June 21, 2009

Leading the revolution by Gary Hamel

Leading the revolution by Gary Hamel

I have this book from the Library for quite some time and ended up in paying late fee. Still I could not go over them; the reason could be that I have had too much of innovation classes already.

There are many books written and being written on about innovations and why companies fail, but many fails to bring out winning tools for the existing companies to excel.

The circle of innovation by Tom Peters.

The circle of innovation by Tom Peters.

I did go through the book; I think it is not a book, but print copy of his 300 slides of PowerPoint presentations.

IMO, books – esp. fact finding books - should be detailed to emphasis the core theme.

Tom Peter is known to be a guru in the business world.

What the CEO wants you to know By Ram Charan

What the CEO wants you to know.
By Ram Charan
(how your company really works)
(Ram Charan is a highly sought adviser to CEOs (including GE, Ford, DuPont, EDS, Verizon). He got his DBA & MBA from Harvard and taught at Harvard.)

This is a small pocket book is on business acumen and a good example of the fact that only experts /guru’s can simplify complex subjects.

When it comes to running a business successfully, the street vendor and CEOs of the enterprise talk and think very much like. They speak a universal language of business. They practice a universal law of business.

I learned those business fundamentals as a child growing up in a small agricultural town in northern India. There I watched my father and uncle struggle to make living selling shoes from their small shop, a joint family enterprise. With no experience and no formal training, they competed head to head against others in the town who were also trying to eke out a living.

You may be a top-notch professional, but are you really a business person? Regardless of your job, dept., you need to develop your business acumen.
As you learn to see your company as a total business and make decisions that enhance its overall performance, you will help make meetings less bureaucratic, more focused on the business issues. Time will go quickly, as it does when discussions are constructive and energizing. You’ll get more excited about your job because you will see that your suggestions and decisions help the business grow and prosper. You will have a greater sense of purpose and your capacity will increase.

When you learn to speak the universal language of business, you can have meaningful discussion with anyone in the company, at any level. You will tear down the walls that separate you, from those well-dressed senior executives and MBAs who speak a language you may not understood. You will feel more connected to your company and your work. And the range of opportunities open to you will expand.

Street vendor’s skill:

How does a street vendor hawking fruits and vegetables in a small Indian town make a living? Someone with a MBA might say, “Anticipate demand”. But street vendor does not know the buzz words. He has to figure out what to buy that morning, - what quantity, quality, what assortment of fruits and vegetables – based on what he thinks he can sell that day (his sales ‘forecast’).

Then he has to figure out what prices to charge and be nimble enough to adjust prices as needed during the day. He does not want to carry the fruit home with him (the ‘inventory’). If it begins to decay, it will be of less value tomorrow. Another reason why the vendors does not want anything left over is that he needs the ‘cash’. All day long he has to weigh whether to cut prices, when to cut them, and by how much. If he is indecisive or makes a wrong trade-off, he may lose out.

It is no different in companies.

Each morning, the street vendors setup his cart. He puts the best-looking fruit in the front (retailers call this ‘merchandising’).He watches the competition – what they are selling and at what price. And the whole time, he’s thinking about not just today, but also tomorrow.

If he has trouble selling his produce, he might have to cut price (increase the value to the customer) or rearrange the display or yell louder (advertise) to attract attention to his stand. May be tomorrow he’ll find a better price at which to buy or he’ll change the assortment of fruits and vegetables (the ‘product mix’). If something does not work, he adjusts.

Whether the street vendor realizes it or not, his subconscious is pondering something deeper. How will he buy goods for the next day? He needs cash to stay in business. So do companies.

In India, when personal cash savings are hard to accumulate, the vendor may borrow cash to purchase fruit in order to make some more money. To make living, he has to make enough money to pay back what he borrowed, with some left over. Every time he sells a melon, he makes just a little bit of money. His profit, the difference between what he pays for the fruit and what he sells it for, is very low. His profit margin – the cash he gets to keep as a percentage of the toal cash he takes in. His profit (Some call it return on sales or operating margin)

Business acumen requires understanding the building blocks of money making. Money making business has 3 basic parts: cash generation, return on asset (combination of margin and velocity) and growth. True business people understand them and also its relationship between them. Add consumers to these 3 parts of money making and you have the core, or nucleus of any business.

The word velocity describes this idea of speed, turnover or movement. Think of raw materials moving through a factory and becoming finished products and think of those finished products moving off the shelf to the customer. That’s velocity.

Cash generation, margin, velocity, return on assets, growth & customers.
Cash generation is the difference between all the cash that flows in the business and all the cash that flows out of the business in a given period of time.
Regardless o the size or kind of business, you are using your own or someone’s money to grow. You borrow from a bank or use your savings. That money represents your investment or your investment capital.

The things you are invested in are assts (plant, office, etc.) Some of these assets are big items that are not expected to be sold are sometimes called fixed assets (e.g. building). What kind of money is being returned to you through tier use? In short, what is your return on assets (ROA).

Some people would rather talk about return on investment or return on equity (equity is the money shareholders have invested in the business). How much money are you making with your investments or with the money shareholders invested in the company?
Some people use the term inventory turns to describe inventory velocity. Whatever the assets, figuring out asset velocity requires some simple arithmetic: your total sales for say, a year divided by total assets. Inventory velocity = divide total sales by total inventories. The faster the velocity, the higher the return. In fact return on assets is nothing more than profit margin multiplied by asset velocity.

Return = Margin x Velocity or R=M x V The result R is stated as percentage, a single number that can be used for comparison.

Throughout the book, the term ‘margin’ to refer to net profit margin after taxes. That is the money the company earns, after paying, all its expenses, interest payments, and taxes.

Gross margin from which net margin is derived, is calculated by taking the total sales and subtracting the costs ‘directly’ associated with making or buying the product or service.


For ROA. Multiply margin by velocity of assets (velocity of assets is sales divided by assets). E.g. a company has a 5% profit margin, $10K in sales and $2K in assets.
ROA = 5 % x (10k/2k) = 25%

For ROI, multiply profit margin by velocity of investment (velocity of investment is sales divided by investment). E.g. same company where $5k in total investment.
ROI = 5% x (10/5) = 10%

For ROE, multiply profit margin by velocity of equity (velocity of equity is sales divided by equity). E.g. same example, with $1K in shareholder’s equity (this excludes money the company may have borrowed from a bank).
R= 5% x (10/1) = 50%

Many people focus on profit margin, but successful CEOs think about both margin and velocity. This dual focus is the masterpiece of business acumen. As you hone your business skills, think hard about return on assets and its basic ingredients of velocity and profit margin.

One truth about business is that the return on assets has to be greater than the cost of using your own and other people’s money (bankers & shareholders) – the cost of capital.

Some of the questions, to gauge the health of the company.
1. What were the company’s sales during the last year?
2. Is the company growing?
3. What is the company’s profit margin? Is it growing?
4. How does your margin compare with your competitors?
5. How does it compare with those of other industries?
6. Do you know the company’s inventory velocity?
7. What is the company’s return on assets?
8. Is the company’s cash generation increasing?
9. Is the company gaining against competition (market share)

The main task for the CEO of a publically traded company goes beyond money making and is linked to price-earnings multiple – also called P-E ration. P is the price of an individual stock and E is the earning per share – how much profit the company made for each share of stock. P-E of 7 means, for every dollar of earnings per share, the stock is worth 7 times. Higher the P-e ration, the more wealth is created.

Security analysts have the job of deciding what they think is an appropriate P-E ration for the companies they track. If their assessment shows that the company deserves a higher P-E ration than the market reflects, their firms tend to buy the company’s stock. The opposite is also true.

A common comparison is to look at the P-E ration of an individual company against the average P-E ratio of Standard & Poor’s 500 – a collection of 500 companies that are widely held and represent the broad economy of the nation.

These calculations are not correctly reflecting dot.com companies and investors are still learning how to deal with it.

