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Month May 2015

{ Playwork & Adventure Playgrounds } Places of Psychological Safety & Calculated Risk That Empower Children Through Play …*

{ Playwork & Adventure Playgrounds } Places of Psychological Safety & Calculated Risk That Empower Children Through Play ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

 

“Think of an adventure playground as an urban countryside, where children can experience all sorts of play that they might have only with great difficulty in the city. Its adult designers should examine the environment around it and compensate for the deficits. If children have no access to trees, then work with them to build something they can climb. (When asked what the big structures were for on his adventure playground, Bob Hughes said, “They are for trees.”) 
An adventure playground should be in a constant process of change, directed, informed, and executed by the children and their playing and supported by the play workers. It is a space that allows for all the different types of play to be discovered by children. It is a place of psychological safety and calculated risk. 
It may be helpful to think of an adventure playground as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total artwork,” a space and time where all one’s senses are engaged.  – Penny Wilson, The Playwork Primer 

 

We are in the midst of a play crisis. Recess keeps getting shorter if it’s not cut out all together in schools across the country, while children’s free time outside of school is increasingly scheduled and managed around various ‘enrichment’ programs and activities. Yet, years of psychology and cognition research as well as personal experience from our own lives and childhoods, make clear the importance of unstructured free time and scaffolded risk-taking for children’s growth, confidence-building and cultivating grit to name just a few of the vast emotional, physical and mental benefits of free play. Which makes the The Land, a new documentary by Erin Davis on “an endengered human behavior: risky play” all the more relevant. The Land, which recently premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, explores a Welsh adventure playground where children are allowed and encouraged to play with fire, build and break things, get their hands dirty and maybe skin their knees…you know, be kids.

The Land (2015) is a short documentary film about the nature of play, risk and hazard set in The Land, a Welsh “adventure” playground.  At The Land children climb trees, light fires and use hammers and nails in a play-space rooted in the belief that kids are empowered when they learn to manage risks on their own.

The documentary highights a growing movement, Playwork, which aims to create a paradigm shift and turn play into something that we take more seriously.

Playwork is a practice and a profession that removes barriers to children’s play.  It has a decades long history in Europe and a hearty library of fascinating theory. Playworkers make adventure play possible.

To create an adventure playground in your own community and learn more about the theory and history and the playwork movement, check out Penny Wilson’s The Playwork Primer and Pop-Up Adventure‘s Pop-Up Play Shop Toolkit –  a workbook designed to help you transform an empty storefront into a thriving community play space.

play & rethink …*

The Importance of Playing With Fire (Literally) from Play Free Movie on Vimeo.

When asked what she hopes people will take away from the documentary, director Erin Davis answers:

Landscape matters. Access to the elements matters: trees, water, fire. Agency and empowerment matter. Variety and change in a playspace matters. The Land, and places like it, push the envelope of what is possible. 

I also simply hope people leave the film excited to interact with the children in their lives in a new way. A way that is bold, compassionate and enriching for both the child and the adult. 

Source: Inside a European Adventure Playground

“Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it.” – Our Interview with Warren Berger …*

"Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it." - Our Interview with Warren Berger ...* | rethinked.org

I first heard of Warren Berger (previously featured on rethinked …* here and here) when he reached out to me several months ago to ask if he could feature a question I had asked, here on the blog, on how we might go about learning to thrive and flourish within the tensions and contradictions that border human existence on his splendid and endlessly fascinating website A More Beautiful Question. (How’s that for a shameless ‘humble brag’?) And then I noticed Warren popping up all over the place with incredibly intelligent and insightful articles on things that keep me up at night and make me excited to wake up in the morning– the power of questions, design, and creativity, to name just a few–on Fast Company, Big Think or Harvard Business Review. Warren is an author, speaker and self-described “questionologist.” His latest book is the wonderful A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (2014). I couldn’t be more excited about kicking off our new interview series with Warren’s interview. It seems particularly appropriate to begin with the answers of a man obsessed by and dedicated to (beautiful) questions. Connect with Warren on Twitter @GlimmerGuy.

