Monthly Archives: January 2012

“The Wonderful Grace of Jesus” – New Year’s Prayer [Programming]

We started off 2012 in by opening ourselves up to God in two different ways…

First, after turning our attention upward by singing “How Great Thou Art” and “Glory to God Forever”, Aaron dusted off the old hymn “The Wonderful Grace of Jesus”.  Written in 1918, this hymn is a little silly and wildly uncool…but maybe that’s why it’s so great!  The words are profoundly rich and meaty, and I think there’s something important about choosing to sing something fun.  Especially if it’s fun for your grandma.  Here’s the whole experience…

After we sang these great words to and about God, Blaine lead us through an extended time of prayer for the New Year.  As fun as the music was, this prayer was the highlight of the service for me.  As the band quietly played an instrumental version of “Fljótavík” by Sigur Rós, Blaine guided the moment…

I don’t know about you, but I love this time of year. It’s when we pause and say to the world, to each other, and to ourselves we want this year to be different.  There’s an excitement in the air. There’s deep hope. Tremendous anticipation. Our hearts beat fast as we imagine the possibilities of what could be.

But this business of becoming more human, growing, changing – it can be so hard.  Because of this fact, I’m certain that there are many of us who are already feeling the painful sting of shame for not being able to keep our resolutions for even a week. That thing we said we definitely we weren’t going to do, we did. Or, that thing we said we definitely were going to do, we didn’t.

It’s heartbreaking and I know exactly how you feel.

So then, maybe there’s something we’re missing here. Maybe we’re not supposed to be doing this thing on our own. Maybe we weren’t created to power-through – to dominate the world, or ourselves into change.  In the scriptures, Peter writes the following:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” – 2 Peter 1:3,4

New Years resolutions often tend to be about us working hard, us making things happen, us digging deep, but as we’ve seen and possibly experienced already this past week, our powers are limited. I know mine are.

Throughout all of scripture, there’s a secret Jesus is trying to tell us:  God is right here waiting to help us become the people He’s made us to be.

So maybe what we need today, a good, healthy week into the new year, is to remind ourselves and each other that this divine power to become the people God created us to be, is real.  Perhaps it is true that God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness.  Perhaps it is true that God and his divine power is waiting here to help us become the people we desperately hope we will become this year.

If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to ask that you place your open hands on your lap. As we pray, we must realize that what we’re asking for is a gift to be received with open hands and not the clenched fists of mere will-power and resolve.

Let us pray.

First, for OUR RELATIONSHIPS – Our families and our friends. The broken relationships we endeavor to fix and the ones we’ve deemed un-fixable. God we invite your divine power into this area of our lives.

OUR FINANCES – We thank you for the gift of resources; we realize every dollar is an abundant gift from you. We pray we will manage these gifts wisely. God we invite your divine power into this area of our lives.

OUR WORK – First for those of us without employment, we join with you now, praying for work to come our way. For those of us who find ourselves with gainful employment, we ask that you would be with us at our desks, in our homes, in our cars, on planes and in hotels, in our meetings, and in our conversations. God we invite your divine power into this area of our lives.

OUR ADDICTIONS & THE THINGS WE WRESTLE WITH – Whether it be sex, food, alcohol, drugs, or something else – we admit we’re all wrestling with something. God we invite your divine power into this area of our lives.

OUR DESIRES & DREAMS – For the desires in our hearts – the things we long to do, to get right, to be better at in the new year. For our deepest hopes and dreams. God we invite your divine power into this area of our lives.

OUR FEAR – For the fears that keep us from taking risks and from telling the truth of who we really are. God we invite your divine power into this area of our lives.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”


Reluctant But Resolved: A Challenge To Die Empty

Photo: Seyed Mostafa Zamani / Flickr

This morning I was reading Jane Friedman’s excellent post about the over-emphasis on passion, and it resonated deeply. Jane makes the case that our over-emphasis on passion sometimes negates the importance of hard work.

If I were to summarize much of the career advice circulating throughout the web, it would look something like this:

1. Find your passion
2. Quit your job
3. Watch the money flow in

Is passion important? Surely. Is it the most important factor in doing great work? I have my doubts. Some of the most effective contributors throughout time have been marked by two characteristics: they were (a) reluctant, but (b) resolved. They saw the great task before them, but they were determined to surmount obstacles because they recognized an opportunity and felt the urgency of the moment.