Think about the broader context your company operates in. What are the external realities of your particular business.
1. Is there excess capacity in the industry
2. Is the industry consolidating
3. Do you face stiff pricing competition
4. Might your business be affected by currency fluctuation or changes in interest rates?
5. Are you facing new competitors?
6. What is happening in e-commerce?
Consider the individuals who report to you and others you interact with in your everyday work life.
1. What are the 2 or 3 non-negotiable requirements of the job now and 2 years out?
2. What are the 2 or 3 things you would call the individual’s natural talents and drive?
3. What is the one major blind side of person that might prevent him or her from growing further?
4. How can you help coach this person?

Be a leader of the business. With the command and urgency of a street vendor, pick the 3 or 4 items you and those reporting to you should focus on. Don’t try to cover the waterfront, don’t keep changing your mind and don’t back away from the challenge. Make the priorities known by repeating them often.

What are you going to do help your company’s money making in the next 60 to 90 days? Be a part of it. Let the excitement begin.

Phantoms in the brain by V.S. Ramachandran & Sandra Blakeslee

Phantoms in the brain by V.S. Ramachandran & Sandra Blakeslee
(Probing the mysteries of the human mind).

Inside to inner working of human brain and the book shares many weird/interesting incidents caused by accidents which affected brain. Author brings out the relationship of our brain with cosmos and saying, both are integral part. The Self.

I did view some of his videos and decided to read this famous book.
(TED.com is one of favorite site)

Let me start with the most amazing story mentioned in the middle of the book.

Story of the Indian mathematical genius Ramanujan who at the turn of the century worked as a clerk in the Madras seaport. He had matriculated (8th standard) to the early part of high school, where he performed badly in all his subjects and he had no formal education in advanced mathematics. Yet he was astonishingly gifted in math and was obsessed by it. So poor that he could not afford paper, he would use discarded envelopes to scribble his mathematical equation, discovering several new theorems before the age of 22.

Since he was not acquainted with any number theorists in India, he decided to communicate his discoveries to several mathematicians in other parts of the world, including Cambridge, England. Both scholars of that time in Cambridge, G.H. Hardy & J.E. Littlewood who also went over the manuscripts sent by Ramanujan. Both luminaries quickly realized that Ramanujan was probably a genius of the higher caliber. They invited him to Cambridge where he worked for many years eventually surpassing them in the originality and importance of his contribution.

What is the reason for his unbelievable mathematical skill? Ramanujan’s own “explanation” – that the fully formed equations where whispered to him in dreams by the presiding village deity, Goddess Managiri- doesn’t really help us very much.

For in and out, above, about and below
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go
- The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam.

The question the author gets same question in most of the time is “ When are you brain scientists ever going to come up with unified theory for how the mind works? My answer is that we are not yet at the stage where we can formulate grand unified theories of mind and brain.

Another true story – More than 50 years ago a middle aged woman walked into the clinic of Kurt Goldstein’s clinic. The woman appeared normal and conversed fluently. But she had one extraordinary complaint- every now and then her left hand would fly up to her throat and try to strangle her. She often had to use her right hand to wrestle the left hand under control, pushing it down to her side. Sometimes she had to sit on the murderous hand, so intent was it on trying to end her life.

The analysis turned out to be revealing. She had suffered a massive stroke in her corpus callosum so that the left side of her brain could not ‘talk to’ nor exert its usual control over the right side. Goldstein had unmasked the dual nature of brain function, showing that the two hemisphere are indeed specialized for different tasks.

Consider the act of smiling. You see a good friend and he smile. But what happens when that friend aims a camera at your face and asks you to smile on command? Instead of natural expression, you produce a hideous grimace. The reason these 2 kinds of smiles differ is that different brain regions handle them and only one of them contains a specialized ‘smile circuit’.

Another true story – The patient is a graduate student at Beth Israel Hospital, had a weird problem. Every time I have sexual intercourse, I experience sensations in my phantom foot (he lost her left leg in an accident). I actually experience my orgasm in my foot. And therefore it’s much bigger than it used to be because it’s no longer just confined to my genitals”.

The gentleman was telling me that he sometimes enjoyed sex more after his amputation.
What happens when the penis is amputated? Many of these patients experience a phantom penis and sometimes even phantom erections. In such cases you would expect that stimulation of the feet would be felt in the phantom penis.

“You never identify yourself with the shadow cast by your body, or with its reflection or with the body you see in a dream or in your imagination. Therefore you should not identity yourself with this living body, either – Shankara (Hindu Vedic guru).

Another true story – When Diane stepped into the shower one morning, she had no warning that the hot water heater was improperly vented. When propane gas ignited to heat a steady flow of water flowing past red hot burners, carbon monoxide built up in the small bathroom. Diane survived and recovered, but parts of her had forever vanished. When she woke from coma, she was completely blind. She had no difficulty indentifying people from their voices and could tell what objects were if they were placed in her hand.

Doctor showed her a vertical slit (actually a mail slot) and asked her to describe its orientation. She said, “I don’t know”. When doctor handed her a letter and asker to mail it through the slot, she took the letter from the doctor and moved it toward the slot, rotating her hand in such a way that the letter was perfectly aligned with the orientation of the slot.

Diane’s action was amazing because we usually think of vision as a single process. When someone who is obviously blind can reach out and grab a letter, rotate the letter into the correct position and mail it through an opening she cannot see, the ability seems almost paranormal. She carried out this instruction without any conscious awareness, as if that very same zombie had taken charge of the task and effortlessly steered her hand toward the goal.

If vision were simply a faithful copy of reality in the same way that a photograph captures a scene, then your perception should always remain constant if the retinal image is held constant.

Look at a Necker cube. Notice that this Skelton drawing of a cube cab be seen in one of two different way – either pointing upward and o the left or downward and to the right. The perception can change even when the image on your retina is constant. Thus every act of perception, even something as simple as viewing a drawing of a cube, involves an act of judgment by the brain.

Another true story – Dr. Larry’s patient (Drew) had an abnormal clump of blood vessels surgically removed from his brain along with some normal brain tissue in the same vicinity. Since the malformed clump was located in the right primary visual cortex, the procedure rendered Drew completely blind to the left half of the world – if he looked straight he could not see anything on the left side of the world. However if the experimenter put his hand in that region Drew reached it accurately. Without involving extrasensory perception, how do you account for blind sight – a person’s pointing to or correctly guessing the presence of an object that he cannot consciously perceive?

An important distinction must be made between perceptual and conceptual completion. To understand the difference, just think of the space behind your head now as you are sitting on your chair reading this book. You can let your mind wander thinking about the kinds of objects that might be behind your head or body. With your imagination, you can ‘fill in’ this missing space with just about anything, but since you can change your mind about the content, I call this process conceptual filling in.

Perpetual filling in is very different. When you fill in your blind spot with a carpet design, you don’t have such choices about what fills that spot; you can’t change your mind about it. Perceptual filling in is carried out by visual neurons. Their decision once made, are irreversible.

Another true story – Sudden appearance of intrusive images was apparent in the case of Larry MacDonald who suffered a terrible automobile accident where his head smashed into the windshield. As Larry recall, “The world was filled with hallucinations, bith visuals and auditory. I could not distinguish with was real from what was fake. Doctors and nurses standing next to my bed were surrounded by football players and Hawaiian dancers. Voices came at me from everywhere and I could not tell who was talking”.

While being interviewed by the author (Dr. Ramachandran), Dr. asked Larry
“Right now you are looking straight at me. It is not like you see something covering me right now, right?”

Larry said, “As I look at you Dr, there is a monkey sitting on your lap. Sometimes when I am looking for my shoe, whole floor is filled with show and I could not able to locate my shoe. More often the visions come and go, as if they have a life of their own, even though they are unconnected to what I am doing or thinking at that time”.

