Creativity, Curiosity, and Culture

Chris Guillebeau is one of my favorite writers and earlier today he wrote on Twitter: “If you don’t use your voice now, why should anyone listen to you later? What will you tell a future generation that asks ‘Where were you?'”

This isn’t the first time in the past week I have seen the call to speak up. Each time I read these calls to action, I ask myself, “Am I speaking up?” I often feel like I am not. I feel guilty for not posting my thoughts on social media. I feel judged. I feel forced to say something when I’m not certain what is going on yet. I am uninformed and doing the best I can to stay informed. I feel out of place in the conversation. I feel inadequate.

“You’re on the wrong side of history, Chris.”

“If you aren’t condemning, you’re condoning, Chris.”

“You don’t have time to consider what is going on, Chris.”

“Look at all these people protesting, Chris. Why aren’t you there? Don’t you care?”

“It’s either-or, Chris. There is no middle ground. Remember what Jesus said about spitting out lukewarm food.”

I am speaking up because I’m showing up for the people who matter most in my life.

Through my reflection on the subject of speaking up, I came to the realization that I am speaking up, but in different ways. The most important way that I speak up is that I show up for my students, ready to teach them, to guide them, to give them everything I have, to learn from them, and to serve them. Regardless of their politics, gender, religion, sexuality, beliefs, I show up for them. I care for them. I want them to use the skills I teach them to make the world a better place.

I show up for my wife. I show up for my family. I show up for my business and clients. I show up when I don’t want to. I show up when the world is going to hell. I show up when the world is at peace.

To allow myself to be provoked into other areas of speaking introduces the possibility that I dilute myself from my area of influence and importance. I am able to affect change in the lives of those closest to me. I may never change a life expressing my beliefs online, but I have an opportunity face to face.

My Manifesto for Life: Creativity, Curiosity, and Culture.

I offer myself a reminder of how I should operate in these troubled times. I suppose it is my creative manifesto for life. A belief in creativity, curiosity, and culture.

Creativity

I believe that the point of creativity, apart from making a living when possible, is to make the world a better place.

It is to express beauty and hope by shining light into darkness.

To tell stories of hope, peace, and transformation by overcoming adversity.

Curiosity

I believe that curiosity is paramount because I don’t know everything. Curiosity keeps me humble.

I want to understand those who are not like me, which is everyone. Without curiosity, I will always assume that people that look like me are the same as me and the people that don’t look like me are nothing like me.

Without curiosity, growth and transformation is impossible. There will be a lack of depth and substance.

Culture

Diversity of thoughts and ideas is of utmost importance in my daily life. I learn when I listen. I grow when I share and discuss. Without dialogue and discussion, I might as well stand in front of a mirror yelling at myself. When I hear something I don’t like, I have to remind myself to listen. When I hear something I agree with, I must pause from letting it enter my heart so that I don’t stop listening to those I disagree with.

Culture is an expression of arts and humanities, of science and religions. It is a place where the Earth is both thousands and billions of years old. It is a place of faith and reason. When I listen to the stories of old mixed with the moments of today, I grow and learn.

Welcome to my idealism.

These thoughts and ideas can easily be dismissed as utopian and farfetched. They are almost impossible to instill in a society because they require sacrifice, compromise, patience, and hope. They require context, fact-checking, and belief that there are such things as facts. They require faith and kindness. They require moments of correction and the expression of anger. But never is there a place for hatred and fear, manipulation and lying.

As I speak up, I think about the world I want to create with my art and life. As I pursue projects, as I teach others, as I live and celebrate life, as I pray, as I weep, these are the thoughts I think about.

When leaders act in their own best interests, these are the thoughts I think about.

When the world crumbles and all hope is lost, these are the thoughts I think about.

As the sun sets and rises again in the morning, these are the thoughts I think about. They motivate me to get out of bed. They fill me with hope for the future.

This is how I will show up each and every day.

