Archives For Idea Sex

I’m working with the Arts Marketing Association UK’s Audience Diversity Academy (#ADA) as a mentor for their pilot round (July 2016-January 2017). One of my responsibilities is blogging. Here’s a post I wrote. To access posts from all the fellows and mentors, click here.


I approach my work with an experimental state of mind and tend to forget, as we all do, that not everyone shares my world view. In a session with one of my academy fellows, I was reminded how intimidating the word “experiment” can be. That word alone was holding her it back. It was her kryptonite. Every time she heard “experiment” she thought “laborious and detailed,” “precise and sterile,” and “complicated, boring, and HARD TO DO AND NO ONE WILL WANT TO DO IT INCLUDING ME.”**

And it doesn’t matter if you pair “experiment” with terms like “agile” because the predominant narrative or implicit bias is the one around “experiment.”

So step one is to change the narrative; step two is to put yourself in the experimental state of mind.

photo-by-teresa-wood-from-dog-pony-dcs-workshop-of-toast

Audience activity from dog & pony dc’s workshop of TOAST; photo by Teresa Wood.

CREATIVE (& FUN)

Picture a cartoon chemist in her lab. She’s wearing big owl-eyed glasses that hang from a beaded chain around her neck and a white lab coat. The light-filled lab is packed with colorful liquids in glass flasks connected by tubing. The chemist carefully pours solid-colored liquids from two different test tubes into a beaker and it yields–a rainbow colored result! And then explodes with sparkling smoke and leaves her hair all wackadoo. “That wasn’t what I expected,” she exclaims and makes notes on a pad. She’s smiling, because experimenting is creative and fun. It’s a creative and fun activity that’s designed to teach you something. This is the change in the narrative that my academy fellow needed to make first and foremost. Whenever you see, hear, or say “experiment” replace the word with “learn something in a creative and fun way.” “Creative and fun” is also the fundamental principle for the “experimental state of mind,” especially for all of us working in the arts. Why would we want it any other way?

(And “fun”? It’s a flexible term, obviously. But I’d wager we can agree that completing a written survey via email or paper with likert scale questions is neither fun nor creative.)

NO THING IS TOO SMALL

For the academy, the AMA created a great form called a “progress record” for the fellows to track their experiments. (Forms–not commonly considered creative or fun, but incredible handy none the less.) When shaping an experiment in the context of systemic change (like diversity) and asked to track progress, suddenly there’s an overwhelming feeling that the experiment needs to be long, interconnected series of events with a (positive) growth outcome. This is not the way to exist in an experimental state of mind. Get zen and think small. Remember that an experiment is a planned activity from which you hope to learn something. Any intentional divergence from the status quo could be considered an experiment. The way you facilitate one meeting could be an experiment. The types of questions you ask during that meeting could be an experiment. The method you collect answers can be an experiment. It can feel a bit silly when you’re working systemically and long term, thinking tactically and practically IS the experimental way.

ALWAYS WINNING

When you adopt the experimental mindset and the emphasis is on what you’re taking away from each of your activities the emphasis is always on what you learned. You line up the experiments, one after another. What did I expect? What happened? What did I learn? What will I do differently next time? Then repeat! This means the emphasis is on the quality of the learning not the execution of the experiment. I believe that’s why experimenting in the arts is often labeled “working scrappy” and can bring about a little experimenter shame. Eff-that! Trying to be perfect is antithetical to the experimental state of mind. It means you already know the answer; it means people might mess up your experiment. Our experiments in the arts around audience and diversity all have people at the center and therefore must be inviting. (See point #1 about creative and fun.) More importantly, we should not ever expect to know what the answers will be. Experiments begin with a question or a hypothesis, and we should expect to–even be excited about–discovering our previous understanding was completely off base. That we were wrong. This means we were “failing.” Hooray! Now we can “fail forward,” learning from our experiment and, we hope, make improvements. Learning is winning.

To wrap up, the experimental state of mind is not for everyone. Some of us come from a fixed mindset rather than a growth one. Fixed mindset folks like established routines and avoid challenges; nothing wrong with that at all. Those of us who are looking for change could stand to adopt some experimental practices. Remembering to think small and look for opportunities to experiment everywhere, emphasize the learning no matter to outcome, and permit yourself to be creative and fun will flip the script of what creating experiments is all about. Now what are you waiting for–get to work!

