Creative connections

Art Fry had a little problem that vexed him: when he sang in his church choir, the bookmarks in his hymnal kept moving around or falling to the floor.  One Sunday in 1973 he recalled that a colleague at work, Spencer Silver, had developed an adhesive.  The glue wasn’t very marketable, but it did have some unique properties: it did not leave a residue, and was strong enough to stick to things but still weak enough to remove easily. Fry decided to apply some of the adhesive along the edge of a piece of paper.  His bookmark problem was solved.
 
You may have heard the story before. Fry and Spencer worked at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, also known as 3M. From that simple idea the company developed the product that we all know as the colourful Post-it notes, now sold around the world.

This story illustrates a point about ingenuity.  As Apple founder Steve Jobs summarized: “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Jobs’ life is an example of how varied experiences can come together to inspire creativity. The idea of calling the company “Apple Computer” came to him from spending time at an apple orchard in Oregon where he attended a spiritual retreat.  Jobs also spent some time at an ashram in India and experimented with calligraphy in a class at Reed College. These were experiences that were quite different from daily life in the suburbs and stoked his creativity. These same memories later shaped his thoughts about simplicity and design, which he so famously applied to the computer business. When Apple built the Macintosh computer, the company hired musicians, artists and poets along with engineers.

Another important innovator, Leonardo da Vinci, also saw the value of those inter-disciplinary connections.  He wrote, “Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses - especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else."  

A contemporary expert in thinking, Edward de Bono, believes that “creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”  

That’s motivation for all of us to get out there and try different things...


A related stories:  
How to foster creativity, previously in this blog.
How great business innovators are made (not born), from Fortune magazine. The article refers to two recent books.

Note:
The Leonardo da Vinci and Edward de Bono quotations are collected in BrainyQuote, a very useful site.

An award for a pioneer and a salute to children's television programming

I was so pleased to hear that Linda Ellerbee will receive a prestigious award next month for her lifetime of work in broadcasting and journalism.  It's especially nice because it highlights the importance of news programming for children.

She is the pioneering journalist who created Nick News with Linda Ellerbee for Nickelodeon in 1991. Before that, she had a long career at NBC and also at ABC.  A singularly independent-minded person, Ellerbee has won many awards during her career.  You may remember her as the anchor for NBC News Overnight and also as the anchor for the ABC series Our World.  What sets Ellerbee apart is her writing style and her confident delivery.  Always clear and direct, she has the ability to present the essential core of issues. Many in network television considered her irreverent. You may remember her signature sign-off on News Overnight.  She always closed the broadcast with this: "....and so it goes."

In many ways, Ellerbee has maintained a child-like curiosity about the world. This served her well when she started her Lucky Duck Productions company and proposed a news program for children. Always a hands-on manager, she serves as executive producer, writer and anchor of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. It is the longest running children's news programming in North American television history.

The show has won every major television and journalism award usually associated with adult programs.

In September,  the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) will be handing Ellerbee it's highest award for "a lifetime of hard work and leadership," as the awards chairperson says in a press release.  (The RTDNA is the largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism.)

Nick News is not afraid to present topics that are difficult for children, like the Afghan war, AIDS or gang crime in big cities; but it does so with a sensitivity and understanding of its audience that is very special.

In our rapidly-changing, complex world, it's important that children are not only entertained, but also informed about issues in the news.  As Ellerbee points out, kids "just can't escape the world." Children have questions about what they see and hear in the media.  The challenging topics in the news need to be explained and presented in a way they can understand and also in a way that takes into account their emotions and psychological development.

I applaud Ellerbee's achievements.  Let's not forget that we depend on today's children to provide better solutions for tomorrow.

(2011/08/14)

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Notes:

Nick News is only available on the Nickelodeon network. If you'd like to get a sense of Ellerbee's writing and some of the topics the show covers, take a look at the Nick News web site.

You can see several profiles of Linda Ellerbee on YouTube.  Ellerbee is an outspoken cancer survivor and also an author of several books.  I found this one interesting, even though it precedes her work on children's television. A more recent interview is here.

For those of you who were around in the 1970s and the '80s, you may recall that CBS used to present news information for children on Saturday mornings.  The CBS segments were also outstanding examples of explanatory news writing. Do you remember "In the News" ?

The Big Hole

In the same year that Jesse James robbed his first bank, some younger boys on the other side of the world were playing alongside a river in South Africa. The year was 1866. The place the boys called home was not that different from the American West. They lived near Hopetown, a small community on the northern edge of the Karoo desert, near the Orange River.  It was a day like many others. On that particular day, one of the boys found a pebble with a yellowish tinge on the ground. He liked it and decided to keep it as a toy. Sometime later, 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs handed it to a neighbouring farmer, who asked about it because he enjoyed collecting unusual stones. The farmer eventually passed it along to a wandering peddler. The traveller in turn sent the stone in an ordinary envelope to a man who knew something about gems and minerals in another town hundreds of kilometres away. It turned out to be a rather special find.  Dr. William Atherstone of Grahamstown identified the stone as a 21.25 carat diamond.  It was the first diamond found in South Africa...and what a diamond.