Another true story – Ellen had a stroke and after that she does not pay any attention to her left side. Sam her son began to understand the nature of his mother’s problem, the important distinction between blindness and neglect. His mother would ignore him, if he stand on her left side, but if he jumped up and down, and waved his arms, she would sometimes turn around and look.

When requested to draw a picture of a flower, Ellen drew only a half 9right side) of a flower. Same was told again, but her eyes closed, but the result was the same. She could draw, only right side of the flower.

When she was in front of a mirror, Dr. put a pen behind which she could see it in the mirror. Bt when told her to grab the pen, she said, “I cannot as it is behind the mirror”. She even tried peeking over the edge of the mirror to look for the pen. She could not identify the difference between reflection and actual.

Unlike other animals, humans are acutely aware of their own mortality and are terrified of death. But the study of cosmology gives us a sense of timelessness, of being part of something much larger. The fact that your own personal life is finite is less frightening when you know you are part of an evolving universe- an ever unfolding drama. This is probably the closet a scientist can come to having a religious experience.

‘Brahman is all. From Brahman come appearances, sensations, desires, deeds. But all these are merely name and form. To know Brahman one must experience the identity between him and the Self or Brahman dwelling within the lotus of the heart. Only by so doing can man escape from sorrow and death and become one with the subtle essence beyond all knowledge – Upanishads, 500 BC”

The Victorian era witnessed a vigorous intellectual debate between 2 brilliant biologists – Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Darwin believed that his principle of natural selection could account not only for the emergence of morphological traits like fingers or noses but also for the structure of the brain and therefore our mental capacities. In other words, natural selection could explain our talents for music, art, literature, and other human intellectual achievements.

Wallace disagreed. He concluded that Darwin’s principle might explain fingers and toes and maybe even some simple mental traits, but that certain quintessentially human abilities like mathematical and musical talent could not possibly have risen through the blind workings of chance.

According to Wallace, as the human brain evolved, it encountered a new and equally powerful force called culture. Once culture, language and writing emerged, he argued, human evolution became Lamarckian- that is, you could pass on the accumulated wisdom o a lifetime to your offspring. These progeny will be much wiser than the offspring of illiterates not because your genes have changed but simply because this knowledge-in the form for culture-has been transferred from your brain to your child’s brain. In this way, the brain is symbiotic with culture; the two are as interdependent as the naked hermit crab and its hell or the nucleated cell and its mitochondria.

Wallace argument is say, you take a barely literate young tribesman from a contemporary aboriginal society and give him education in NYC or Tokyo, and he will of course be no different than any other kids in those cities.
If so why did this potential intelligence evolve? It could not have arisen for learning Latin in English schools. It could not have evolved for learning the calculus, even though almost anyone who tries hard enough can master it.

What was the selection pressure for the emergence of these latent abilities? So how is it possible that these astonishing, latent abilities emerged in the prehistoric brain but have only been realized in the last one thousand years? Wallace’s answer, “it was done by God. Some higher intelligence must have directed the process by which the human nature was developed.” This human grace is an earthly expression of ‘divine grace’. This is where Wallace parted company with Darwin who resolutely maintained that natural selection was the prime force in evolution and could account for the emergence of even the most esoteric mental traits without the helping hand of a Supreme Being.

“Savants” are persons whose mental capacity or general intelligence is abysmally low, yet who have islands of astonishing talent. For example, there are savants on record with an IQ of less than 50, but they could with ease generate an 8 digit prime number, a feat that most tenured mathematics professors cannot match. One savant could come up with the cube root of a 6 figure number in seconds. Such individuals are a living refutation of the argument that specialized talents are merely clever deployments of general intelligence.

The realm of art and music are punctuated with savants whose talents have amazed and delighted audiences through the ages. Oliver Sacks describes Tom, a 13 year old boy who was blind and incapable of tying his own shoes. Although he had never been instructed in music or educated in any way, he learned to play the piano simply by hearing others play. He absorbed arias and tunes from hearing them sung and could play any piece of music on the first try as well as the most accomplished performer.

One of these most remarkable feats was to perform 3 pieces of music all at once! He could play the piano with his hand back to the keyboard, his inverted hands racing up and down the ivories. He seems to be an unconscious agent acting as he is acted on and his mind a vacant receptor where nature stores her jewels to recall then at her pleasure.

Nadia whose IQ measured between 60 & 70, was an artistic genius. At age 6, she showed all the signs of sever autism-ritualistic behaviors, inability to relate to others and limited language. She could barely put 2 words together. Yet from this early age, Nadia could draw lifelike pictures of people around her, of horses and even of complex visual scenes unlike the “tadpole like” drawings of other children her age. Her sketches were so animated that they seemed to leap out from the canvas and were good enough to hang in any Madison Ave gallery.

These examples show that specialized esoteric talents do not emerge spontaneously from general intelligence, for if that were true, how can an “idiot” display them?
(Story of Indian Mathematician who did perform outstandingly in mathematics as mentioned in the beginning of this page).

But even if it’s valid, bear in mind that that no savant is going to be a Picasso or an Einstein. To be a true genius, you need other abilities, not just isolated islands of talent. Most savants are not truly creative.

Shakespeare created 5 metaphors in a single sentence.
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow… is wasteful and ridiculous excess”

It sounds simple. But how come Shakespeare thought of it and nobody else? There is nothing complicated or esoteric about the idea that’s being conveyed. Yet you and I would never come up with an equally elegant set of metaphors by simply dredging up and randomly shuffling words in our minds. What’s missing is the creative spark of genius, a trait that remains as mysterious to us now as it did to Wallace. No wonder he felt impelled to invoke divine intervention.

Another true story – Mary Knight age 32 sat in Dr’s office for her pregnancy related concern. She was 9 months pregnant and sso far everything seemed to be going well. Now, she felt baby kicking for some time and suspected that labor was about to begin. Dr examined her; her abdomen was vastly enlarged and low, suggesting that the fetus had dropped. Her breasts were swollen, the nipples mottled. But something was not right. The stethoscope was not picking up a clear fetal heartbeat.

Dr learned about pseudocyesis or false pregnancy in medical school. Some women, who desperately want to be pregnant, develop all the signs and symptoms o true pregnancy. Their abdomens swell to enormous proportions, aided by a sway back posture and the mysterious deposition of abdominal fat. Their nipples become pigmented, as happens in pregnant woman. They stop menstruating, lactate, have morning sickness and sense fetal movements. Even thing looks normal except one thing – there is no baby.

The connection of mind and body is quite revealing in such incidents. Obviously mind can affect the body. A cheerful attitude might help accelerate your recovery from an illness by enhancing your immune system. There’s also the so called placebo effect we don’t understand completely-merely believing in a therapy seems to improve one’s well-being, if not actual physical health.

If the human mind can conjure up something as complex as pregnancy, what else can the brain do to or for the body? What are the limits to mind-body interactions and what pathways mediate these strange phenomena?

I mention these examples for 3 reasons. First don’t listen to your professors – even if they are from Oxford (or as my colleague would say, esp. if they are from Oxford). Second, they illustrate our ignorance and illuminate the need for conducting experiments on topics that that most people have ignored for no obvious reasons. Third, perhaps it’s time to recognize that the division between mind and body may be no more than a pedagogic device for instructing medical students – and not a useful construct for understanding human health, disease and behavior.

People have become increasingly impatient with Western medicine’s sterility and lack of compassion and this would explain the current resurgence of ‘alternate medicine’. We have no idea which ones work and which ones do not, although even the hardened skeptic would agree that there is probably something interesting going on.

So with all this medicine evidence staring them in the face, why do practitioners of Western medicine continue t ignore the many striking examples of direct link between mind and body? To understand by, it helps to have a feel for how scientific knowledge progress.

Most of the day-to-day progress of science depends on simply adding another brick to the great edifices – a rather humdrum activity that the late historian Thomas Kuhn called “normal science”. This corpus of knowledge, incorporating a number of widely accepted beliefs is in each instance called a paradigm. Year after year new observations come along and are assimilated into an existing standard model. Most scientists are bricklayers, not architects; they are happy simply adding another stone to the cathedral.

