005 book, "Great Demo: How to create and execute stunning software demonstrations," provides a great axiom: "The pain and embarrassment potential of an bug appearing is directly proportional to the importance of the demo." Concerning bugs, mistakes and crashes, Cohan says this:

"It is inevitable. No matter how strong your development organization or how well OC'ed your software is, you should still expect to find bugs. The best way to deal with bugs is to plan on them happening!"
                                            — Peter Cohan, "The Demo"

Peter Cohan's book is excellent and is required reading for anyone who does presentations with the help of technology. This book is not just for those making software demos. Lot's of great advice from the front lines.

Zen and the Windows demo

Microsoft has certainly had its share of bloopers of the years too. Such as the (in)famous Windows 98 crash on stage.

The "Yup" heard 'round the world
Bill Gates and Conan O'Brian (below) on stage.

Show only what they need
" only the specific capabilities your audience needs to solve their problem, their Critical Business Issue," says Cohan. "While you may generate additional interest if you show other capabilities, you run the huge risk of boring, alienating, or complicating your demo." Cohan also stresses that you run the risk of running in to bugs or crashing. You gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.

Larry Osterman: "I'm glad you're enjoying this"

Vr_ms_demo_1Larry Osterman may be wondering if his demo of voice recognition was really worth it. Osterman's voice rec demo was a very small part of a longer demo and he eventually recovered and the feature seemed to work well, but the initial trouble he had was jumped on by the media. I guess the moral of the story is if you are going to demo something which is a bit risky (in this case perhaps due to the room not the software) it better be worth it.

In hindsight it doesn't seem worth the risk. Even if the demo on speech recognition would have worked perfectly, it does not seem like that big a deal. People on Macs and PCs have been using voice recognition for a very long time. Is this new? And in a demo situation where it is dicey, why take the risk? It just does not seem like there was really anything to gain. And while the glitch was actually small and corrected, the media pounced on the "failure." This glitch in the Microsoft presentation, if viewed in context, was not a big deal. But it is a sobering reminder nonetheless that any glitch can be taken for a PR spin. Take a look at this clip again. I do not know which is worse, the demo gone bad or the corny reporters covering (and totally distorting) the story. Read the reports here, and here. Read Larry Osterman's blog post on the incident here.

The Origami demo fumbleruski in Korea
How many executives does it take to run PowerPoint from an Origami? Apparently more than three. Too bad there's no video for this Origami demo fumbleruski. Read about it here and here in this Korea Times article, "Origami Stumps CEOs in Jobs-Style Presentation."

How to be a demo god by Guy Kawasaki
Presentation Aikido (part 1)
Presentation Aikido (part 2)
Tips for demoing your company
Dos and don'ts for presenting at DEMO
Tips on giving a 90-second demo
Five Tips For A Great Software Demo

Is a computer like a bicycle for the mind?

Note: This post seems dated now as tablets, smartphones, etc. have changed the debate somewhat. However, there is still too much focus on tools themselves (which are ephemeral and rather easy to use) rather than on deeper issues of learning, creativity, communication, and so on. A PZ reader recently back in 2006 pointed me to an article on the growing debate about issuing laptop computers to young students. I found these two snippets in the article on the positives of laptop programs interesting:

"...the laptop has helped her twelve-year-old son master critical professional skills like how to compile a PowerPoint presentation."

"...proponents of the programs argue that constant computer access teaches students skills critical to their success in college and at work, such as how to organize multimedia presentations and conduct research online."

Here's one citing a typical downside noticed by many parents today:

"... having a laptop has encouraged her thirteen-year-old son to spend more time dazzling up presentations with fancy fonts instead of digging through library books. "They need to be able to learn to research beyond what is accomplished by Googling a word or phrase."

Beach_bike Whether or not young kids issued laptops in elementary school get a better overall education by the time they graduate high school compared to students who never had their own laptop to carry around is debatable. To me it comes down to a question of whether or not we're asking the young students to use laptops to learn ephemeral applications (pull this menu down, copy here, paste there, etc.) out of our fear that they'll be "left behind," or whether we believe/know that all the time with the computer really helps improve a young student's mind, her critical and analytical thinking, her creativity, her knowledge of science and of the world, in addition to improving basic important math and reading/writing skills. If it's the latter, then I say fine. But does all that time with slideware as a kid teach her about design fundamentals, storytelling, how best to display data, how to edit effectively, etc? With the right teacher, perhaps it does. But I also wonder how much has changed since Alan Kay expressed these concerns in 1994:

"I think the thing that surprised me is that computers are treated much more like toasters, [with] predefined functions mainly having to do with word processing and spreadsheets or running packaged software, and less as a material to be shaped by students and teachers."

