Home town picture

Switching from one team to another has taken up loads of my time… getting involved in all sorts of other activities, even more. I do apologize to my blog and to you, for staying away this long. Sorry.

Before even more time goes by, I really wanted to share a photo from last September.

The “Koppelpoort” of Amersfoort is a gate with a ‘watergate’ for boats and a land gate for carts. There are loads of pictures of it online. The reason I decided to add this one is I was in the new library, just on the other side of the railway tracks, and I liked the angle.

The Koppelpoort as seen from the new library in Amersfoort.

The Koppelpoort as seen from the new library in Amersfoort.

It was quite a bright sunny day in September so taking this picture with my phone through the window was a bit tricky. There’s a bit of reflection in the top left. Personally I don’t mind the wires – the library is a nice place for spotting trains while staying warm and dry. For really ‘lazy’ train spotting you can even get a cappuccino plus something off the not-healthy-but-delicious!-menu.

The trees on the right are half barren now. One thing I would have loved to put on video was the yellow ‘rain’ of leaves dropping two weeks ago as I was on my way to the train station…

The trees you see behind the Koppelpoort are on a piece of land that’s for sale for over a million Euros. You get a large building and a decent-sized yard in the middle of the historic town. Right next to an old church.

At some point I will take a picture standing somewhere near the Koppelpoort pointing my phone or camera at the library. I missed a perfect opportunity on my way home a couple of weeks ago – almost perfect, anyway, because where could I stop, park my bike, take out my phone and get that shot without someone bumping into me?

However, a winter’s day may yet hand me another great opportunity. With a dark blue sky behind the library and the lamps gently lighting up the interior behind the large windows.

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Perception, art, and the space between meanings

How much do we grow used to interpreting symbols around us? When it comes to understanding traffic rules for example, a red or a green traffic light is relatively easy to understand. Red means “stop”, green means “go”. The tricky bit is when your kid sees a green light but it’s for other road users.

Now arrows… arrows are tricky by default.

Perception: Meanings of an Arrow

Knowledge of specific conventions tell us what an arrow means.
[OCAL image]

  • It’s up to you to gain enough general knowledge about the world and our conventions to recognize the shape of an arrow, and to understand that arrows point in a direction,  that it’s the pointy bit that does the pointing, and that there’s a reason for it to point.
  • Your next hurdle is understanding that you need to look around you to see what the arrow is doing in its context – to find the reason for the arrow. Why is it here, what is it supposed to show you, is it even there for you – or for the car in the lane next to you?

Just to point my own arrow at a minor detail here: you’re an expert in a lot of ways without realizing it. You just read the stuff I wrote about arrows and conventions like traffic rules, and you’re still here. Now let’s move a step further.

The effect of learning in professionals

I’ve taken a quote from an interesting post about learning and its effect on us: “…once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see.”

It’s easy to point at stuff you’d like to learn – but you can’t point at things you’re trying to forget AND succeed at forgetting them. What if you told someone “Right now I’m trying not to think about those purple bears over there, hanging out on the beach drinking pink-and-green cocktails with fake strawberries on straws in them. And they’re wearing high heels, which is no joke for a purple bear on a beach.” Check out the size of that arrow 😉

The author of the quote goes on to list examples of how designers, artists, and other professionals cope with the gap between their trained professional self, and their untrained clients. Like I stated in an earlier post: un-learning is possible, but it takes a conscious effort. It’s a lot harder to forget or ignore specific bits of knowledge that have become entrenched in the corners of your brain, than to focus on learning them. (The one example I’ve run into of people being unable to step away from what they’ve learned is not so much designers but IT professionals. We’re all guilty of being an expert at something.)

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

Some things mean everything to us, and nothing to the person standing next to us. This is particularly clear when art is concerned. A piece of art is filled with meaning by the artist. Compositions as a rule don’t drop from a handy cloud. Details don’t miraculously pop up in a painting. A work of art is constructed, and its details are where the artist put them for a reason.

