Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is Creativity?

Attempts to define creativity, predictably, have begun with attempts at some sort of measurement. "Let's count the number of ideas produced by a group under the following control conditions, either singly or in combination: number of participants, activity of participants, temperature of the room, ethnic, age, gender, and hierarchical diversity, etc., etc."

Ideas are, of course, only ideas. Unless they lead to a new product, a new business strategy, a new ad campaign, nothing has been created.

"So let's measure the success of the new products created by the group in terms of number of sales, net revenue, longevity in the market, etc."

But then we'd have to account for a number of external variables, ranging from the weather to interest rates, none of which have anything to do with the creativity we're trying to measure.

And what about writers, who work alone? Do we measure their creativity by how long it takes them to write a book? By how many books they sell? Are we able to compare one writer's creativity with another's? Say, David Sedaris's creativity with William Shakespeare's?

Creativity is sort of like the sky. We know that it exists, so we've given it a name. But we don't know how to define it. What properties does it have? What limitations? Where does it originate?

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Negative Emotions

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disconnect in our thinking about emotions - on the one hand, we're coming to believe that emotional intelligence is an important business skill; on the other hand, displaying emotions in a business situation is a negative. Translation: We should become adept at reading the emotions of others, but also adept at hiding our own emotions from others.

Here's another anomaly: anger and fear are usually labeled "negative emotions." Organized religions call for their suppression, at the same time they are encouraging their followers to fear whatever gods they worship. Because those same gods will be wrathful if their laws and rules are not obeyed. Translation: We don't have the right to be angry, anger is the purview of the gods. We don't have the right to fear anything or anyone except our gods.

Balderdash. (A great word, with lots of the same consonants as b.s., yet usable anywhere.) We're born with the ability to feel and express anger. (What? You've never seen a baby's red, howling face?) We're born with the ability to feel and express fear. (You don't think children should be taught to stay away from fire?)

Both anger and fear are positive for our well-being, for our very lives. They are protective in nature, not negative. They're impossible to eliminate. If we're not allowed to recognize them, they'll just hang around, causing mayhem in our muscles and nervous systems.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sharing With, Not Giving To an Audience.

My client with the interesting questions had a couple of new ones yesterday:

Q: Music has given me moments of ecstasy all life. Throughout my career I've tried to give others those ecstatic experiences, but I don't think it's working. Why not?

A: Your emotional biography is different from any other person's, so you can't "give" anyone else your moment of ecstasy. Example: In the audience for Othello is a man who believes his wife is having an affair. Sitting behind him is a man who believes he was unfairly passed over for a promotion. That man's wife is having an affair and is worried her husband has found out. All three people will have an intense emotional response, but each response will be different.

If you share your emotional experience of music with your audience - share with, not give to - what you are giving them is the opportunity to have their own personal emotional responses. Not yours, theirs.

The qualifier here is that the actor, the musician, the promoter of an ad campaign, the politician must be sharing an authentic emotional experience of their own in order to activate authentic experiences in their audiences. Example: Medea, a play filled with horror from beginning to end, can evoke an audience's laughter if it is not acted and directed authentically.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Emotion as a Disadvantage?

In 1970, Dr. Edgar Berman, confidant of a U.S. Vice President and advisor to many congressional committees and commissions, declared that "raging hormonal influences" during menstruation and menopause made women unfit for positions of power.

In 1985, I was fired for "being too emotional." I gave my boss several instances in which he had relied on my intuition, empathy, etc., during the five years I had been with the company. He acknowledged that my "emotions" had provided value in each instance, but I was, nonetheless, fired. It turned out that office politics were the reason behind my sudden unemployment but, to my boss's mind, emotions were a sufficient explanation.

In 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, women were paid 78% of what men were paid. Why? Because we're (supposedly) more sensitive, empathic, and intuitive, and those attributes aren't valued?

Yesterday, an extraordinarily intelligent woman, who has degrees from top universities and speaks 7 languages, told me she thought Hilary Clinton wasn't emotionally stable enough to be President.

And yet, the increase in recent decades of diagnoses along the autism spectrum, particularly in boys, in which difficulties in processing emotions is one of the symptoms is given as a valid reason to avoid vaccinating children against life-threatening diseases.

How crazy is this? On the one hand, we're terrified by the lack of emotional intelligence and, on the other, we consider emotional intelligence a disadvantage.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Source Memory

A New York Times article (2/15/15, p. SR12) about our relative inability to remember the sources of our memories led me to a few questions. The two studies referenced in the article asked college students to read historical essays and then view movie clips in which the same historical events were inaccurately presented. When tested, the subjects believed a third of the inaccurate "facts" from the movie clips, rather than the essays they'd read. Even though they'd been warned that the films were inaccurate.

The article went on to a discussion of source memory, which is known to be fragile and unreliable. The author, and perhaps the researchers, did not take into account the difference between our emotional engagement in a film vs. an essay that I presume was written for college level students. Such essays are dedicated to presenting data, and they very often deliberately avoid any emotional involvement of the reader, lest the author be accused of being too "popular."