Yesterday I jotted a few thoughts about the nature of contribution:

1. Your days are numbered. Finite. They will someday run out.
This is indisputable. We live with the stubborn illusion that we will always have tomorrow to do today’s work. It’s a lie.

2. You have a unique contribution to make to the world.
Your combination of interests, skills and experiences is unique. There is something you can offer that no one else ever could.

3. No one else can make that contribution for you.
Waiting for permission to act on your contribution is the easy way out. So is playing the victim or politics. We all must deal with the time and circumstances we’re dealt.

4. Your contribution is not about you.
You may be recognized for your contribution, and if so that’s fine. You may also labor in obscurity doing brilliant work your entire life, and that’s fine too. There is an over-emphasis on celebrity in our culture, and it will eventually be the death of us.

5. To varying degrees, you have been lied to, dulled, and sold out.
Others do not want you to embrace your contribution, because it puts a mandate on them to do the same. Others want to assimilate you into neat systems that feed their ego. They do this by making you comfortable. The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness. Break out.

6. The path forward is backward. To discover your contribution you must get to bedrock.
Don’t be a mirror, passively reflecting the priorities of others. To discover your contribution you must (MUST) do some serious excavation. You must get past the rubble to the bedrock principles that will drive your life, come hell or high water.

7. Your contribution is a polaroid, not a digital photo.
Expect that your contribution will become clear over time as you act. It will develop slowly like a polaroid photo, giving you clues as you experiment, fail and succeed. Patience is required. This is a long-arc game, but it must begin now.

8. You must curate your life around your contribution.
What you plant today you reap in a few years. You must structure your life around your contribution, building practices and activities that cause you to take new ground each day.

9. Your contribution will always be a gift to others.
Whatever your contribution, it will be something for others. It may challenge, dispute, encourage or inspire, but it will provide a platform for others to find their contribution as well. Your contribution is one way of loving others.

Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Die Empty. – The Accidental Creative, p. 217

10. You have one job: get whatever is in you out.
Your one and only job today, and every day, is to get whatever is in you out. Not tomorrow’s work, not yesterday’s work, but today’s. On my computer monitor is a note that reads, “Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work I did today?” If I have made my contribution that day, I can rest with a clean conscience.

Do not be dulled, friends. Do not allow the lull of comfort to cause you to abdicate your contribution. Stay sharp. Keep your edges. Nothing – NOTHING – is worth giving up the most precious thing you have to offer.

How to Unleash Your Creativity by Peggy Orensteyn

Not everyone is the creative type, right?


Its a great pleasure to share this article with you, written by Peggy Orenstein. Would love to hear your comments and experience and input. So post your comment below the post and let me know your thoughts!

Take care, Anicke Novi

How to Unleash Your Creativity

By Peggy Orenstein
Painting a zebra

Not everyone is the creative type, right? Wrong.

Peggy Orenstein uncovers the roots of imaginative thinking.

My daughter, Daisy, was thrilled last fall when she was placed in a second-grade class with a special concentration on science and math. I pasted on my best Enthusiastic Mom smile as she chattered about baking-soda volcanoes and lemon-powered batteries, but inside I was roiling. Math? Science? What about her love of writing, drawing, composing music? That school was going to suck the creativity right out of her! They’d turn her into one of those people who talks in a monotone about things no one else can understand! Or worse: They’d somehow turn her into me.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been haunted by the conviction that I am not a creative person. True, I’m a writer, but not the kind who relies on her boundless imagination to make things up. I’m the knitter who’s lost without a pattern, the longtime piano student who was never able to improvise. I can’t even doodle without hyperventilating; I fear drawing the way other people fear heights. Creativity, like red hair, always seemed to be one of those things you either had or you didn’t. Clearly I didn’t.

Maybe you know what I mean. According to James C. Kaufman, an associate professor of psychology at California State University at San Bernardino and author of Creativity 101, a majority of Americans don’t consider themselves the creative “type.” This wouldn’t be a big deal if the self-assessment didn’t tend to become self-fulfilling, but it does: We think we’re not creative, so we don’t cultivate our creative potential and—voilà!—we’re not creative. In recent years, that cycle seems to have become a spiral: Americans’ scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a 90-minute series of visual and verbal tasks administered by a psychologist, have plummeted since 1990.