 

What was the last experiment you ran? 

I write about the power of questioning. Recently, I looked around at other people and groups who are interested in this subject. They might ordinarily be thought of as my “competitors.” I decided to do an experiment bringing all of us together around a unified event, called “Question Week.” I would say the experiment was a modest success. With most experiments, I think you have to go through iterations, learning as you go; and that’s the case here. I’m going to keep building on this idea of unifying different people and groups around this common theme.

 

What are some of the things you fear and how do you manage your fear? 

Like so many people, I have a fear of failure and rejection. I have come to believe that one of the ways to manage this fear is to have honest conversations with yourself and it starts with asking yourself some questions about your fear. Why do you fear a certain outcome? How likely is that to happen? If it does happen, what’s the worst part of that outcome, in your mind? And if the worst happened, how would you recover? I picked up on some of these questions from the author/entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, who also suggests you ask yourself, “What if I do nothing—what kind of outcome will that lead to?” This tends to make you realize that the real failure is doing nothing. There’s another question I love, which is popular in Silicon Valley—“What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?” It allows your mind to let go of the fear, if only temporarily, and envision the boldest possibilities.

 

What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

Animals. It breaks my heart to see how they are often treated and it delights me to see how wonderful and loving they can be, in spite of it all. (Also, the New York Giants –they break my heart a lot, but they’ve provided more than a few moments of sheer delight).

 

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Lots of them, too many to single one out. I recently saw a play called “Hamilton” that was a hip hop telling of the immigrant story of Alexander Hamilton; amazing. I recently read the Adam Grant book “Give and Take,” which suggests (very persuasively) that there is incredible power in giving and that nice guys can actually finish first, even in business. In my own work the most provocative idea I’ve come across is the notion that questions are currently rising in value while answers are declining in value.

 

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

The day I decided to leave my magazine editor job and go to work for myself, as a writer. I thought, at the time, it might be a temporary thing. That was 28 years ago and I haven’t had a proper job since.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

I think it’s about balancing two things: Enjoying the limited time each of us has and, at the same time, trying to bring something positive into the world, on an ongoing basis. If you can find a way to do both at the same time, then you’re living a good life.

 

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Keep questioning and learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species and we should take full advantage of it.

 

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How might I help, in some way, to encourage more questioning?

 

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND? 

Movies: Crumb. Fargo. Boogie Nights. Hud. Books: A Fan’s Notes. Seabiscuit. The Basketball Diaries. Bird by Bird.

…*

THANK YOU, WARREN …*

Tune in this coming Friday for our interview with (micro)adventurer Alastair Humphreys.

Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2×2 – “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” …*

{ Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2x2 } “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Soyer & Hogarth’s article on HBR: Fooled By Experience

In a fascinating article titled Fooled by Experience, Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth, whose research focuses on the psychology of judgment and decision making, highlight the perils of using past experience to guide future decision making without first critically examining the various lenses and biases from which we filter and learn from our experiences.

The problem is that we view the past through numerous filters that distort our perceptions. As a result, our interpretations of experience are biased, and the judgments and decisions we base on those interpretations can be misguided. Even so, we persist in believing that we have gleaned the correct insights from our own experience and from the accounts of other people.

In their article, Soyer and Hogarth examine three of the main filters that many of us use to frame and learn from our experiences — the business environment, the people around us, and ourselves. I was particularly interested in the points they raise about our bias for outcomes rather than processes in the business world.

{ CAPTURING PROCESS NOT JUST OUTCOMES }

In the business environment, the outcomes of decisions are highly visible, readily available for us to observe and judge. But the details of the decision process, which we can control far more than the result, typically don’t catch our attention. If the aim is to learn from experience—mistakes as well as successes—acknowledging that process is crucial.

We celebrate successes and condemn failures–a response that disregards the underlying causes.

The tendency to overreward the results of a decision and underreward its quality is known as the outcome bias.