There are many examples in the history of science of anomalies that were originally ignored as bring trivial or even fraudulent but later turned out to be a fundamental importance. This is because vast majority of scientist are conservative by temperament and when a new fact emerges that threatens to topple the great edifice, the initial reaction is to ignore or deny it.

Consider the periodic table of elements, for example. When Mendeleyev arranged elements sequentially according to their atomic weights to create the periodic table, he found that some elements didn’t quite “fit” – their atomic weights seem wrong. But instead of discarding this model, he chose to ignore the anomalous weights, concluding instead that perhaps they had been measured incorrectly to begin with. And sure enough it was later discovered that the accepted atomic weights were wrong because the presence of certain isotopes distorted the measurements. There is much truth to Sir Arthur Eddignton’s famously paradoxical remark, “Don’t believe the results of experiments until they are confirmed by theory.”

The truth of all is this is not that we should have blind faith in the “wisdom of the East” but rather there are sure to be many nuggets of insights in these ancient practices. However, unless we conduct systematic “western Style” experiments, we’ll never know which ones really work and which ones do not.

As a person who born in India raised in Hindu tradition, I was taught that the concept of the self –the “I” within me that is aloof from the universe and engages in a lofty inspection of the world around me- is an illusion, a veil called ‘maya’.

The search of enlightenment consists fo lifting the veil and realizing that you are really “one with the cosmos”. Ironically, after extensive training in Western medicine, and more than 15 years of research on neurological patients and visual illusions, I have come to realize that there is much truth to this view – that the notion of a single unified self “inhabiting” the brain may indeed be an illusion. Indeed, most of your actions are carried out by a host of unconscious zombies who exist in peaceful harmony along with you (the “person”) inside your body.

What are these characteristics that define the self? Author and his doctoral assistant came up with following list.

1. The embodied self. My Self is anchored within a single body. If I close my eyes, I have a vivid sense of different body parts occupying space – the so called body image. In case of the patient I saw with Dr. Riita Hari in Helsinki claim that the left half of her body is still sitting in the chair when she gets up and walks!. If these examples don’t convince you that your “ownership” of your body is an illusion, then nothing will.

2. The passionate self. It is too difficult to imagine the self without emotions. If you don’t see the meaning or significance of something, in what sense are you really aware of it consciously? Recall that the “zombie” in the “how” pathway is unconscious, whereas the ‘what” pathway is conscious and I suggest the difference arises because only the latter is linked to the amygdale and other limbic structure.

3. The execution self. Classical physics and modern neuroscience tell us that you (including your mind and brain) inhabit a deterministic billiard ball universe. But you don’t ordinarily experience yourself as a puppet on a string; you feel that you are in charge. A self needs free will – what Deepak Chopra calls, “the universal field of infinite possibilities”- even to exist.

4. The mnemonic self. Your sense of personal identity – as a single person who endures through space and time – depends on a long string of highly personal recollections: your autobiography. Organizing these memories into a coherent story is obviously vital to the construction of self.

5. The unified self – imposing coherence on consciousness, filling in and confabulation: Another important attribute of self is its unity – the internal coherence of its different attributes. It is not difficult to see how such process could give rise to the mythology of a self as an active presence in the brain – a “ghost in the machine”.

6. The vigilant self. A vital clue to the neural circuitry underlying qualia (qualia simply means raw feel of sensation) and consciousness comes from 2 other neurological disorders – penduncular hallucinosis and ‘vigilant coma” or akinetic mutism.

7. The conceptual self and he social self. In a sense, our concept of self is not fundamentally different from any other abstract concept we have – such as “happiness” or “love”. Therefore careful examination of the different ways in which we use the word “I” in ordinary social discourse can provide some clues as to what the self is and what its function might be.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air…
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on,
And our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
William Shakespeare.

How we have become linked into this cosmic dimension is a mystery. Yet the linkage cannot be denied. What does it mean? What is Man that we might be party to such privilege? I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama. Our involvement is too intimate. Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness. This can be no trivial detail, no minor by-product of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to here.

June 20, 2009

Sparks of genius – The 13 thinking tools of the world’s most creative people. By Robert & Michele Root-Bernstein.

Sparks of genius – The 13 thinking tools of the world’s most creative people.

By Robert & Michele Root-Bernstein.

I wish to buy this book as a reference book – very enlightening one.

Chapter 1 – Rethinking Thinking

Invention presupposes imagination. Einstein once revealed to his friend, “The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought” Some scientists insist that thinking in feelings and mental images can be rationally manipulated.

MIT Prof. Richard Feynman (Nobel Prize winner) told once, “Mathematics is the form in which we express our understanding of nature, but it is not the content of that understanding”

In Creating minds and Frames of mind, scientists are logico-mathamatical thinkers, poets and writers are highly verbal thinkers, psychologists as intrapersonal thinkers and politicians as interpersonal thinkers.

Poincre (greatest mathematician in19th century) once said, “it is by logic we prove, but by intuition that we discover...”

French physician Armand Trousseau agreed, “All science touches on art; all art has its scientific side. The worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst artist is he who is no scientist.

Sculptor Naum Gabo once wrote. “Every great scientist has experiences a moment when the artist in him saved the scientist”

Various professions including medicine are beginning to recognize intuition as a necessary part of disciplinary thinking.

Chapter 2 – Schooling the Imagination

Takes about something Indian philosophy where it is based on ‘Maya’ – virtual reality. It is easier to see things with eye closed as you can imagine things.

Einstein stated categorically “In creative work, imagination is more important than knowledge.

Our perception of reality depends upon the kind and quality of Illusions we conjure. This is what Picasso meant when he said, “Art is a like that makes us realize the truth”.

The problem with current education is, it does not connect different knowledge to solve problems.

Harvard psychologist “In so distinguished institution like MIT, a student can learn and have mastered calculus to the satisfaction of the teacher by having solved the problem set on the final examination. On entering the physics course, he cannot see how to apply calculus to the solution of problems in physics. Sort of one-sided education.”

This being the case, the task for educators, self-learners and parents is simply put to reunite the two. And the world’s most creative people tell us how in their own words and deeds; in their own explorations of their own mind at work. What they find as individuals, when taken as a whole, is a common set of thinking tools at the heart of creative thinking/understanding. These tools include (bit are not necessarily limited to)

Recognizing Patterns
Forming patterns
Body thinking
Dimensional thinking
Transforming and

Observing: Initially, all knowledge about the world is acquired through observing, paying attention to what we seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, or felt within the body.

Imaging: the ability to recall or imaging these feelings and sensations is also an important tool.

Abstracting: Because sense experience and sense imagery are rich and complex, creative people in all disciplines also use abstracting as an essential tool. – The process of paring down complicated things to simple principles is the same.

Recognizing Patters: It is involved in the discovery of nature’s law and the structure of mathematics, but also the rhymes and rhythms of language, dance, music and the formal intentions of the painter. Recognizing patterns is also the first step toward creating new ones.

Pattern forming whether in music, art, engineering or dance almost always begins with combining simple elements in unexpected ways.

Analogizing: The realization that two apparently different things share important properties or functions lies in the heart of the world’s greatest works of art and literature and the most enduring scientific and engineering inventions.

Body thinking: Thinking that occurs through the sensations and awareness of muscle, sinew, and skin. Well before they have found the words or the formulas to express themselves, many creative people ‘feel’ ideas emerging. Bodily sensations, muscular movements and emotions act as a springboard for more formal thought.

Empathizing: It is related to body thinking. Many creative people describe ‘losing’ themselves in the things they study, integrating ‘I’ and ‘it’.

