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Giving Thanks to the Original Innovators of The Americas

Dear Readers,

As yet another Columbus Day is about to be observed in the U.S.,
I'm reposting this article for you
from my current location in the city named after
the ever wise Chief Seattle.

I wrote this blog post two years ago
in honor of those
whom
we actually should be celebrating. 

Please share it with others. 
This is yet another piece of history, our-story,
that we all should know.

And may the second Monday of every October
soon be resurrected and known officially as
Indigenous People's Day!


I am no fan of the Columbus Day holiday that is still unfortunately observed in the U.S.  My hope is that in time this day will instead honor the 2.5 million Native Americans or American Indians who are all who remain in the U.S. of the 50-100 million inhabitants of the Americas who were here when the European invasion and genocide began.

And so today, on this Columbus Day, in recognition that he did not "discover" America, I choose to honor a some of the countless, little known innovations made by the wonderfully creative indigenous Americans that have ultimately benefitted the entire planet.

  • Almanacs: Containing meteorological and astronomical information, these were invented by the Mayans around 3,500 years ago.
  • Calendars: Developed throughout N. America, Mesoamerica, and S. America, used since 600 BCE. So precise that by the 5th century BCE they were only 19 minutes off!
  • Chewing gum: Made from the spruce tree in New England. The Mayans were the first people to make it from latex gum.
  • Long-fiber cotton: Its export helped to fuel much of the Industrial Revolution throughout the world.
  • Embalming: Egyptians began their mummification around 2000 BCE, 3000 years after the Chinchoro of S. America began the practice.
  • Foods, Glorious Foods!

Approximately 60% of the food upon which the world’s population depends was developed centuries ago by American Indian agrarians who domesticated crops including: six species of maize/corn (150 varieties), five major species of beans, hundreds of varieties of potatoes, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, a range of nuts, avocado, wild rice, and more.

Popular snack foods derived from American Indian agriculture include potato chips, french fries, and popcorn.

And where oh where would humanity be without chocolate (Mayan and Aztec) and Screen shot 2011-10-03 at 3.28.19 AM
vanilla?!

  • Gold plating – The Moche (Peru) dissolved gold using an Alum/Saltpetre/Salt mixture which was then deposited onto copper vessels.
  • The Incan highway system with roads and bridges all up and down South America and foot messengers who would have put the Greek marathon runners to shame.
  • Medicines: Aztecs far surpassed simply knowing which bark made good aspirin or could be used to for quinine to treat malaria, or which berries treated scurvy. Using their sophisticated obsidian knives, Azteks knew how to perform a variety of surgeries, from the mundane to brain surgery.
  • Anesthetics: American Indians used coca, peyote, datura and other plants for partial or total loss of sensation or consciousness during surgery, whereas non-Indian doctors didn’t have effective anesthetics until after the mid-19th century. Other medicines include Novacaine, syrup of ipecac, and astringents.
  • Political theory: The Iroquois Confederacy of upstate New York represented a union of six tribes. Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers borrowed heavily from the democratic Iroquois “federal system” of government when they planned the union that became the United States. The U.S. Constitution bears more resemblance Screen shot 2011-10-09 at 10.56.32 PM to the model of the League of the Iroquois than the Greek Senate or English House of Lords. The whole idea of a balance of powers, of electing representatives, of governing by consensus all came from the Indians who were generally ruled, not by a “Big Chief,” but rather by a council of elders.
  • Rubber products: Rubber balls, rubber balloons: The Olmec (Mexico) produced rubber balls by mixing rubber tree sap and latex around 1700 BCE. Along with the Maya, they discovered the process of vulcanization in waterproofing such items as capes, shoes, bottles, tarpaulins, ponchos, and baskets.
  • Sports: Field and ice hockey and lacrosse (Canadian First Nations). Basketball was played by the Olmec over 3,000 years ago following their invention of the rubber ball.
  • Sciences: The science of ecology as well as the American Indian belief system teaches that all life is interrelated and interdependent. This relationship is expressed in American Indian oral traditions and conservation practices.
  • American Indian mathematic achievements include the development of highly accurate calendars and place value arithmetic. The Mayans of southern Mexico and Central America were the first people to use the concept of zero in mathematical calculations.

