February 2014
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Day 13/02/2014

Let’s Talk about Fear

Edvard Munch — The Scream

Given our culture’s infatuation with perfect performances — evidenced all around us in Olympics and film-awards coverage — I really love it when successful people talk openly about struggles they face in their work.

Dazzling achievements — whether a great work of art, a gold-medal performance, or a scientific breakthrough — tend to do just that: they dazzle us with their perfection, blinding us to how they came to be. Candid conversations that reveal the inevitable blood, sweat, and tears behind those achievements are a service to all of us, especially students. And with creative people as with students, the “blood, sweat, and tears” often takes shape as fear.

In a recent joint interview in the New York Times, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and film director David O. Russell were refreshingly candid about facing fear in their creative work. While Russell talked about the more familiar “fear of failure,” von Furstenberg claimed that “fear of failure” wasn’t fear because it emerged from the commitment to create something — and therefore was far preferable to true fear:

David O. Russell: You can’t be ruled by fear. And if you’re pretending to yourself, then you will be ruled by fear — because you’re not being real. But fear of failure is pretty normal. It can even be. …

Diane von Furstenberg: Yes, but that’s not fear. Fear of failure is not fear. Fear is when you don’t do the thing.

DOR: I’m always looking over my shoulder saying, “This could suck, so be careful.”

DVF: That’s not fear.

DOR: Right, because I’m still going to go for it very hard. We’re not going to hold back.

For a creative person, von Furstenberg implies, true fear comes “when you don’t do the thing” — in other words, it comes from not creating at all.

(For my part, as a creative professional, both fears are a problem.)

rethinked...* logo

So what does von Furstenberg attribute her determination to?

Philip Galanes, New York Times: In practically every article about you, Diane, I’ve read the statement: “Fear is not an option.” But no one ever asks what it means. We’re all afraid, no?

DVF: When my mother was 20, she was a prisoner of war and went to Auschwitz…. And when she came back to Belgium, she married my father.
They said to her: “You can’t have a child. It won’t be normal, you won’t survive.” And I was born nine months later…

PG: Wow! Her example made you fearless?

DVF: If I was afraid of the dark, she’d lock me in the closet. Ten minutes later,
I realized there was nothing to be afraid of.

DOR: Your mom did that?

DVF: Uh-huh. That’s the biggest gift. She did not allow me to be afraid, ever.

PG: Sounds a little rough.

DVF: But I’m not afraid.

Von Furstenberg’s creative determination surely didn’t emerge from one ten-minute lockup, but her narrative lends support to the idea that successful experiences with emotional challenges in childhood can be the basis for resilience that reaches deep into adult life.

This idea is the foundation of character education. Short of locking students in dark rooms, character education strives to offer students experiences designed for character growth while also supporting the growing pains that inevitably accompany it.

That latter half — supporting the accompanying growing pains — is essential. Character education, particularly as I have observed it in high-performing charter schools such as KIPP and Uncommon Schools, champions the toughness that academic success requires, and rightly so. But I think there’s also a place for the acknowledgment of fear. Students can only benefit from the understanding that achievement is a process in which less-than-tough feelings can play an acceptable part — and honest classroom conversations about fear are one means to that valuable end.

Tim Brown On The Critical Role of Borrowing In Driving Creativity & Facilitating Problem Solving …*

Tim Brown On The Critical Role of Borrowing In Driving Creativity & Facilitating Problem Solving ...* | rethinked.org

“As a creative person, I’ve always believed that I can’t be creative unless I’m inspired in some way. Inspiration is a funny thing; it sounds like it’s an internal thing. We think of great creative artists and imagine that inspiration wells up inside of them, but I think that’s just not true. Inspiration comes from the outside. The most inspirational people are the most observant people who are able to take from the outside world and convert what they see into something that drives their creativity. The simplest and most effective way of doing that is to notice things, and to notice those things that might be relevant to the thing you’re thinking about or the problem you’re trying to solve or the idea that you’re working with. There are countless cliche examples of this, everyone from Picasso to Leonardo, people we think of as being individually creative geniuses who in fact were extremely good at taking inspiration from the outside world and having it drive their own creative engine. Borrowing from the outside world is at the heart of all things we do creatively to be inspired.

Then, the challenges we tackle as designers are always multifaceted; they are systemic in nature, not simple. In order to tackle them with any degree of comprehension we have to look at them from a multidisciplinary perspective, look at them from many different directions, through many different lenses. So we’re not just borrowing from other disciplines, we’re actually applying those disciplines. I think often what we do as designers is attempt to glue a whole bunch of other disciplines together to look at something creatively. We take business, science and technology, the human disciplines of social science… I personally borrow ideas from those places, and much more importantly I am also interested in how we bring them all together as collaborators.” – Tim Brown

Source: Nature Knows Best: A Biologist And A Designer Take Creative Direction From The Earth’s Operating System, via TED, published February 7, 2014.

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