Weekly Reflection: Wondering About Einstein

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”

Albert Einstein

I am intrigued by the fact that Albert Einstein attributed his groundbreaking scientific theories to both mathematics and imagination, that he played his violin every day, and that he once said “I often think in music.”

I wonder: Did Einstein’s love of music and his interest in so many divergent streams of 20th century life play a role in his amazing ability to perform thought experiments about the mysteries of time, space, light, and energy?

We’ll never know. But few would discount the value of imagination and intuition in Einstein’s work. And shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that his genius was somehow interwoven with his music?

See some great Einstein quotes at the Think Pond Pinterest Board.

Weekly Reflection: Mentoring

Mentoring relationships can change lives. But does mentoring always have to follow the same pattern? What we need to learn and how we can best learn it changes throughout our lives, and often we find ourselves challenged in very different ways at the same time.

Although there is much to be said for the lifelong bonds that can form when a seasoned professional takes a young person under his or her wing, the younger generations also can mentor their elders. I believe everyone has something to offer and something to learn. Moreover, some people might benefit more from a series of mentors. At one age, we might need a mentor to build our confidence and help with how we present ourselves while later it might be a good thinker who can help us consider all the angles as we make big decisions. At various times, we may need one mentor to help us master a discipline or profession, another who has connections that will help us identify and get selected for opportunities, and another who helps us see the big picture. Some of us may need mentors to help us with relatively small and peripheral but still important area of our careers.

Imagine an engineer, She works in casual clothes every day but may need someone with good fashion sense to help her look good for a professional presentation and someone else to give her tips for presenting. She may also need a mentor who helps her step out of her comfort zone in an area like writing for publication. She may need a mentor who helps her make her way when she is the only young person or the only female on a project team and another who helps her when the time comes to become a team leader—or to make the transition into upper management. She may need a mentor when she has her first child—someone who is an expert at balancing work and mothering or someone who is the kind of mother she wants to be.

No single individual could provide all those mentoring relationships.

Weekly Reflection: Defining Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a process that we use to arrive at a better understanding of what is true in situations that extend beyond verifying simple facts. The subject might be an artistic or literary work. It can be an assertion or claim made by a specific individual, such as a politician, activist, journalist, author, or teacher. Or it can be a whole philosophy, school of thought, or system.

When we use critical thinking, we observe, compare, contrast, and analyze. We interpret using our own knowledge and imagination (often supplemented by the knowledge or ideas of experts). Then we evaluate against accepted criteria to arrive at a claim about the qualities of the subject.

“Critical” is often interpreted as looking for and pointing out what’s wrong with someone’s actions or words. However, “critical” should be a neutral word. The enemies of critical thinking (other than laziness) are our assumptions, biases, and loyalties, as well as our self-interest.

Weekly Reflection: Defining Creativity & Innovation

I define creativity as a way of being in which we draw from the imagination, the intellect, and the world around us to bring something new into being. Innovation is the use of creative ideas (along with technical knowledge and practical thinking) to add new value to an existing idea, product, process, environment, or system. Purely creative action draws heavily from the intuition, maybe even the “collective unconscious,” while innovation combines a wider range of intelligences along with creativity. When we say that people, ideas, or work products are “creative,” usually we mean original, new, and unexpected. When we use the label “innovative,” we are acknowledging the creative characteristics of a person, idea, or product, but we are more focused on effectiveness or usefulness. Innovation has a connotation of advancing a genre or discipline forward.

Both creativity and innovation capture attention and make us see, think, and feel differently.
The terms are often used interchangeably. In a work of art, for example, one might describe the innovative aspects as the technical part—Van Gogh’s brushstrokes and colors and how they took the techniques of Impressionism a step further—while the creative part is how his unique psyche opened itself up to and responded to his emotions and the spiritual impulses that flowed into him. The Apple MacIntosh gave us the graphical user interface, the mouse, and other innovations, but it also gave us an experience and an aesthetic that were the products of creative work.

Creative geniuses receive the greatest acclaim in the arts and advertising, but innovators are the heroes in most other spheres. In the moment, investors, upper managers, and others who are seeking results value a program improvement or a new market-ready product more than they value a whole portfolio of creative ideas. That’s understandable. The impacts of innovation are more visible, immediate, and measurable, while the impact of a purely creative work is first an internal change that occurs in those who encounter the work, and then how that encounter shapes their thoughts and actions over time and often in concert with other stimuli, That means the original creative idea gets little or no credit for changing anything.

In other words, under the surface of every innovation is a network of creative thoughts, ideas, and artifacts that was humming and sparking and rippling and glinting and shimmering and whispering its magic into the minds and processes that created the thing of measurable value.

What Does It Mean to Thrive at Work?

To thrive at work is to provide for my family while doing work that aligns with my vision of life and of a better world. The work is meaningful to me and I am fully exercising the abilities I value. Thriving means I have an appropriate balance between stability and flexibility so that I am always able to foresee and adapt to changes in my field. It means I am able to contribute to the work of others and call upon a network of collaborators when an exciting opportunity opens. It means having the freedom to try new things and explore new ideas.

Think Pond Tools: Basic Rules for Sustaining New Endeavors

Entrepreneurial projects are most vulnerable in the early stages, when no one is yet earning money or public recognition. People see the possibilities. They are excited. They want to be part of the team. They are willing to contribute. Then a team member sees an opportunity to get immediate financial benefits or career advancement. The need to earn a living and achieve security is compelling. Thus they place the experiment on the back burner. The project loses momentum. The leader says nothing because he or she can’t pay anyone yet. The promising endeavor fizzles.

Similar problems arise in the world of nonprofits. A team with a promising new program idea may become quickly diverted when a new grant solicitation offers the opportunity for short-term gains.

