Friday, May 27, 2011

Five Common Mistakes Business Leaders Make About Innovation

Five Common Mistakes Business Leaders Make About Innovation from the WSJ. Number 1 is very important to understand. You cannot predict what is inherently unpredictable. There are no hard numbers for something nobody has ever seen. Take it from a creative person: you cannot predict what works and what doesn't. Your customers are a fickle bunch.

Music Is Education

My latest contribution to Music Together Dallas. It is also being distributed as a flier.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Ideas Are Generated

Steven Johnson on how ideas are generated. He also discusses this idea in a WSJ article. There is a continuity between natural creativity and human creativity. Understanding one helps one to understand the other.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Music Together Dallas

I am proud to announce that Music Together Dallas has become a client of Camplin Creative Consulting. I am working with them on promotion, advertising, and retention strategies.

An Interview -- of Me

I have been interviewed by Allen Mendenhall at The Literary Lawyer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Strength in Numbers, Weakness in Collectives

More evidence that groupthink tends to take over, preventing the best ideas from emerging. In this case, the article argues that the Wisdom of Crowd phenomenon disappears if we learn what others are thinking. Nothing like peer pressure -- even unseen peer pressure, when the peers aren't putting any pressure on you at all -- to disrupt variety and creativity. People want to be like everyone else. Unfortunately, this can result in less than optimal solutions and less accurate information and predictions.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Music Can Spark Creativity in Math and Science

Music can spark creativity in math and science. While this may seem mostly relevant to education, the fact that music is related to creativity should catch the attention of businesses who employ creative workers. As Parag Chordia, director of the Music Intelligence Lab at Georgia Tech, observes,

To be a great engineer; to really produce innovative products and to advance the frontiers of science, you have to be creative. And it's not just that music is a diversion or an extracurricular, but it's actually something that's fundamental to life and mind.

Employees should be encouraged to listen to, play, and understand the nature of music. One can make the same argument for employees reading, writing, and understanding the nature of literature, particularly poetry, for the same reason: both music and literature emphasize patterns, improving pattern-matching and -formation, and they also improve retention.

Chordia also observes that, "Creativity lies at the heart of the modern economy."

The entire article is worth reading.

The Success of Failure

If you are afraid to fail, you are afraid to succeed. If you are afraid to risk failure, you will fail to take the risks necessary to succeed. Tim Harford explains the importance of failure, and the right attitude toward failure. Just as importantly, learn how to spot failure and change early. If your firm is sufficiently robust, give your employees the room to fail -- and you will discover great success. While startups are often born from risk-taking, the older a company gets, the less likely they are to take risks. This is unfortunate, as many of these firms have the robustness to absorb much risk-taking and failure. If you want your firm to come alive, risk failure.

The Beauty of the Firm

I have mentioned below that I would discuss topics such as self-organization/spontaneous order and aesthetics (beauty). What I did not mention was that everything on the list is deeply interconnected. For example, one of the features of Austrian economics is the centrality of spontaneous order to that theoretical tradition. Understanding spontaneous orders is important if you want to understand how the economy works, and it can even help one to understand how larger, more complex firms can work most efficiently (noting that firms are, in the end, not really spontaneous orders, though they can approximate them).

So how is self-organization related to beauty? A thing is beautiful if it is paradoxical. Beauty has or contains the following features:

Complexity within Simplicity

Digital-Analog (particular individuals that can coordinate their actions)

Emergent from Conflict

Evolutionary (changes over time)

Generative and Creative

Hierarchical Organization

Play (a nonserious thing done seriously)

Reflexivity or Feedback



Scalar Self-Similarity


Unity in Multiplicity

These are also features of self-organizing processes. Christian Fuchs lists the following features as aspects of self-organization:



Cohesion (digial-analog)


Bottom-up Emergence

Downward Causation


Feedback Loops, Circular Causality


Relative Chance


Globalization and Localization

Unity in Plurality (Generality and Specificity)

And for Emergence, he lists the following aspects:

Synergism (productive interaction between parts)