No one can fully explain the decline; too much TV, texting, googling? Whatever the culprit, experts in the emerging field of creativity studies—a broad array of psychologists, educators, and neuroscientists—would like us to chuck the have-it-or-don’t mentality and start recognizing creativity as basic to human development, as elemental as reading or counting. Creativity can be squelched, these experts say, but if we take the time to better understand what it is and how it works, it can also be fostered and enhanced.

Which is good news, because it turns out that the creative impulse is crucial to psychological health. A 2007 study of Hurricane Katrina survivors found that those who scored higher on two measures of creativity—originality and flexibility—coped with the crisis better. In a study of amateur female musicians, higher levels of creativity correlated with lower levels of stress. And Mark Runco, PhD, editor of the Creativity Research Journal, has found that for many people the ability to imagine potential obstacles to a goal and generate a range of solutions—hallmarks of creative intelligence—predicts both overall well-being and more satisfying personal relationships. (Inflexible thinking, on the other hand, is associated with depression.) Meanwhile, cultural trendspotters like Daniel Pink have argued that it will be the creative, not the meek, who inherit the Earth—at least in the coming decades—as flexibility, innovation, and aesthetic flair become the go-to traits in business and politics.

What is Creativity?
Scholars define creativity as the production of something both novel and appropriate. (That latter condition is important from a research perspective: “If anything new qualifies as creative, then the term loses its meaning,” Kaufman says. “Suppose the person you hired to repave your driveway covered it with salami—that would be original, surely, but inappropriate.” Similarly, an innovative design for a bridge would not pass muster if, once constructed, it collapsed.)

By this definition, almost any human endeavor has the potential to be creative. Which brings us to step one in claiming our creativity: becoming more expansive in our own definition of the term.

So many people operate under the default assumption that creativity is the sole province of the arts. I, it appears, am one of those people. Intellectually, I know it’s wrong to think this way. I’m well aware of Einstein, Curie, Gates—not to mention Temple Grandin, James (Mr. vacuum cleaner) Dyson, and the creatively self-amputating guy James Franco played in 127 Hours. Heck, there’s even Daisy and her baking-soda volcanoes.

In my defense, it’s only recently—in the last century or so—that anyone acknowledged creativity extending beyond the arts. The Victorians applied the term primarily to painting; the ancient Greeks, to poetry. For all we know, future generations may consider our own parameters equally quaint. In the decade since advances in imaging technology have allowed researchers to precisely track the way our brains process creative tasks, it’s become clear, for example, that we were mistaken in thinking creativity resides in a single area of the brain. Brain scans of people engaged in different types of creative tasks—visual and verbal problem-solving, artistic performance involving music—reveal that many brain areas are involved. Moreover, domains such as the arts, science, and leadership appear to harness various types of creativity, each drawing on different sets of mental abilities. “It’s a very optimistic finding,” says Oshin Vartanian, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, “because we now see that creativity can be exhibited in many different ways.”

So I will try to resist my fine-arts bias. While I’m at it—and this is step two, if you’re counting—I’ll try to let go of the notion that immortality is the one true measure of creative achievement. The Edisons and Picassos of the world are what Ron Beghetto, an associate professor of educational studies at the University of Oregon, calls Big-C creators: people whose ideas changed everything. If that’s your standard for success, basically you’re screwed. “You put yourself in the shadow of a giant,” Beghetto says, “and it makes you think, Well, I’m not that and never could be.” In which case, the only logical thing for you to do is quit.

Even the dream of making a living at your creative work, or simply reaching a professional level—what those in the field call Pro-C (and the rest of us call Etsy)—can be self-defeating. And unnecessary. Because it turns out that the creativity that enriches our life and confers all those feel-good benefits is something far humbler: everyday, or little-c creativity. We’re not talking anything revolutionary here. Little-c is the school science project comparing frogs’ responses to heavy metal music and show tunes. It’s combining ingredients in a new way to surprise your dinner guests, or developing a new skills drill while coaching your kid’s soccer team. Everyone, says Kaufman, has the capacity for little-c creativity. Rather than a rare gift, it’s more akin to kindness or compassion—an innate human trait. It’s something we’re born with, and naturally draw upon, until something, somewhere, goes awry.