                                                              — Alan Kay (1994 interview)

There's no question that a kid and a laptop *can* be a very good thing, but does time spent with an app like PowerPoint as a sixth-grader make it more likely that when the student is, say, 25 she'll be a better thinker and a better presenter, especially when the electricity goes off and she's left with nothing but a whiteboard and some pens? Or think of it this way: does a personal laptop in the school function as a bicycle for the mind, amplifying the student's own capabilities and new knowledge or is it more like a car with pre-packaged formulas that allow the student to become soft in the head while appearing to really go places? I suspect much depends on the specifics of the particular school and program, of course. I am by no means the best judge since I teach university and do not have children yet, so I'd love to hear your own personal experiences with this issue. Whether you are a teacher, student, or parent, what has been your experience?

  Like_a_bike_1  Signs

The audience laughed at the Microsoft slide (right), but it was not a jab at only MS but at all software developers (including Apple) and us consumers as well. We can not rely only on the tools to show us the way much like a car with a navigation system. The best software in many cases does not so much point the way as it does a great job of getting out of the way, helping us to "amplify" our own abilities. Are you using your computer like a bike or like a car? This was my question to the audience.

        "Most ideas you can do pretty darn well with a stick in the sand."

                                                                                          — Alan Kay

The computer is like a bicycle for the mind
More than twenty years ago, Steve Jobs and others at Apple were talking about the great potential of computers and how the tool should be designed and used in a way that enhances the potential that exists within each of us. Take a look at this video clip of Steve Jobs from Memory and Immagination.

"What a computer is to me is it's the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with, and it's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”
                                                                 — Steve Jobs

(Watch video of Steve Jobs talking about how the bicycle is like a computer for the mind.)

Can computers teach kids how to think?

Is the application of computer technology today helping kids learn how to think, reason, and create better than their parents or grandparents did when they were the same age? Picasso said that computers are "useless" because they can only give answers. I tell my college students that I am more interested in their own questions and their analysis than in their answers memorized from a book. The genius often lies in the questions students ask not in the answers they've learned from others.

"Most computers today are sold like cars, where as many things as possible are done for you. You don't have to understand how it works and, in fact, you don't have to understand how to think because the most popular stuff is prepackaged solutions for this and that."

                                                                          — Alan Kay

Amplifies "Understanding how it works" doesn't necessarily only mean knowing the nuts and bolts of hardware or writing software, etc. (although some understanding there too would not hurt even for non-techies). What I am suggesting is that in the realm of presentations it's important for students to understand principles of design not merely software application rules to be obediently followed or the "tips and "tricks" of the day. The fundamental principles of design and visual communication, etc. can be applied broadly and not limited to the narrow world of presentation design only. Teaching students about design from an early age, challenging them, and exposing them to wonderful examples from around the world from several disciplines such as graphic design, art, architecture, industrial designs, etc. is something that they can really build on as they develop.

"It's absolutely important to challenge [students'] internals — challenge their internal musculature, their internal ability to make images, their internal ability to think about things and to make representations of things."

                                                                 — Alan Kay

Today business people are accustomed to enduring some pretty awful so-called PowerPoint presentations. I think there is hope for otherwise smart and talented adults who present badly. But the real hope long-term resides in the young students of today who have not yet learned the bad habits of their parents. As Alan Kay said over ten years ago, we've got to challenge the kids not just give them formulas and "time-saving" shortcuts to mediocrity. If a laptop in the hands of a 10-year-old child helps her develop her "internal musculature" long-term — if it serves like a bicycle for her mind — then a laptop is a very good thing. What say you?

A note about Japan

I teach one marketing class to about 25 Japanese students, all about 20-years-old. Only four have a computer of their own and most have never used PowerPoint. As freshman they even "lack basic computing skills" by US standards (though their cell phone surfing aptitude surpasses anything in the US). But it does not matter. By the end of the semester most of the students give presentations (using PowerPoint for visuals) that are as good or better than those of foreign students here who may have had their own computer since childhood. The PPT tool itself is easy to learn, especially when students realize that they can ignore about 90% of its menu options and focus more on research and putting their findings together in a strong, compelling way. And given the freedom, Japanese students can be quite creative indeed. The so-called "PPT savvy" students have to struggle initially to unlearn bad habits such as presenting with slideuments. The business students with no real previous PPT knowledge spend more time on research and internalizing (not memorizing) their material; the visuals tend to serve a stronger supporting role.

