A politically incorrect rant against collaboration

office orgyAre two heads better than one? How about three? Or five hundred? Almost everything we touch, taste, see, hear, and even smell, is a product of multiple minds meeting in the middle. We live in a globalized culture of collaboration… a world of compromise. At all stages, from concept to marketplace, any new idea must survive countless negotiations and push backs. Logic and personality are our best weapons when battling for an innovation, but both are subjective and eat up substantial time and energy – along with team building, group brainstorming, meetings… meetings… AAAAAAAARG!

We can’t escape collaboration. Heck, conception is the ultimate collaboration and none of us would be here without that! But we’ve got to take a break from the office orgies! We’ve lost touch with the private, primitive urge to create independently – just for the hell of it. Social media and globalization have linked value to multiplicity – whether in ‘Likes’ received, dollars earned, or people converted. But stop. Just stop. Stop letting other people design your world.

With such an overwhelming breadth of new products and creative productions coming at us 24/7, we’re becoming desensitized to individual acts of self-expression, especially our own! But how do we resist the seductive fact that collaboration naturally produces idealized forms – Plato would be so pleased! We now need trainers, masseuses, uniform designers… to score a single hockey goal. A piece of clothing is nothing until it’s dressed up by models, makeup artists, photographers, and airbrushers. This progression to idealization is, of course, perfectly natural and predictable from a neurological standpoint. But why be a slave to your brain when it guts the value of your uniquely imperfect humanity?

We’re a competitive species, for resources, mates, and ego actualization. But how do we compete, head to head, with 7 billion people! Go back 30 000 years… one man… a dozen shells… one necklace. His personal tribal contribution was sacred and precious. Every moment he spent on the task reinforced his own value to himself and to his tribe. Does working a shit job to afford a Louis Vuitton purse really provide the same validation? Why do you think one is never enough? Look how fast our purchases become our insatiables. This is what happens when we lose connection with our individual ability to express our humanity as tangible sensory creations. But there’s hope. Let’s collaborate across time, not in time. Take the gift of the tools (farming, technology, etc.) designed by minds who have come before us, and start small…

Exercise in Engagement: Bring the system boundary back down to the surface of your skin, breathe, then stretch it out to the volume of your kitchen – nothing and no one else exists. You must be your own validation in this moment. Forage for ingredients and dare to build the most personal sandwich possible with what you find. Doesn’t have to be perfect, healthy, or follow any Food Network rules. Screw Plato! Explore the experience of this sandwich with each one of your senses, one at a time, then all together in a moment of total engagement. This sandwich is you because you made it without compromise or negotiation and because (not to be too graphic here) it will literally become you in a matter of hours. Now go forth and conquer!

5 Tips for staying human at the office

office phoneDenying or suppressing our humanity while at work can lead to tragic consequences… depression, anxiety, illicit stairwell trysts, office shootings, or the time my boss found me sitting on ‘the new guy’s’ desk after a drunken Christmas luncheon, performing an erotic reading of an article I’d found in a seismic geophysics magazine on the evolution of the scientific method – oh gawd the horror, the shame! Don’t let this happen to you! We are at our best and brightest when we stay connected to our passions and personalities. The following five tips are simple survival strategies to help you keep hold of your sanity and soul at your own office day job:

1) As counterintuitive as it feels, as hard as it is to say… go on, admit it, you WANT to be sitting there. If you don’t believe me, click here for compelling neurological proof.

2) Personalize, personalize, personalize! You don’t have to go as far as my art installation office phone pictured in the photo above. emoticon phone stickersEven I have to admit it might be getting a wee bit over-accessorized; I messed up twice the last time I had to dial our Xerox technician’s number on my emoticon keypad. A couple of your favourite pictures, inspirational quotes/posters (although these can all too quickly slide into the ironic), or comic strips can add some mood enhancing personal colour and flair.

3) Practice mindfulness brain games to help you reengage with your tasks and surroundings in novel ways. Try focusing on the experience of one sense at a time or imagine that you’re exploring a museum exhibit showcasing long-outdated 21st century office supplies. Trust me – it can really open things up. Just don’t advertise your little field trip, especially if you’re the only employee already risking your professionalism (let alone dignity) by dialing with customized emoticons.