If we compare the lists, we can see the correlation between self-organizing complex systems/processes and beauty. Each have the same attributes. "Cognition, co-operation and communication are phenomena that can be found in different forms in all self-organizing systems. Information is a relationship that exists as a relationship between specific organizational units of matter (Fuchs). All beautiful objects are information-generating processes, and all successful firms are, in the broadest definition of the term, information-generating processes (if you inform something, you give it form -- and giving things new forms is what any business does). And to the extent that something is a self-organizing process, it is beautiful. Thus, understanding the nature of beauty helps one to understand whether or not you have a healthy, productive, profitable firm.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Emotional Control and Working Memory Capacity

The ideal employee for most people is one who is in control of their emotions, stay calm under stressful situations, and are able to accept critical feedback. How does one get such employees? By determining if they have a large working memory capacity. Recent research shows that people with large working memory capacities are more in control of their emotions, deal best with stress, and deal well with critical feedback.

Of course, it's not so easy to determine who has a large working memory capacity. Considering that simultaneously taking notes while listening to a lecture is the kind of multitasking that demonstrates large working memory capacity, one would think that anyone who successfully finished college has demonstrated their working memory capacity is large, the fact of widespread grade inflation in colleges undermines this as a reliable measure. The article gives another way of testing, though:

To determine WMC, participants were asked to solve mathematical problems while remembering words; those who had the most correct were identified as having a higher WMC.

This is a pretty easy test to administer, and it tells you a lot about your employee or potential employee.

The ability to control one's emotions should be obvious in its benefits. Further, the first step in changing one's behavior is to be able to take criticism well. Such employees are likely to be able to learn from feedback better than those with smaller working memory capacity.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Guide Your Employees; Don't Rule Them

Google CEO Eric Schmidt argues that

People are going to do what they are going to do, and you’re there to assist them. They don’t need me, they are going to do it anyway. They are going to do it for their whole lives. Maybe they could use a little help from me. At Google, we give the impression of not managing the company because we don’t really. It sort of has its own borg-like quality if you will. It sort of just moves forward.

Peter Klein points out that

Google makes extensive use of teams, information sharing, and delegation, and the firm has a fairly flat organizational structure.

and that for Google, managers are coordinators, not dictators. Further,

As with 3M, Google allows engineers to spend 20 percent of their time on their own projects. Still, these projects are subject to approval and monitoring.

I am sure that this means that the project should probably have something to do with the internet and programming, rather than, say, developing a new way of analyzing literature using Austrian economics, but it is still notable that employees are allowed to work on their own projects. This benefits Google because it encourages creativity among its employees -- which is of course vital in a company where creativity is the driving force. And who knows what of those personal projects might turn into something Google can use. This is something all companies should keep in mind.

Further, the idea that corrdination rather than control should be the dominant management style is one particularly beneficial in creative work -- but is also useful in all sections of the economy. Micromanagement and direct control over the actions of employees is one of the least efficient ways of doing things -- central planning and control is inefficient in both firms and economies. General rules that create guidelines for employees work best. Employees need to be able to maximally use their local knowledge, their situational knowledge, to do their jobs best and most efficiently.

Stress Kills Learning and Memory

I have already discussed the fact that lack of sleep affects memory and thinking, but we must remember, too that, stress -- even short-term stress -- also affects memory and learning. We are not talking about mere pressure to get things done by a deadline. No, we are talking about fight-and-flight stress. The things that make employees fearful and defensive.

It is not hard to imagine the following cycle:

An employee forgets to do something. His boss tells him that if he forgets again, his job is in jeopardy. The employee, now stressed, forgets something else. The employee gets written up and warned that if he forgets again, he will definitely lose his job. The employee's stress is increased even more. Since stress affects memory, what do you think is the likelihood he will forget again? Certainly the pressure to remember that thing may override the stress, but the stress is likely to make the employee forget other things. Chasing after the employee on each of these things only makes the employee more and more stressed, and forget more and more things. It becomes a vicious cycle, ending in the employee's termination.

Now, one may just shrug one's shoulders and say, "Well, I can always hire someone else." Which is true. But you may have run off what was once a good employee (before the increases in stress made him a bad one), and it costs to train someone else. Not to mention the costs incurred from the forgetfulness of the employee in question.