Also:

  • Diapers, asphalt, megaphones, hair conditioner, hammocks, the spinning top, sunscreen, syringe needles, petroleum jelly, and freeze-drying foods such as meat jerky.

Much is owed the the indigenous peoples of the Americas. –This includes acknowledgement of their immense creative and innovative genius.
Speaking of which, I want to thank Northern Cheyenne artist Christopher Rowland for use of his wonderful paintings, titles listed in order, below. To see more of his work, go to http://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.56597471651.78999.570531651&type=3.

 

For those who wish to support the human, legal, and economic rights
of our living, breathing, fellow American
indigenous brothers and sisters,
the following organizations work diligently on their behalves
and need us to give back, in whatever ways that we can:

And one organization that supports American Indian innovation initiatives:

Screen shot 2011-10-09 at 10.52.42 PM

 

"Gifts" 70"x40" oil on canvas (1991).

"Little Man" 48"x36" oil on canvas (1997). Son of Scalp Cane, Northern Cheyenne.

"Blessings" 28"x22" oil on canvas (2005). Buffalo Calf Trail Woman, a warrior woman of the Northern Cheyenne.

Dear Readers,

I promised that our next post was to be on ideas on how to foster the creative collaboration that is foundational to innovation in organizations.  I also had some other posts lined up for some logical progression.

However, my time will be very limited for the next several weeks because a U.S. government training project for our returning military personnel is calling upon my creative skills.  Imagine that!  😉 — Did I mention that I design and deliver training programs?

In the meantime, I will share a couple of articles that I find of interest that tie directly into what we're exploring together in this forum, which, in simple mathematical formulation can be summarized as:

   Curiosity Creativity
x Good Management (Respect + Support)
= GENIUS!  

(Yes, I actually made that up on the spot, and math isn't even my strong suit.  😉 )

Look for themes below that tie back to previous posts.  Again, it can all tie back to our earlier posts on the 2010 IBM CEO report on best practices for organizations that want to thrive and key points we reviewed from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci:

  • Einstein never squelched the innate curiosity that we all were born with.  He just loved to learn and explore; that was his primary drive.
  • He didn't grow up in a family who's main preoccupation in life was looking good and fitting in.  Modus operandi such as that does not generally foster original thinking.  Integrity does.
  • He wasn't afraid to experiment and (gasp!) fail as a means of learning what didn't work, so he could ultimately uncover what did.
  • He used "whole brain thinking" with the music; let his mind wander with daydreaming and unrelated things while his subconscious continued to problem solve; he was suspicious of the convergent "single answer" thinking encouraged in many of our schools and organizations; and, I like this one, he believed we could learn about the spiritual realities (or, for those who prefer, God) by paying attention to the world around us.  — A very worthwhile pursuit.

Namaste!  EnJOY!

 

How Einstein Got So Smart – 10 Learning Hacks
Einstein Got So SmartHow would you feel if many people thought you were the smartest person in history? How might your life be different if you actually were that intelligent? Although we often think of Albert Einstein as one of the smartest people ever, we don’t investigate what it was that made him so. People who speak highly of him often attribute his genius to some mysterious gift. They don’t believe his smarts came from a certain attitude about learning. I believe you can recreate some of his habits to get smarter and find more rewarding work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Einstein…the Failure?

Before you get the list of Einstein’s learning habits, consider some interesting facts about his early life. These things set the stage for appreciating his educational philosophy a little more.

  • Although he worked in engineering, Einstein’s father failed at several business ventures and had to depend on relatives for support.
  • When Einstein’s father asked his son’s headmaster what profession the boy should adopt, he said, “It doesn’t matter; he’ll never make a success of anything.”
  • He failed his first admissions examination to the Swiss scientific school he wanted to attend.
  • Some family friends told Einstein’s parents, “That young man will never amount to anything because he can’t remember anything.”
  • After graduating from the university, Einstein was denied a low-level teaching position there. (Other friends in his graduating class did get teaching positions.)
  • Many scientists and professors stonewalled his requests to work for them.
  • Einstein struggled for a few years to even find decent employment and finally got work as a third-class government patent examiner.