4) Oxygenate! If at all possible, incorporate plants into your office environment. Spider plants are surprisingly easy to sustain and provide the optional bonus of an interactive tactile relationship. Refuel the rest of your body with a living lunch. I don’t mean go hunting for something (or someone) skulking around on the third floor, but get creative with your limited office kitchen supplies and make yourself something worth waking up for.

5) Keep your fantasies out of the office! Breaking news – you are a sexual being. Acknowledge this honest truth and move on. And obviously, do not, under any circumstances, engage in drunken desk hopping this holiday season! Keep your daydreams focused on your future, your weekend, or if things get really bleak, pretend you’re embroiled in a multi-billion dollar international corporate espionage conspiracy while filing your next report. Regressive? Perhaps. Nerdy? Decidedly. But desperate times call for decidedly desperate measures.

funny stickerMost importantly, stay conscious (always a good place to start) and on guard for subliminal, and not so subliminal (like that stupid Chubb door sticker I have to try to ignore every morning!), social and environmental cues that threaten to compromise your value as a precious, uniquely wonderful human being. And if you manage to get out alive this Friday, have a fabulous, unabashedly human weekend!

What do you do to stay human at your 9 to 5 job?

Boost creativity by interweaving action sequences

Do you have a porous thalamus? Skewed dopamine receptor ratios? Thinner than average grey matter, and white matter of questionable integrity? If so, congratulations, you were born with a creative brain. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? But why let the genetic freaks have all the fun? The loosened associative neural processes that produce the novel connections and useful insights we define as creativity can be artificially induced. Interweaving your action sequences lets your body send sensory information through the thalamus in a pattern that mimics the structural pathways of an innately creative brain, allowing anyone to engineer their own eureka breakthroughs.

process diagram sketchBy physically interweaving your daily action sequences (e.g. combining three chores into one), you can imitate the porous information filtration of a creative brain’s thalamus, as well as its rather non-committal white connective circuitry. Comparatively disjointed associations will be simultaneously activated by the interwoven feed of sensory information as it bounces between loosely connected attentions/tasks. Novel connections will appear through this jumble and can be vetted as to their potential to contribute to a useful solution to a final related, or sometimes surprisingly unrelated, goal.

Ok, let’s get to work. Follow along with the (rather roughly) sketched process diagram (above) to get an idea of how to incorporate this creativity boosting exercise into your own life.golf equipment storage design In this example, doing all three tasks concurrently brings a new relationship to light. The end goal of organizing the golf equipment strewn around the living room (don’t ask!) is, by comparison, quite similar to putting away the groceries and laundry. Both latter tasks have a dedicated, compartmentalized storage unit and involve the process of ‘grouping and condensing’. Aha!! How about designing a hall closet golf caddy to fulfill the same role for errant golf equipment! Now if only injection molding and marketing were so simple!

After practicing this exercise, your brain will become accustomed to jumping between attentions while maintaining an underlying focus map of multiple concurrent tasks. Which is to say, seeing the dishtowels in a pile of clean laundry may soon prompt the thought cascade of kitchen, grocery bags, golf equipment… This underlying multiple focus is itself a neural model of how an extended metaphor/theme weaves its way into a creative person’s work. The layered themes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a perfect example. And I know I’m risking the wrath of dendrite action potential purists here, but the best way to describe this phenomenon is that, once activated, these associative areas may stay quietly ‘lit’ and be more easily accessed during (near) future conscious and unconscious musings. Ah yes, the sweet beauty of brain priming.

Negotiate your humanity using a limbic mascot

fun vice cartoonWe all have a Mitch-the-insatiable-itch. Yours may have a different name, or set of genitalia, but we all need a way to negotiate with our brain’s limbic system – our emotional selves. Science has found that our prefrontal cortex, our ‘rational’ brain, is second in command to our limbic system. Our conscious selves are gatekeepers ever struggling to hold back the dopamine wielding forces of our emotionally charged motivations and temptations. Brain scans can reveal a decision up to 7 seconds before you consciously decide! Of course, this shouldn’t come as any surprise to those of us who have ever sat down, rolled up our sleeves, and inhaled an entire pizza. Either we were so wasted we’d already locked out our prefrontals, or we were actually able to rationalize this act of symphonic gluttony. Scary thought either way! And for those of us who have never adopted a rigid set of internal regulations (hello anyone creative, oh, and anyone madly in love), we so often sabotage ourselves by being able to effortlessly ‘rationalize’ the most absurd glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When the Calgary Flames are down 5-1 in the third, and Harvey the Hound is still dancing manically in the stands, drumming up a rallying cry from the crowd… sometimes a mascot is our last best hope for survival. A limbic mascot is a visual thinking tool that can be used to help create a subtle separation, a space for negotiation, between our emotions and our intellectual reasoning. To ensure we stay faithful to our long term goals, we often (hourly unless you’re one of the lucky ones) need to challenge the urgency and importance of short term impulses that are demanding (and I do mean demanding) attention and satiation. A limbic mascot can serve as an entity of attribution that allows you to make these conscious intellectual challenges without directly attacking your ego.

