Tag: Humantific Collection

11
Feb

Innovation History Collection

A recent addition to Humantific’s ever growing Innovation History Archive: Alex Osborn’s pioneering 1953 book Applied Creativity made into a two record set in 1964. A very rare find indeed!

Check out that adjustable wrench!

We know you are jealous and wish you could listen to this vintage album along with us.

Humantific has an extensive collection of early innovation literature and materials.

07
Jun

The Power of Your Mind

In 1952, Alex Osborn wrote: “Exercise your imagination — the more creative you become, the more you will get out of life.”

With so much hype around innovation and creativity today, we find it useful to be aware at a deeper level of the history of innovation, applied creativity, creative problem solving and design thinking. There are many overlaps in the history that are quite amazing in retrospect.

Pictured here is a gem from the Humantific Collection. This terrific little booklet by Alex Osborn entitled The Power of Your Mind was published an astonishing 57 years ago in conjunction with his book Wake Up Your Mind also published in 1952.

In the historical publications one can see early acknowledgement of numerous challenges that many organizations and societies still grapple with today.

Like time capsules, the early publications on the subject of applied creativity reveal the optimism of the post-world war two era, a focus on encouraging imagination and the application of creativity in an American business context.

It’s not difficult to see that as early as the 1940’s thought leaders were trying to make the case that American business schools and schools in general get more serious about teaching and encouraging imagination and creative thinking. Evidently many educational institutions including the business schools did not listen to that message for a very long time.

Also revealed in the historical creative problem solving materials are the societal stereotypes of that era. In the early publications women were often depicted as housewives engaged in creative domestic work while men were often depicted as business oriented workers not making effective use of their imaginations.

“Many housewives work their imaginations more than their husbands do.”

Apart from the stereotypes that now seem comical, what is interesting to see is the view into a simpler world, the emphasis on idea finding in the context of product objects, and orientation towards engineering or science. Also fascinating to see is how little some of the problems around changing behaviors in the direction of innovation have changed since Alex Osborn, Sidney Parnes and others began writing about the subject decades ago.

Today organizational leaders face a vastly more complicated world in a state of constant change. Those engaged today in driving organizational change or innovation enabling understand that many organizations have built judgment dominated cultures and simultaneously wonder why no innovation is occurring. How to create more balanced, more innovative cultures remains among the top ten most encountered organizational business challenges even today:

Here is a small sample of Alex Osborn’s 1952 commentary on the subject:

“The thinking mind finds it easier to judge than to create. Nearly all of our education tends to develop our critical faculty. And our experience likewise builds up our judgment…The more we exercise our judgment, the less likely we are to exercise our imagination. By overuse of our judicial power we may even cramp our creative power.”

“Loss of imagination can be even more deplorable than loss of musculation… We can get along with less brawn in our later years but to surmount the obstacles which age piles in our paths we need more than seasoned judgment, we need well trained imagination.”

“When it comes to business, ideas are almost everything. Their value can often exceed that of any asset on any financial statement.”

Also in the early 1950 era materials one can see concern expressed that America was losing its creative edge, perhaps a timeless topic!

“There are many signs that Yankee ingenuity is on the wane — not because we are born with less creative talent, but because we no longer try hard enough to use the talent that is in us… Our softer living numbs our sense of enterprise and deadens our creative spirit.”

With the internet now enabling global interaction and with it built-in judgment functionality, we are interested in how present day and emerging technologies might serve to repair, balance and address several deeply rooted human innovation challenges that have existed for generations.

Being aware of the history of education and innovation helps us and our client partners think about such issues in a context beyond the flavor trend of the moment.

See also: How to Think Up!

Image Source: The Power of Your Mind, 1952, National Research Bureau, Chicago,   Humantific Collection, New York.

 

01
Feb

How to Think UP! 1942

 

In the Humantific Innovation Archives, we have many of the early books and papers from the history of creative thinking, applied imagination, applied creativity, creative problem solving, systems thinking, human intelligence, learning styles, structure of the intellect, etc.

From time to time we will post a few examples here, as these early materials contain many gems in spite of the fact that the world has changed a great deal since they first appeared.

This book How to Think UP, by Alex Osborn, is an early example, as it was published in 1942.

For those interested in understanding such history, these books are wonderful windows into the early thinking based on the context that existed at that time.

At Humantific, we have great respect for this early work, as we all stand on the shoulders of this history whether we know it or not. :-) Written at a different time, we do not have to agree with everything in the materials to appreciate these works.

The early pioneers of creative thinking methods were primarily focused on jumpstarting idea creation, and not on complex challenge/opportunity framing—not on the research and visual sense-making that would now occur as part of framing.

Seeking to encourage imagination, many of these early works are incredibly optimistic regarding American ingenuity and the challenges facing the country and the world. Here, one can see the seeds of the early “everyone can be creative” philosophy, where it came from, and how it was first applied.

Here are a few quotes from How to Think UP:

“When necessity reaches a crisis, the crisis cries out for ideas. American ingenuity is rising to the challenge.”

“Some of life’s stony problems can be cleared away by outside science, others by judgment, but most of them by ideas.”

