Category Archives: environments for innovation

Dirt, Gems and the Web of Everything

Transcending the impulse to run away from heresy, eccentricity, and other forms of the rejection of tribalism, yet resisting the opposing, unwise impatience ready to disrupt everything all the time, we can begin to explore and see with a clarity open only to those willing to choose the narrow way.

The mistakes of assuming that what is tells us what could be, that what we can see is what there is, and that truth is something that can be comprehended or encompassed by finite ideas and visions, block us from seeing the infinity open to us in and out of time.

These mistakes block us from seeing humanity from the perspective of what could be.

Believing the self-fulfilling prophecies of scarcity and elitism, which in turn support and promote the foundational ecosystem of fear and greed, we cannot see the misconceptions woven into phrases (and the use of phrases) such as “as common as dirt” and “rare genius”.

The only sound approach to seeing through established illusions, is spiritual in nature and therefore incomprehensible to those that reject the fundamentally spiritual nature of the universe. Yet there are clues visible to everyone, independent of their position on these deeper things, clues in the form of people who exhibit transcendent love and a capacity for healing.

Ultimately, it is the life and death of Jesus, God in human form, that settles every question, that heals all problems, that swallows up all death. Unfortunately, the Christian forms in which “the cross” is adored and worshiped are an empty and impoverished shadow of the living reality that defies containment in anything finite in time or space. And it must defy containment,  for this resolution, this transcendent singularity, this ending and beginning centermost to the “things the angels desire to look into”, is the key to all the deepest mysteries.

To believe that every human being truly contains a brilliant gem, a talent capable of an intense, unique,  inexhaustible contribution is a truly radical belief. It too flows from that singularity, from that life that opened infinity to man.

But to those that actually embrace this, who are “all in” to the vision making sense of this position, it is also part of a resolution of mysteries besetting anyone who observes honestly.

For the world is too full of extreme evil for anything less that a transcendent singularity to resolve. And only in that resolution can the vision for what could be (what is, in the potential sense), be harmonized with what is (in the immediate sense).

Returning to the phrases “as common as dirt” (and the associated phrase “rare gem”), and “rare genius”, closer examination shows that these actually, already nudge us towards a much more fantastic, rather radical vision of what could be.

For example, it is well known that the rarity of (and prices of) diamonds on earth is artificially inflated by the greed of those that have explored and mined them. Off the earth, it is known, for example, that there is a burned out star (a white dwarf) in Centaurus that has crystalized into a diamond 2500 miles in diameter!

Fertile, living dirt is anything but simple and common, in the sense of unremarkable and comprehensible. Instead the complexity and wonder present in a handful of dirt defies complete description, as it is truly the mother of all living things and complex in the extreme. “Rare genius” is of course just a codification of the illusion that extreme talent is rare due to the fact that the greed and fear overwhelming the world also succeeds in squashing all but a tiny fraction of human potential.

Yet, in the present reality, as experienced by the vast majority of people, the chance to follow their intrinsic muse, to develop the potential they hold, seems far-fetched. It might be considered cruel to suggest that things could be different. Yet I am convinced that the simple truth of what is possible is a great gift, having in itself the power to unleash intense power and light. It is an idea that once grasped could change everything.

I believe it was and is at the core of what Jesus taught.

As a result, I no longer find it very interesting to see talent that has been deeply developed as something to admire … at its best, such development is a call to “go and do likewise”. It tells us what can be, in everyone’s lives, in each path of those that find and follow their muse and use it to bless the world.

The world I want to live in is a world where magnificent things are abundant, living components of an infinite garden, constantly spilling over with life and inspiration, not a sculpture garden of static objects aimed at inciting devotion or disengaged admiration.

This world is accessible to everyone, here and now — as Jesus said “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” — but to enter it, we have to be willing to diverge from the “blind leading the blind”, to move through death to life. This paradox of life through death, opening an infinity in every sense, is something that cannot be effectively described, only experienced.

“Come and see”, the phrase ancients used to share transcendent illumination, is still the only authentic invitation consistent with freedom and love.

Deciding you are ready to see, willing to venture into that unknown, the way will open. Life will flow, you will find the Infinity that was always there, surrounding, waiting, eager to illuminate and inspire.