From design to meaning: a whole new way of presenting?

Pink My favorite book of the summer is Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.  A simple book in many ways, and a most profound and well-researched one as well. At 267 pages (in paperback), it's a quick read. In fact, I read it twice, the second time underlining, highlighting, and taking notes as I went along. "The future belongs to a different kind of person," Pink says. "Designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers — creative and empathetic right-brain thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't." Pink claims we're living in a different era, a different age. An age in which those who "Think different" may be valued even more than ever.

" age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life — one that prizes aptitudes that I call 'high concept' and 'high touch.' High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative....High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction..."

                                              — Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind

Brain The whole left-brain (L-directed thinking) and right-brain (R-directed thinking) exploration put forth logically enough in the first part of the book is highlighter-worthy, even if it's nothing really new for many of us who keep up on this stuff (my mother survived  a very serious stroke on the left side of her brain ten years ago; I have read a good deal and learned a lot about this subject since then). What I found particularly valuable in Dan Pink's book were the "six senses" or the "six R-directed aptitudes" which Pink says are necessary for successful professionals to posses in the more interdependent world we live in, a world of increased automation and out-sourcing. You can quibble over parts of his book if you like, but I think there is no denying that these six aptitudes are indeed more important now than they ever have been. Mastering them is not sufficient, of course, but leveraging these aptitudes may very well be necessary for professional success and personal fulfillment in today's world.

Now, Pink is not saying that logic and analysis, so important in "the information age," are not important in "the conceptual age" of today. Indeed, logical thinking is as important as it ever has been. "R-directed reasoning" alone is not going to keep the space shuttle up or cure disease, etc. Logical reasoning is a necessary condition. However, it's increasingly clear that logic alone is not a sufficient condition for success for individuals and for organizations. "Right-brain reasoning," then, is every bit as important now  — in some cases more important — than so-called "left-brain thinking." (The whole right-brain/left-brain thing, of course, is a metaphor based on real differences between the two hemispheres; a healthy person uses both hemispheres for even simple tasks).

A whole new way of of presenting?
The six fundamental aptitudes outlined by Pink can be applied to many aspects of our personal and professional lives. Below, I list the six key abilities as they relate to the art of presentation. The six aptitudes are: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. My discussion is with presentations (enhanced by multimedia) in mind, but you could take the six aptitudes and apply them to the art of game design, programming, product design, project management, health care, teaching, retail, PR, and so on. (I purchased the Japanese translation of A Whole New Mind yesterday. The Japanese translation of the six aptitudes (left) are as they appear in the book, though I added the English word below the Japanese.)

Design_1 (1) Design. To many business people, design is something you spread on the surface, it's like icing on a cake. It's nice, but not mission-critical. But this is not design to me, this is more akin to "decoration." Decoration, for better or worse, is noticeable, for example — sometimes enjoyable, sometimes irritating — but it is unmistakably *there.* However, sometimes the best designs are so well done that "the design" of it is never even noticed consciously by the observer/user, such as the design of a book or signage in an airport (i.e., we take conscious note of the messages which the design helped make utterly clear, but not the color palette, typography, concept, etc.). One thing is for sure, design is not something that's merely on the surface, superficial and lacking depth. Rather it is something which goes "soul deep."

"It is easy to dismiss design — to relegate it to mere ornament, the prettifying of places and objects to disguise their banality," Says Pink. "But that is a serious misunderstanding of what design is and why it matters." Pink is absolutely right. Design is fundamentally a whole-minded aptitude, or as he says, "utility enhanced by significance."

Design starts at the beginning not at the end; it
's not an afterthought. If you use slideware in your presentation, the design of those visuals begins in the preparation stage before you have even turned on your computer (if you're like me), let alone fired up the ol' slideware application. It's during the preparation stage that you slow down and "stop your busy mind" so that you may consider your topic and your objectives, your key messages, and your audience. Only then will you begin to sketch out ideas — on paper or just in your head — that will soon find themselves in some digital visual form later. Too much "PowerPoint design," as you know very well, is nothing more than a collection of recycled bullets, corporate templates, clip art, and seemingly random charts and graphs which are often too detailed or cluttered to make effective on-screen visuals and too vague to stand alone as quality documentation.