Reclaiming the creative impulses we enjoyed as children

Reclaiming the creative impulses we enjoyed as children

Not everyone is the creative type, right? Wrong. Peggy Orenstein uncovers the roots of imaginative thinking.
For years I’ve kept a dog-eared copy of an old Lynda Barry comic taped to a wall in my office. The first panel shows one of the artist’s iconic, primitively penned women hunched over her desk with a cup of coffee, pencil poised in midstroke. Two thought bubbles hover over her head: “Is this good?” and “Does this suck?” “I’m not sure when these two questions became the only two questions I had about my work,” Barry writes beneath the image. “I just know I’d stopped enjoying it and instead began to dread it.”

As the strip unfolds, Barry describes the easy pleasure she took as a child in drawing and storytelling (“Look out! It’s Dracula! What’s that smell? He’s pooping! And the mummy is pooping back! But it’s lava!”). It didn’t seem special, she recalls: “Every kid I knew could do it.”

That’s because children are naturally driven to understand their world. They live by that incessant, creativity-inspiring “why?” Why does the grass grow? Why is the sky blue? Why can’t I fly? And to answer these questions, they experiment, imagine, and explore. Their minds are free to wander and to wonder.

Then, usually around the time they enter school, that loopiness disappears. They begin to compare their work to others’. Will they be judged as better (“Is this good?”) or worse (“Does this suck?”)? Suddenly there are right and wrong answers. Expressing their own tentative understanding of an idea becomes less important than figuring out what the teacher makes of it. Beghetto, who studies the ways in which early experience influences creativity later in life, found that by first or second grade, students realize that “the game of school requires replacing the question ‘Why?’ with ‘What do you want me to do and how do you want me to do it?'”

In his work with teachers and older students, Beghetto found that most had vivid memories (from both inside and outside the classroom) of what he called creative mortification, a term so evocative I will carry it with me to my grave. “They were moments when people were developing their experience in something—music, sports, science—and were having a personally meaningful insight, which is the catalyst of creativity,” he told me. “But when they shared that insight, they received a too-harsh evaluation. And once they’d experienced that moment of shame, they often stopped doing what they’d loved.”

In rapid succession I recalled my beloved kindergarten teacher putting my drawing of the solar system into what was obviously the “bad” pile; being repeatedly, negatively compared to my musically gifted brother; being mocked for wrong answers as one of the few girls in eighth-grade accelerated math.

So, step three in claiming our creativity: realizing that we’re actually reclaiming it, that it was always, rightfully, ours to begin with.

But let’s be clear: The response to creative mortification should not be to reject criticism altogether, or to overpraise middling work. Rather, for both children and adults, experts advocate shifting our idea of critique from evaluation to exploration: asking questions about process, identifying what works, wondering what can be improved. Those suggestions, by the way, eased my mind about Daisy’s future creativity; her school promotes open-ended learning and rejects grades for teacher-written progress reports. And I had to admit that her imagination didn’t seem to be suffering from her math/science placement. She was as enthusiastic as ever about churning out poetry and hand-drawn comic books. (Though, for better or worse, no lava-pooping vampires yet.)

The point of little-c creativity is to express and challenge yourself, to make meaning, to enhance your life. It’s not about being the best at something, but about becoming better than you are. And as you tinker with your poem, or work on your rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” you might even change your brain: Rex Jung, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico, has found that people who consistently engage in creative activities become better and faster at marshaling the brain’s creative networks. In other words, the more you are, the more you will be.

How creative are you?
I had never really considered where and how my punishing ideas about my own creativity—about myself—had formed. But as I spoke to scientists and researchers, I started to feel surprisingly liberated. Still, I couldn’t shake the question: Supposing I, like everyone, was creative—exactly how creative was I?

I convinced Kaufman to give me a series of tests to find out. He started with some classic Torrance-style questions (“In three minutes, how many uses for an egg carton can you think of?”). I also took a personality inventory to gauge, among other things, my openness to new experiences (creative people score high). I completed the Remote Associates Test, in which you come up with the one word that links three others (eagle was the answer for bald screech emblem). In three minutes, I wrote a haiku with a science fiction theme. And though it made me sweat, I even agreed to draw a picture.

