TEDx Livermore: Uncorking Creativity with Group Genius

Screenshot from Todd's TEDx Livermore Talk via LivestreamNote: The following is the written version of my talk at TEDxLivermore: Uncorking Creativity on September 20, 2014. When the talk is available online, a link will be posted here.


Good morning.

I want to begin with a simple assertion:

To be human is to be creative..

It is in our nature. Unlike batteries, creativity is included in the package.

Now, we may each have our own means of expressing this creativity, and our own perception of our creativity relative to other people may vary.

And, certainly, good arguments have been made that as we grow up and are socialized into the world, our abilities to tap into and express our creativity may diminish if they are not developed and practiced.

But at a fundamental level, whether it is expressed by baking cakes or writing code, painting portraits or snapping selfies, architecting buildings or building businesses, we are all innately and unavoidably creative.

And it is this creativity which lies within each of us that has largely brought about and enabled the world we live in, with all of it’s incredible in its beauty, sophistication and capability.

And, we have no reason not to think that immeasurable good things will continue to be brought into the world with this creative force.

And yet...

The sum of our creativity is not enough.

It is not enough to solve for the kind of complex problems that we, as a species have and will continue to create as a natural course of our lives.

It is not going to be enough to solve the challenges that matter most in our organizations, institutions, communities, ecosystems and so forth..

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Scan and Play

“If science always insists that a new order must be immediately fruitful, or that it has some new predictive power, then creativity will be blocked. New thoughts generally arise with a play of the mind, and the failure to appreciate this is actually one of the major blocks to creativity.Thought is generally considered to be a sober and weighty business. But here it is being suggested that creative play is an essential element in forming new hypotheses and ideas.Indeed, thought which tries to avoid play is in fact playing false with itself. Play, it appears, is the very essence of thought.”

David Bohm with David F. Peat, in their book, Science, Order, and Creativity, 1976

One of my author mentors, Draper Kaufman, in his book Teaching The Future, 1976 writes about how teachers, administrators, and parents had no idea how to think about the future;yet, here they were training young people to live in the future.  When asked, many assured Kaufman that "the future would be just the same, just more so."
Matt and I met Kauffman when I invited him to The Learning Exchange to talk with teachers about how to think about the future.  Later at dinner he told the story of one of his classes for high school teachers where he gave each teacher the assignment of completing a story. Each was given the first paragraph and asked to write out the rest of the story. After the teachers turned in their stories, he told them that half of them had the first paragraph as past tense and the other half in future tense.  Those that had the past tense assignment wrote far more than those with future tense.  When asked why, those with future tense admitted that they did not know how to think about the future.  They were not experts, they could not imagine, they didn't want to be wrong! Wrong? It was all made up. Those that wrote longer stories about the past used their imagination and there was no right or wrong! This is why Matt and I developed the Backcasting module.  We wanted ordinary citizens to practice living and working with the future. 
Our "first paragraphs" always spoke of success, sometime in the future. Participants were asked to look back in time and remember the parts they played in the success.  This is one of the most important and fun modules of our entire body of work.  We have watched thousands of participants dream, envision, and include themselves in stories of success ... great deeds accomplished; barriers overcome; simple solutions finding their way into stagnent cultures.  Today, backcasting is an often used module with many, many organizations who have never even heard of where the idea originated and for what purpose. 
Another early module to help people get over their fear of the future is our TimeLine scenario exercise.  In 1983 almost every event we did had as part of its SCAN, the development of a 50 year time line.  We marked off our long walls with dates across the top and general subjects down the side.  Participants were asked to come to the front of the room and state something that happened within this 50 years.  It was backcasting from 25 years in the future.  Participants jumped around with in this time frame.  First well known markers were noted: 1984, WWII victory, Man on the moon, Kennedy assignation, etc. These prompted other memories and spontaneity. Things like "No more war by 2010, new forms of energy by 2000; political unrest, etc.  Over an hour or so, the time line filled out with amazing patterns beginning to emerge and tell a story. Participants were seeing, some for the first time, that neither the past nor the future can be seen as a lits of ideas without context or cultural awareness. Although initially scary for some, as the board began to fill, all jumped up with ideas they wanted to get into the story.  By the end of a three day workshop or event, participants grew to like the future and to see the roles they could play in shaping it.  Here with our process, was a place to practice thinking and playing with the future. 
Today, it is not so rare or scary to play with the future.  And finally, slowly, as a nation, a world, we are learning to think longer term. Most important to me, is the notion that ordinary citizens are learning that the experts don't know as much as they know as a group.  When a group of people work with future, imagine it, move ideas back and forth among them, there is amazing accuracy of pattern and general happenings. 
Nothing is more important to a healthy, transforming process than providing good scan modules where there is no right or wrong and everyone participates from their own vantage point. 
Both of these modules do well with a larger number of participants. Diversity in mind sets, cultures, ages, educational backgrounds, and fields of inquiry give dimension and character. And both of these modules are great openings for a group who has no experience of each other, no common language, no group vision. 

"The future is rational only in hindsight." MG Taylor Axiom, 1983