The way we perceive any piece of art is defined by our personal experience. Our general knowledge of the world. Our knowledge about other works of art and any convention we have grown used to. If our personal knowledge overlaps to a great extent with that of certain artists, we’ll perceive their art much the way they intended. On the other hand, if there is little to no overlap – say you’re admiring a 16th-century Italian painting and you’re

  1. unfamiliar with classical mythology, and
  2. not a religious person,

it’s going to take some explaining to get even a rough sense of what you’re looking at and what story the artist wanted to tell in that painting. That artist was creating a work of art with a specific audience in mind. I guess it’s safe to assume you’re not the audience he (probably not she) was thinking of at the time.

Read more:

Do you watch (your) kids learn about the meaning or meanings of the things around them? What do you make of perception, art, and the meanings of familiar symbols?

New knowledge: how to breathe creativity into your business

How do you instill creativity in places where it seems to be lacking big time? In an earlier post I mentioned that an investor’s mindset seems to chase away innovation. But what invites creative thinking? What sets us off on the hunt for new knowledge?

Why knowledge acquisition and the creative process grind to a halt

Firstly let’s add a bit of detail to my earlier thoughts about why inventors leave a company (after an IPO). Money seems to have an oddly familiar impact if you’re a business owner: it burns in your pockets, leading to buying decisions based on affluence. You have the money. This fact severely reduces your need to employ creative brains. If you choose your resources based on their availability, you can either put in creative thinking and the time you need to realize your ideas, or you can chuck in a bag of money at any given moment to buy the results of other people’s efforts.

When and how does creativity leave your business?

San Matteo by Caravaggio

San Matteo by Caravaggio [Fragment
of image on Wikimedia Commons]

  • Following my instincts I’d say the first awkward moments arise when you find that your best ideas no longer lead to reactions like “that sounds great – go do it and let me know when you’ve got something”. Instead you get “that sounds interesting – is there anything out there we could use?” or “okay, draft some requirements we can use for our vendors”.
  • The absolute get-out-of-here-right-now trigger is when decisions for further development are made without consulting the company’s innovative minds. It makes sense to leave when no one cares enough about your opinion to ask for it before taking a major decision. The best (or most independently thinking) inventors will leave at this point.
  • The other inventors may choose to deliver what’s being asked for. However their ‘inventions’ are probably the products of ideas born from the minds of investors, market researchers, and the like. No wonder they don’t match the level of the ‘breakthrough inventions’ done by pioneering innovators!

What does this tell us about factors that’ll get innovation and general creative thinking into a team or company? It’s not just “leave them alone and great things’ll happen”.

Apple or IBM: two methods to bring creativity into your business

1. The survival method: be creative or else

To draw upon my own education, one of my teachers in art history argued that Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) would not have reached the peak of his own ingenuity if his patron had accepted some of the paintings he made. As an inventor you may well need someone who will warn you not to become complacent – push you out of your comfort zone – tell you they know you can “do better than that” and will not settle for anything but the best.

To me this is a part of the Steve Jobs approach – if engineers come up with new adaptations of old inventions you demand they think of something better. I can imagine this method does not go down well with people who are either independent thinkers themselves, or who aim for ‘okay’ solutions that lack a ‘wow’ factor. It’s a method that smells of survival basics (and can inspire real terror for that reason): either you come up with a solution that works, or you starve because all the animals run away. How’s that for a creative spark?

2. The cocreation method: the benefit of having different points of view

Another part of innovation at Apple which Jobs was probably good at, is the ‘naive outsider’ approach (I’m borrowing from a Forbes article on creativity in marketing here) – taking a fresh look at familiar things and asking the questions that experts overlook. But there’s a definite downside to having one person doing ‘creative quality control or CQC (I just made that up for the occasion).

If you’re into social or ‘open’ business like IBM you can get input from people outside your company and even your industry. If you have your creative process in full operation, this should give you plenty of alien points of view – forcing you to rethink what would otherwise pass for ‘obvious’ arguments.

Creative quality control: which method suits you?

In view of the possibilities offered by social media and the like, and the psychological effects of each individual method, my vote goes to the ‘many voices’ option of social business. But depending on the type of company your in and the goals you’ve set, another method may be more viable.