Story_3 (2) Story.
Facts, information, data. Most of it is available on-line or can be sent to people in an email, a PDF attachment, or a hard copy through snail mail. Data and "the facts" have never been more widely available. In this context, says Pink, "What begins to matter more [than mere data] is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." Cognitive scientist Mark Turner calls storytelling "Narrative imagining," something that is a key instrument of thought. We are wired to tell and to receive stories. "Most of our experiences, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories," Turner says.

Story_1 "Story" is not just about storytelling but about listening to stories and being a part of stories. We were all born storytellers (and story listeners). As kids we looked forward to "show and tell" and we gathered with our friends at recess and at lunchtime and told stories about real things and real events that mattered, at least they mattered to us. But somewhere along the line, "Story" became synonymous with "fiction" or even "lie." "Oh, he's just telling you a big fat story," they'd say. So "Story" and storytelling have been marginalized in business and academia as something serious people do not engage in. But gathering from what college students tell me, the best and most effective professors, for example, are the ones who tell true stories. My students tell me that the best professors (from their point of view) don't just go through the material in a book but put their own personality, character, and experience into the material in the form of a narrative which is illuminating, engaging, and memorable. My hardest course in graduate school was an advanced research methods class. Sounds dry — and the textbook was dry — yet the professor told stories, gave example after example, and engaged the class in conversations which covered a great amount of important material.

In the end, we can all benefit from increasing our appreciation for Story and becoming both better listeners and storytellers. Story can be used for good: for teaching, for sharing, for illuminating, and of course, for honest persuasion.

Symph (3) Symphony. Focus, specialization, and analysis have been important in the "information age," but in the "conceptual age" synthesis and the ability to take seemingly unrelated pieces and form and articulate the big picture before us is crucial, even a differentiator. Pink calls this aptitude Symphony:

" the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair."

                                         — Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind

The best presenters can illuminate the relationships that we may not have seen before. They can "see the relationships between relationships." Symphony requires that we become better at seeing, truly seeing in a new way. "The most creative among us see relationships the rest of us never notice," Pink says. Anyone can delivery chunks of information and repeat findings represented visually in bullet points on a screen, what's needed are those who can recognize the patterns, who are skilled at seeing nuance and the simplicity that may exist in a complex problem. Symphony in the world of presentation does not mean dumbing down information into soundbites and talking points so popular in the mass media, for example. To me, Symphony is about utilizing our whole mind — logic, analysis, synthesis, intuition — to make sense of our world (i.e., our topic), finding the big picture and determining what is important and what is not before the day of our talk. It's also about deciding what matters and letting go of the rest. Audiences are full of busy, stressed out professionals with less and less time on their hands. A symphonic approach to our material and our ability to bring it all together for our audience will be greatly appreciated.

Empathy (4) Empathy. Empathy is emotional. It's about putting yourself in the position of others. It involves an understanding of the importance of the nonverbal cues of others and being aware of your own. Good designers, for example, have the ability to put themselves in the position of the user, the customer, or the audience member. This is a talent, perhaps, more than it's a skill that can be taught, but everyone can get better at this. Everyone surely knows of a brilliant engineer or programmer, for example, who seems incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly be confused by his (or her) explanation of the data — in fact he's quite annoyed by the suggestion that anyone could "be so thick" as to not understand what is so "obvious" to him.

We can certainly see how empathy helps a presenter in the course of a live talk. Empathy allows a presenter, even without thinking about it, to notice when the audience is "getting it" and when they are not. The empathetic presenter can make adjustments based on his reading of this particular audience. You may have had the experience of "changing gears" during your talk with great success. You may have also suffered along with others in the audience when a presenter seemed not to empathize with his audience at all, even droning on past his allotted time, oblivious to the suffering he was causing. The presenter with empathy — who empathizes with his audience — will never go over time, and in fact may finish a bit before his time is up.

Play (5) Play. In the conceptual age, says Pink, work is not just about seriousness but about play as well. Pink quotes University of Pennsylvania professor, Brain Sutton-Smith who says, "The opposite of play isn't work. It's depression. To play is to act out and be willful, exultant and committed as if one is assured of one's prospects." Each presentation situation is different, but in many (most?) public speaking situations playfulness and humor can go along way. I do not mean "jokiness" or clown-like informality. But many of the best business presentations or seminars that I've attended over the years have had elements of humor. As Pink points out, "Laughter is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and that is even more contagious than the yawn..."