These things represent just a taste of the irony about his early life. Looking back – in light of his eventually recognized genius – these facts even seem humorous.

10 Things Einstein Did to Get So Smart

From what I can find, no one has compiled details about how Einstein actually studied. I doubt that his true genius was even observable to the eye anyhow. The real accomplishments went on inside his mind. I suspect his brain looked no different than ours; and genetically, nothing seemed remarkable. So, to benefit from his example, we need to look as much at his character and philosophy about learning.

1) He daydreamed and contemplated
Who has the right to say what is absentmindedness and what is pure genius? What others labeled as forgetful or even spacey, Einstein knew to be some of his most insightful, creative brainstorming sessions.

2) He Rubbed Shoulders with the Best and Brightest
Especially after his reputation became known, Einstein sought out the instruction and mentorship of the smartest people in his field, like Max Planck. If he didn’t get to know these people personally, he studied their writing and research.

3) Einstein Cross-Trained
He learned to play the violin well and loved the mathematical structure of music. He used music as a “psychological safety valve” throughout his life.

4) He Trusted His Own Curiosity
One legendary story says that his father gave him a compass when he was five years old. After lengthy observation, Einstein figured out that some outside force was acting on the needle to keep it pointed in the same direction.

5) He Maintained a Deep Suspicion of Educational Authority
Too many teachers, even in our day, feel you should believe what they say because, “I said so.” While they claim that “thinking for yourself” is part of the curriculum, their own biases and the school system’s structure discourage independent thought.

6) Einstein Nourished a “Radical Inquiring Attitude”
A Chinese proverb reads, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” True learning requires exploring assumptions and other facts that many take for granted.

7) Einstein Designed His Own Curriculum
He had friends at the university take notes in class for him while he was away reading his preferred “extracurricular” books or journals on physics and mathematics.

8) He Relied on Faith to Learn
Einstein’s faith was that by inquiry and discipline you could learn things about invisible objects or phenomena. His “God” was not arbitrary and conformed to natural, discoverable laws.

9) He Avoided Preoccupation with Trivial Things in Life
How much time would Einstein spend on YouTube or Facebook if he were around today? His mind reverted consistently to “exploring and understanding the physical world.” What do you think about when you have nothing else to think about? Einstein’s discoveries didn’t come easily; they came from discipline!

10) Einstein Was an Autodicact. 
As one biographer (Ronald W. Clark) wrote, he “found his real education elsewhere, in his own time.” Schooling provided the basic building blocks of language and concepts, but Einstein’s initiative took his learning far beyond the limits of academics.

Einstein's Learning Hacks - Free Infographic
Get this high resolution graphic (pdf) on Einstein’s Learning Hacks – for free!

Read more: http://www.betterlearningbetterearning.com/posts/success-stories/84-einstein-learning-hacks.html#ixzz1UgyQkAwp

 

I recently posted about the “Creative Geniuses” that are found throughout Jester organizations.  Again, each of us carries creativity within us.  Some of us may need coaxing in order for our creativity to reemerge.  For all, a certain amount of support and structures are needed in order for our ideas to manifest.

In the recent "Leader as Conductor," post, I outlined some specific ways that managers can foster innovation in organizations.  But in what capacities?  In his terrific white paper, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” Langdon Morris of InnovationLabs outlines two other essential types of roles necessary to create an innovative culture:  “Innovation Champions” and “Innovation Leaders.”  

 Innovation Champions:  They support innovation by helping creative people overcome the obstacles that otherwise inevitably impede their innovation efforts.

Innovation Leaders:  They define firms’ expectations and policies to favor innovation. 

Working in partnership, these two distinct role models set the stage for creating the environment to grow, direct, and apply the creative genius within an organization.  As Mr. Morris writes, “The genius of firms like Apple, Cisco, and Toyota… [is that] their leaders seem to have found a way to standardize the process of innovation.”  

INNOVATION CHAMPIONS build the practical means for effective innovation by:
  • “Finding creative thinkers and encouraging them [often through coaching and mentoring] to think and work in new ways” or to "seek new experiences that spark new ideas;“ and
  • “They create a regular operations context in which sharing and developing new ideas is the norm.” 