This is not to say that you should just let things go. Hardly. But at the same time, management must never forget the history of the employee in question. Keeping things in context, and letting the employee know you are doing so, can help one to correct without creating stress.

Above I was discussing the creation of stress in an individual employee -- but it is just as important to keep a stress-free environment as much as possible for everyone. High-stress environments create high leels of cortisol in people, and that obstructs the laying down of new memories. In other words, it blocks learning. Particularly in creative work, this is highly detrimental to the bottom line, to have one's employees less able to learn -- let alone to remember. Productivity gains can be made by simply trying to make sure the environment is as stress-free as possible (and making sure everyone gets plenty of sleep helps too).

Friday, May 6, 2011

On the Nature of Beauty

In your advertising, do you use people who are beautiful or who are attractive? You may wonder what's the difference, but it turns out that people distinguish between the two. And it turns out that attractiveness is, well, more attractive for your ads.

The article discusses human beauty and attractiveness, but when it comes to advertising, beauty is an important element that many may not take into serious consideration. We accept the idea that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," but this is in fact not really true. There is an underlying concept of beauty that is universal. One of the benefits of this kind of beauty is that is pulls a person into the work and makes the person remember it. True beauty makes you want to reproduce what is seen. One can begin to imagine the viral potential, then, of a beautiful ad.

But do you know what true beauty is?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Companies' Internalizing Education

Companies may need to start internalizing the education of their employees. How many companies hire college graduates who can neither write, create a coherent argument, nor be persuasive? More, these same employees are convinced they can do all three.

But internalizing employee education will accomplish nothing if teachers are hired who do not have the right understanding of the importance of grammar, logic, and persuasion. It is likely one can find many teachers who believe in persuasion, or rhetoric, but who do not understand the important of the former two, even as they are of central importance to being persuasive. And even those who believe in rhetoric do not believe all aspects of rhetoric are important. One can break rhetoric down into its own three elements: ethics, logic, and emotion. It is sad to say, but one would be hard-pressed to find a rhetoric teacher who believed ethics was at all important. I have already mentioned their rejection of logic. And that leaves us with nothing but emotion. Arguments are reduced to either "do as I say, or else" or emotional manipulations, which can range from overwhelming the person with sympathy or pity for one's situation to accusations of racism, sexism, or homophobia just for disagreeing.

Thus it is important to be sure the person you hire to teach your employees how to write have, unlike too many of their college professor colleagues, the right philosophy of writing. In other words, they must believe in the importance of grammar, ethics, logic, and emotion in appropriate measure. A poorly written paper is unpersuasive. An unethical person is unpersuasive. An illogical argument is unpersuasive. And a purely emotional argument is mere bullying, even as an argument lacking emotions will persuade few of a proposal's importance.

Such people can be found, but with the current dominating philosophy found in most college and university composition programs, such people are unlikely to to be found there. You are more likely to find them unemployed by a university, or working adjunct at a community college, desperately fighting for what they believe in against the administration. Or, you will find them among philosophy majors, who will, sadly, have at least as much grammar training as your typical composition teacher, and will have the benefit of knowing logic and ethics.

As the disconnect between schooling and learning becomes ever more evident, companies who need an educated workforce are going to find it necessary to internalize education, to ensure their employees know what they need to know. But doing so will be pointless if companies simply adopt from the failing departments their failing philosophies of education. If you are going to internalize education, you need to know what works, and adopt such programs. Since companies are not colleges, it is too easy to rely on their expertise, not realizing that their "expertise" is itself the problem. No, for an internalized educational system to work, one has to buck the system. One has to adopt what will work. To do that, one needs outside expertise to help set up the programs, to hire the right people, and get the programs going. That is something we can do at Camplin Creative Consulting.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brand Personality

What is your brand's personality, and can you measure its appeal? It turns out that you can. In other words, does your brand personality work? Is it "rugged, sophisticated, competent, exciting or sincere"? Do people view it as favorable, original, clear?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Does Your Company Do What It Needs to Do?

Is your company a risk-taking company? Does your company encourage entrepreneurship and experimentation? If so, is it encouraging people in the right ways? Do your employees feel like the company cares for them? Do your employees feel secure (physically and economically)? How can you go about making your company exhibit all of these things and, thus, become more creative and profitable?