Dimensional thinking is the imaginative ability to take thing mentally from a flat plane into three dimensions ore more, from earth into outer space, through time, even to alternate worlds. It is essential in engineering, sculpture, visual art, medicine, mathematics and astronomy – indeed in any activity that involves interpreting pictures, in one set of dimensions as objects in another set.

One can learn and practice each of the above tools (first 9 out of 13) somewhat independently of the others. The last four, however are clearly high-order tools that integrate and rely upon the primary tools.

Modeling objects and concepts require some combination of dimensional thinking, abstracting, analogizing and manipulative or body skill.

Playing is another integrative tool, build upon body thinking, empathizing and play-acting and modeling

Transforming is the process of translating between one tool for thinking and another and between imaginative tools and formal language of communication.

Synthesizing completes the imagination’s tool key, for understanding is always synthetic, combining many ways of experiencing.

There are 2 fundamentals components to the synthetic thinking. One is synesthesia, a neurological and artistic term for experiencing sensations in multiple ways at once. (E.g. a sound may provoke colors; a taste may call up tactile sensations or memories..) . Synthesizing also supposes an integration of knowledge in which observing, imaging, and empathizing and the other tools all work together organically – not serially as in transformational thinking, but simultaneously, such as everything – memory knowledge, imagination, feeling is understood in a holistic way.

We call this unified understanding linking mind and body, sense and sensibility, - synosia – and it is the ultimate goal of tools-for thinking education.

Each of the rest of the chapters is dedicated to each of these 13 tools.

Chapter 3 – Observing.

Many can recall a key moment when they learned he difference between looking and seeing. (There are few visual examples shown in the book, which show hidden view that cannot detect by just looking.)

Picasso says, “ I recall my father saying to me - I am quite willing for you to become a painter, but you must not begin to paint until you are able to draw well and that is very difficult”-. Then he gave me a pigeon’s foot to practice on” . Having learned to observe one thing, he had learned the keys to observing and describing everything.

Vincet van Gogh’s goal was to be able to draw in such a way that it goes as easily as something writing down… to see in such a way that one can reproduce at will what one sees on a larger or smaller scale.

However, simply looking, even patiently, is not sufficient. Part of seeing as the camouflaged ptarmigan demonstrates knows what it look at or for. It is kind of comparable to some people who , if they are given a book in which some word occur only once, can flip through it and find it.

An interesting story of observation – “A Manchester physician, while teaching a ward class of students, took a sample of diabetic urine and dipped a finger in it to taste it. He then asked all the students’ to repeat his action. This they reluctantly did, making grimaces, but agreeing that it tasted sweet. “I did this’ said the physician with smile, ‘to teach you the importance of observing detail. If you had watched me carefully you would have noticed that I put my first finger in the urine, but licked my second finger’.
(from the book - the art of Scientific Investigation.)

Unlike other fruits, why Orange does not turn black on being damaged or there is no color change when it got hurt? That was the observation done by Biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgy. The answer was that those plants contained vitamin C, a sugar like compound that prevents oxygen from oxidizing the polyphenols into brown or black protective compounds. You can actually gauge the vitamin C content of different fruits fairly accurately simply by noting which ones turn brown when damaged(e.g. banana) and which do not (e.g. orange).

Harvard psychologist Rudolf Arnheim said in his 1969 book – Visual thinking – “The cognitive operations called thinking are not the privilege of mental process above and beyond perception but the essential ingredients of perception itself”. As Herbert Read documented in his classic – Education through art-“Part of the activity of art is one of the exercise and an activity that keeps faculties lively whatever the discipline touches on: the mind, the ear, whatever.

As with Sherlock Homes, “success rests with the powers of observation…”

Close one’s eyes and construct what is going on nearby through sound alone. Listening TV without looking at it or watching it without sound is also an educational experience in observing; all too often either the visual aspect or the sound is irrelevant.

Collecting things, whether stamps, coins, insects,… is another excellent way to improve visual observations.

Chapter 4 – Imaging.

Numerous studies have found significant correlations between the aptitude for visual imaging and career success in engineering.

Many examples listed in Brook Hindle’s famous book – Emulation and invention.
Henry Petroski’s book – Invention by design.
Max Wertheimer – Productive thinking
Horace Barlow, Colin Blakemore & Miranda Weston-Smith – Images & understanding

Beethoven says, “I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time, often for a very long time, before writing them down…. I change many things, discard others, and try again and again until I am satisfied; then in my head, I begin to elaborate the work in its breadth, its narrowness, its heights, its depth…. I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle, as if it had been cast (like sculpture), and only the labor of writing it down remains”.

Beethoven’s mastery of mental imagery surely explains how he was able to compose some of his greatest music long after he had become profoundly deaf.

At Kanton Schule attended by Einstein, students practice the ABCs of visual thinking as rigorously as the ABC’s of language. The young Einstein was thoroughly schooled in what modern scientists would call ‘thought experiments’’ seeing and feeling a physical situation almost tangibly, manipulating its elements, observing their changes – all of this imagined in the mind.

Professors of visual thinking at MIT & Stanford, suggests that any kind of formal training in design, draftsmanship, drawing, painting or photography can improve adult visualizing skills.

Aural imagining skills can clearly be learned by practicing. Listening to poetry and literature read out loud can also improve imaging skills, according to poet Amy Lowell. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that reading to young children has been found to stimulate their intelligence.

Good example on treating algebra problems geometrically and treating geometrical problems algebraically.

Problem – A man rowing a boat when his hat falls into the river which is flowing at 3 km per hour downstream. He is rowing upstream 2 km per hour faster than the stream is taking him down. He discovers his hat is missing on half-hour after it has fallen in the river. If he turns around and rows back at the same speed relative to the river to fetch his hat, how long will it take to catch up to it?

The algebraic approach to this problem is to abstract out the key parameters in order to setup an equation and solve he for the unknown

Hat is dropped and moves at 3km /hr for 0.5 hour, so it travels 1.5km downriver. With the same time (0.5 hour), man rows at 2km/hr and travels 1 km upriver. Hence man is 2.5km away from his hat when he discovers its loss. He travels back to catch the hat. In order to travel 2km/hr upriver, he had to be moving 5km/hr relative to the river; so if he rows at the same rate downriver, his total velocity will be 5km/hr + 3km/hr that river moves on or 8km/hr. The hat is still moving at 3km/hr. Let t be the time necessary for the man to catch his hat. Then the time it takes the man to catch his hat is (8km/hr)t= 2.5km+(3km/hr)t. Solving the equation yields (8km/hr)t-(3km/hr)t=2.5km or t=.5hr.

The geometric approach to this problem is to visualize it.

Instead of imagining a man riding on a boat, as if it was a swiftly moving train. Suppose you drop your hat as you are walking through one of the cars in the same direction the train is travelling. You walk for thirty seconds before you discover your hat is missing. You turn around and walk for 30 sec before you discover your hat. How long will it take if you walk back through the cars at the same constant speed? 30 sec. The fact that the train or the river is moving with respects to the ground outside turns out to be irreverent to the physical problem. Treating the river as if it were a train and the man in the boast as if he were walking on the river/train quickly yields 30 min to the solution to our problem as before.

Although both provides same result, but have two separate approaches. Einstein’s and Feynman’s conundrum was that they thought as geometricians, but needed to communicate their results in analytical,, algebraic form to satisfy the rigorous demands of physical proof. Only few people can switch with ease between 2 approaches.

Chapter 5 – Abstracting.

Although all abstractions are simplifications, the best abstractions are likely Picasso’s Wilson’s and Cumming’s in that they yield new and often multiple insights and meanings, using simplicity to reveal inobvious properties and hidden connections.

Mark Twain and Earnest Hemmingway have written to their editors that they regretted the extreme length of their manuscripts; if they had had more time, the work has been half as long. Winston Churchill is supposed to have said that he could talk for a day with 5 min of notice, but needed a day to prepare if he had only 5 min in which to speak.