When Kaufman looked at my drawing, he said, “Well, I don’t mean to be rude….” But instead of hearing those words and deciding that I was a failure, I did something far more creative: I shrugged. So I had a block when it came to drawing—so what? The test had confirmed that I was creative in other ways: as a writer and a thinker. I was clever, curious, and, yes, open to new experiences.

I wondered whether, now that I had a more realistic sense of my strengths and weaknesses, I could wear them both a little more lightly—and worry less about my daughter’s as well. Maybe I could even treat creativity the way I do…bowling. Bowling, after all, is one of the rare things in life it’s okay to be spectacularly lousy at—which gives you the freedom simply to play. You cheer the strikes, you laugh at the gutter balls. Sure, you could ask yourself, “Am I good?” or “Do I suck?” Or you could just give it a roll and see what happens.


Calender: Creative Design / Typography

Mobile – 2012 Trends (Why, what and maybe)

Mobile is trending and 2012 won’t be any different. But the products will, so here’s a look at why, what and maybe.

Q: Why mobile in 2012?

A: 1. Mobile Commerce, following the money in 2011, reveals that in the nine months prior to December, mobile spending doubled to 3.74% of total retail revenue (US). RichRelevance’s CEO David Selinger predicts that mobile retail sales will reach 10% by the end of 2012.

A: 2. Mobile data consumption is the best measure of mobile activity and Nielsen reports a 300% year-on-year increase (to 500MB per person per month) in the US’s young adult age group (18-34). The fastest growing category in mobile data consumption is Asian youth.

A: 3. Mobile as a percentage of total data consumption is climbing and November 2011 topped the charts, when 24% of all online traffic was mobile-originated.

A: 4. Mobile multi-tasking will be the big ‘enabler’ as smartphones and tablets increasingly interact with our daily activities.

What will ‘trend’ in mobile in 2012?

  1. Near field communication (NFC)My first trend to watch is the technology behind ‘Tap to Pay’, which will have customers ‘tapping’ their phones to pay for purchases in retail outlets – near field communication (NFC). A combination of banks, credit card companies, network providers and operating system developers is driving this investment.

    Once the major retailers install NFC technology for payments they will leverage it into their businesses for the identification of customers and the distribution of coupons and vouchers. (Technical explanation: Wikipedia.)

    NFC in action: Google Wallet

  2. Mobile virtual shoppingPayPal recorded a 397% increase in mobile payments on Cyber-Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) and it expects total mobile payments of US$3.5 billion in 2011.

    Virtual shopping is not new but the mobile version will continue to trend ferociously in 2012. The online average order value (AOV) for desktop connections in April was US$149, while mobile recorded US$153, a 2.7% difference; by December the AOV difference grew to 9.1% in favour of mobile.

    But what might be more important to retailers is mobile sites offering consumers the ability to make product price comparisons en route to the shopping centre, or while standing in the aisle. The sites then show the cheapest online offer – with delivery before you arrive home. Have a look:


  3. HTML5HTML5 is a relatively new programming language; it is very mobile-friendly. In 2011 the development of Operating System Applications (OS Apps) highlighted the different expectations of mobile and desktop surfers; mobi is not scaled-down web. But OS Apps are operating system-specific and therefore problematic.

    I predict that HTML5 will make web-based mobi-apps, that behave like the current OS Apps, possible.                                                                                     

  4. Text message marketing (SMS)Research shows that 96% of text messages are opened within four minutes – but 85% of marketing emails are not viewed by the intended recipient (blocked or deleted). Opted-in SMS databases are platinum in the marketing alloy blend and will trend in 2012.
  5. QR codes and MS TagQuick response (QR) codes and Microsoft Tags are the product-code ‘squares’ being seen in the retail market at the moment. Once scanned, these 2D barcodes can open the phone’s browser and display a webpage.

    Microsoft has launched a 2D scanner to read all 2D barcodes; this will increase market acceptance. 

  6. Location-based marketingThe Holy Grail of marketing is to offer the right deal at the right time – but nothing beats offering in the right place! I believe location-based marketing will boom. Broadly there are two methods:
    • Using the network operators to plot the position of a handset based on triangulation from the cellphone masts. This needs the enquirer to opt in to being located.
    • Using the navigation software in smartphones to identify proximity to a point. This requires a smartphone and a downloaded app to interface with the navigation software.