This bias can influence our actions in subtle ways. A good outcome can lead us to stick with a questionable strategy, and a bad outcome can cause us to change or discard a strategy that may still be worthwhile. For example, in the NBA, coaches “are more likely to revise their strategy after a loss than a win—even for narrow losses, which are uninformative about team effectiveness,” a recent Management Science article shows.

[…]

By concealing the prevalence of failures, the environment makes it more difficult for us to learn from them. Instead, we are fooled into thinking that we have more control over success than we actually do.

Source: Fooled by Experience

This inequality between capturing outcomes versus capturing the decision making process is something that our team has been actively thinking about in our last few workshops. In fact, my explicit purpose in our last workshop was to capture the meta elements of what we were thinking about and considering as we were producing our prototypes. This desire to capture the more ephemeral aspects of the decision making process are linked to Daniel Kahneman’s acronym: WYSIATI – What you see is all there is. We are hardwired to respond to what we can see and tend to ignore the aspects of a situation that fall outside the filters for salience with which we approach that experience. Yet, as Soyer and Hogarth observe, the tendency to overreward the results of a decision and underreward its quality leads to failed opportunities for learning and improved future decision making. 

Head over to Harvard Business Review to read the rest of Soyer and Hogarth’s article and learn the techniques they recommend to help you uncover the real lessons experience offers.

{ HAPPINESS IS A 2×2 – THINK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS THAT YOU DON’T WANT & THAT YOU DON’T HAVE} 

Experience is very important, but not necessarily the experience that you have, but maybe sometimes the experience that you don’t have might matter a lot. Experience in general we know it’s very important, it’s how we understand what’s going on around us, it’s how we form our habits, it’s how we decide and make judgements. And sometimes the environment where we make decisions, where we operate is kind to us–it gives us all the information, all the feedback that we need abundantly, immediately. But sometimes, it’s wicked. The environment, when it’s wicked, it hides stuff from us, it filters out certain part of the information that is crucial for an accurate judgment and accurate decision making. And in those cases our experiences get biased, and this whole thing has adverse effects to our health, wealth and happiness. – Emre Soyer

After doing a quick Google search for Emre Soyer, I discovered the TEDxtalk he gave in 2013 in which he explores the importance of being attentive to the missing elements of our experiences. I was particularly struck by his ending observation, by way of a 1986 interview with Hillel Einhorn, which highlights the power and impact that shifting and questioning the filters we apply to our thinking can have on our happiness.

Now there are some interesting issues there about looking for evidence opposed or evidence about non-occurrences and this was brought home to me dramatically in a Chinese restaurant one night. After the meal, I bought the usual fortune cookies and I opened the cookie and read my fortune, it was a very interesting one. It said: don’t think about all of the things that you want that you don’t have, think of all the things that you don’t want that you don’t have. Well that kind of stopped me dead. I don’t know who writes these things but this is a very interesting one. So, I immediately draw a 2×2 table: want, not want, have, not have. And of course we think about what we want that we have, what we want that we don’t have; what we don’t want that we have; but rarely do we ever think about what we don’t want and what we don’t have. So, I’d like to use this example to point out that if the correlation between wants and haves is some notion of happiness, and because that don’t want and don’t have cell is so large, we are actually a lot more happier than we think we are.

-Hillel Einhorn, 1986

{ Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2x2 } “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” ...* | rethinked.org

Happiness is a 2×2 – Screen Shot from Emre Soyer’s TEDxTalk at TEDxOZU

 

rethinking { stress } to live a healthier life.

THE PRIMAL SCREAM…*

Last night I witnessed Columbia University’s traditional PRIMAL SCREAM. If, like me, you have no idea what I’m talking about, this scream is a tradition with variants at a number of prestigious Universities – including UCLA, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, U Penn, and Vassar. At midnight of the Sunday of finals week each semester, students open their windows or go outside and SCREAM blood-curdling, horror-movie worthy screams. It is quite the exhilarating and satisfying experience.The tradition is said to help students release their pent up anxiety and stress about exams.

