Written by: FFT Webmaster | April 30th, 2012
What is creativity and how can it be cultivated and enhanced? This was the provocative set of questions at the heart of the Advancing Creative Thinking: Imagination To Innovation conference held in Ridgefield, CT this past weekend. The 2-day event, co-presented by the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, the Ridgfield Library and the Ridgefield Arts Council, brought together a truly eclectic set of speakers to explore the prism of creativity and its pragmatic use from the perspective of business, education, poetry, music and the visual arts. In my experience, it is highly unusual to have such an event be peppered with a mix of business consultants, visual artists, poets, journalists and media mavens of all stripes. However, this 360 degree approach gave an illuminating and inspiring perspective on the subject at hand.
The event kicked off with an opening musical prelude on Friday evening April 27 in the beautiful sanctuary of Ridgefield’s historic Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church. The SymphoNYChorus, a faith-based choir, sang inspirational hymns and gospel songs to make concrete the connection between the divine and the earthly. The performance was quickly followed by a diverting and quite funny address by David Pogue, the key tech reviewer for the New York Times, who offered a glimpse of how technological changes in the past decade will only speed up in the years ahead, and how our brains and our souls are adapting. Citing various innovative mobile technologies and showcasing the changes that are afoot in our rapidly changing environment, Pogue mixed an air of wild-eyed optimism at the goodies coming our way with a wariness of how we as a species will adapt to this tsunami of technological change.
Pogue, who concluded the program with a self-composed ditty on technological frustration sung to the tune of The Sounds Of Silence, was followed by the overdrive personality of problem solver Bruce King-Shey, whose company Jump Associates is one of the key drivers of the art of hybrid thinking (one must be a tech wiz, social observer and capitalist all at once). He challenged the audience to think outside the envelope and beyond the box to access the tools needed to apply expansive thinking to matters of economics, social problems and personal development. These last qualities were echoed, in quite a different context and in a totally different delivery style, by artist and social activist Lily Yeh, who described a successful project she had inaugurated in the slums of Philadelphia to realize a poor community’s potential to make their lives better, more beautiful and more hopeful. Ms. Yeh’s current project, a memorial to the victims of the Rwandan genocide, is the latest initiative of her Barefoot Artists organization, which attempts to use public art as an organizing tool for communities under duress.
Saturday sessions were held at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, a local resource and one of the most respected regional art museums in the country. Parallel seminars were held in various public spaces in the museum that illuminated everything from organizational innovation to storytelling and the art of the imagination to poetry workshops and an open air movement class led by local choreographer James Robey. Depending on one’s orientation and expectation, the sessions offered were either pragmatic how-to sessions designed to demonstrate the various ways that creative thinking and methodology can be addressed to a wide variety of issues and goals, or were of a more personal and inspirational bent, inviting the participant to tap into their own creative impulse and jointly create a moment, a feeling, an observation or a philosophy that allows one to access the innate creativity at our core.
From IBM poobahs to a new generation of motivational consultants, from enlightened educators to inspired artists, from self-help gurus to therapeutic storytellers, the full gamut of the pragmatic and poetic uses of creativity were explored. The closing keynote address summed it all up, with an address by Nicholas Donofrio, a retired emeritus of IBM, offering a crystal ball view into the innovations we can expect in the 21st century and how technology is more than a means to an end. The creative sparks were definitely flying by the conference’s end, with a strong sense among attendees that they had been privileged to participate in a visionary exercise that demonstrated how there are no closed roads and many pathways to individual, organizational and societal fulfillment. In short, seeds were mostly definitely planted and the flowers that will emerge in the months ahead will be beautiful ones indeed.