    And the maybes?

    (This is the cool stuff coming…)

  7. B> Indoor location positioningLocation-based services (LBS) cannot give precise location information indoors; the network operators can identify that you are in a building but not which floor you are on. Navigation systems lose satellite reception indoors and cease to function.

    Location positioning takes LBS ‘underground’. Systems to operate inside malls, airports, trade fairs, hotels etc are being developed, which will allow for the distribution of specific offers based on exact indoor locations:   

  8. Audio watermarkingSystems have been developed that can recognise pre-programmed sound ‘objects’ and perform actions.

    ABC developed an interesting iPad app that listens to TV shows and displays additional content on an iPad while you watch the show. The Greys Anatomy app is a great example: 

  9. Object recognition and Google GogglesIt is possible to register images and then identify them when they are scanned with a smartphone loaded with the necessary software. The possibilities for marketing are obvious but the assistance this can give the visually challenged is truly humbling:

    Google Goggles is Google’s object recognition system which, as one would expect, adds information to object recognition:   

  10. Augmented realityGoing a step further, a suitably armed smart phone can recognise an object and super-impose computer-generated information or graphics onto the screen, making the scene interactive and digitally manipulable – augmented reality.

    Advertising application video:

  11. Articulated naturality webArticulated naturality web (ANW) is AR on steroids and close to magic. Imagine pointing your phone at the sky to see the weather forecast appear on your screen, clouds and all!

    Watch this:   


  12. Contact lens computingMy final trend for 2012 is that mobile multi-tasking will become completely seamless in our eyes… er, lives. Fully integrated mobile will be when your screen is a contact lens running ANW. Read this: and watch this.

Predictions in this industry are a fool’s work, but if I’m right about one thing, it will be that there are exciting times ahead in mobile commerce, marketing, media and strategy.

The Top 5 Qualities of Productive Creatives (And How to Identify Them!)

A recent BusinessWeek article reported that, “According to a new survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, CEOs identify ‘creativity’ as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.” While the study’s results will come as no surprise to hard-working creative professionals, they do raise an important question: How do we identify – and hire for – the qualities that add up to creativity?  By our lights, the notion of “creativity” can’t be separated from the skills required for creative execution. So our analysis of the characteristics crucial to creativity focuses particularly on the skills that facilitate putting ideas into action.
Below, we outline five key qualities of particularly productive creatives, followed by some recommendations for how to uncover them in potential hires, co-workers, and collaborators.1. Communication skills. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Whether you’re leading a team, managing clients, or training a new hire, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely is an absolutely essential skill. We must all develop the capacity to efficiently manage our communication channels (email, Twitter, Facebook, etc), to rally people around our ideas, and to play well with others – our coworkers and our clients.

How to test for it:
One easy way to test this ability is by having a candidate explain a simple task. If you were hiring a Systems Administrator, for instance, you might ask something like, “Walk me through the process of setting up a web server.” It doesn’t have to be a hard question; the point is to get insight into their ability to communicate clearly.

2. Pro-activeness.
We tend to judge people based on their experience. This is, of course,  the whole basis of the resumé. Yet, while on-the-job experience is valuable, we must dig deeper. A better indicator of productive creativity is one’s willingness to act, to take the initiative to put an idea in motion. As we’ve written elsewhere on 99%, “Those who take initiative possess tenacity and a healthy degree of impatience with idleness.

How to test for it:
Inquire about past instances where the candidate was proactive. Have them explain how and why they started that club, magazine, or film series listed on their resumé. You can also get a glimpse into their future willingness to take initiative by asking questions like: “If I put you in charge of the company today, what would you do differently?” or “What are some things that you would change about the product (or sales process, or website, etc.) if you had the chance?”

3. Problem-solving.
“Thinking outside of the box” is really nothing more than creative problem solving – the ability to arrive at new solutions by looking beyond obvious or traditional approaches. As designer Michael Beirut taught us at the inaugural 99% Conference: “The problem contains the solution.” In this way, successful creatives don’t see problems as problems at all – they see them as opportunities.
How to test for it:
Aside from using Karl Duncker’s classic “candle task” to test problem-solving abilities, there are a few other options. When interviewing candidates for your creative team, don’t focus on leading questions. Instead, ask questions that emphasize shades of grey, and offer insight into the candidate’s thinking. For a Community Manager position, a good question might be, “How would you deal with an irate customer who won’t stop posting negative comments on message boards?”