It’s finals week at Columbia so stress levels are high and libraries are packed at all hours of the day and night with students finishing papers and cramming for tests.In fact, this has been an especially stressful year in my life. I’ve been working 60-80 hour weeks with an amount of responsibility on projects that has left me exhausted and anxious more than I’d like to admit. I’ve seen it affect my sleep, diet, and mood in negative ways. Which is why the following TED talk is so important.

RETHINK STRESS…*

As discussed in Kelly McGonigal’s TEDGlobal2013 talk, “How to make stress your friend,” McGonigal explains that despite what we’ve been told, stress is NOT the enemy. In a recent Pew study, results suggested that it is not the experience of stress but instead the belief that stress is bad for your health, that leads to death and other negative health outcomes. In other word, it is not stress itself but rather how you think about it, that leads to poor health.

Changing your attitude towards stress can change your body’s response to it. When we’re stressed we have a clear physiological response: our hearts beat faster, we breathe faster, we sweat. And our minds interpret these as negative signs of anxiety.

McGonigal asks, what if you view these changes as signs that your body is energized and preparing itself for a challenge? In a study at Harvard, researchers found that participants who were trained to rethink their physiological stress responses as helpful rather than a sign of weakness, were less stressed, less anxious, and more confident. More importantly, their blood vessels did NOT constrict. In a typical stress response, our blood vessels constrict which, if chronic, can lead to cardiovascular disease. But these participants’ physiological profiles more closely resembled people experiencing joy or courage.

 

http://ideas.ted.com/embrace-your-stress-a-visual-idea/

 

The Social Side of Stress…*

McGonigal also speaks to the social side of stress, specifically the power of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a stress hormone that makes you compassionate and caring. It motivates you to seek support, to tell people how you feel, to surround yourself with people who care about you. It is, in essence, a built-in resilience feature for stress. And physiologically, releasing oxytocin and giving into its urges – seeking support and love – is even better for your heart health.

As McGonigal concludes,

Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement.You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.

CONCLUSIONS…*

To me, this TED talk gives the PRIMAL SCREAM even more profound meaning. This scream embodies the strength and confidence of the student body to tackle the week ahead. While studying for finals and paper-writing can often feel like isolating and solitary experiences, the unison behind the scream ties students together into a community that can accomplish anything.

So, if you are approaching the next week with anxiety or trepidation, let out a nice long primal scream and change your mindset about stress for a healthier, happier life. Never under-estimate the power of a good rethink…*

 

{ On Race, Mothers & Empathy } How Do We Expand the Narrative Versus Simply Shifting It?

{ On Race, Mothers & Empathy } How Do We Expand the Narrative Versus Simply Shifting It? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would share an excerpt from a poignant opinion piece that Aja Monet published last week in response to the unfolding events in Baltimore:

A mother publicly beats her son “rioting” in the streets of Baltimore. The spectators weigh in on the subject. There are some things that are sacred. We ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. Mother is sacred. Children are where mother places dreams and visions not in some philosophical and ideological way but physically, very bodily. They are our offering and sacrifice. Our children are extensions of us, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood. Who is loving our children if not us? Who is bearing them, protecting them, raising them? We cannot do this alone.

As a son tries to declare himself a man, to assert his right to express freedom and dignity, a mother aches with the conflict of wanting to protect him from this system. It is a system she knows is bent on beating him down and her down, too. It is upsetting because a Black mother knows what speaking up can result in for Black boys and girls. When we see any son or daughter die, it is our son and daughter that has died too. We do not want more casualties. Where is the depth in our rage? How do we expand the narrative verses simply shifting it?

Source: Aja Monet: The Love that Develops in a Foxhole

With her characteristic poignancy and powerful voice, Monet indirectly reminds us of something we would all do well to dwell on this Mother’s Day: that each of us–white, black, and every shade beyond and in between–starts out as a question mark. I think it’s a powerful trigger for empathy to think of the universal experience that all mothers have when they first become aware of the life growing inside them. Who will this child be? Who will he or she become? What will break and delight their heart? How will I protect that little heart and help it soar? Will she have my hands or her father’s eyes? What will he like? What world will she grow up in?