Fresh Ideas & New Directions

In a vacuum, it is difficult to come up with fresh ideas. You have to go somewhere either digitally or physically. Searching the Internet is great, but there is often a lens of comparison, inferiority, and distraction that occurs site after site, tweet after tweet, like after like.

However, when you venture out into new places, you come across ideas that can direct you to try something different. You meet new people who have their own ideas that inspire you to go down an unfamiliar path.

One way to solicit ideas is to ask. This is what is done at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center: “Leave One, Take One.”

If you need an idea to act on…

A photo posted by Chris Martin (@cmstudios) on

Unplug and get out into the world. Meet new people. Listen to their dreams. Encourage them to continue walking towards the completion of their goals.

It’s amazing what can inspire you if you go searching instead of staying alone in your cubicle, office, or house.

Data Management and Alerts in Online Education Systems

As an instructor I have worked with two learning management systems, Moodle and Canvas, delivering content and grades to a maximum of 20 students at a time. While I have my preferences, there are two problems common to both: the management of massive amounts of data generated and a faulty implementation of alerts.

Management of Data

While all of my classes have been face-to-face, there are still online activities that generate a massive amount of data: messages, homework assignments, grades, pages, and discussions. Not to mention the scale of management problems that occur the more classes taught.

In a training class for teaching entirely online, I was floored by the amount of data generated in order to meet the accreditation requirements. All of the normal in-class activities were being replaced with digital alternatives all resulting in a lot of poorly searchable and unlikely archivable data.

Forums were the popular means of organizing discussions and content and as an instructor I felt overwhelmed. I could not imagine how the students might have felt. I constantly asked myself: How in the world am I supposed to manage this? How is education supposed to scale? Do I trust the system to manage this for me?

I felt paranoid that I was going to miss something. Which brings me to the problem with alerts.

Alerts

From my experience there are three approaches to alerts:

  1. Funnel everything into one spot, Facebook-style;
  2. Generate a worthless daily digest email;
  3. Only alert when a message has been sent, but report no other activity.

All three of the options listed above are worthless. The first is spraying me with a firehose. I could potentially have 60+ alerts in one day, spread across multiple students and classes. The second is addressing this issue by letting you know daily the activity that occurred with links to view said activity. The final does not provide any peace of mind for the instructor or student.

What if the solution to the alerts is the ability to create people-centric alerts? For example, defining the common activities per student and letting instructors know that new activity has occurred in each activity through alert buckets.

I would personally love that alert system.

Online Education Is Big Business

Online education is a huge growth industry with new training sites popping up daily. It is my belief that the system that addresses data management and alerts will be the front-runners of transforming online education.

What do you think?

 

 

HBO GO and the Art of Spoilers

I love almost everything about HBO GO on my Apple TV: the user interface is intuitive, the service is fast and responsive (except when a new Game of Thrones episodes is available), the ability to watch a preview of most of the movies and TV shows increases the chance that I’ll commit time to watching or saving a movie for another time, the overall design is appealing, and access to a majority of the HBO catalog is a plus.

But what I do not love is how often HBO GO spoils major events of a show by the thumbnail image chosen for a particular episode.

HBO GO and the Art of Spoilers

Six Feet Under, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and The Newsroom: all had major plot points revealed and spoiled by the thumbnail image. “Well, I guess that character dies because there is a photo of the funeral.” “Well, I guess they are getting married.” “Well, I guess that character goes to jail.”

What is the solution to this problem?

Whether the image is chosen by software or by an intern, there needs to be a quick check by an HBO catalog expert to make sure it is spoiler-free.

How much time would this take? Not long at all.

Another solution could be the ability to turn off image previews so that I can still navigate the system without the possibility of spoilers. Maybe a Spoiler Free setting?

How much time would this take? Probably several hours of programming time to add this feature to the HBO GO API and then the integration time by major streaming devices.