But data by itself seldom has any meaning for us beyond the next exam. Unless it has an emotional component. I'm a footnote junkie. Several decades ago, my college drama textbook said that the French dramatist, Corneille, had left Paris for political reasons and had written nothing after 1650. Those "facts" have since been corrected, but at the time none of the reference books listed in the syllabus contradicted our textbook. There was, however, a footnote that led me to research that period of French history and to discover what Corneille had been writing during the decade that followed his exile. And to a Eureka! sense of discovery. And meaning.

Do we remember only what has meaning for us? Or do we only store retrievable memories that have an emotional component? And what does that tell us about our belief systems?


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Power of Silence

Vicki's comment, as usual, is worth a post.

When Vicki pays attention to what her voice is telling her - not to talk - she's right on. Our bodies do pick up on energy that is antagonistic, or self-aggrandizing, or a wall that can't be breached. Silent energy, but nonetheless powerful in it's message that communication is not possible.

Several decades ago I attended a leadership workshop for entrepreneurs where I was stunned to learn that one of my talents was not to talk, but to observe and then summarize what everyone else had said. What? I was a performer, a teacher. I had thought I was failing because I hadn't contributed to the discussion.

As soon as we're enrolled in school, our grades suffer if we don't participate in class discussion. We learn to attach a value to talking, and to believe that we won't be valued in a business meeting, for example, unless we talk. So what a great lesson to learn in that workshop that observant silence was a talent.

Thinking about silence led me to dig up an old article on that subject:

"I'm curious if one can own the silence between songs in a strong way.  To recognize that the silence is good and important.” (A question from the lead singer in a local rock band.)

Most people, not just performers, think of silence as an empty space that has to be filled. Musicians have the opposite problem: the symbols for silence in a musical score are called “rests,” leading us to think that we should drop out, that if we have a whole page of rests, we might as well pick up a book.

Silence is more than the absence of sound. We use “dead silence” to describe a problem with an electronic device, but we also use it to describe a shocked silence or an embarrassed silence. So silence has an emotional content. We differentiate between “a heavy silence” and “a soft silence.” So silence has a discernible density. We can use silence to agree or disagree with an argument or a vote. So silence can have a meaning that is recognizable and recorded in the minutes of a meeting.
If silence has emotional content, density and meaning, then silence is neither a void nor a rest, but a form of communication.
Silence is used as a powerful tool by professionals in many fields. A theatre director may ask the actors to take a “beat” after a line. He intends to use a moment of silence to draw the audience’s attention to the previous line, to make it more important. A film director will often use silence, rather than music, to heighten horror  or suspense. A trial attorney may use a nonchalant silence, implying that she is finished with a witness, before she turns and throws her “zinger” question.

The directors are using silence to heighten the attention of the audience; the attorney is using silence to relax the attention of the witness. Performers can also use silence both ways.

How a performer uses silence is a matter of style. An orchestra conductor may want complete silence before she begins, and will wait and wait and wait on the podium until she can feel that she has it. John Nelson, on the other hand, rushes on stage, picks up his baton, and gives the downbeat, gathering the audience through speed and his own energy.

Some performers will use silence after a song in order to prepare the audience to move from, for example, sadness and loss, to the upbeat song that will follow. Others want to move as quickly as possible into the next number. Still others want to use patter or tell stories to bridge numbers.

Some performers will use silence to release some of the audience’s attentive energy at the end of a set or performance. Others will finish big, with the expectation that the audience’s response will release energy.

Performers can use silence to pick up, hold, and release an audience. They can use silence to communicate with an audience–Pay attention here! or Wait, here comes the laugh line! They can also use silence to gather information from the audience–Is it an uncomfortable silence? Is it an on-the-edge-of-the-seat silence?–and can respond accordingly.

Because silence is a form of communication, both performer and audience can “own” any silence during a performance. But because performance is a specialized form of communication, the audience will be more comfortable if the performer is in control of the silence, is using it with intent.

That intent will determine how “good and important” a silence is.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Another Thought about the Relationship of Voice and Power

Last week I wrote about academic studies that connected male (but not female) low-pitched voices to power, money, and leadership. Here's another thought:

The range of pitches at which we speak is technically determined by the length and thickness of our vocal cords. Longer, thicker cords can produce lower pitches. Young boys and girls speak at about the same pitch level, until boys reach puberty and their vocal cords begin to lengthen and thicken.

I received a note from a kindergarten teacher complaining that my daughter spoke at "too low a pitch." Nonsense. I'm a contralto, her father was a bass so, genetically, it's likely that our daughter's vocal cords were slightly longer and thicker at birth than those of the other girls in her class.       

But there's another element at play here. Children learn to speak, not by imitating sounds, but by imitating the muscle movements of their primary caretakers. I'm a trained singer, so the movements my daughter was imitating when she learned to speak were different than those of her classmates' mothers.

And here we get to the problem in many of the research studies: A well-produced voice is dependent, not on the vocal cords, but on the size, texture, and shape of the resonating chambers of the body. If the body isn't open to the sound waves produced by the vocal cords, the listener will perceive the speaker as having any number of unattractive attributes - shallow, too tightly controlled, narcissistic, are only a few examples. 

How we hold our bodies, our posture, is the physical representation of our emotional state. Our voices are the aural representation of our bodies, and therefore our emotions. If a man walks into an interview with a weak neck (which subconsciously is perceived as subservient), it won't matter a bean how low his voice is pitched.