4. Curiosity. “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” So said French philosopher Voltaire. As anyone who’s had a “Eureka!” moment knows, daring to ask a new question goes a long way toward finding the right solution. What’s more, a high level of curiosity – the hallmark of an inquiring mind – is typically indicative of other good qualities, such as inventiveness, resourcefulness, and fearlessness. It also tends to ward off boredom and apathy – sentiments that will poison any creative endeavor.

How to test for it:
When interviewing a potential hire, note how many unprompted questions they ask, and how much they’ve already learned about your company. You can also ask simple questions like, “Tell me about something outside of your area of expertise that you recently learned about?” or “What was the last book you read, and why?”

5. Risk-taking.
Being open to risk (and thus failure) is crucial. We can only truly learn and develop when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. According to choreographer Twyla Tharp, “If you only do what you know and do it very, very well, chances are that you won’t fail. You’ll just stagnate, and your work will get less and less interesting, and that’s failure by erosion.” For Tharp, inventor James Dyson, and innumerable others, failure is a badge of accomplishment because it means that you took a risk, that you tried something new.

How to test for it:
Chief executive of The Limited, Linda Heasley, likes to ask, “Give me an example of a situation where you think you took a risk or took a controversial point of view.” Or, for a sneakier approach, you can inquire if there’s anything the candidate regrets not doing at their previous job. As psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out in this article on risk, people usually regret the things they didn’t do, more than those they did. Thus, regret and risk-taking usually work (loosely) in inverse proportion to one another.

What Do You Hire For?
Any important characteristics that we missed? What’s key for you when you’re hiring a member of a creative team?

The Joy of Quiet


Published: January 01, 2012

ABOUT a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began – I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign – was stillness.

A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”

Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.

Has it really come to this?

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them – often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China try to save kids addicted to the screen.

Writer friends of mine pay good money to get the Freedom software that enables them to disable (for up to eight hours) the very Internet connections that seemed so emancipating not long ago. Even Intel (of all companies) experimented in 2007 with conferring four uninterrupted hours of quiet time every Tuesday morning on 300 engineers and managers. (The average office worker today, researchers have found, enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.) During this period the workers were not allowed to use the phone or send e-mail, but simply had the chance to clear their heads and to hear themselves think. A majority of Intel’s trial group recommended that the policy be extended to others.

THE average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow, I heard myself tell the marketers in Singapore, will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

The urgency of slowing down – to find the time and space to think – is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

When telegraphs and trains brought in the idea that convenience was more important than content – and speedier means could make up for unimproved ends – Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned,”When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but by also acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister.

Yet few of those voices can be heard these days, precisely because “breaking news” is coming through (perpetually) on CNN and Debbie is just posting images of her summer vacation and the phone is ringing. We barely have enough time to see how little time we have (most Web pages, researchers find, are visited for 10 seconds or less). And the more that floods in on us (the Kardashians, Obamacare, “Dancing with the Stars”), the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet. All we notice is that the distinctions that used to guide and steady us – between Sunday and Monday, public and private, here and there – are gone.

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And – as he might also have said – we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

MAYBE that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation. Finding myself at breakfast with a group of lawyers in Oxford four months ago, I noticed that all their talk was of sailing – or riding or bridge: anything that would allow them to get out of radio contact for a few hours.

Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.

In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures to try to keep my sanity and ensure that I have time to do nothing at all (which is the only time when I can see what I should be doing the rest of the time). I’ve yet to use a cellphone and I’ve never Tweeted or entered Facebook. I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.

None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it’s just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better – calmer, clearer and happier – than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

It’s vital, of course, to stay in touch with the world, and to know what’s going on; I took pains this past year to make separate trips to Jerusalem and Hyderabad and Oman and St. Petersburg, to rural Arkansas and Thailand and the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima and Dubai. But it’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it.