As physicist and inventor Mitchell Wilson wrote half-century ago “I’ll tell you what you need to be a great scientist. You don’t have to be able to understand very complicated things. It’s just opposite. You have to be able to see what looks like the most complicated thing in the world and in a flash, find the underlying simplicity. That’s what you need; a talent for simplicity”.

Knowing what abstracting is and why it is important is half the problem. The other half is learning how to find the simple concepts hiding among complex expressions.

Picasso says, “To arrive at abstractions, it is always necessary to begin with a concrete reality…You must start with something. Afterwards you can remove all the traces of reality. It is what started the artist off, excited his ideas and stirred his emotions (refer. Picasso’s Bull series (Merrill Lynch’s icon?)

Learning how to abstract in one discipline provides the key to understanding the abstractions of all disciplines.

Chapter 6 – recognizing Patterns.

Recognizing patterns within the patterns has stimulated many artists.

“ A way of stimulating and arousing the mind to various inventions,” Leonardo da Vinci advised himself and others to “ look at a wall spotted with stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones , if you have to invent some scene, you may discover a similarity with different kinds of landscapes, embellished with mountains, rivers rocks, trees, plants, wide valley and hills in varied arrangement: or again you may see variety of objects which you could reduce to complete and well drawn forms.

The solution of much more complicated problems can sometimes be reduced to similarly straight forward calculations. For example, what is the sum of infinite series x=1+1/2+1/4+1/8+1/16….
This may looks complicated or even impossible, but with a bit of clever manipulations, the problem is trivial. If x is as given above, x/2 will be ½=
x-x/2= (1+1/2+1/4+1/8+1/16..) – (1/4+1/8+1/16…)
x-x/2 = 1 + (1/2-1/2)+(1/4-1/4)+(1/8-1/8)+(1/16-1/16)…
x-x/2=1; x=2.
Every even numbers can be described as sum of 2 prime numbers. That pattern recognition by Goldbach is still not broken. All even numbers known can be summed as 2 prime numbers.

Playing with jigsaw puzzle also exercise pattern recognition as does puzzle making. Many eminent people in every field are puzzle addicts or puzzle inventors.

Chapter 7 – Forming Patterns.

Learning to create patterns is one of the keys to innovating in every discipline and it is wise to learn this skill early on. You can do this easily in writing by taking a very limited number of words and exploring all the possible ways of making sense with them.

Similar exercise can be performed with kinesthetic and auditory patterns and rhythms. People who have difficulty with the physical elaboration of multiple contrasting patterns may find it easier to explore such patterns graphically. As a starting point, we highly recommend, RenĂ© Paola’s Optical Art: theory and practice.

Looking through the history of almost any scientific field or studying any scientific controversy will show that scientists always try many ways of expressing their insights before some standardized textbook formulation ossifies thinking in that area.

Making patterns for oneself is a lot more fun than memorizing – and lot more valuable. Teasing apart one pattern and composing another require real understanding of the basic elements of phenomenon and process. More, it opens up whole new worlds of knowledge.

Chapter 8 – Analogizing.

It is critical to understand the difference between analogy and similarity. Analogies recognize a correspondence of inner relationship or of function between two or more different phenomena or complex set of phenomena. Similarities are resemblance between things based upon observed characteristics such as color or form.

‘Her lips like berries” is an example for similarities, because comparison is simply links the observed property of redness. A child or poet compares a baseball to the sun might however make a valid analogy based on the fact that each rises and falls though the sky in an arc. Comparing orange to sweetness of life is also analogy.

The critical part of interesting analogies is that they reveal not mere resemeblence but inapparent relationships between abstract functions, one of which is understood, the other not.

How is possible to learn about things such as quantum mechanics or logic or democracy or goodness in the first place? How can we learn about or explain anything that we can’t directly, physically sense? And how it it possible to apply knowledge learned in one content to another very different one? How do we realize that musical resonance has some applications to atoms or atomic resonance to medicine?

Without being identical, ideas can resonate too, just like the strings of musical instruments or the electrons and nuclei of atoms.

Mental leaps: Analogy in creative thought, - a book on analogy. It mentions many such examples from history in different fields. Even Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on several analogies. Newton’s theory of gravitation originated when he suddenly realized that the moon like an apple dropping from a tree, must be falling.

Jacob Bronowski says, “The discoveries of science, the works of art are explorations – more of explosion, of a hidden likeness”.

William Wordsworth wrote of “the pleasure the mind derives from the perception of similitude in dissimilitude’.

Todd Siler greatly expands this approach, comparing the growth of our minds to the growth of trees and onions. His book – Think like Genius- provides dozens of exercise, some of which specifically develop and metaphorical thinking.

Chapter 9 – Body Thinking

This is about 6th sense. It is possible to conjure up feelings of body tension or touch or movement in the mind, but most of us overlook these imaginative feelings because we are trained so early to see them or translate them into descriptive words.

Few books on this mentioned on this topic
Howard Gardner – Frame of mind
Vera Johns Steiner – Notebooks of mind

Surprisingly, musical feeling, physical sensations, manipulative skill, and their mental imaging play an important role in scientific thinking too which may be related to the fact that many eminent scientists are also excellent artists or musicians.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines mime as the first and only truly universal language.

Like the other types of thinking discussed, body thinking combines objective and subjective ways of knowing. Body thinking exercise can also be made an explicit part of disciplinary and transdisciplinary studies.

When children play out choreography of movements representing fundamental elements f narrative, they remember it better. Additionally students can be encouraged to pay attention to their bodily feelings when a class problem does not make sense and use this discomfort as the basis for asking questions. Sensitive teachers can teach them it identify and work with these feelings by reading postures and facial expressions, just as we read a mime.

Sort of kinesthetic explorers

With practice, we may all expand our imagination with the sensations of movement, tension and touch that we experience, imitate model and project.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”, says a Chinese proverb.

Doing and remembering how it feels to have done is inseparable from learning to think with the body. So don’t just sit there. Monkey around and just might find yourself solving problem only your body knows how to answer.

Chapter 10 – Empathizing.

Willa Cather once wrote that novelists, actors and physicians have the ‘unique and marvelous of entering into the very skin of another human being’.

Cather continues to say , “ You must enter into the person you are describing into his very skin and see the world through his eye ad feel it through his senses”.

C.P.E. Bach argues, “ A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must feel all the emotions that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humor will stimulate a like mood in the listener.”

Empathizing is “key skill for the practice of any helping relationship’.

Many creative individuals argue that theatrical experience encourages and promotes the empathic imagination.

Practice “inner attention which centers on things we see, hear, touch and feel” in real and imaginary circumstances. This means observing your own responses to the world and also remembering physical and emotional memories of your responses.

Practice “ external attention” to people and things outside yourself.
Imagine what the object of your external attention is sensing and feeling get close to it.

Emulation is always a useful way to empathize. This is certainly the educational approach used by PBS TV program ‘ Kratt’s Creatures’.

All of these examples show us that understanding is most complete when you are not you but the things you wish to understand. In fact, when it comes to empathizing, the whole world is a stage for the imagination.

Chapter 11 – Dimensional Thinking.

Dimensional thinking involve moving from 2-D to 3-D and vice versa.; mapping or transforming information provided in one set of dimensions to another set; scaling or alerting the proportions of an object or process within one set of dimensions and conceptualizing dimensions beyond space and time as know of them.

Another aspect of moving from plans to reality involves the dimensional skill of scaling. Philip and Phylis Morrison and the office of Charles and Ray Eames produced a wonderful movie and book called ‘Powers of Ten’ that provides a useful scale running from smallest to largest.

Scale and time certainly matter. Massive buildings connote power; small rooms connote intimacy and privacy. A six inch model of Eiffel tower has none of the impact of the original. Some things has to be seen in the acute angle, to see it understand it. (Writing SHORT in a paper and writing the same word, covering the entire A4 sheet will have different experience for a reader. However, if the reader see it from a long distance, the word that written in very large size can be seen, but not the word written in normal size.