How to Generate Ideas

This morning in my web multimedia class a student was having a difficult time coming up with an idea for the next class project: to tell a story with a main character, a beginning, a middle, and an end. While the objective of the project was firmly set and relatively straightforward, the initial process of ideation (generating ideas) was the main difficulty. As the student asked, where do I start? Here are three places to start with generating ideas.

Place #1: Analyze the Objectives

For most of my class projects, I try to have enough information in the project objectives to hint at the project workflow. For this project, the storytelling component of the project was the crucial element, so let’s start with analyzing the different sequences of the storytelling process.

The beginning sequence introduces the character and the situation (s)he is in. Alternately, the beginning sequence shows what the character wants, but doesn’t have yet. The middle sequence is when the character goes after what (s)he wants or attempts to change the situation (s)he is in. The ending sequence is the resolution of the conflict the character experiences throughout the process of attaining what (s)he wants. A very basic outline of a story thanks to Steve Stockman’s informative book, How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck.

How about an example?

Beginning sequence: An overweight man is sitting at his desk and sees a magazine cover of a man with six-pack abs. The man realizes that he wants six pack abs, so he gets up and leaves his desk.

Middle sequence: The overweight man begins the exercise process. He tries to run, but stops after one second. He tries to lift weights, but cannot get the bar off the floor. He struggles.

End sequence: The overweight man returns to his desk and throws the magazine cover into the trash and continues on with his day.

Breaking down this process even further, the consistent element in each of the storytelling sequences is a character. But how do you choose who your character will be?

Place #2: Analyze Yourself

Ask yourself questions. What do you like to do? Is there a specific genre that you like to read or watch on TV? Do you like aliens, astronauts, cowboys, swimmers, dolphins, fish, lobsters, or hula dancers? What about action? Are you active? Do you run, swim, hike, or sit in front of the computer all day? Are you adventurous? What do you dream to accomplish one day?

As you answer these questions and mine your personal preferences, you can start to develop and build a story around that character.

How about another example?

Beginning sequence: Several lobsters are in a water tank in a restaurant.

Middle sequence: The lobster next to the main lobster is selected and cooked. All of the lobsters are panicking. How do we save ourselves?

Ending sequence: The main lobster pretends to be Spartacus and liberates the remaining lobsters by breaking free from the water tank and crawling to safety.

Place #3: Build a Library

Finally, a great place to generate ideas is by building a library of knowledge you can pull from and mash together. Collect books and movies, memorize moments in pop culture, read magazines, and watch YouTube videos. It is easy to build a collection of knowledge in today’s digital world using Pinterest and Evernote. You can also clip photos and typography from magazines.

The secret is having enough information in order to connect one idea to another. For example, applying the story of Spartacus to the world of restaurant lobsters.

How do you know you have enough information and when to stop collecting? You’ll never have enough. Just keep filing what you come across into your library. The more, the merrier. You never know when you’ll be able to use something as silly or serious as what you have just found.

There are a million ways to generate ideas and these are three simple places to start when it comes to the storytelling process. What has helped you in the ideation process?

 

 

 

 

Transformative Imagination

As a creative individual, I believe in the power of my imagination to consider what could be, which in turn propels me towards solutions. However, what happens when I fail to engage my theories and instead flounder in a sea of mediocrity and complacency? I slowly lose the ability to imagine, act, and relate to others.

Instead of imagining something new, I attack the tools of imagination. I demonize technology. I hold tight to the comforting slogans which protect my ignorance. I grow around the belly and my mind shrinks.

I shut myself off from the concerns of others. I toil in my selfishness. I continue building my borders, the modern-day Emperor’s clothes, not knowing that everyone sees me for what I am: a hypocrite. Naked and ashamed.

As L. Dee Fink writes in Creating Significant Learning Experiences: “for learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner. No change, no learner.”

I would add: No imagination, no change, no learner.

Acting upon our imagination has a tremendous ability to change not only our individual lives, but society as a whole. However, it takes a desire to move into uncharted waters.