Eureka

A large gem was cut from that original crystal and it was given the name of Eureka, for its historical significance.  A year later, it had achieved fame and was shown at the 1867 Paris Exhibition.

Back in Africa, Lady Luck seemed to be wandering around Hopetown in disguise. About three years after Erasmus Jacobs had given the pebble to his neighbour, that very same farmer, a man whose sharp eye for gems evidently had become even sharper, did not misread a second opportunity. He came across a young native shepherd who had found another stone. The farmer liked what he saw because he immediately turned his back on his own livelihood, trading practically all of his animals to the boy in exchange for the gem. In giving up five hundred sheep, ten oxen and a horse, Schalk van Niekerk made his fortune and changed the future of South Africa.

The shepherd had found a large crystal of 83.50 carats.  Van Niekerk sold it for $56,000.  It made its way to Europe and was fashioned into the spectacular 47.69 carat, pear-shaped Star of South Africa jewel.

It started a Southern diamond rush.

Birth of a mine

In a very short time, 800 claims were staked on the little hillock believed to sit atop vast diamond fields. The hill, "Colesberg Copje," stood on land owned by the DeBeers brothers.  Miners arrived in their thousands and, ant-like, started working their way down into the ground. The DeBeers company was founded at this time by Cecil Rhodes, who had arrived at the beginning of the rush and rented water pumps to the miners.

The hill soon vanished and the site became known as the Big Hole. From 1871 until 1914, many thousands of men, using just basic hand tools, picks and shovels and trowels, dug deeper and deeper, eventually removing more than 2,700 kilograms of diamonds.  The town of Kimberley sprang up at its edge.

The Big Hole is still there, 463 metres wide and 240 metres deep. It has since been filled by about 40 metres of water that accumulated over time.  The Hole is one of the largest hand-dug pits anywhere in the world. More sophisticated mining operations continued underground far beneath the hole for some time. Altogether, the mine shafts extended to a depth of over 1,000 metres.

As an immigrant living in South Africa, I visited Kimberley with my family back in the 1960s. Being a child at the time, I could identify with 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs.

My dad snapped the photograph shown above.  The place is impressive. When you see it for the first time, your stomach churns.


Notes:
For other giant wonders, including the Diavik diamond mine in Canada and another one in Russia, see Top 10 Strange Holes in the World

Artists

It's a beautiful summer day in Vancouver. The wonderful thing about a lazy weekend afternoon is that the mind feels free to wander back and forth, from ideas about the future, to things lived in the past, to concepts we rarely consider during the busy work week.  I'm thinking about movies, books and conversations about creativity. Browsing through this blog, I run across something I had posted a few years ago. It seems to fit with the present train of thought:
 

The posting was about a quote from American novelist William Faulkner in an industry newsletter sent to me by e-mail.

I had been wondering how to define art. That's a difficult and subjective thing.  Yet there it was, in Faulkner's words, clear and neat:

"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by 
artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when 
a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life."

I don't know if you agree, but I think that's very good indeed.

It's a good reference point for a summer day thinking about movies and stories and illustrations.

Thoughts on the debt limit debate in Washington

It has been difficult to watch how polarized U.S. politics has become in recent years, and especially how acrimonious and partisan the debate on the debt ceiling has been in Washington.  Most of all, it has been painful to observe how President Obama seems to have been unable to lead from the front and forge a path forward. The Republican party has instead found a way to force the President into an unseemly compromise on spending cuts and has at the same time appeased its more conservative members who see the world in very simplistic terms.  While most public opinion polls in the U.S. show that Americans prefer a balanced approach to managing the country's finances, an approach which would include taxing the wealthy and reducing military spending, politicians in Washington have so far been unable to craft a deal that matches public opinion. They have focused instead on winning partisan points.  The country's party leaders appear to have sought ideological, self-interested victories instead of focusing on nation-building (or should I say "nation-saving"?).  It appears the crisis has weakened President, who has found it exceedingly difficult to fix the political mess in Washington he said he wanted to clean up when he was elected.

It will be interesting to see, when we look back, whether this crisis proves the President lost his way or whether it shows him to be an understated but sophisticated leader.

More info:

> Ross Douthat writes in The New York Times that Obama is a "diminished president."

>Across the Atlantic, however, Tim Stanley at The Guardian newspaper sees things differently, arguing that Obama "looks like a winner." He says the President's passive approach has paid off and his centrist stance will help him in the next election.

(Check the monthly archives on the right for more posts.)