Einstein showed that the passage of time or what is sometimes called as 4th dimension is not absolute but relative to observer and observed. All of us have experience by looking at the clock and wondering where the time went (too fast). We have been so bored that every second is like a minute and every minute is like an hour. When we mediate, time seems not to exist at all. Physical time, physiological time, mental time appear to be different; perhaps there are dimensions of time as unexpected and surprising as fractal dimensions in space.
Is a month the same to one-year old who experiences that unit of time as one twelfth of his life as it is it to centenarian for whom it is a mere one one-hundred-twentieth? Is time, then a single dimension or set of dimensions?

Granted the need for dimensional thinking skills, not only in science but in arts, engineering, manufacturing and daily life, how might they be taught?

One method is to play with geometric shaped and connect them to objects in real world.
Reid one of consummate mathematics popularizes of this century, outlined one approach in her 1963 book, ‘A long way from Euclid’ which she used with high school teachers and education students. Reid goes on to show that although we can see only shadows of our hypercube, we can still know its properties by extrapolating. A point has no angles, edges, or faces and one vertex (the point itself). A line segment has no angles, no faces, one-edge (1-D form) and two vertices (points at the end of the segment). A square has 4 vertices (points) , 4 edges(1-D form), 4 angles, and a single face (2-D form). A cube has 8 vertices and angles, 12 edges (1-D forms), 6 faces (2-D form), one 3-D form. As dimensions increases, the number of vertices increases; one, two four, eight. As dimensions increases, the number of angles increases from 0 to 0 to 4 to 8. If we want to extrapolate further, we could even describe the characteristics of a 5-D or a 6-D without even being able to visualize. Such is the power of dimensional imagination.

Chapter 12 – Modeling.

Models can be smaller than life-size or bigger; physical or mathematical; realistic or not; depending on their intended uses. In almost all cases, the point of modeling is to make accessible something that is difficult to experience easily.

Modeling requires and therefore teaches many imaginative skills. Models can be formulated only after a real system or situation has been intensively observed, simplified by abstracting critical features, rescaled for human manipulation and embodied physically or expressed in some verbal, mathematical or artistic form.

Perhaps the most important thing that modeling does is to provide the modeler with complete control of a situation, object or idea – or, conversely to reveal explicitly where control or understanding is lacking. As Picasso said, “To model an object is to possess it.”

The earlier a student learns that every equation has its physical manifestation and every physical phenomenon its mathematical model, the better equipped he or she is to be inventive. Visual thinking can also be improved by modeling, because there is a direct connection between the kinesthetic sense and vision.

Develop spatial skill by modeling your school, house or neighborhood. Because it requires figuring out how things work, modeling is a great way to learn, no matter your age. Make modeling is a lifelong habit and you hold a key to a lifetime of fun and learning.

Chapter 13 – Playing

Considering the sheer joy of fooling around, not to mention its potential rewards, it is not surprising that many scientists have galumphed with their subjects.

Playing with distinctions, boundaries, unassailable truths and the limits of utility is in fact what many of the most innovative people in all disciplines do. When the rules of grammar are systematically broken, logic overturned or perceptions puzzled, we know that a ‘game’s afoot’ and something interesting will happen. No better examples exist than in the topsy-turvy worlds of those masters of play, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and M.C. Escher.

Wordplay and inventions came naturally to Lear and his ‘boshblobberbosh (meaning particularly foolish foolishness) was well enough appreciated to make his book of ‘Nonsense and Laughable Lyrics’ enduring bestsellers. One reason that does this book have appealed to generations of children and adults alike is that they break all boundaries of word to use, exploring connotations, combinations and sounds as few have done before or since.

Lewis played a nonsense poems and whimsical stories for children at photography and at logical games and puzzles that reached the heights in ‘Alice in the wonderland’.

Lear’s verbal nonsense, Carroll’s logical conundrums, Escher’s perceptual puzzles and Penrose’s periodic tiling challenges our conceptions of nature and reality. But as play of the most creative art, they do more than that. The games they invented have practical applications.

There is more to the study of piano or violin than just reproducing the tons and more to making music than musical conventions or contemporary taste might suggest. Play with patterns of all kinds can improve skills in composition and improvisation.

Reference to the ‘Oxford Guide to World Games’ shows that amusements come in a huge variety; perhaps the most popular is the making of anagrams – taking a word and seeing how many other words can be made from its letters: OWN, NOW, WON.. It is also possible to form words that read same forward and backwards as a mirror image without turning the word upside down. These are called plaindromes: NOON, DAD, BOB.
“Madam. I’m Adam’’, “ Tis Ivan, on a visit” areplaindromic sentences. Most of these words games have direct analogues in music.

Word games, board games, musical games, visual games, puzzles, toys and almost any other intellectual amusement imaginable all develop some skill, knowledge or concept that can be turned to good account and often in more than one discipline or endeavor.
So play!

Chapter 14 – Transforming

We call the serial or simultaneous use of multiple imaginative tools in such a way that one (set of) tool(s) acts upon another (set) transforming or transformational thinking.

Take a look at any creative endeavor and you will invariably find ideas and insights transformed through many tools for thinking and translated into one or more expressive languages. Most creative people handle complex transformational thinking with ease.

Sir Francis Galton, one of the founders of modern psychology, documented in his classic ‘Inquiries and Human Faculty and Its Development (1883)’ that mnemonic devices are extremely common. “Persons who are imaginative almost invariably think of numerals in some form of visual imagery’.

Sometimes people collaborate on a mnemonic transformation that integrates concepts from many disciplines. For centuries, students of music & poetry in India have memorized a nonsense word in order to learn and remember all of the basic patters of sound rhythm The word is ‘yamatarajabhanasalagam’ which when written according to its spoken rhythm of stresses look like this: yaMATARAjaBHAnasalaGAM. George Perle has explained it, “There is a lot in those 10 syllables. As you pronounce the word you weep out all possible triplets of short and long beats. The first syllables, ya MA TA have the rhythm short, long, long. The second through the fourth are MA TA RA: long, long, long. The you have TA RA ja: long, long, short. Next there is RA ja BHA: long, short, long. And so on.” Thus a simple word, when pronounced properly condenses a huge amount of pattern information that can be applied to many of the arts.

Perle’s friend Sherman Stein (mathematician) , took the transformation another step. He pointed out that the basic pattern in the Indian word is digital. By assigning ‘0’ for short and ‘1’ for long, the word will become ‘0111010001’ (=465 in decimal). Since there are 10 digits in the number, the number may be turned into a physical mneme with the thumb and little finger of the left hand bent and the three middle fingers of the right hand bent. The bend digits represent ‘0’ and unbend, ‘1’. All of these mnemes are logically equivalent to the original Hindu word.

Significantly the digital numerical sequence presents possibilities that the original Hindu word does not. Imagine, Stein suggests, a kinetic analogy in which this string of numbers is a snake that grabs itself by the tail. Visualizing this “snake” that the first 01 (its ‘mouth’) will overlap the last 01 (its tail) and a continuous circle of numbers will be formed. Although the number sequence has now lost 2 digits, the circle still has all of the possible combinations of three pairs of elements – whether they are musical beats, syllabic accents in words, numbers, the result or flipping three pennies ways of grouping three people of either sex or a great many other things. This numerical snake is therefore the most concise description of such information that is possible. Notably it has the same pattern as entities known to mathematicians since the 1880s as ‘memory wheel’ which can store all the possible parts of things, triplets of things, quadruplets things and so on, in the most condensed form. The power of transformational thinking is that it can reveal meta-patterns connecting music, genes, telegraphy, poetry and math or any other set of disciplines.

A Yale political science professor Edward Tufte has pointed out in a series of stunningly beautiful books, including ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983) and ‘Envisioning Information (1990), data in every field are converted into graphs and visual images of one sort or another.