Surf_play Indian physician Madan Kataria points out in Pink's book that many people think that serious people are the best suited for business, that serious people are more responsible. "[But] that's not true," says Kataria. "That's yesterday's news. Laughing people are more creative people. They are more productive people." Somewhere along the line we were sold the idea that a real business presentation must necessarily be dull, devoid of humor and something to be endured not enjoyed. And if you use slides — and God help you if you don't — the more complex, detailed, and ugly the better. After all this is serious business, not a day at the beach. This approach is still alive and well today, but I hope in future that this too will become "yesterday's news." It's possible. Remember, for example, that twenty years ago or so business — especially big business — rejected the idea of a graphical user interface for "serious computing" because business should be "difficult" and "serious," ideas that seemed incongruent with a mouse (how cute!) icons, pictures, and color, etc. Today, of course, almost every serious business person users a computer with a GUI.

Meaning (6) Meaning. I don't want to put too fine a point on this, but making a presentation is an opportunity to make a small difference in the world (or your community, or your company, or school, church, etc.). A presentation gone badly can have devastating impact on your spirit and on your career. But a presentation which goes insanely well can be extremely fulfilling for both you and the audience, and it might even help your career. Some say that we "are born for meaning" and live for self-expression and an opportunity to share that which we feel is important. If you are lucky, you're in a job that you feel passionate about. If so, then it's with excitement that you look forward to the possibility of sharing your expertise — your story — with others. Few things can be more rewarding than connecting with someone, with teaching something new, or sharing that which you feel is very important with others.

Frankly, the bar is often rather low. Audiences are so used to death-by-PowerPoint that they've seemingly learned to see it as "normal" even if not ideal. However, if you are different, if you exceed expectation and show them that you've thought about them, done your homework and know your material, and demonstrated through your actions how much you appreciate being there and that you are there for them, chances are you'll make an impact and a difference, even if it's just in the smallest of ways. There can be great meaning in even these small connections. Take the time before the presentation to meet people, linger afterwards to speak with as many as you can. This is where the relationships are really formed and where a difference can be made.

Many people find a great deal of meaning by volunteering their time and "giving it away." Think about volunteering to present for free to non-profit groups, schools, etc. When it comes to "meaning" these have been some of the most rewarding speaking opportunities. It's an opportunity for you to share your knowledge and wisdom, broaden your own network, and it serves as good practice for you. What could be better?

The slide builds in six stages beginning with Design. The vector images are from iStockphoto with some extra editing on my part.The content is adapted from pages 65-66, "Introducing the six senses."

Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. These are not the last word on the aptitudes needed by the modern presenter, but mastering these along with other important aptitudes such as strong analytical skills will take you far as a communicator in the "conceptual age."

Daniel Pink's blog
Revenge of the right Brain by Dan Pink (Wired)
Dan Pink interview with
Changing world is leaving the SAT behind by Dan Pink (USA Today)

Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself (2002) by Dan Pink.
The World is Flat. A good companion book to A Whole New Mind.
Love is the Killer App. I kept thinking of this great little book while reading A whole New Mind. Good advice for the "Conceptual Age" man or woman.

You are creative (part 2)

As a follow up to yesterday's post on creativity, here are eight more quotes from Brenda Ueland's wonderful book, "If You want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit." Excerpts from her book are presented in bold.


(1) "Imagination comes, works, when you are not trying, when you have a peculiar passive clarity."

From my experience with jazz I have learned that I am at my worst musically when I am consciously trying to be creative, when I am forcing an idea or trying actively to "sound great" or to impress the crowd or other musicians. The best, most creative musicians I have played with "don't think nothin' 'bout nothin'" they just play (man). For many people, the best ideas occur when they are miles away from the office, figuratively and literally. You've got to "sharpen the saw." You've got to get out, to the sea, to the mountains, to the corner café, where ever it is that you can feel free.

"The tragedy is that either they stifle their fire [creative spirit] by not believing in it and using it; or they try to prove to the world and themselves that they have it, not inwardly and greatly, but externally and egotistically, by some second-rate thing like money or power or more publicity."

(3) "You must discover what there is in you, this bottomless fountain of imagination and knowledge."

Do you you really know what's inside you? Do any of us? Even the geniuses of the world comment that they hardly scratch the surface of what they believe they are capable of. Sadly, many (most?) people go through life without ever discovering their hidden talents. Says Ueland, "If you have a million dollars in the bank and don't know it, it doesn't do you any good."

(4) "To have things alive and interesting, it must be personal, it must come from the 'I': what *I* know and feel."

It must be authentic. On the importance of telling a story, not just selecting words from memory, Ueland says, "Think of telling a story, not writing it. When you tell a story you have the instinctive sense of timing in it, of going into detail where it is important, of moving fast over the surface of the story when necessary."

