Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Begin the Begin

My now-five-year-old son Ty has an ear and inkling for all that's musical. He digs bands -- especially marching bands -- freezing at first sound, eyes doubling in size in curious amazement. He lionizes the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh! When your an adolescent, it's uncool to play in a marching band; when you're five, bands are bigger than an Easter Bunny/Santa Claus hybrid.

What does Ty hear and see that we miss? Diego Rodriguez has an interesting take in metacool, relaying the story of a street-side violinist in D.C. While adults shuttled by, children stopped and watched in amazement. Here's an excerpt:

Why the kids? Partly because they know beauty in their hearts and not in their analytic brains. Partly because they're not rushing somewhere like all the adults (even if they're in tow -- young children don't rush anywhere they don't want to go). The kids were listening because that's what kids do. They listen and observe with an intensity that only the most talented and highly-trained professional ethnographers can muster. In the face of such beauty and mastery, how could they not spend these precious moments of life soaking in the music?

This sense of "beginner's mind" or "mind of the child" is a pillar of design thinking. It's the ability to see things afresh. To see deeply and to sense the truth and the beauty. It's not the same thing as ignorance -- far from it. Rather it's a cultivated ability, an ability which, ideally, is matched with deep technical expertise and wisdom.
We touched on the Beginner's Mind in a post last week, and our inaugural post of a few months ago engaged the concept and its application to creative thinking. We can all stand to begin the begin, let alone spend more time enjoying marching bands. Speaking of bands, here's a lyrical slice of R.E.M.'s Begin the Begin:
Life's rich demand creates supply in the hand
Of the powers, the only vote that matters
Silence means security silence means approval
On Zenith, on the TV, tiger run around the tree
Follow the leader, run and turn into butter

Let's begin again, begin the begin

Post-script (8.21.07): Richard Watson has an interesting Fast Company take on the Beginner's Mind. His view: When it comes to innovation, organizations can be disabled by experience and specialization.

Post-script (13 Feb 08): John Maeda checks in with a terrific post about why being creative is good. Love it ... here's the post in its entirety:

Much of my days and all hours are now spent on contemplating the value of the arts and design. Of course there is the economical value of art as artifacts that accrue value, or design as enabling enhancements that result in product revenues. But my mind has wandered towards this strange overused word of creative. The idea of someone that has a propensity to create.

While watching my daughter's viola lesson, and as she stood in front of the class, I realized that the moment when the bow touched the strings was not something to be taken for granted. It was the moment when she was to begin the process of expressing herself by creating music. To create is to potentially embarrass oneself in front of others. It is about the courage to be oneself and to be seen as oneself. Putting ink to a page, or pressing one's fingers against clay, or typing a line of computer code, or blowing glass and realizing mistake. Or success. With everyone watching. But most importantly, you.

So it dawned upon me how important it is to be a creative. Because it means you have within you infinite capacity to experiment. You are unafraid to go somewhere new because you are creating a new thought process about your own creativity. You know that if you stop and no longer challenge yourself, you cease to be creative. You become still, silent, and the bow no longer connect with the strings and music is not made. And you do not exist. You show you do not have the courage to exist.

Creativity is courage. The world needs more fearless people that can influence all disciplines to challenge their very existence. Creativity is reflection aimed not at yourself, but at the world around you.

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