Mitch-the-insatiable-itch is my limbic system middle-man. He’s ever-present in Blank Canvas Living’s sidebar, and he’s even snuck his way into one or two posts. The petulant little darling is all belly and cute pink package. Go ahead and read in a light dose of Freudian penis envy – but they really are such fun. He has a perpetual indignant frown and fingers for pointing at what he wants, but no real mouth. He leaves all the verbalization, rationalization, and justification to the prefrontal side of the equation. He’s a master of the ever-so-seductive myth of “this is the last time.” I love the little guy, even though his ear horns mean he’s rarely sitting on the angel side of my shoulder.

I’m so curious, dear readers, what would your limbic system mascot look like?

The design process applied to office sanctioned crafting

design processCreative problem solving isn’t about sitting by yourself in a little corner hashing out some rigid step by step plan of action. It’s about responding to your materials, interacting with your environment, and fearlessly risking your time and ego by challenging your ideation at every step of the process.

When my boss asked me to design paper gauges for our two giant printers, I was thrilled; especially considering that despite my background, I’ve deliberately chosen a job that strictly confines me to rolling said paper when it comes out the other side of said behemoth printers (but that’s another story).

“Ooooo yes please!” I said, always eager to engage in any office sanctioned crafting. And really, is there any better kind?

I quizzed him on the design criteria: show amount of available paper (two sizes) without having to open the machines. And set to work, scouring our office for any potentially useful materials. A key exercise in creativity – feel free to try this at home – is to look at objects in terms of their inherent physical properties, not just by their associations (click here for classic candle/box experiment). For example, an elastic’s basic properties can allow it to become be a shock absorber, a vice, a sound generator, a friction enhancer, a weapon, a hinge, a sex toy… etc.

First attempt: I cut out the center of two paper plates (using small ceramic plate template), used Sharpie coloured wood coffee stirrers as indicators around a central pivot made of a paper clip (by first creating holes with thumbtacks and securing potential wood splitting with packing tape), then partook in label making to obscene excess. Brilliant!!

Except… for the fact that the resulting gauge looked exactly like two paper plates with coffee stirrers sandwiched in between, and carried the ugly evidence of someone with an obsessive fetish for label makers. And then there was the embarrassing discovery that moving one indicator influenced the rotation of the other. Sigh… not so brilliant after all.

Solution: Back to the drawing board. Always a sharp physical pain, but part of the creative process that must never smell your fear. There can be no mourning period. Huzza! Onwards and Upwards! I extended my foraging area to include resources available within walking distance on my lunchbreak.gauge design Brass spread-leg fasteners obtained! Cardstock… cardstock? After waiting for an eternity at the counter of a print shop, I’d almost given up hope. Then low and behold, a miracle! A dashing, ever so gallant, white knight of customer service came to my rescue with a stack of backroom off-of-stock-list sheets of two different weights. Huzza!

Sometimes, when you go out into the world with excitement, openness, and a clear mission, that world gets excited along with you and gives you what you so desperately need without asking anything in return. The gift of those few sheets were more than enough motivation to re-energize my demand for perfection from this project. No more compromises! This gauge was going to be perfect down to the mm… who are we kidding… the 1/2 mm!

Final design: So what if the heavier cardstock jammed the printer. I simply laminated the lighter version with packing tape and got on with X-acto-ing and blending my pencil crayons to a professional blur with strips of Kleenex. Brilliant! Perfection achieved! Perfectly proportioned, eminently easy to read, two super pro looking paper gauges = Mission accomplished?

“What do you think?” I asked my boss, proudly showing off my brand new twins.

“Hmmm,” he said, “I was thinking of something maybe a bit smaller.”

…oh for the lova’ pete.