Champions might have any title in the organization, from that of senior manager to front line operations staff.  Regardless of title, they “provide the bridge between the strategic directives of senior managers and the day-to-day focus of front line workers.”

“Hewlett Packard’s MBWA (mgt.-by-walking-around) was a great innovation champion technique for learning about innovation efforts and supporting them.”

Innovation champions “are usually persistent networkers… [who] know what’s going on many levels.”  They know who has the skills, talents, and resources; who needs what; what’s not working, and what can be done to move the process forward.

In his best-seller book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell outlines three roles he sees as key to the success of ideas taking hold in organizations.  As Mr. Morris sees it, all three of these mantles are embodied in effective innovation champions:

  • Mavens who have deep knowledge that they are keen to share.
  • Salesmen who like to influence others to take action.
  • Connectors who have strong relationships with many people.
     

Collaboration & Trust:
Champions forge collaboration and trust while also helping to develop infrastructures that support innovation.  This includes creating environments that allow for the face-to-face partnering that is indispensable.  “They build collaboration, and they build the trust upon which effective collaboration occurs.  Innovation is a collaborative endeavor… There is little innovation without collaboration, and there is no collaboration without trust.”

Film edit director All the World's a Stage…
My undergraduate degree was in theater (Go, University of Detroit!).  As one whose right brain is well developed and who naturally thinks in terms of connections and similarities, I'll share how I see the roles of champions and leaders in terms of the parts they would play in artistic productions, as in theater or film. 

I envision the role of champions as similar to that of theater or film directors.  Collaboratively honing the production vision, they take the various tools and perimeters; the scripts and story-lines; the stage/sets, budgets, and timelines given to them by the producers; the talents, experience, strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of the actors, design and crews — and they orchestrate all of these.

Sometimes, depending on the size and budget of the production, the role of director is shared and divided among various people who serve as executive director, art director, assistant director, etc.  Similarly, there is (or should be) more than one champion within an organization.

Champions and directors work with "the talent" to create a shared, organic vision and then to manifest it.  While keeping their focus on the progress of the various production teams, they also work closely with the individuals.  They coach the actors to explore and hone their roles and to interact in the most effective ways with the other cast members.  They work similarly with the design and set crews.   

Key to the success of many directors is that they develop trusting relationships with the various individual artists in order to bring out the best in their talents, while building the collaboration and high trust that is needed for great ensemble productions and (what is called in the non-theater world) high-functioning teams.

Enter the other indispensable player… 
INNOVATION LEADERS influence the core structures and the basic operations of an organization in order to support innovation.  Such core structures include:

  • The design of the organization
  • Policies and underlying principles – “The Rules of the Game”
  • Metrics and rewards.

In keeping with my theater arts metaphor, I think of innovation leaders as the "producers."  Without a producer’s backing, there will be no show.  Producers don't have to be particularly creative themselves, and they don't need to be involved in a hands-on manner.  Nonetheless, they either "set the stage," or else they sabotage the production by the resources they provide (or fail to) and the perimeters they establish.  Some leaders are creative themselves and will be involved artistically, just as some producers are.  (Examples of top leaders with a hands-on approach: Immelt at GE and Iger at Disney, who has helped to design games himself.)

Given that innovation needs to be treated as a strategic concern, “innovation leaders are typically, though not exclusively, senior managers” who have the authority to make key decisions, related to questions such as:

  • Do budgets include a line item such as “investment in innovation”? 
  • Are there seed funds to invest in promising new ideas, or teams of people to manage ideas that do not fit inside existing business units?
    — If not, then innovation isn’t likely to happen.

In his book, Permanent Innovation, Mr. Morris asserts, “There is no innovation without leadership… Top managers can be powerful champions of innovation, or dark clouds of suppression…. They [need to] work diligently to eliminate the many obstacles that otherwise impede or even crush both creativity and innovation.”  

In closing, dear audience… 

Hat’s off to those Champions and Leaders who orchestrate creative genius and make the great innovations that move us all forward possible!

 

English miss

(Blog author, on another stage, long ago… )

 

Click on the link to download a free copy of Langdon Morris' excellent book:  Permanent Innovation: The Essential Guide to the Strategies, Principles, and Practices of Successful Innovators

And for his white paper: "Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders"

 

 

 

 

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