Think Ponds sustain members’ experiments and projects by adhering to these ground rules:

  • We will communicate as a team every x weeks, even when nothing is going on.
  • For an active project, the project leader will update the team regularly (at an agreed-upon interval).
  • There will be at least one mechanism for sharing information as it emerges and keeping the whole group up-to-date on important developments.
  • We will make only commitments we can keep. Barring dire circumstances, we will keep our commitments even if it means making greater sacrifices than originally anticipated.
  • If we are having an unforeseen problem that could affect a project we have committed to, we will let the leader know immediately so that backup can be planned or schedule adjusted. In dire circumstances, we will do everything we can to make sure we can hand off the work in the best shape possible.

Inspiring Quotes for Think Ponds

“The future is not in building a new tower of Babel, but in cultivating well trodden paths from house to house.”
Raimundo Panikkar

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
Howard Zinn

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope…These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

Fake News vs Real News: A Simplistic Comparison

I think we all know by now that the content found on the Facebook platform is a mix of real and fake news, but we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking in black and white terms. Otherwise, we will start categorizing news we disagree with as fake. Here is how I would categorize the information we see every day online:

Straight News. Accounts of completely verifiable events and statements. Journalists gather facts and evidence from first-hand observation of events and reliable sources. In writing their stories, they strive to present information with adherence to the ethical principles and traditional practices of responsible journalism, which places a premium on fairness, accuracy, and objectivity. Fact-checkers and editors provide further quality control. After publication, reputable media outlets are accountable for any errors that are revealed.

In-Depth Journalism. Articles in which principled writers take a position and make a strong case for that position after thorough and objective research. They follow journalistic and ethical principles, as well as the rules of logic and rhetoric. Their research includes careful examination of all principal documents in the public record (e.g., laws or pending legislation, existing regulations, relevant court decisions, relevant correspondence, speeches and statements), interviews with knowledgeable sources that credibly represent all parties, and thorough examination of opposing viewpoints. They do background reading and interviews to ensure that key facts are surrounded by a relevant “bigger picture.”

Public Relations & Advocacy Communications. Information that often imitates journalistic forms and style but is designed to shape public opinion about an organization or group and the causes, positions, or products it represents. PR professionals study their target audience and craft messaging that will persuade them toward desired beliefs or actions. PR and communications professionals typically strive to portray their subjects in the best possible light without making overtly false claims or omitting key facts. Readers realize the bias when they’re looking at company literature or op eds written by a CEO. But sometimes it’s not apparent what interests are behind the content. Exxon or Dow, for example, may sponsor a documentary about Alaska that has nothing to do with their oil pipelines and disposal of chemical waste. But the subtle message is that they are environmentalists who would not do harm. Moreover, journalists may get story ideas from press releases and use material from a company as background in their stories. Often, due to budgetary reasons, news organizations rely too heavily on media releases or inside sources.

Junk news. Sensational, often misleading headlines followed by shallow, poorly sourced content that echoes the emotions and prejudices of targeted groups without adding anything new to what is already reported elsewhere. Its purpose is to generate ad revenues, often for junk products. The information in junk news is not fake, but its production typically bypasses the quality controls that exist in reputable newsrooms. To produce junk news, the “writers” selectively assemble facts and quotes from reputable news sources, but they often ignore important context, opposing evidence, and background that would weaken the grand narrative that the targeted audience chooses to believe.

Propaganda. Content in which language, structure, and facts have been purposely manipulated to mislead, sway, divert attention, obscure truth, and/or cloud judgment. Typically, its purpose is to serve the interests of those holding or seeking power by promoting (propagating) an alternative to the predominant narrative. Not all propaganda is patently false. More often, propagandists present accurate facts but cite sources and select details that make the preconceived claims seem more logical, well-supported, and emotionally compelling than they are. They may use words, forms, images, and music that underscore the effect they are seeking. In short, propagandists persuade an audience to reach a conclusion based on emotion, psychological manipulation, or faulty reasoning rather than relevant evidence.

Fake news. Fabricated stories with little or no basis in facts that are represented as news. Fake news stories may be used as clickbait to build traffic for ads or for disinformation purposes. Fake news often can be disproven simply by googling claims of fact, using a trusted fact checking publication, and thinking about the reliability of sources. Many people don’t take those steps, however.

Think Pond Wish List

Think Ponds are for people who want to:

  • Do joyful, creative, meaningful, and fulfilling work.
  • Have conversations and experiences that stretch the mind, spark the imagination, and expand the vision.
  • Make “digital life” less fragmented, more inquiring, and more aspirational.
  • Become attuned to possibilities and potential changes that could have wide-ranging effects on their lives and the world.
  • Work with a diverse array of minds and talents.

Tools for Think Ponds: Let’s “Betend”

When my grandsons play together with their action figures and toy cars, they create a running narrative that is always punctuated by the word “betend” (their way of saying “pretend”). The five-year-old–I call him “Buddy”–will say, “Betend all the animals escaped in the city” or “Betend there is a volcano over there.” The four-year-old–I call him “Punkin Pie”–used to follow along but now is starting to add his own “betend” scenarios.

Of course, the mispronounced word is now and will always be part of our family’s lexicon, but I also think it might be a good way to describe a transitional stage many of us have experienced in our lives and careers. It’s when our actions and roles are more than pretending but not quite being.

Think Pond Enterprises is kind of like that now. It sounds like more than it is. But we are not pretending. We are looking at the world, exploring our imaginations and creative urges, and learning as if the world we desire is unfolding. We are swerving from the grooves of thought we took for granted, testing our wings, conducting thought experiments. That’s betending.