It is not about thinking of words or memorizing a script, it is about the story. We do not tell a story from memory; we do not need to memorize a story that has meaning to us. It is in us. We tell it from our gut. Internalize your story, but do not memorize it.

(5) "When the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection ...there is no sense in writing anything I don't feel."

You can't fake it. You can't try to believe in your words. You believe in your story, or you do not. And if you do not, no amount of hyped-up, superficial "enthusiasm" or "conviction" will ever make your time with an audience (or reader, etc.) meaningful. If you do not believe it, do not know it to be true, how can you connect and convince others with your words? Your words will be...just words.

(6) On being in the moment, not over "thinking it": "Only when you are playing in a thing do people listen and hear you and are moved."

When you are totally in the moment, in the present and not over thinking it, then, says Ueland, "self-consciousness, anxiety, 'intellectualizing (i.e., primly frowning through your pince-nez and trying to do things according to prescribed rule as laid down by others will be untied to you, will be cast off."

It's important to know what the rules are. We must study the "proven ways" from our teachers and books...and then have the freedom and belief in ourselves to cast all that aside and be in the here and now, in this unique moment in time. "It is when you are really living in the present that you are living spiritually, with the imagination" Ueland says.


(7) "Enthusiasm! this is the sign that the creative fountain is in you." Responding to those who warn against mere enthusiasm, she quotes Blake: "Mere enthusiasm is the All in All."

Put your love, passion, imagination, and spirit behind it. I remember once a guy commenting on a successful long-term project I did. He said to me, "well, you have enthusiasm, I'll give you that..." It was a backhanded compliment. These are the people who get us down. Life is short. Don't hang out with people who dismiss enthusiasm, or worse still, with those who try to kill yours.

(8) "Do not try to make somebody believe you are smarter than you are. What's the use? You can never be smarter than you are."

Almost Zen-like in its simplicity and truth. Remember, we are talking about tapping into our creative energies. Trying to impress others or worrying about what others may think should be the last thing on our mind.


You are human, you are creative
Who told you that you are not creative? (It wasn't me.) Was it your parents? A teacher from the past? Your ex-? The "Auto-Content wizard? (Auto content -- are your kidding me?!!). Yes, some people are far more talented than others. But I'm not talking about a competition. I'm talking about getting the most out of ourselves. How you tap into your creative energy and your creative potential is up to you. But it won't come from worry about how great others are and how much we suck by comparison.

Forget about the others. For the moment at least, let's forget about the competition and the fear of failure. Think of the fun, the exploration, and the possible discoveries if we didn't have fear. A little fear is necessary (self preservation and all that). But fear is one of the greatest barriers to our ability to see deeply what is within us and what kind of imaginative thinking and inspired creativity we are cable of. This weekend take some time alone and sort of passively ponder this: What might you do if you could remove all the fear?


You are creative (part 1)

Notes: (1) Thank you to Hugh Macleod at Gapingvoid for allowing folks to use his wonderful cartoons. (2) The two color slides above are made with iStockphoto images in Keynote with Gill Sans Light. They are from an actual presentation.

Related links

Creative tips for artists
 Creative tips for teachers
 Tips Designed to Get Those Creative Juices Flowing!
 How to be more creative (from
 Ten creative tips (from
 Creative writing idea boosters
 Seven tips to keep your company's creativity sizzling
 Five tips for generating fresh ideas

You are creative (who the %$#@! says you're not?)

"Creative power" or "creative imagination" is not only for "The artists of the world," the painters, the sculptors, and so on. Teachers need the power of creativity too. So do programmers, engineers, scientists, etc. You can see the application of creative genius in many professional fields. Remember, for example, that it was a group of brilliant and geeky-to-the-core NASA engineers on the ground who in 1970 were able jury rig a solution to the life-threatening build up of carbon dioxide in the damaged Apollo 13 space craft. Their heroic fix, literally involving duct tape and spare parts, was ingenious improvisation, imaginative...and it was creative.