Before we learn the narrow and destructive cultural associations of color, we are all blobs of cells and potential deep in our mothers’ wombs. The questions continue, we are never ‘resolved’–we all live our lives amidst a profusion of doubts, hopes, fears, joys and pains. We all struggle to define ourselves and find our place in the world. We are, all throughout our lives, a question mark to ourselves and those around us. Trying to shove all this unknown and potential into reductive cultural categories is not only an inadequate appraisal of the fullness of the human being, but much more erosive and malignant, it obscures our common humanity and shared experience of the thrilling and complex business of humanness. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?

Speaking of mothers and race, my earliest memory of race happened when I was four. My mother took me to the toy store and told me I could pick out any baby doll I wanted as long as it was a black doll. I threw a fit. I didn’t want a black baby doll, I wanted a white one. Clearly, I had already been exposed to ideas of race before this conscious memory since as a white little girl, I felt my dolls should be white too. My mother didn’t relent and when grumpily I picked one out, I decided I would name it Rose. My mother felt strongly that I should identify with humans and for a long time, race wasn’t really something I thought about. But I’ve come to realize that this stance of colorblindness comes from privilege–the privilege of having a mother who was relentless in trying to teach me to value people for their character rather than their skin color, but also the shameful and outrageous cultural privilege of being white. Where is the depth in our rage?

Monet continues:

This moment in history is a moment where we have no choice but to destroy and to create. When we talk about Baltimore, let us also talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. I walked into a poetry workshop of teenagers yesterday afternoon and I want to believe that the work we do is how we pick up the pieces of what’s left, how we sweep the debris after the soot of our suffering settles. We unravel before each other reaching for words. Americans only reach for things that are already in their hands. We asked that we stretch and grab what wasn’t already there; handed to us. I pleaded with my students, leap, take, grab, fly, clench, fist, and fight—revolt. We left the room a little heavier, with more arsenal, a sense of more self than we had walked in with, calloused palms and swift blows. This is our birthright, not a land or object. It is our ability to communicate our humanity. It is our soul. It is our right to imagine a world where we create the language for our liberation not merely to become literati but inventors. If language is how we arrange the world, how has it been used to limit our worldviews? How has it been used to expand it?

In generation hash tag, we use catchphrases and slogans more than meaning. If we aren’t making liberation and love a part of our everyday lifestyle, I want no part in your rhetoric, constantly adhering to and navigating the white gaze.

All lives matter. It stands as a shameful reminder of our systemic failures to protect, celebrate and uphold our sacredness as human beings that in 2015 we need to be reminded that black lives matter too. In the end, we all bleed the same color. Perhaps that’s a sentimental image, but we ought to have the discussion around our sacredness. I’m not advocating for colorblindness– race is an issue, we have made it so, let us talk about the lack of resources in education, jobs, and community. We are only given nine months reprieve before the world attempts to stuff us into its categories and define us. The categories are man-made and arbitrary but the consequences are tragically real and cut deep, in real flesh. Children die. Mothers weep. We, of all colors, need to rethink this. How do we expand the narrative versus simply shifting it?

I leave you with the rallying call for disrupting the narrative from another poet.

Dis poem will not change things
Dis poem need to be changed
Dis poem is a rebirth of a people
Arizin’ awaking understandin’
Dis poem speak is speakin’ have spoken
Dis poem shall continue even when poets have stopped writin’
Dis poem shall survive you me it shall linger in history
In your mind, in time forever
Dis poem is time only time will tell
Dis poem is still not written, dis poem has no poet
Dis poem is just a part of the story
His-story her-story our-story the story still untold
Dis poem is now ringin talkin irritatin
Makin’ you want to stop it, but dis poem will not stop
Dis poem is long cannot be short
Dis poem cannot be tamed cannot be blamed
The story is still not told about dis poem