To imagine new ways of navigating the complex waves of humanity.

To imagine new ideals and standards.

To imagine.

To act.

To change.

Loving Issues, Hating People

We are a country built upon issues: Freedom, slavery, racism, poverty, abortion, religion, homosexuality, greed, divorce, adultery, obesity, (insert-your-favorite-issue-to-talk-about), and on and on we can go.

The image of our humanity has been made to resemble an amalgamation of the issues we are composed of.

If I look at you and see nothing but issues, I know exactly how I should respond to you based solely on what you support and what you reject. It takes a split second to know because you are a liberal Hedonist and I am a conservative Christian or I am a delusional Moralist and you are a secular Humanist, we want nothing to do with each other.

However, it’s not that easy because if you can get past the issues, you realize everyone is just the same. We are confused, hurt, broken, fallen, and trying to find a purpose and meaning in life. Created in the exact same manner regardless of your believed creation story.

I would consider myself a religious person, but my religion does not lead me to condemn others for the decisions they make. I do not want to ignore people because of the issue that others define them by. That is not my job and I am not interested in a society where intolerance is built upon labels of justification.

This is what happens when issues become more important than people. We become the judge, jury, and executioner of our faith, forgetting the people that regardless of who they are, deserve our love and respect.

Go Ahead and Fix Problems, There Will Be More…

As a nation, are we afraid to fix problems? Are we afraid that there won’t be anything left for us to do if we solve what ails us as a society?

There will always be problems, but solutions will become endangered.

Solutions are the minority and we have built walls around the borders of our minds, arresting the alien thoughts that attempt to subvert business as usual.

Solutions will become rarer, harder, and increasingly expensive.

Look at the blood shed for economic equality across the world.

See the lives lost for religious freedom.

Hear the pain of those struggling with diversity and tolerance.

The world needs heroes.

You, me, everyone working together for the good of one another.

Hippy? Idealist? A little naive? Yes, but problems will never be solved through cynicism and inaction.

As a client recent stated in an interview: “We can solve poverty if one person addressed and helped another.”

1-to-1 is the true representation of equality.

What will you do today to be a hero?

Revitalizing Downtown Vancouver

What would it take to revitalize downtown Vancouver? This question has been asked by consultants and downtown organizations for a few years now. While progress seems to be occurring at a dismal pace, I continue to hear from friends, “Give me a reason to go downtown.”

In a recent article in The Columbian–Consultant gauges progress toward downtown revitalization–Columbian Staff Reporter Cami Joner paints a picture of that question being answered by Portland-based consultant, Michele Reeves. Here is a list of problems as presented throughout the article:

  • Blank spaces and crumbling buildings create a disconnect between the downtown destinations (Esther Short Park and the public library).
  • Too many beige buildings with no pizzazz and over-sized awnings.
  • Housing and programs to compete against sales tax-free Oregon shops.
  • The sense of an east-west divide between downtown and the suburbs.

Reeves’ solution to these problems is to “think about the story downtown is telling ’24 hours a day, seven days a week'” and to focus on the aesthetics of the area, treating it like a stage, so that “retail displays, cafe tables, enticing aromas and music spill out onto the street.”

Problems

While I agree with the majority of the problems listed above, the last problem is by far the largest and misrepresented throughout. It is not just a sense of a divide, it’s very real. It’s the battle of the urban eclecticism of downtown and the supremacy of chains and beige in the suburbs. Add to that, a conflicted administration that either focuses too much on either side of the divide without figuring out how to get both sides mingling together.

Some other problems that I see are a lack of pride in certain areas, elitist and arrogant behavior on behalf of certain businesses and owners, a desire to redefine Vancouver in the image of Portland, and a one-political-issue-town: the troubled bridge over water.

Solutions

Want to revitalize downtown? Treat Vancouver as a whole. The suburbs need public spaces, stages for retail drama, and a sense of identity. Downtown needs character, safety, air freshener, and a reason for people “to journey” there from the suburbs.