Back down here on earth, the seemingly mundane business or conference presentation, designed and delivered with the help of slideware, can be a very creative thing. A presentation is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, or your organization, or your cause. It's your chance to tell the story of why your content is important, why it matters. It can be an opportunity to make a difference. So why look, talk (bore?) like everyone else? Why strive to meet expectations? Why not surpass expectations and surprise people? Besides, audiences' expectations are quite low as far as presentations are concerned anyway (unless you're the "Steve Jobs" of your field).
You are original, unique, and creative
Even if you are not "A Creative" (artist, designer, musician etc.), you are a creative person. Probably -- assuredly in fact -- far more creative than you think. All people should work toward tapping into their creative abilities and unleashing their imaginations. Why? I think Brenda Ueland (1891-1985) puts it best:

"First because it is impossible that you have *no* creative gift. Second: the only way to make it live and increase is to use it. Third: you cannot be sure that it is not a *great* gift."
                                                    — Brenda Ueland

Write"If you want to Write" by Brenda Ueland is one of the most inspiring and useful books I have ever read. The book was first published in 1938 and probably should have been titled "If You Want to Be Creative." The simple (yet sage-like) advice will be of interest not only to writers but to anyone who yearns to be more creative in their work or to help others get in touch with their creative souls. While reading the book (for the third time) I couldn't help but think of parents and teachers who have such a huge impact on their kids in terms of creativity (for better or worse). This book should be required reading for all knowledge workers or anyone aspiring to teach anyone about anything.

12 things to remember about being creative from Brenda Ueland (Part 1)
I could barely read the book the third time through due to all the underlining and scribblings I did in my copy of the book the first two times I read it last summer. There is so much in Ueland's little book (only 179 pages) I'd like to share. Below I list six quotes from Brenda Ueland. The quotation is in bold. I comment briefly after each quotation. Here are the other six tips from Ueland.

(1) "...the creative power is in all of you if you give it a little time, if you do not always keep it out by hurrying and feeling guilty in times when you should be lazy and happy. Or if you do not keep the creative power away by telling yourself the worst of lies -- that you haven't any."

Reflecting_cafeAh, the big lie we tell ourselves: "I am not creative." Sure, you might not be the next Picasso in your field (then again, who knows?). But it does not really matter. What matters is to not close yourself down too early in the process of exploration. Failing is fine, necessary in fact. But avoiding experimentation or risk -- especially out of fear of what others may think -- is something that will gnaw at your gut more than any ephemeral failure. A failure is in the past. It's done, over. But worrying about "what might be if..." or "what might have been if I had..." are pieces of baggage we carry around daily. They're heavy and they'll kill our creative spirit. Take chances and stretch yourself. We're only here on this planet once, and for a very short time at that. Why not just see how gifted you are. You may surprise someone. Most importantly, you may surprise yourself.

(2) On why the creative power inside of us should be kept alive. "Why? Because it is life itself. It is the spirit. In fact, it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears."

Childs_playChildren are naturally creative, playful, and experimental. If you ask me, we were the "most human" when we were young kids. We didn't force it, but we loved it. We "worked" at it, sometimes for hours at a time without a break, because it was in us, though we didn't intellectualize it. As we got older the fear crept in, the doubts, the self-censoring, the over-thinking. The creative spirit is in us now; it's who we are. We just need to look at the kids around us to be reminded of that. And if you are 58 or 88 today? It's never too late, the child is still in you.

(3) "The imagination needs moodling -- long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering. People who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas...But they have no slow, big ideas."

Idling or "doing nothingness" is important. Most of us, myself included, are obsessed with "getting things done." We're afraid to be "unproductive." And yet, the big ideas often come to us during our periods of "laziness," during those episodes of "wasting time." We need more time away from the direct challenges of work. Long walks on the beach, a jog through the forest, a bike ride, spending 4-5 hours in a coffee shop with the Sunday paper. It is during these times that your creative spirit is energized.

(4) "What you write today is the result of some span of idling yesterday, some fairly long period of protection from talking and busyness."

By "writing" Ueland means any creative endeavor. Busyness kills creativity.  Busyness, for example, leads to the creation and display of a lot of "PowerPoint decks" that substitute for engaging, informative or provocative meetings or seminars where actual conversations could and should be taking place. But people are busy, rushed, even frantic. So they slap together some slides from past presentations and head to their meeting. Communication suffers...the audience suffers. Yes, we're all insanely busy, but this is just all the more reason why we owe it to ourselves and to our audience not to waste their time with perfunctory "slide-shows from hell." To do something better takes time, time away from "busyness."

(5) "...daily life, so much of which is nervous cacophonous, where one's attention is unhappily jerked from this to that, so that the imagination inside cannot accumulate its strength and light."

Creative power, says Ueland, is not something "nervous or effortful; in fact it can be scared away by nervous straining." But we need time, much of it alone. Sometimes we need solitude and a break for slowing down so that we may see. Managers who understand this and give their staff the time they need (which they can only do by genuinely trusting them) are the secure managers, the best managers.