For more than 20 years, therefore, I’ve been going several times a year – often for no longer than three days – to a Benedictine hermitage, 40 minutes down the road, as it happens, from the Post Ranch Inn. I don’t attend services when I’m there, and I’ve never meditated, there or anywhere; I just take walks and read and lose myself in the stillness, recalling that it’s only by stepping briefly away from my wife and bosses and friends that I’ll have anything useful to bring to them. The last time I was in the hermitage, three months ago, I happened to pass, on the monastery road, a youngish-looking man with a 3-year-old around his shoulders.

“You’re Pico, aren’t you?” the man said, and introduced himself as Larry; we’d met, I gathered, 19 years before, when he’d been living in the cloister as an assistant to one of the monks.

“What are you doing now?” I asked.

“I work for MTV. Down in L.A.”

We smiled. No words were necessary.”

I try to bring my kids here as often as I can,” he went on, as he looked out at the great blue expanse of the Pacific on one side of us, the high, brown hills of the Central Coast on the other. “My oldest son” – he pointed at a 7-year-old running along the deserted, radiant mountain road in front of his mother – “this is his third time.”

The child of tomorrow, I realized, may actually be ahead of us, in terms of sensing not what’s new, but what’s essential.

Pico Iyer is the author, most recently of “The Man Within My Head.”

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Willow Creek’s Christmas Eve Services


When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone
when the kings and the princes are home, when the shepherds are back with
their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace…
to make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman
American author, civil rights leader, and theologian (1899–1981)

When Paul Johnson, Willow’s programming director, got this poem in an email from his mom more than a year ago, he set it aside, never realizing it would eventually influence 2011 Christmas Eve services at Willow Creek South Barrington 2011 Christmas Eve services.

“As the programming team started discussing themes for Christmas, we tried several approaches and none of them worked,” he said. That’s when Paul remembered the poem. Most Christmas Eve services conclude with the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. “As I read this poem to the creative team, we all realized there was something to it—that His birth was just the beginning.”

With the first of the Christmas Eve services less than one week away, Paul shares insider information around what it takes to deliver 12 services that will impact more than 80,000 people.

Willow Weekly: Every year at Willow’s Christmas Eve services, we count on Christmas music, an inspiring message from Bill, and the traditional “Silent Night” at the end of the service—and we always anticipate a uniquely creative element. Can you tell us what we can expect this year?

Paul Johnson: In addition to singing favorite Christmas carols, we had an original (short) film that began with the birth of Jesus, and the film was scored live with a 22-piece orchestra.

View a trailer >>

WW: Most of us don’t start thinking about Christmas until Thanksgiving, but your team starts much earlier in the year. Can you share with us what goes into planning Willow’s Christmas Eve services?

Paul: We started talking about Christmas before Memorial Day. Everyone in programming and production discussed the service from last Christmas and we asked ourselves what worked well, what didn’t work, and what new elements we wanted to bring in for this year.

WW: How long does the process take?

Paul: We land on a theme by early August. From there the theme is developed into a concrete idea, which we land by early October. We do pre-production in October, shoot [the film] in November, and begin editing after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, the worship team is busy with preparing the music and worship elements and the production team is working on the technical aspects. By the time we begin dress rehearsals, everything comes together.

WW: How many people does it take to put on a Christmas Eve service?

Paul: Including the orchestra, the choir, band, production volunteers, and staff, there are about 100 people. Add to that the video crew, actors, and people who build the sets and work with lights, and that’s another 60. It takes nearly 20 people to decorate the lobby, hang lights. And that doesn’t count the volunteers it takes to help greet guests, care for the children in Promiseland, serve in Dr. B’s, and help on the traffic team—that could be another 1,000 people. You can see why we ask for a lot of volunteers!

WW: Considering how busy things must be for you and your team right now, how do you prepare your hearts for Christmas?

Paul: Let me start by saying we know we can’t do this on our own. It’s way bigger than one person, one team, or even several teams. But it’s not too big for God, and unless He intervenes, it doesn’t work out. So, we turn to Him and ask for His guidance. We ask Him to direct us if we’re heading down a road that doesn’t line up with what He has in mind. And He does. We do our best to be obedient.

Personally, and I believe this is true for every one of us on the programming/production teams, I spend time every day in prayer and in the Word. When I let my time with God slide, there is increased confusion and chaos. I’m amazed at the direct correlation between my spending time with God and the fruit that it yields.