“Ideas are the priceless keys to good living.”

“The more ideas we can think up, the more satisfying our lives will be.”

“Even old folks can think up things when they try.”

“There is no royal road to creation. The production of ideas can never be a science but will always be an art.”

“Too many employers just ask for ideas without specifying what about. Occasionally a problem is assigned, and ideas are asked for within that limit. Or employees are set to work in a group and asked to think up together. But, by and large, rank-and-file people are nearly always invited simply to pick their own subject and to do their brain-storming on their own.”

“Who can think up ideas? You and every other normally intelligent person. But you have to try.”

“Everybody loves to be a critic or a judge. Judicial judgment calls for no great mental sweat.”

“Ideas more than luck will land the job you want.”

And the all time classic: “If you can’t originate an idea, think up how someone else’s good idea can be turned into a better idea.”

Of course, it is equally interesting to reflect upon the context in which these early works were created.

In the introduction, by Bruce Barton of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn Inc., he writes: “There is so little literature that might help Americans in their endeavor to think up more ideas for the war effort that I persuaded Mr. Osborn to send this manuscript to a publisher. I hope a large number will be circulated in American offices and plants.”

While some innovation consultants remain focused, even today, on ideation techniques, most operating in the realm of organizational and social change understand that much more is now required.

We are, at Humantific, always interested in the past, present and future of innovation. One of our internal projects underway involves researching and constructing a visual timeline that combines the history of the applied creativity movement and the history of the design thinking movement. If anyone else out there is working on such projects please feel free to let us know.

Image Source: Osborn, Alex. How to Think Up! New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book, First Edition, Second Impression, 1942. Humantific Collection, New York.

27
Aug

Data Visualization 1890

Those readers studying the parallel histories of visual sensemaking, information design, information architecture, statistical graphics and or data visualization will know that long before Richard Saul Wurman, Edward Tufte, Karl Weik, Otto Neurath, Gerd Arntz, Isotype Institute, Jacques Bertin, Fritz Kahn, or Willard Brinton came along, there existed various forms of what we now call visual sensemaking or social sensemaking. For decades, it has been a set of professions in constantly changing evolution. It has been referred to by numerous names, fragmented in many directionsfocused in various terrains with different skill-sets, tool-sets and purposes, but the work of unpacking and then explaining complexity has been around for more than 100 years. We love to find and study early visual sensemaking!

Shown here, from the Humantific Collection, are three examples of 19th century sensemaking in the societal context from Rand McNally World Atlas, published in 1890. Inside the atlas are a dozen beautiful diagrams that accompany hundreds of pages of maps and pictorial engravings.

Often, the individual creators’ names have been lost in history, but what they managed to create in 1890 with the tools of that era is rather amazing. Referred to in atlases of the day as “statistical diagrams” or “statistical graphics,” they were often visual depictions of data-driven facts focused on subjects such as Population, Race, Crop Yields, National Debt, Religions, School Enrollment, etc. Also appearing were more abstraction-based depictions (not based on data), such as visualizations of what the Solar System was perceived to be at that time in history.

In these 19th century data visulization examples, you can see the sensemaking device or technique of making comparisons. Depending on the subject, those comparisons might be from country to country, state to state, or year to year. More than one hundred years later, depictions of comparisons remain central to many sensemaking diagrams made today. Professional sensemakers know that comparisons provide context, and context aids in understanding.

As in the majority of data visualization being created today, most 19th century sensemaking work seen in atlases was focused on depicting past and present states.  At Humantific, we call these pictures of Yesterday and Today.

Also fascinating is that more than one hundred years after these 1890s visual comparison models were published, the American organizational theorist Karl Weick was speculating, in a rather non-visual 1995ish way, on the dimensions of sensemaking in organizations, pointing out that in order to give meaning to the present, humans compare it to similar events from their past. Many such unsyncronized realizations can be found in the various literatures.

In the 19th century, thinking about what we might be tomorrow and then moving towards that picture was not part of the statistical diagrams business, as it is for some, but not all sensemakers today. The truth is, a significant part of the now-very-popular data visualization community is still generating pictures of yesterday and today, not fully understanding what is missing.

Of course, one can generate pictures of yesterday and today from data sets, but creating pictures of tomorrow requires additional dimensions of skill in the mix, including applied imagination, and cocreation.

Effectively cocreating such visual pictures in real time with humans from multiple disciplines in the room requires additional skill dimensions that were not in the mix in 1890, and in some circles are just being recognized today. Today at Humantific, we integrate past, present, and future visual realizations as part of cocreated change making. For more than 15 years, we have been operating on the understanding that data visualization, in itself, is not enough to drive and ensure changemaking. In the real world, 99.9% of the time, change making has to be socially constructed. In other words, it has to be cocreated. This is part of the everyday bridging work that we love to do.

Viewing historical examples of data visualization in person, having original material on hand helps to inspire and inform how we think about our own work today and to better understand how its different!

Images Source: Rand, McNally. New Standard Atlas of the World. Rand, McNally and Company.  Chicago: The Continental Publishing Company, 1890. Diagrams by Unknown. Humantific Collection, New York.