One consequence of the viewpoint above is the decision to pursue discovery for the pure joy of discovery and the even deeper privilege of sharing what is discovered, inspiring an overflowing abundance in the experience of others. Through the companion choices of simplicity and “enough is a feast”, we open the door to the infinite, inexhaustible riches that where there all along. In this kingdom of creativity and living exploration, awards and competition make no sense, if for no other reason than the energy they divert from exploration and the task of sharing.

The scope of this vision has no limits — the good news overflows with the rich, fauvistic music of life, defying all constraining description. The opening expanse inspires stillness and wonder.

The broken ones, in that stillness where the healing began, find quietness, inspiration and wonder in abundance.

And the light shines through the broken places.

Goodbye Twitter

I really did not have a lot going on in my twitter account. With 27 tweets over a few months, 20 followers and a collection 87 I followed, I was certainly not making any waves. But I spent a fair bit of time collecting those 87 threads to follow and found immersion in twitter threads to be oppressive and distracting, though this sense was more of an aftertaste than an in-the-moment realization. I also found that Twitter did not encourage habits of thought, attention and focus.

I had read Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers and Deep Work by Cal Newport, and had rifled through things written by Jaron Lanier (Jaron and I were both hanging around NMSU at about the same time back in the 1970’s, he in computer science, I in the music world, though I do not remember meeting him, if I ever did). Even before this, I had read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and listened to (and had many students listen to) the Google Tech Talk, No Time To Think, given by David Levy at Google in 2008.

These books and Levy’s talk had in fact inspired habits of taking breaks from the internet and email, something that came naturally for me because I grew up keeping a pretty strict Sabbath one day a week.

Given the experiences with Twitter and the fact that I was now reading Shoshana Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, I began having an internal debate as to whether or not I should just get off Twitter. What argued for getting off twitter was the state of mind I seemed to always edge towards (or even run towards) when focusing on twitter — a restless, distracted state that was very far from quiet. What argued against exiting Twitter was the fact that it seemed that every once in awhile, interesting people  would announce something using Twitter. You could discover cool things by browsing Twitter.

Action came as a result of a combination of the internal debate, slowly moving to a Quit Twitter stance, and the part of Shoshana’s book about Pentland’s Lab at MIT. (I was acquainted with Pentland and his lab — in fact, some of my early scientific work was connected to his, in the ares of face recognition.) The description of the Lab and his funders and his position in the minds of many that access his expertise, somehow, pushed me across the decision boundary.

And so, a few days ago, I deactivated my Twitter account. I believe it will be deleted in 30 days.


I would like to have something like Twitter, only slower, deeper, and much easier to tune or customize. But it also seems to me that if I succeeded in getting what I wanted from Twitter, I would be operating in an asymmetric fashion, one that expected others to behave in a way that I would not agree to act.

For the time being I have decided to focus on internet enabled tools and activities naturally co-existing with quietness, with taking time to think, with slowness-of-response enabling time to think. And of course whatever gets my attention and repeated use must be surveillance-capitalism free.

For now, this set of places and activities will be this blog, my arts blog (, my website (, email (several accounts) and things like github and Google Scholar and LinkedIn (for contacts — I never read the LinkedIn posts).


A requiem for quietness can be seen and heard and felt beneath the noise of the mobile device generation. Yet, like the Requiem of requiems, it is also a door to renewal.

Slowing down to be embraced by that requiem, our own responding stillness opens new paths to explore. Dwelling there, listening to the music of quietness and stillness, alternatives to a slide into a shallow, subhuman future emerge.




Cultures of Creativity and Innovation

Books reliably inspiring enthusiastic conversations are books worthy of close attention. When Beata read and recommended Daniel Coyle’s book, “The Culture Code”, encouraging me by reading bits and pieces of it to me, it was not long before I knew that I had been introduced to just such a book. Soon I was buying copies and giving them away. Over the course of 2-3 months I gave away a bunch of copies and organized an evening in the top floor of the Monarch Motel in Moscow, Idaho devoted to discussion of the book.

The present article is part of my evolving reaction to the stories and theories in Coyle’s book, prompted by the reading-inspired, barehanded combat with those ideas.

The stories of remarkable environments for creativity and productivity, as well as the stories of studies and research aimed at understanding cultures of creativity and productivity, are brilliantly chosen. For this reason alone, I can, and do, recommend the book to everyone.

If those stories are listened to, and felt and thought about, and experimented with, the effect on the reader is large.

When I get a (non-mathematical) book and read it carefully, it means I have chosen to engage rather deeply. Usually I write in the margins, in a sort of hand to hand combat with the details and nuances.

