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This book is called Creative Intelligence and the tag-line reads “Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire” – Before we go any further, let’s set the record straight: This is not a book about creativity, this is a book about business innovation. The author does spend the first chapter trying to explain how the two are interchangeable if not the same thing, but… they’re not. If you’re interested in one and not the other, as I am, the difference between the two is stark, and does not diminish just because he’s said so. So, for best results, ignore the title. If you’re interested in business innovation, carry on.
The author, Bruce Nussbaum, seems to start with a few assumptions about his reader that are not implicit from the title. The first is that you – the reader – are not creative or do not see yourself as creative, but he can manage to convince you that, actually, many things you do are in fact creative. It’s a really strange place to start, but it makes evident that he’s trying to home in on people who are motivated by business, logic and bottom lines and don’t understand or sympathize with the touchy-feely-ness of creativity. Well, fair enough, but once again, this doesn’t come across until after you’re already knee-deep.
What’s strange too is how openly patronizing he is towards his readers. For example, “For some people, building upon their Creative Intelligence might mean taking an edgy photo and sharing it with Instagram. For others, it might mean launching a storefront on Etsy or Amazon. We all have the ability to make things, and while we might not know how to use the tools that make creation possible just yet, those tools exist and they have never been as inexpensive to access or easy to master.” Does he really think that the most creative thing his readers are capable of is taking an Instagram photo or opening an Etsy shop? At this point, I have no idea who he thinks his audience is, though perhaps he’s surprised they’ve picked up a book at all.
Which brings me to another elephant in the room when reading this book: The author never leaves the page. That is, it’s riddled with “I” and “me” stories, and every time he wants to submit a new concept or word, he makes sure that you know that it’s his word, his concept: “another strategy I call ‘donut thinking.’”, “I’ll introduce a competency that’s all about rethinking the many ways we engage”, etc. He apparently is far too insecure to trust that you’ve read his name on the front of the book cover. He even finds ways to integrate the most random stories from his life to make himself sound a certain way, like “I was in the Peace Corps in the Philippines in 1968 when I went up into the Cordilleras mountains in Luzon to see the rice terraces of the Igorot, a highland people. A local chief asked me to stay to eat. Though eager to see more of the rice terraces and get back to Manila, this was the land of the Igorot and I was a visitor, so I accepted.” He then goes on to describe eating monkey’s brains at their behest, to prove himself as part of their community. Now, let’s just recall that this is a book called Creative Intelligence and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how this story might have anything to do with the topic at hand, other than providing a platform for the author’s vainglory in trying to make himself sound like he’s 1) worldly 2) empathetic and 3) accepted.
In another part of the book, he talks about a new species of frog that was discovered in New York after a scientist realized the break in his croak was a marked distinction. The frog had not yet been named because the discoverer was too conflicted about naming the frog after the region in which he had been discovered. Nussbaum writes, “I think a better solution would be to name [the frog] after the discoverer, the scientist who knew the pattern well enough to hear the break.” And it seems embarrassingly apparent what his personal hopes are, regarding the future naming of his ideas and discoveries.
It’s also a relatively superficial examination of the turmoil inherent in a process of creativity. Issues like failure and angst are covered parenthetically at best, with a light brush-off that failure is completely tolerable when simply re-framed as lessons learned. In fact, the book is little more than a recitation of ideas of business and marketing that have worked over the years. In this way, this book on “creativity” is remarkably – dare I say it – uncreative.
Overall, the success of the book depends on your level of interest in business and business innovation. If you’re interested in ways that people have commoditized their ideas, and you would like a nice airport read, here’s a book for you.
You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.
I never paid much attention in economics class when I was in high school. All those number crunching theories seemed so boring to me, and I never really got what the fuzz was all about. That probably explains why I never got rich buying or selling stock, but am working as a low-paid freelance journalist instead. Anyway, now there is Economix, a book, a comic book to be exact, that introduces and explains economic theories in an accessible manner and at the same time offers an entertaining read.
What makes this book so good is the fact that Goodwin didn’t make a straight comics version of an econ 101 text, but instead deals with basic principles and places them within a historical context. He introduces economic theory and lays bare its basic ideas, and then tells us how they worked, or in most cases, didn’t work in practice. He doesn’t shy away from a joke here and there, which makes Economix an easy read and not at all as boring as the classes I had to take in high school.
Because of the simplified form Goodwin tells his story, it is a good starting point for anyone who wants to understand the basics and wants to continue exploring via more in-depth sources, for which the book provides a list of titles for further reading. Besides being entertaining to a point, Goodwin at the same time argues that, at least since the work of nineteenth-century economist David Ricardo, mainstream economics, with its central faith in free markets, has reflected and served the partial interests of wealth and power, and not the interest of the general public, although it is being presented as an universal truth. Because of giving the free market a free reign, with not too much interference by governments, people have become poorer and the middle class collapsed in the last thirty years.
Since all good citizens fall victim to the global economic crisis, Goodwin’s comic couldn’t have come out at a better time. Of course Economix is part of a trend of educational and non-fiction comic books that have been popular for quite some years, and is similar to comics like Logicomix, a graphic novel about the foundational quest in mathematics that came out a few years ago and was a sleeper hit. In the Netherlands Margreet de Heer has made a number of comics in a similar matter on subjects like philosophy and religion.
Artist Dan E. Burr has earned his stripes as a comic book artist and worked in a variety of fields. He is perhaps best known for the two books he made with James Vance: Kings in Disguise and its sequel On the Ropes. These stories are set during the Great Depression, so there’s a link to Economix. Kings in Disguise has won several Harvey and Eisner awards. Although Burrs cartoonish style in Economix is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, it does the job of visualising Goodwin’s story in a simple, straightforward manner.
Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.
Bob Pozen was in town to speak earlier this month and generously offered to sign and present his book in at ABC Amsterdam. I had read his book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, and offered to host the event, hoping for a chance to pick his brain a little – after all, how many times do I meet a person who taught full-time at Harvard Business School while also serving as full-time chairman of a financial services firm? And who writes about how to be productive? So I formulated a few questions:
How does a Baby Boomer anti-war activist become CEO of a financial assets managing company?
That was a continuous line from my undergraduate days at Yale where Ralph Nader was a shareholder activist. From there I went to the SEC regulating board, which is a public sector function trying to keep up fair play. I branched into law and did work on both economics and law, but discovered that I liked to do deals.I wanted to be in Boston after the sudden death of my brother, and Fidelity Mutual was then a small regional company with a genius of a leader, Ned Johnson.
All the jobs I’ve taken have to do with corporate governance and financial decision-making.
Why did you write this book?
I discovered that decision-makers in diverse settings – government, entrepreneurial and corporate life – all face the same deluge of information to be processed. Procrastination is everywhere. So the book is about how to approach any kind of work and get things done effectively.
Can you give us a few examples?
First of all, get the small stuff out of the way quickly, and OHIO – Only Handle It Once.
Start at the end. Write the last page of your research, and work backwards. This will help you focus on the information you really need. If you find that you need to draw a different conclusion, do that. Structure helps creativity.
Routinize unimportant things like what to eat for breakfast, so you don’t have to think about them.
Don’t call a meeting unless you have to.
Click here for the Washington Post’s (slightly longer) Q&A with Bob Pozen, posted in November, 2012. And click here for Mr. Pozen’s NY Times article on productivity, published in October 2012.
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