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creativity

The back of a head has never been more interesting. The songwriter and singer phenomenon known as Sia is exemplary for something rare in the business: Rejectionism for a conventional music industry alongside extraction from it of mass appeal. See the comments:

Despite capsules like, Why Sia is a marketing genius…not a reluctant star, she can legitimately be both. Sia is smart enough to know it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t authentic. Her back to the audience you have no choice but to listen–what we once did with music–as you can’t see her. Her album debuts tomorrow.

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Here is a robotic bartender solution by some Georgia Tech entrepreneurs recently presented at Disrupt SF 2013. With its precision mixology it calls up the Coca-Cola Freestyle drink machine that dispenses over a hundred drinks that also launched in Atlanta a few years ago. The design addresses a whole social drinking experience for both proprietors and social drinkers: This includes inventory management and planning, servicers, quality, hygiene, customization, responsible consumption and even taxi hailing to get home. Its main value appears around increased management efficiency and business analytics, particularly for lucrative customers; reduced service time; increased order accuracy; and drink consistency.

I visited the manufacturing operations of a quintessential modernist Italian glass producer, the Venini Glass Factory. Italy is famous for its stained glass manufacturing and disproportionately supplies the finest articles to the world. Venini makes beautiful glass and I was grateful for the gracious tour the company provided.

As an American who has worked for a large US manufacturer and has interest in processes and making things I observed factory operations.  Aesthetically, I’m biased in favor of Italian manufacturing, though some Venini observations disturbed me. Following is a truncated version of my factory tour.

Hot

In a glass factory furnaces are basic capital equipment. This furnace, a smaller one used well downstream, operated at reportedly 900 degrees F. The temperature where I stood to take this picture about 17 feet away felt about 100 degrees F.

Bright

The furnaces are very bright. Lines of other mostly younger men I saw working at bigger furnaces all wore Ray-Charles-styled sunglasses. This man was one of the more experienced designers and would be physically handed off bulbs of molten glass that were ready for the most differentiating points of design. This photo makes 2 points:

  1. He is standing as far away from the furnace as possible.
  2. His face is turned toward me but he is not looking at me: His eyes are nearly closed in this photo.  He is looking away from the furnace to momentarily allow his pupils to dilate:

Repetitive motions

The movement of the man’s head, this master craftsman—like those of the lines of men I saw standing at the larger furnaces—is

  • Stare into furnace; twirl, twirl, reverse twirl, as he elevates the glass to a workable viscosity and spins it into some appropriate asymmetrical shape.
  • Look away until pupils dilate.
  • Look back quickly to assess progress.
  • Look away until pupils dilate.
  • Look back, twirl, twirl, reverse, twirl.
  • Look away.

And repeat for each bar he receives.  For hours.

He sits down eventually but not for very long and his seat is not one of clear comfort in light of the movements he must do:

Staying cool has its place. The bottle is a drink:

One is fortunate to avoid any contact or fall into the pan of collected glass fragments on the floor that steadily accumulate. There is a lot of cutting:

Fastforward….
Output
In the end we walk into a comfortable beautiful showroom like this:
And we see this:

These pieces were priced beginning at 4 figures in US dollars. The laborers behind these pieces are deeply talented professionals who have mastered, as one can, the most subtle of physical movements and habits to be maximally productive and routinely protect themselves and others.  However, neither they nor their environment is perfect.

I remain haunted by these men, standing in the blackest eye shades before furnaces, staring into them until they couldn’t any longer and yanking their heads back, over and over. It’s not something you can forget.

Global consumers have the burden to actively discern—while in the coolest of showrooms—from whence cometh the goods and services they so highly value. When something is not right, there appears some ethical duty to at least speak to it.

Or rather it bans big sugary drinks. It’s one of the shrewdest moves I’ve seen in the public sphere around psychologically resetting beverage serving sizes and, by extension, sugar and caloric intake per serving.

Given NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s ban’s arguable practicality it’s interesting it’s just now happening, though admittedly, it’s not for the risk-averse. A mayor of the free world’s largest city has a fiduciary duty to the citizenry to take on big problems in creative and efficient ways. A national epidemic of overweight and obesity requires such an official to vote. And the ban will meaningfully add to an experiential public health and policy database about what levers may alter behavior affecting the public’s health interest. It’s a bold stroke of leadership. I support it.

It’s unclear where behavioral change thresholds are for big sugary drink servings. But Bloomberg is willing to search. We do know Americans don’t eat or drink purely due to hunger or thirst–so by definition serving size is malleable.

Naysayer group 1: “big government”

These opponents are misdirected: Any nation’s first duty is self-defense. So in a country without conscription, government has a primary duty to regulate the health profile—among other things—of the general population from which the military is  drawn; hence, vaccinations for public school teachers and pupils, regulation of the agriculture industry, quarantine law, etc.  Some of our most important and long-instituted food regulations and nutritional standards today derived straight from the Department of Defense. We can’t source a military with insulin dependents.

Naysayer group 2: “too many loopholes”

They claim folks will just buy two 16-oz big sugary drinks to get the old 32 oz. they used to.  Not necessarily: It’s less convenient and inconvenience is a tax. From web pages that load seconds too slowly; to stepping well outside to smoke; to voice-automated menus with excessive steps; to merchandise too low on a shelf; to right houses in wrong locations; we avoid inconvenience. Over the course of one New York City minute and time-sensitive day, that can include queuing up for a refill, additional beckonings of a waiter, multiple treks to the movie concession area, or carrying 2 drinks vs. 1 from the start. Lastly, even if they refill, the point is they refill at a lower caloric rate—sugar and calories per refill. That’s a plus.