{ What Breaks & Delights Your Heart ? } Ask Someone About Their Heart. Ask Them About Their Fears, Their Moments, Their Stories …*

{ What Breaks & Delights Your Heart ? } Ask Someone About Their Heart. Ask Them About Their Fears, Their Moments, Their Stories ...* |rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Artist Unknown

A note on the upcoming interview series by way of yet another Camino anecdote (can you tell I’m getting restless?) One evening, in a minuscule town out in the countryside, I met Antonio. I went outside to take in the splendid night sky and there he was, rolling a cigarette in his blue poncho. I said hello and as he would immediately reply, I “went straight for the kill.” I asked him what broke and delighted his heart. He said I came on too strongly. You don’t just ask people about their hearts. Part of me understands and agrees, you have to earn people’s stories and their trust. But part of me thought why not? I’m sick of talking about the weather. For whatever reason, I didn’t relent. I think this sudden and uncharacteristic burst of boldness may have been linked to the remannts of adrenaline I still felt from my encounter a few hours before with a snarling unleashed and unaccompanied German Shepherd in the middle of the forest (the second of the only two times in the course of the entire Camino that I felt afraid–the first was on my very first day, when completely alone, I ran into a pack of cows the size of small dinosaurs standing in the middle of the road, complete with horns (be honest, did you know cows had horns?)) Anyway, back to Antonio and his blue poncho, who by now had lit his cigarette and was laughing at my child-like determination. He turned my question around and asked me about my heart. After I opened up and shared with him things I don’t get to talk about half as much as I’d like to with the people I actually know, he told me a splendid story about his childhood dog who had run away and when all of his family–all but Antonio–had given up hope of ever seeing her again, she showed up at the door. She died the next week, but as Antonio told me, it was a happy ending, because they were reunited.

The questions I’m asking for these interviews are quite loaded. In fact, “what breaks and delights you heart?” is one of them. I’ve heard back from a few people that they simply don’t have answers to these questions but I’ve also received very enthusiastic, vulnerable and authentic responses from people who want to engage with these charged but essential questions we all grapple with. I encourage you to do the same. Ask someone about their heart. Ask them about their fears, their moments, their stories. The worst that can happen is they’ll politely decline. The best is that you’ll feel something real and wondrous as another human being gifts you with their stories and moments.

To get you excited for next week’s inaugural interview in the series, here are the questions I’m asking:

  • What was the last experiment you ran?
  • What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?
  • What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to?
  • What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade?
  • Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?
  • What does it mean to you to live a good life?
  • Could you share one piece of advice about the art of being human?
  • What is your driving question?
  • Any books or movies you recommend?

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change?

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

{ FINAL ROUND OF THE RETHINKED*ANNEX PROJECT – APTITUDES FOR THE CONCEPTUAL AGE } 

It’s time to kick off the last stage of rethinked*annex: Aptitudes For the Conceptual Age. For those new to rethinked, rethinked*annex is a personal side project which I started two and a half years ago (already!) to see how some of the disciplines we have been focusing on in our team work could apply to the individual. The ultimate goal of our team is to rethink and engage with what it means to flourish as a human being in the twenty-first century—a modern take on an ancient question, what is the good life for man? We live in exciting times, a lot of the models and assumptions that upheld the status quo of old are crumbling in the face of accelerating change on all fronts–technological, medical, economic, etc. What does it mean to live and learn to change and for change? Our team has been exploring the possibilities of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology to help us formulate some avenues into this but I felt strongly that the tools we used for our professional aims should also be useful in enhancing our personal every day lives.

And so the idea for rethinked*annex was born– a sort of experiment on living, learning and becoming, which I’ve documented on the blog. I’ve been following a pretty simple format: pick out a few books on the subject; play around with some of the big ideas; find ways to apply them to my every day life and then report back on the experiments.

I am now ready to think about the convergences between these three fields (Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology) and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. What skills, strengths and mindsets have come up in all three cycles of my experiment? I’ve narrowed it down to five core capacities, which kept coming up over and over: empathy, creativity, making the ordinary unknown (and the willingness to navigate and embrace it), play and courage (to own and deploy one’s voice). So for this last phase, I’ve (very unscientifically) picked out a few books that deal with these various dimensions.