Ears can observe complexity that eyes cannot. Eyes can follow only a single line, one pattern at a time. When we listen to a musical ensemble, however, we hear each individual instrument even as we hear the harmony that results from their interaction.

Many universities are experiencing with transformations with complex databases – for instances economic indicators – into a music that allows analysts to hear the synthetic patterns while simultaneously following individual trends.

The point is that different transformations of an idea or a set of data will have different characteristics and uses. The more unexpected the transformation, the greater the likelihood that a surprising insight will result.

The 3 notations that are generally used today are Labanotation invented by Rudolf Laban in 1928, Benseh Movement Notation by Rudolf Benesh and his dancer wife Joan in 1955. & Eshkol-Wachmann Notation (1958)

Rebuses, representations of words by pictures, sounds, or symbols are perhaps the most developed type of puzzle that builds word-number-image transforming skills. When we become aware of the transformations our ideas undergo, we are well on the road to an awareness of creative imagining as a process we can play with and control.

Chapter 15 – Synthesizing.

The inevitable result of transformational thinking is synthetic understanding, in which sensory impressions, feelings, knowledge, and memories ocme together in a multimodal, unified way. Vladimir Nabokove wrote in his extraordinary memoir “Speak, Memory (1947). “I may be inordinately fond of my earliest impressions, but then I have reasons to be grateful to them., They led the way to a veritable Eden of visual and tactile sensations.”

Associational synesthesia occurs in about half of all young children and from 5 to 15 % of adult’s population. The huge difference between children and adults suggests that the typical educational focus on unisensory experiences and express stifles an early and natural association of perceptions. “Synesthetic perception is the rule” says the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

If thinking is naturally synesthetic, it should be possible to maintain and develop associational synesthetic with practice. Philosopher Steve Odin points to Japan where artists and philosophers have long considered synesthesia to be the highest form of aesthetic experience and where it is explicitly cultivated. The green tea represents the living things of nature and drinking it infuses the celebrant with the aroma, taste, color and feel of this nature. Every sensation is orchestrated to produce a oneness. “ True practice of tea brings all senses to function simultaneously and in accord.

Poet-artist e.e. Cummings made copious notes on analogies between arts , translating many “ an image of one of the sense in terms of another of the sense.” As he did in the last lines of

“Somewhere I have never travelled” ,
“ the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses
Nobody not even the rain, has such small hands”

Synosia is the natural and necessary result of imaging, analogizing, modeling, playing and transforming. Creative people have always combined many ways of feeling and knowing simultaneously, often describing in detail personal “tea ceremony’, equivalents melding, sensual and intellectual concerns.

Artist Otto Piene felt strongly that “mind, which is really body and body which really exists in the mind, do not wish to allow us to treat them as separate entities… The man who uses his body to enclose his mind and his mind to lift up his body lives this timeless moment, this heavenly reality, in order to stride free through space, this man has paradise within him.”

George Bellows agreed, “The ideal artist is he who knows everything, feels everything, experiences everything and retains his experience in a spirit of wonder and feeds upon it with creative lust… he uses every possible power, spirit, emotion, conscious or unconscious, to arrive at his ends.”

Aaron Copland felt, an individual must be aware of simultaneously on three planes. “(1) the sensuous plane, (2) the expressive plane (emotional) plane.

The need for a synesthetic and synosic education is best summarized by the simple image of printed circuit board (PCB), one of the most telling ‘cosmic synchronizations” of modern times. The image of PCB is a piece of art, although it looks like one. Or rather it is a piece of art, but only unintentionally. It is a pattern, a series of visually designed logical relationship, mathematical calculations. That it has the form of art work, not by chance. Electronic chips made by a process derived from the technique of etching and silk-screen printing and adapted to coating silicon components with copper and gold. Chips are literally designed as patterns on huge piece of paper, photographically reduced and made into the masks used to etch or to plate material onto silicon wafers.

This is where the course of civilization taken us. Logic is an image that must be printed, just like an art print. The purpose and materials may be different, but the links between art and science and technology are as strong today as they were in Renaissance. To comprehend the advances of this century, one must be able to perceive the connections between mathematical calculations, logical constructions, patterns, visual images and the technical process of manipulating artistic media to produce electronic inventions or to make similarly unexpected concatenations of thinking tools. Only those who became excited by such inspirations will have the desire to create the next synthesis.

The future will therefore depend upon our ability to create synthetic understanding by integrating all ways of knowing. In Buckminster Fuller’s essay, “Emergent Humanity” he warned that in evolution “overspecialization leads to extinction. We need the philosopher-scientist-artist-the comprehensivist, not merely more deluxe quality technician mechanics.

With so many eminent people in so many different disciplines proclaiming the same need, it is incumbent that we listen. Synosia is not an ideal or a dream; it is a necessity.

Chapter 16 – Synthesizing Education.

A synthetic education requires that we change how we teach , bearing eight basic goals in mind.

We must emphasize the teaching of universal process of invention in addition to the acquisition of disciplinary products of knowledge. The purpose of education should be understanding rather than simply knowing. It follows that we must teach the intuitive and imaginative skills necessary to inventive process. As shown, creative thinking in every field begins in nonlogical, nonverbal forms. To think, is to feel and to feel, is to think.

We must implement a multidisciplinary education that places the arts on an equal footing with the science. Arts and science constantly interact in very fruitful ways that are often overlooked.
We must integrate the curriculum by using a common descriptive language for innovation. There is no point in teaching a liberal arts and sciences curriculum that continues to fragment knowledge and creates specialists who cannot communicate across disciplinary lines.
We must emphasize the trans-disciplinary lessons of disciplinary learning. An education that trains the mind to imagine creativity in one filed prepares the mind for creative application in any other, for thinking tools as well as flexible knowledge are transferable.

We must use the experiences of people who have successfully bridged disciplines as exemplars of creative activity within our curricula. The best way to learn is to watch others and then model their technique, insights and process.

To reach the widest range of minds, ideas in every discipline should be presented in many forms. There is no one single imaginative skill or creative technique that is adequate for all thinking people. We must forge a pioneering education, whose purpose is to produce the imaginative generalities who can take us into the uncharted future. Every novel idea takes us into new territory and creative people are, by necessity pioneers.

We need polymaths (Greek word means ‘to know much or very knowing’) and pioneers who know that imagination thrives when sensual experience joins with reasons, when illusions link to reality, when intuition couples with intellect, when the passions of the heart unite with those of the mind, when knowledge gained in one discipline opens the doors to all the rest.

“Everything in your life ends up in your act”, says Aaron Freeman.

The wider your range of knowledge and feeling, the greater your range of imaginative possibilities and the more synthetic and important your work will be.

June 2, 2009

Say it with Charts: The executives guide to Visual communication -By Gene Zelazny.

Say it with Charts – The executives guide to Visual communication
By Gene Zelazny.

The book is a small one and also the content. It should have been better to have a book on presentation, instead of graph alone.

This book about selecting best graphs for presentations.

Pie chart is good for only for one purpose - % of some whole where total counts up to 100%

For item comparison, the bar chart is preferred; when it goes over time, then horizontal chart is better as time goes from left to right and hence it matches (compared to vertical bar charts)

Deviation column chart is for distinguishing, say, the profit making years to losing years

The grouped column chart with either butting against one another or overlapping compares two items at each point in time and shows relationship changes over time.

A subdivided column chart shows how the components contributing to the total vary over the time.

Line chart is good for historgrpah.

Structure visual

Circle with three sections (What)
Followed by different phases
End with full circle (Why)

More info -

More is better: It takes exactly the same amount of time to present 5 ideas on 1 slide as it does to present 1 idea on each of the 5 slides.

Bigger is better: large type or font is better for presentation

Simpler is better

Different is better

Choosing colors: Use background so the colors for the visual stand out. Against black, they use (professionals) use cool colors such as blue and green. For emphasis. They rely on white and yellow.