Modern businesses that occupy or purchase historical buildings must continue to tell the story of the past by showing a glimpse of what the future could be.

Landmarks are great. They are a valid reason to go somewhere, but people are better. While buildings and locations tell a part of the story, people add the details and the interest. How can you build upon the history of not just downtown, but Vancouver as a whole? I have lived here all my life and yet I know very little about the town’s history. Whenever I learn a tiny portion, I am intrigued, regardless of the area. So, why not create regional tours with a mix of entertainment, suspense, and history?

Treat everyone with respect, like they are welcome, regardless of what you do or where you are.

We are not Portland. We will never be Portland. Instead of applying another city’s template to Vancouver, figure out what story Vancouver is telling and amplify that across the entire region.

Trying to compete with “sales tax-free Oregon shops” is not the way to do business. Sure, it’s a very real problem, but if there is a reason to come downtown or journey to the suburbs, then taxes are no longer an issue. Whenever I travel to Disneyland, I pay a huge premium in taxes. I may complain for a moment, but then those concerns are dissipated by Peter Pan and Dumbo.

Regardless of where you are in Vancouver, figure out a way to ensure cleanliness and fresh air. No one likes the smell of piss or cow manure.

Tap the untapped resources of the area’s independent businesses. Let’s get independent filmmakers working throughout the region, business training for artists, centralized locations for consistent information.

Hire local historians, business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and community members to solve this problem.

Why do I go downtown?

I live in the suburbs of Vancouver. I travel to downtown 3-8 times a week. Why?

There are great meeting spaces in the form of coffee shops.

I like the historical nature of downtown which is severely lacking in the suburbs, even though I know there is a story to be told.

People are generally less self-involved and more community-oriented in downtown regions.

Finally, when I go downtown, I am reminded of just how divided and diverse Vancouver really is. By focusing on uniting the entire region, that is when we will revitalize our entire region with human capital, ultimately translating to financial resources, artistic integrity, and safe communities.

Tis The Season For Littered Political Signage

It’s that time of the year where every available space on the roads of Clark County is littered with political signage containing poorly conceived slogans, horrible logos, awful color schemes, and the mind-numbing consistency of waterboarding.

Yes, political signage is a reality. But it is just another sign that politics have stumbled upon the status quo of marketing a political campaign. Everyone does exactly the same thing as their opponents, hoping to get votes because a potential voter saw a sign while eating a Krispy Kreme donut at Padden Parkway and Andresen Road.

One observation is that the signs from career politicians have the look that they were brought out of the storage unit just this morning as if to say, “Yep, gotta put up the signs Margaret so people know who to vote for.”

Another observation: the signs that are too slick turn me off just as much as the signs that look like crap. The higher the gloss, the more it makes me think about how much money is in the race to become the next (fill-in-the-blank of your favorite political office).

Solution: The Return of the Public Forum

It’s time for every citizen to be a part of the political process. It’s time for the poor to meet the rich. It’s time to address inequality not just in economic terms, but in terms of sexuality, religion, and politics. It’s time to create neutral space where this can happen, free of outside influence, agendas and advertising.

Solution: Regulate the Display of Political Signage

It’s time that political signage be regulated in order to avoid the feeling that our visual senses are being assaulted. Limit four signs to a corner. In the photo above, I count 11 and that is only one corner of four. There are probably 40 signs at that intersection.

Fine a candidate for having more than one sign in a two-mile stretch of road. Reduce acceptable sizes by half. Sure, readability goes down, but so does the noise and forces candidates to think about what goes on a sign.

Political signs will never go away. The reliance upon them will only increase as time goes by because that is what you do when you run for the (fill-in-the-blank of your favorite political office). As citizens we do have a right to call for regulation and take back our visual senses.

However, much like the entire political process in general, change will only happen when we the people stand up and speak.