{ BOOKLIST } 

{ BEYOND ME, MYSELF & I – NEW INTERVIEW SERIES }

One nagging insecurity I’ve had throughout this project has been how self-centered it ultimately is. I’ve been exploring what Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology might contribute to my every day life. Of course, the goal is that some of the insights and lessons I’ve learned along the way will transfer outside of my particular circumstances and be of some use to you, but at the end of the day, it’s my thoughts, my feelings, my life, my observations…me, me, me. I’m getting sick and tired of thinking and writing about myself.

I’ve decided it was time to find out how other individuals are grappling with the question(s) of what it means to live a good life. I recently made a list of people I admire–people whose work and ideas have moved me, disrupted my beliefs and assumptions, provoked me to think more deeply and awed me in some form or other. Some of them are friends and some are total strangers, they come from everywhere in terms of geography and fields of inquiry—artists, designers, philosophers, writers, even a midwife. I’ve started reaching out to see if they would be willing to answer a set of questions that touch upon some of the themes that have obsessed me for most of my life and crystalized during the rethinked*annex project. I am floored by the responses. I assumed I wouldn’t hear back from a lot of these people I was ‘cold-emailing,’ but right away, I received enthusiastic answers from total strangers whose work I have admired for years. I am filled with gratitude and excitement for this new phase of the project. You can look forward to seeing their answers published on rethinked over the course of the next few months, starting next week.

There’s a Martin Amis quote from his book Time’s Arrow, which I’ve probably shared about five times over the past three years. I’m sorry if you’re sick of seeing it but every few months, I have an experience that reminds me that these simple words ooze with truth when it comes to framing the “others:”

Mmm—people! It seems to me that you need a lot of courage, or a lot of something, to enter into others, into other people. We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the okay.

question & rethink …*

Paola Antonelli: “Design Is A Way To Enter the World. It’s the Interface Between Whatever Idea You Might Have—Scientific, Technological, or Even Artistic—& Real Life”

Paola Antonelli: "Design Is A Way To Enter the World. It’s the Interface Between Whatever Idea You Might Have—Scientific, Technological, or Even Artistic—& Real Life" | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

One of the aspects of life post-academia that I most enjoy is the increased exposure to a wide range of phenomenal, interesting, creative and courageous women. Remember this image? I wasn’t much aware of it at the time, but since graduating from university, I’ve noticed a shift in my heroes. Whereas my teenage years and early twenties were spent looking up to mainly dead, or terribly old, white men, I’ve now discovered a whole tribe of contemporary, dynamic and tremendously inspiring women. One of them is MOMA curator, Paola Antonelli. I just came across this great interview which she recently gave to The Great Discontent’s Tina Essmaker. It’s definitely worth a read in its entirety, but here are three topics that Antonelli explores that I thought would be of particular interest to rethinkers.

discover & rethink …*

{ O N   C R E A T I V I T Y

I cannot believe that anyone would ever tell you that creativity was not part of their upbringing. I think there’s creativity everywhere. In some parts of the world, there are much more urgent matters of survival, so maybe creativity takes a backseat or gets channeled towards basic needs—we have to be honest about reality. But, frankly, I believe creativity exists everywhere and manifests itself in different ways. For instance, I was always quite stunned by the ease and comfort that New York has with contemporary art, which was definitely not the case in Italy. I grew up in a place where the comfort was with design, food, and ancient art. Here, it’s contemporary art.

{ O N   D E S I G N,   I D E A S   &   R E A L   L I F E 

I find it absolutely limiting that people think of design as cute chairs and cars and posters—it’s so crazy. To me, it’s amazing that some parts of our cultural establishment move away from design when the most established artists look to design as a way to make their ideas become a part of life. Design is a way to enter the world. It’s the interface between whatever idea you might have—scientific, technological, or even artistic—and real life.