There is a fair bit now written in the margins of this book.

While I sometimes have issues with the theories used to explain things – mostly nitpicky like the fact that nonlinearilty does not equal non-logical, see the story of the Allen Curve – the quality of the inspiration affected by the book completely outweighs any concern about the book’s shortcomings.

The core of this book is the threefold cord of (1) safety, (2) vulnerability and (3) purpose which, expanded a bit, becomes:

  1. Safety and belonging – taxing existential questions are never the lot of individuals in highly creative, productive environments. The growing scarcity of safety and belonging in many workplaces should be a source of deep concern. The gig economy is an indication that we are eating our seed corn and have ceased to pay even lip service to wisdom and a sustainable future.
  2. An empathetically evolved environment enabled by vulnerability powered connection. A status flat environment in which creative energy flows easily is an environment in which truth and kindness (together!) are common, even foundational. Empathy, in its nuanced and expanded incarnations, is at the root of all highly effective, sustainable environments.
  3. Purpose and vision – a bold, omnipresent clarity on the deeper foundational laws of being as well as the aims, the goals and the lofty visions that drive everything. An environment filled with signals keeping these principles and visions in constant view, is an environment whose vision is sustainable. Opposing the natural trend towards higher organizational entropy, these signals are an energy that enables the culture to remain inspired and organized for innovation and collaboration.

These three threads are the pillars of environments that have no trouble retaining those entering their influence. We visit and never want to leave – quite literally. In fact, Daniel himself admitted that when he was doing the research for the book, he found himself making excuses why he needed to stay in the environments he was investigating, even after he had the information he needed for his book.

Of course, some of the research was historical, visible only through the stories of those who were lucky enough to be part of those past places. Take for instance, Bell Labs in its heyday and Harry Nyquist.

In trying to understand the smaller group of super-innovators at Bell Labs, every possible factor was eliminated until it was discovered that all of these super-innovators ate lunch with Harry. He would draw out and listen to his lunch-mates with interest and curiosity, quietly giving them inspiring ideas and questions to go away and think about. Though Harry was also well known and influential because of his own research and innovation, neither this fact, nor his ability to spark innovation in others, seemed to effect his gentle, fatherly demeanor or tranquil reliability. In fact, these characteristics seemed to be significant part of the reason for his power. Disarmed by his demeanor, they opened up to his relentless curiosity.

At IDEO, the design company responsible for a large number of design innovations,  Roshi Givechi plays a similar role, roaming from one design group to another, helping them to overcome obstacles and find new creative grooves through a powerful ability to listen and ask questions. In fact, when Daniel Coyle told her the title of the book he was doing the research for, it was not long before he had a new subtitle after she asked a question about his choice of subtitle.

The other stories and anecdotes are very well selected and wide ranging. Some illustrate principles of collaboration. The Allen curve, showing that effectiveness of collaboration is inversely proportional to the distance between desks of those collaborating, is another striking story of discovery that is both surprising when you hear it for the first time and sensible, even intuitively reasonable, when you take it in and think about it for awhile. While it is not an illogical relationship, as Coyle asserts, it is a non-linear one that will nonetheless make sense to anyone whose intuitions include some instincts for physics and chemistry and interactions and reactions.

Other stories are rich with insight, a sort of living book waiting to be read more and more deeply. Coyle starts his book with such a story, of kindergartners outdoing, by a factor of two, groups of business students and professionals in a challenge to build the highest tower with a piece of tape, a string, a few dried spaghetti  and a single marshmallow. And for me at least, this set the tone of the book.

As noted above, I ended up with a book full of marginal notes (in pencil!) and a lot of thoughts that were discussed with others. If I had to select a phrase that captured the influence of the book on me I think it would be:

… brilliantly selected stories and simple principles that were even more compelling because they were validated by my own experiences in trying to build highly effective teams of innovators …

And the effect of the book does not end with the sharing of the book and discussions.

The histories of places like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC and Los Alamos and the Rad Labs in Boston were already part of my own context, either through direct experience or through careful histories that I had read and internalized, but something about the combination of this book and my own struggles with getting groups together that were sometimes partly or mostly successful and other times were pretty clear failures, created in me a deeper openness and readiness to put these principles into action.

While the experiment that is now underway is a topic for another article, I can say that the timing for the discovery that Beata made and passed on to me was remarkable.

I give the book my highest recommendation.