 

** On the other hand: some will think that if you’re only doing an “experiment” it’s not real or valid work. That it can’t amount to anything, build a foundation, or propel your forward. Not so at all. It’s the foundation of a growth-mindset environment in which you are working responsively to the world around you.

Getting out of your box

December 21, 2016 — Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about boxes lately. Like in terms of the old adage “think outside the box.”

Each of us has our own box that we operate out of, from which to “think outside.” Those boxes can be of vastly different sizes. To travel to an edge, scale the box wall, and get outside of it can vary in time. This is why some of us are able to (and comfortable with) making that journey more frequently and with greater ease.

I wonder if we have “risk boxes”: how much does it take us plain_box_group_webto get comfortable with the idea of being involved with uncertain situations and then actually start taking chances of different degrees of unpredictability and instability.

I also wonder if we also have “normalcy boxes”: how much of journey do we need to make to have our conventional understanding of the world challenged and then start looking through other lenses and accepting other frameworks.

No matter what type of box, until we acknowledge there’s a “beyond the box” we’ll forever remain inside our current box. And the interior of that box will grow in size, making the distance to its edges longer.

Being “Unplugged”

Bed View

My husband and I sit side-by-side most mornings here drinking coffee in bed, staring at a gorgeous rising sun and reading the newspaper. On our devices. I read the backlog of blog entries from the last 4-11 months. Sometimes I tweet them. I’ve been accused of not really being on vacation, because I’m using my iPhone. [sigh] No, I’m not disconnecting myself from the rest of the world while on vacation. I spend so much time disconnected from it as is on a daily basis. It’s a pleasure to have the time to re-engage with it. In fact: last year after vacation I attempted to carry forth the morning coffee and news reading ritual throughout the year (mild success). This year I’m experimenting with not bringing my phone, also my camera, with me everywhere. No access to anything, happy haters?, BUT, no picture taking. Gotta tell you: not missing it. Don’t need to document every day at the beach. Even tested a theory that no one would notice and posted a photo from two years’s ago vacation on Facebook:

A picture from Jan 2013!

This all reminds me of the study/project I was a part of at Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History’s Museum Camp 2014 about whether the use of technology allows you to enjoy nature more. At first I was on the “screw you anti-technology people, let us Instagram if we want to” side of the debate (impartial in the study, obviously). Now, definitely not so sure.

Privilege

On my mind a lot these days (read: years) but nothing like being on the beach with your spouse and good friends in January to bring it to the forefront. It’s also primary in my thoughts because of my work on Squares. (which has been in development since fall 2013 but kicks into higher gear in 2015) and an upcoming dog & pony dc ensemble meeting to review year one of our diversity and inclusion initiative, and plan for this year’s work (year one significantly changed our landscape). I’m in the privileged position of being able take personal and organizational-based action in myriad ways to raise awareness of privilege, seek to educate myself and others, create space for dialogue in which I can listen and be heard, promote intersectional thinking, and increase the spheres of people who are openly conversing and acting for equity. (Check this recent HowlRound post, I dug it.) So, no, I am not feeling guilty or bad (ok, maybe occasionally a little) In the midst of all this sunshine, sand, and surf, but this vacation allows me important reflection time. It’s vital amidst all the upcoming activity to remind, to reinforce that this work is a journey. There is no final destination we to reach. But we must always keep moving toward it.

Work /Life Balance

Cairns on the beaches of Vieques

Two colleagues mentioned they’re working on this in 2015, one who is trying to weight “life” more and one who is trying to weight “work” more. If I asked them, my guess is both–hell, everyone–would say I weight work too much…to the point of having almost no “life.” As a person with no children, though, and who currently manifests her passion in her job, my “work” and “life” are complicatedly intertwined. But let’s pause for a moment: what does this phrase “work/life balance” mean? Life means: friends? pets? significant other? children? going to happy hour? working out? binge watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? taking a figure drawing class? all of the above?

A friend/collaborator and I were talking about another mutual friend who’s spouse is very into cosplay. If I worked at a bank, but spent all my free time and disposable income on costumes and travel to conventions, would I have a work/life balance problem? No, we determined. “dog & pony dc is your cosplay.” she declared. Yes. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek out relationships with others and go for drinks, hit the gym, binge watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or expand my horizons. I like doing those things, and they make my work and life richer, more vibrant. They balance my scales.