For the record, of course, overweight and obesity cost.

Great story. High school freshman, Jack Andraka, develops a paper sensor for detection of blood proteins signaling some early stage cancers. Certain proteins get over-expressed in the blood for different cancers at early stages.  Tests categorized as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) are part protocol for early cancer diagnostics. Jack’s discovery—now with the patent lawyers and Johns Hopkins—seems factors more efficient and accurate than ELISAs, the first of which was invented over 40 years ago.  For perspective, here’s how ELISA was celebrated only in 2006.

I note:

  • Jack attends public school.
  • Like the rest of us he was also “home-schooled”, i.e, he learned stuff at home.
  • Jack did research outside the advantages, constraints, accoutrements and professional politics of a conventional research grant-based environment.
  • Jack had supportive parents and teachers.
  • He had fun.
  • Jack seems personable, well-mannered and easily conversant with a balance of complexity and simplicity, and people seem to want to work with him. (TRANSLATION: Jack’s emotional IQ doesn’t appear inversely proportional to his conventional IQ.)
  • Jack focused on a little part of a really big something.
  • Jack is 15.

Much cancer work is on treatment. In conventional medicine—whose professional impulses in the grimmest cast mimic complacency if not a more honorable abject surrender—cancer is a given.  Oncology’s whole start. And in truth there are problems about which we know little to do and cancer’s surely among them. Viruses too. They stump us for similar reasons and it’s no coincidence we’ve cured neither.

But this  freshman is focusing on proteomics and detection— upstream. Because everything is a rate. And he’s  valuing the simple proposition of earlier diagnostics—plus better ones—as, yes, a prelude to earlier treatment.

Thinking about big problems can be daunting—cancer is big.  But the ability to focus on a small piece is key.  But research tradition—even in the fine exploratory arena of a progressive Johns Hopkins lab—can sometimes obscure how legitimate little pieces look.  Some fruit, I fear, hangeth too low for view by the fanciest eyes.  Or a more accurate explanation may lie in this random literature from an LSAC publication:

“Many major scientific discoveries of the past were the product of serendipity, the chance discovery of valuable findings that investigators had not purposely sought.  Now, however, scientific research tends to be so costly that investigators are heavily dependent on large grants to fund their research.  Because such grants require investigators to provide the grant sponsors with clear projections of the outcome of the proposed research, investigators ignore anything that does not directly bear on the funded research.”

A Yale management professor said it takes 10 years of doing something to become an expert—there are studies. Yes. It takes volume. Volume takes time. But that’s not the story, increasingly. First, whole industries now rise and die in 10 years. You won’t get that window to “master” in.  Secondly, you’re due to know something after 10 years, but the question is whether it’s optimum. Lastly, even if you get to master something, your frequency of innovation over the course—e.g., Jack-style—is something else. And that’s business’ whole deal.

Quite opposite dismissing children because of youth or no volume, I particularly attend. I follow them on twitter. In science great questions and discovery, as Jack teaches, not only can come early before you’re a conventional expert and often seem to come in part because you’re not, but increasingly in a competitive world, they must.

Weeks ago the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) hosted a provocative workshop called “Bridging STEM to STEAM: Developing New Frameworks for Art-Science-Design Pedagogy“.

“…The goal of this gathering of minds was to develop strategies to enhance STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] education by integrating art and design – transforming STEM into STEAM and promoting the intellectual and creative potentials in the process.

“The workshop brought together 60 leaders from the fields of science, creative IT, engineering, art and design, mathematics and education research to strategize about innovative ways to fuse these fields and teach new approaches to creative problem solving.”

I like this.

It means breaking through an “artificial bifurcation between art and science” that I’ve felt for some time. On a college campus, the buildings where science and art are taught can reside in different zip codes. Disparate whole subcultures of professors and students go in and out. There’s economy in this and I get it. But some learning approaches in the sciences haven’t ever much changed. We’re creating some great scientists on the one hand, but on the other we have a shortage, and many new students aren’t raring to go because they disidentify with a zip code.

Disciplines are siloed off behind inert traditions. Yet academies themselves know silos are false. Many in the end spend energy stitching much of it back together through Dual Degree Engineering and cross disciplinary joint degree programs.

Folks in science can be ashamed to be closeted poets or guitarists–like it means lack of focus. Venus and Serena Williams—who appear continuously in school or learning a foreign language or designing a clothing line—are high profilers who have publicly nurtured creativity while “scientifically” mastering a conformist, precision oriented day job. It was their rejection of convention—in training, strategy, and scheduling—that correlated with their original success and worked as a template for others. They have weathered the lack of focus critique; but as career “delineations” that for them were congruent, creativity arguably enhanced their game.

A workshop participant remarked how the world comes to us whole and we dysfunctionally break it down into artificial pieces expecting to understand it.

I’m glad for this group of envelope pushers.

Screenshot: That’s likely dramatic, but he is being cast in a reportedly more “shadowy” light in a brand extension and new video game due out tomorrow. For the record Mickey’s worth $6 billion in annual sales to Disney. Technically, he’s already “gangsta”.

I’m intrigued and not even a gamer: In the game, Epic Mickey, retailing for around $49.99, Disney has opted to give artistic license to A-list creatives like game developer Warren Spector whose esteemed following with serious gamers may bode well for the Disney foray into alternative machinations of the pristine character. It’s no small move for one of the strongest and most successful cheek-rosing brands ever, and reportedly an idea with roots in some interns in the company’s video game division–of course.

The game trailer evidences a famous and personally amusing Disney Law: no matter Mickey’s head position, his ears always face the camera. And it’s clear why Disney mesmerizes. Its world is vivid and transformative. Just like this:

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