(6) "Do not forget to keep recharging yourself as children do, with a new thinking called 'inspiration.'"

Inspiration. Where can you find it? A million places and in a million ways, but probably not by doing the same old routine, or by gossiping with staff in the break room about things that don't really matter. Sometimes we can find inspiration in teaching. When we teach someone something important to us, we are reminded why it matters, and the enthusiasm of the student -- child or adult -- is infectious and can energize us. On helping others see their creative spirit Ueland says "I helped them by trying to make them feel freer, bolder. Let her go! Be careless, reckless! Be a lion. Be a pirate!" We know it's important to be free, free like children are. We just need reminding occasionally.

Part II here.

How to be creative by Hugh Macleod, Gaping void.
Thirty wonderful bits of advice for tapping into your creative side.

Carlos Ghosn: The little things matter

Ghosn_talkCarlos Ghosn is world famous. In Japan, he's rockstar famous. He's most famous, of course, for the amazing turnaround of Nissan. That's a very a big thing. But to Carlos Ghosn, the little things are also crucial. In The Ghosn Factor, for example, Miguel Rivas-Micoud recounts how Ghosn made a special effort to painstakingly learn the proper way to use Japanese chopsticks, all while the pressures of the business challenges he faced were building. Says Rivas-Micoud:

"All he [Ghosn] could think about was how they were going to get the company back on its feet. Yet there in front of him on the desk were pictures with detailed instructions on the proper technique of using chopsticks."

The lesson for Ghosn was " matter what the problems are that you must face each day, you cannot forget the small things." Rivas-Micoud continues:

"Holding chopsticks correctly was necessary if Ghosn hoped to make a good impression on Japanese subordinates and colleagues. The lesson reminded Ghosn of the importance of the tiniest facets of managing a company. You can not ignore them, just as you cannot ignore the proper way of holding chopsticks."

Developing and refining your talents as a presenter is admittedly a small thing. But it is one of those things that will surely make a huge difference in your career.

Turn up the passion, end the confusion
Speaking at the New York International Auto Show last week, Ghosn, reportedly blasted the auto industry for being unimaginative and relying on "bland, safe, cookie-cutter designs." Ghosn, who is known for his solid speaking skills, said:

"Auto makers can either sell cars without passion and struggle with shrinking production, or they can sell cars with passion."

Ghosn is talking about the auto industry, but we could serve up a re-mix of his theme and apply his wisdom to the sorry state of business and conference presentations today as well. Here are four Ghosn-inspired items that would help presenters.

(1) Show more passion
If you want us to care, you better show that you care about your subject...deeply. You think business or science or technology are not passionate subjects? Nonsense. I saw the great Dr. Linus Pauling speak once at OSU in the '80s (he was an Oregon State alum). He was a very engaging and inspiring figure (and in his 70s I think). Dr. Richard Feyman, whom I've only seen on video, was also a passionate, and extremely engaging, articulate speaker. It's no wonder he was such a popular teacher.

(2) End cookie-cutter design
No one says you have to use PowerPoint or any other slideware for that matter. But if you do, I recommend avoiding, tired overused software templates which may get the audience saying to themselves -- even before you've had a chance to speak -- "Oh boy, here we go again. PowerPoint hell." Our content is not of the off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter variety, so why use overused templates that may imply otherwise?

(3) End confusion
Presenters should be in the business of making meaning. The audience wants data and evidence, but they also need context and the big picture. Most presentations could be less confusing if presenters simply remembered this: For your audience to understand anything, you do not need to tell them everything. You've got 20 minutes or an hour -- how can you avoid all obfuscation and confusion and leave the audience with something memorable and important? That is the question.

(4) Think benefits not technology
In a recent New York Times online interview, Ghosn talks about focusing on benefits rather than technology. "We don't push technology," Ghosn said. "We think more [in terms of] benefits than technology." We can think this way too about presentations when using the aid of modern technology, can we not? We have to always ask ourselves if there is a clear benefit to the audience for using a new piece of technology, say, a tablet PC rather than the a laptop. Just because it's cool and cutting edge does not mean it's the best choice for the moment. Besides, the technology we use should be invisible anyway. The audience doesn't need to know if we are using 35mm slides, a Mac, a PC, an iPod or displaying slides from Keynote, PowerPoint, or something else. The content of the message and our connection with the audience are all that matter.

  Passion_1  Ghosn
Sample slides from a recent presentation I made on the importance of passion in the work place.

Brand Autopsy has a discussion on branding and Ghosn's recent comments. Interesting.