Multiple Intelligences

For the first time since high school I am actively trying to learn another language, American Sign Language. It terrifies me. I’m known to utter the phrase “I barely speak English,” and I don’t think people understand how much that’s actually true. I’m highly insecure about my understanding of parts of speech, grammar, syntax, and my inability to spell. I eschewed formal classes, knowing that environment didn’t serve me in the past, finagled a most excellent ASL tutor and have excellent, understanding friends and collaborators who are Deaf or ASL interpreters. None the less: I’m petrified that it won’t actually take me years upon years, it will take me never. Is it possible that I’m too old to acquire a new language? Or is my brain not hardwired to learn languages? Yes, I am doing my ASL homework on vacation but I’m also obsessing about multiple intelligences theory and the diversity of mine.

Nothing

Which is to say I thing “the ocean is beautiful,” or “am I going to fall asleep,” or “rum is good,” or “I love my husband” for extended periods of time.

Approaching Navio beach, my favorite on Vieques.

Temporary food artwork. Click to learn more.

E. B. White was quoted in a 1969 New York Times interview:

If the world were merely seductive that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

The amazing Lisa Q. Mount share the bolded part with me recently, and since then I’ve been massaging it like a worry stone and drawing great comfort from the reflection.

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The initial three source texts for dog & pony dc’s next show, Toast, include Steven Johnson‘s Where Good Ideas Come From. Recommended to me by friend and, now, Toast ensemble member David LaCroix, I pass the recommend on as a wellspring of inspiration about how ideas are birthed, cultivated, promoted, and transformed into life-altering inventions and movements. Today I was struck soundly by one of the final passages, which compares types of “platforms” (read: environments) that cultivate innovation. Still wrestling with what my metaphor is, but I know the below passage gets at why I encourage in collaborative or ensemble work.

“Generative platforms require all the patterns of innovation we have seen over the proceding pages; they need to create a space where hunches and serendipitous collisions and exaptations and recycling can thrive. it is possible to create such a space in a walled garden. But you are far better off situating your platform in a commons.

commons
But perhaps “commons” is the wrong word for the environment we’re trying to imagine, though it has a long and sanctified history in intellectual property law. The problem with the term is twofold. For starters, it has conventionally been used in opposition to the competition struggle of the marketplace. The original “commons” of rural England disappeared when they were swallowed up by the private enclosures of agrarian capitalism in the 16th and 18th centuries. Yet the innovation environments we have explores are not necessarily hostile to competition and profit. More important, however, the commons metaphor doesn’t suggest the patterns of recycling and exaptation and recombination that define so many innovation spaces. When you think of a commons, you think of a cleared field dominated by a single source of grazing. You don’t think of an ecosystem. The commons is a monocrop grassland, not a tangled bank.

reefI prefer another metaphor drawn from nature: the reef.

You need only survey a coral reef (or a rain forest) for a fewminutes to see that competition for resources abouts in this space, as Darwin rightly observed. But that is not the source of its marvelous biodiversity. The struggle for existence is universal in nature. The few residents of a desert ecosystem are every bit as competitive as their equivalents on a coral reef. What makes the treef so inventive is not the struggle between the organism but the way they have learned to collaborate–the coral and the zooxanthellae and the parrotfish borrowing and reinventing each other’s work. This is the ultimate explanation of Darwin’s Paradox: the reef has unlocked so many doors of the adjacent possible because of the way it shares.

The reef helps us understand the other riddles we begin with: the runaway innovation of citities, and of the Web. They, too, are environments that compulsively connect and remix that most valuable of resources: information. Like the Web, the city is a platform that often makes private commerce possible but which is itself outside the marketplace. You do business in the big city, but the city itself belongs to everyone. (“City air is free air,” as the old saying goes.) Ideas collide, emerge, recombine; new enterprises find homes in the shells abandoned by earlier hosts; informal hubs allow different disciplines to borrow from one another. These are the spaces that have long supported innovation, from those first Mesopotamian settlements 8,000 years ago to the invisible layers of software that support today’s Web.

Ideas rise in crowds, as Poincare said. They rise in liquid networks where connection is valued more than protection. So if we want to build environments that generate good ideas…we need to keep that history in mind, and not fall back on the easy assumptions that competitive markets are the only reliable source of good ideas. Yes, the market has been a great engine of innovation. But so has the reef.”

– Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From, pg 244 – 245