Perhaps you attended a session on millennials at the annual conference of New Jersey Organization Development professionals held May 4 in Newark, NJ. The workshop “Lessons Learned from millennials—Deep Seeing, Inspired Thinking” was based on my college student essays that I collected over the past 25 years. It also grew out of my professional teacher development using imaginement®, a tool for assessing attentional seeing and the thinking process it engenders at the museum. What fascinated me is that millennials demonstrated the capacity for higher-order thinking when it came to looking at artifacts particularly from Asian cultures.
Reading student essays about their encounter with an Asian art object over the past 25 years has introduced me to the field of attentional science and the research of Neuroscientist Adele Diamond, Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science.
In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science. The student essays can be assessed against neurological studies that specifically map the brain areas of complex cognitive abilities that rely on the brain’s prefrontal cortex when a viewer stops to give full attention to a museum art object. These essays provide the evidence that art educators have always championed from their observations in the classroom. Diamond’s research shows demonstrative evidence of focusing the attention such as looking at an art object increases inhibitory control, working memory with the interdisciplinary outcome of flexible cognition.What does this mean? The actual brain area that lights up when we truly focus our attention is not the primal part of the brain–the brain stem–that we tap for automatic information but instead bounces up to the prefrontal cortex whereby we slow down to think for a more thoughtful, cogent response. This is a state of mental “experiments:” disassembling and reassembling content information in creative and new ways through the alternation of content data and the imagination, and, generating often what are playfully remixed conclusions, replete with new possibilities. Once having had a complete, integrated cognitive and creative experience expanded by the imagination only then do we build flexible cognition that operates in all areas of our professional and personal lives.
What is key here is the role of the imagination: only then is our thinking expanded with a long reach capable of taking into account history as well as the inestimable future; only after we have made a beginning on having the “inner dialogue” are we capable of the outer dialogue to enter into cooperative collaborations at the workplace. Looking at art is not just waking up our consciousness, but aligning with the consciousness of a past master and together–creator and viewer–forming a third consciousness.
Adele Diamond’s research on the science of attention identifies three Executive Functions, (EFs): inhibitory control, working memory and flexible cognition.
 Diamond’s Executive Function working memory aligns with John Dewey’s description of the process of the alternation of factual content with imagination that result in new interpretations and insightful judgments in How We Think, (1939)
This is a repost of an essay written in 2012.
Michael Kaiser, Director of the Kennedy Center, is often fearless when it comes to speaking out about the value of cultural organizations in good times and bad. In fact, I think he would agree that they are paramount in the current economy to kick start creativity. Throw those economic impact studies aside, he would say, because now science can back up such claims. For example, recent studies in neuroscience provides new information about the brain and why art and looking at art is so important for an innovative society. For one thing, art can help move human beings to being more socially cooperative rather than just being competitive. Michael Gazzaniga writes about the work of developmental and comparative psychologists Henrike Moll and Michael Tomasello, who have suggested the Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis, name after Lev Vygotsky, an early 20th century Russian psychologist by proposing that while cognition in general was driven mainly by social competition, other aspects of cognition that they consider to be unique to humans (the cognitive skills of shared goals, joint attention, joint intentions, and cooperative communication), were driven by or were constituted of, social cooperation, which is needed to create such thing as complex technologies, cultural institutions, and systems of symbols, and not by social competition.* Surely competition has its place–to get that ‘A’, land that job, earn a promotion–but eventually what drives innovation is social cooperation that taps an entirely different type of cognition of the “higher self.” So this weekend walk on the wild side: take in an art exhibit, visit a museum, or go to a play. Who knows –you may being doing something that’s good for the economy, or even humanity.
Gazzaniga, M. 2011. Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. NY: Harper Collins.
Moll, H., Tomasello, M. (2007). “Cooperation and Human Cognition: The Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362 (1480), 639-648.
His Holiness the 14th
Dalai Lama and Alaa Murabit, M.D.
It is not so long ago that the word “power” would ever be in the same sentence as “care.” But that is so last century! At the recent Mind & Life Dialogue Europe, held in Brussels, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama hosted scientists, religious leaders, economists and artists for three days to discuss the need for “care” to be one of the most important competencies of the 21st century leader. Our era, HHDL emphasized cannot afford the world wars that marked the past century. Instead, he made the appeal for a century of peace. Today scientists know that mammals are hardwired for care and have observed the chimpanzee in which not only mothers but the entire community all participate in the nurturing of a newborn, including Alpha males. Humans, however, have tended to compartmentalize roles along sharply drawn gender lines. When moderator, Scilla Elsworthy, asked HHDL how to bring masculine and feminine elements back into balance, he responded that love and compassion are always key factors as long as they are not bound up with attachment, but rather a genuine concern for others’ well being. With practice, he said, it can become effortless. This is important to cultivate because in our interconnected world we are dependent on others, “so it’s in our interest to pay heed to their welfare.” Because HHDL is pro-active his main concern is always about educating our youth. Neuroscience can now map distinct brain areas such as cognition, affect or emotions, as well as perspective taking. The latter is a crucial competency–i.e. that of taking into account other cultures. That is why a tool such as imaginement® which came out of my teaching non-western cultures a both community college and universities for the past 25 years is useful. I have have guided and observed firsthand how young adult students develop their perspective-taking through cultivating their imagination opening them up to true social justice: that developing the intelligence requires cultivating the imagination which, as John Dewey points out, is not telling others how to improve their lives but developing a “faith in the social utility of encouraging every individual to make his own choice intelligent.”