More reading:

How do you foster innovation in your organization? Let’s talk about new knowledge, “CQC”, creativity, business, and social media in the comments!

When creating your LinkedIn profile, bring your pineapple

If you’ve read my posts about LinkedIn in the past two weeks, the title of this post may puzzle you – so I’ll explain. In a way your LinkedIn profile is a lot like the elaborate self-portraits from centuries ago. That’s my background in art history popping up – just in case you’re wondering 🙂

Show off your expertise: this is how you do it

A portrait that showed what you were about, what you did – and what you owned – was an absolute must-have for wealthy Dutch people in the 17th century. This painting of Agnes Block and Sybrand de Flines tells us a few things about Agnes even without any previous knowledge about her story:

Portrait of Agnes Block and Family

Portrait of Agneta Block and family (1694) | Amsterdam Museum [click to view site]

This is very much a painting about Agnes (or Agneta) as everything she valued is collected around her. It shows Agnes seated at the center, with her (second) husband Sybrand (Sijbrand) de Flines at the right. In the background are details which set the scene at her country estate “Vijverhof” growing exotic plants and keeping birds. Agnes was a horticulturalist, and a good one – in the Dutch republic, she was the first who managed to grow a pineapple plant that bore fruit. We can admire the result in this painting, on the far left.

Agnes is also known to have made drawings of plants and birds. She was an artist and a patron – which explains all the arty attributes in the painting (aside from her husband’s interests). On Historici.nl this painting by Jan Weenix is dated around 1694. This would mean we see Agnes at the age of 65 (she lived from 1629-1704). I’ll bet if LinkedIn had been around she’d have put her pineapple in her summary, job experience AND in the section “Honors and awards”! As it was, it was probably a bit of a struggle to avoid over-cluttering the composition.

(In case you wondered) What about the children in the painting?

Two children accompany Agnes and Sybrand in this painting – their identity is uncertain but it’s assumed they are relations of Agnes. Agnes was married twice, but she never had children. Sybrands daughters, from his first marriage, would have been grown women by the time this painting was made. The girl by Agnes’ side is wearing a dress that looks rather more fancy than the garment worn by the other child, who may in fact be a young boy – if you’re curious about that you may like this lengthy post I found about children’s clothing in the 17th century. However the examples in this post don’t show any difference in clothing style between boys and girls, whereas there is a clear distinction between these two children.

How does Agnes’ portrait relate to your LinkedIn profile?

Nowadays few of us would consider having a painting made like Agnes did, or even having our photograph taken together with all the attributes that show off our skills and experience. At the same time we do something very similar when we present the results of our efforts on our blogs or via our presence on social media. Think WordPress, Flickr, Facebook and LinkedIn. I would say LinkedIn most resembles a painting – I’ve seen the others used as a portfolio.

How to put the pineapple into your LinkedIn profile

If you decide to get your LinkedIn profile assembled, identify your pineapple and see where it should go:

  1. Take inventory of ALL your achievements whether they are related to your professional life, volunteering, study or even your private life.
  2. Make a selection of things to include in your profile (from must-haves to nice-to-haves)
  3. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like and would like to turn one of your hobbies into a career at some point in the future, the least you can do is list it as one of your “interests” and include any skills you have related to that hobby to your “skills” section.
  4. Whatever else you do on LinkedIn, remember to find and show off your pineapple! I’m serious 😉

Creating a complete and accurate portrait of yourself as a professional means you need to include your ‘professional attributes’ – your skills, experience, strengths and personal achievements in the best possible way. Don’t hide the things you’ve worked hard to accomplish!

Note: This post was getting longer while I got the feeling Agnes, and this painting, deserved more. So I’ve decided rather than letting this post turn into a ‘miscellaneous subjects’ post I’ll let her have a separate post, if I can dig up more information about the painting.

Until then, you can read more about Agnes on:

If you enjoyed this post, please share it! Or you can share your thoughts about LinkedIn, art, and Agnes right here.