[ … ]

I’m dangerously distant from an esthetically-pleasing, more formal kind of design. I say dangerously because I don’t want to burn my bridges with that kind of design, but I feel compelled to deal with real life—and real life is not about being able to afford a $10,000 chair.

[ … ]

I always find a way to realize at least some of the ideas that come to mind. I like to say that ideas are a dollar a pound, but it’s the ones you decide to make happen that really count. It’s tough, but there’s always a way to make them happen.

{ A D V I C E   T O   A   Y O U N G   P E R S O N  S T A R T I N G   O U T }

If you really believe in it, go for it. The thing I like about this moment is that you don’t have to immediately define yourself as an artist or designer; you can try different avenues. I really love it because ambivalence, ambiguity, and these in-between states are so conducive and perfect for creative people. I had the luck of being able to test different waters, and I think that’s the best thing that can happen to someone creative. It’s not for everybody; some people need a more defined path. But if you have a curiosity to see where you can really shine, I think this is a wonderful moment.

Source: Paola Antonelli Interviewed by Tina Essmaker April 28, 2015 via The Great Discontent

{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.

Untitled-1_860_906

 

http://jamesgeorge.org/Treachery-of-Sanctuary

Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

THE { } AND – A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us …*

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

Just last week I was writing about the really exciting trend amongst filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of their craft and medium to enhance and rethink human connections. Here is a new project from director Topaz Adizes, THE {  } AND which is a bit reminiscent of Tiffany Shlain’s Cloudfilmaking in form. THE {  } AND is a human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern world–think StoryCorps but with a visual component.

Basically, how this started is someone came to me and said, “Topaz,” a year and a half ago, “let’s make a documentary about why better looking people these days get farther ahead.” Alright, let me think about that, that’s not really interesting. What’s really happening is that because of technology–I mean there’s more cell phones in the world now than there are toothbrushes—and that didn’t exist seven years ago. I mean, all of a sudden we have the smartphone and it’s giving us access, it’s changing the way we’re relating, stigmas are changing, economics are changing, the way we relate is totally changing—that’s what’s interesting. And I’m thinking, now, do I make a doc about that or do I create an entity that creates experiences that explores that. What’s the best way to tell this story and it was not for me to make a classic 90 minute feature documentary. No, no, no, let’s just create a bunch of interactive experiences that discuss this subject. 

THE {  } AND lets you browse the couples’s interviews or you can answer four questions about your relationships and they create a customized short doc suited to your answers created to spark your interest and direct your browsing. You can also play a short version of the game on the website or order the set of question cards to play it at home.

199 questions to explore your connections with your partner and loved ones. Deepen your relationship by asking the questions you’re dying to know but are afraid to ask. This is a ride worth sharing.

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

© The Skin Deep Media

In the interview below, watch Adizes talk about the project and discuss his plans to create a whole ecology of tools to help all of us explore modern day relationships—from further interactive interviews, apps, to the analogue card game.

THE {  } AND is a relationship genome project that we’re making, which is already growing beyond romantic couples; it’s growing between mothers and sons; daughters and fathers; siblings; coworkers; collaborator; we’re doing deaf couples, blind couples—really jumping into relationships. And we’re going to make this that human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern day and it’s all feeding from a content collective called The Skin Deep and we’re creating a bunch of experiences like this. This is the first one, it’s called THE {  } AND, it’s exploring intimate relationships, 

The content is addictive, the conversations between the couples are honest, vulnerable and touching. On a final note, of special interest to NYC rethinkers:

THE {  } AND invites parent/child duos to come in for 1 hour and use a deck of question cards we provide to interview each other. It’s like the best therapeutic conversation you can have – done in a creative interactive filmmaking twist!

You keep the footage of your entire session as a home video and we create a 4-5 min video to include within our interactive documentary. Reconnect with a loved ones and share your story on our relationship genome documentary.

Filming in NYC this weekend –May 2nd to 3. Go to The Skin Deep Tumblr for more info.

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