*origninal watercolor by the author, Terri McNichol
Tony Wagner, Ed. D., Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard delivered his keynote at the recent conference on “Creativity, Play, and the Imagination across Disciplines” at Teachers College, Columbia University. The article that follows is a preview of his forthcoming book.
A recent advertisement for an American airline reads “Who is emerging is not as important as what is emerging.” The same could be said for innovation. In the global knowledge economy, what will innovation look like in the year 2025 and more importantly, how can the education system support innovation for all its citizens? In his forthcoming book, Learning to Innovate, Innovating to Learn, Tony Wagner, Ed.D., who is Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, sets out to do just that with the goal of informing the American education system about a whole new approach to teaching core 21st century skills. In his The Global Achievement Gap, published in 2008, Wagner identified 21st century skills such as curiosity and imagination that will be needed not just for jobs, but also continuous lifelong learning. Dr. Wagner recognizes that these skills cannot be grafted to an existing education culture as an add-on but must be embedded deeply in the education culture in order to develop the capacities of creativity and innovation. Therefore, he approaches his current project by looking at outliers—young, entrepreneurial individuals—who cut short their education paths to initiate successful startup enterprises. In his case studies of young adults, Wagner wants to uncover what factors contributed to their creative ventures and sustained their passion and motivation throughout the process. By talking with these young entrepreneurs and their parents and teachers, he has identified several common factors. Parents who encouraged free play and open exploration were very important. So were teachers who were adept at getting students to work collaboratively and supported hands-on projects with real world applications. Wagner also found that, in addition to parents, there was often a teacher or another supportive adult whose role Visit website: http://www.spinweaveandcut.blogspot.com/
Tony Wagner’s website: http://www.tonywagner.com/
A lively debate grew up around an UN University-sponsored event yesterday moderated by Dean Dr. Jean-Marc Coicaud and featuring Professor Lan Xue, Dean School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University. The “Open to Global: Preparing a New Policymaking Generation for China” event was also streamed to students at Tsinghua and Peking Universities. Dr. Xue Lan, who received his Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon and taught at George Washington University before returning to China in 1996, covered five major points: China in Transition; Challenges of change in the Public Policy process; Responses to these changes; the program at Tsinghua University; and moving from Open to Global. China’s economic status has evolved from that of central planning to that of market driven and is now a global manufacturing hub. This has resulted in one of the world’s major migration as its rural youth has sought out opportunity in its cities in the past two decades has resulted in China moving away from a rural and closed society to urban and open society. This transition period has seen China dealing with increasing internal demands for transparency and accountability at home as well as external pressure to meet global issues such as climate change, resolving conflicts, effective financial markets and reaching trade agreements. In response, China has improved its policy deliberation processes and put in place mechanisms to create learning systems within government as well as external independent think tanks. Interestingly, some of the issues raised in the Q&A were not unique to China such as: how do schools build in public service and produce public servants who are not self-serving but responsive to the majority of the people? How do schools internationalize curricula that, in the West moves it away from the position of power, and in the East produces future leaders who will question underlying assumptions and challenge the status quo? How do schools foster superb critical thinking skills in order to offset studying for extremely competitive entrance exams in China and standardized tests in America as well as Europe? How will China deal with Western influences of individualism and market forces and greed that has penetrated its ideological vacuum? What this writer found interesting is that the Q&A touched on a discussion of the influence of Confucius and China’s relationship with nature. It must be noted that China has a long tradition of grooming public servants and these literati were devoted to lifelong learning and nurturing their intuitions through the “Three Perfections” of painting, calligraphy and poetry. For the Chinese, art was never separate from daily life and the individual saw to the continuous process of self-cultivation so that one not only participated in one’s own self-transformation but that of the community and the world as well. If China taps into even a small portion of its own cultural DNA it could have great ramifications at home and abroad.
In June, I attended 2009 Global Forum of the Business as an Agent for World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University. The conference centered around 3 themes: management as design; massive innovation; along with design education practices. Design is an interesting concept: painters contend with two-dimensional design, sculptors with three-dimensional design and architects with the virtual design of space. So in this series I want to explore different approaches to design: topics covered at the conference as well as from other sources. A recent column written about golf spurred me to begin this series–that’s right, golf. NY Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote in “59 Is the New 30″ about Tom Watson’s historic performance at the British Open at age 59 who tied for lead for four rounds in a playoff to 36-year old Stewart Cink but ultimately lost unable to par on the last hole. What does it have to do with design? Well, Friedman notes how baseball, basketball and football are all played on flat surfaces designed to give true bounces. Not so with golf. The uneven surfaces instead pack surprises which Friedman likens to life. But it also likens to art and design. I am suspicious of artists or designers who “control” their process from start to finish and inhibit that “bounce” from entering their work. That is where the rubber meets the road on how well you can think on your feet, persevere, be surprised, be flexible, seize an opportunity, and see until now, “unseen” worlds. Watson was rueful afterward on the hard lesson of learning from defeat not victory. But as Friedman concluded, Watson gave all who watched an “incredible lesson in possibilities” and that is the mark not only of a gentleman golfer but a true artist-designer. Read Friedman’s column: http://bit.ly/XTJXL