Can Spaces and Serendipity Help Innovation? Something from David Radcliffe of Google

“You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation.” — David Radcliffe, Google VP of Real Estate & Workplace Services in a CBS This Morning Interview (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ANgEo40VSE)

The point Radcliffe was making involved Google’s innovative approach to designing collaboration and meeting spaces, on their corporate campuses. It’s a data driven approach but might strike some corporate traditionalists as fuzzy-headed, hippy-dippy, ‘woo-woo’ perhaps.

It most assuredly is not.

Being a massively data-driven company all of Google’s Real Estate design decisions, how its facilities are laid out, how space is apportioned, and so on is based on number crunching and active experimentation trying to get an answer to the question “How do we get our employees to be more productive?” In other words, innovation and idea generation have an unpredictable element to them, almost serendipity you could say. They require massive preparation of course, but they can’t be scheduled.

From the video I link to above, Google seems to be in the business of creating human working environments that allow its employees to produce the most amount of innovative ideas possible. A vast human idea laboratory, perhaps/

Designing workspaces that help facilitate creative innovation needs to take this into account. The video piece I link to above is interesting, and there are some take-home ideas any of us can apply to our own work, whatever it happens to be.

What can you do where you are to better foster your own idea generation and innovation, whether it’s your car, a subway seat, a desk at home, a spacious office, or a broom closet? We have to work with what we have, where we have, but what we do with it can go a long way.

To speak truth, of pleasure and pain, and all the pretty little horses.


A lullaby goes;
Go to sleep, little baby.
And when you wake,
You shall have a cake,
And all the pretty little ponies.

All the pretty little ponies. All the pretty little horses. just go to sleep..

An old friend was chatting with me, while we sat in an old coffee shop. We’re talking about propaganda, we’re talking about people’s desire for simple things to listen to and believe in and hold onto. And he was pointing out to me a fatal flaw of mine, that of overcomplicating the truth.

Why is it that a simple lie may find more currency than a truth expressed in complicated terms?

Pain and pleasure. We avoid what causes pain. And oh, our lives are full of such dull sorrows and pains. And we yearn for those simple pleasures, we work and toil and then go home to our toys. Our drugs. Our booze. Our porn. Our sex. Our food.

Our TV. And it tells us such simple little things.

And then we go to sleep, and this we yearn for intensely.

**

Simple words soothe the mind and soul. Whether they are true or false. Complicated things ache the mind and soul.

Here is a power of persuasion, he or she who can master their words is not necessarily someone who uses pretty words, and high concepts expressed in high terms.

George Orwell and Winston Churchill both pointed out, about effective communication, that simple words penetrate the most.

So, if you want to speak or write truth, do yourself and others a favor and “keep it simple stupid,” as the saying goes.

Don’t get too artsy about it, is it about your ‘self expression‘ or is it about communicating a message?

Of course, a prerequisite is to actually know the truth. Much of the time we think we know the truth, a truth that we are aching and burning to tell the world, but we don’t really know the whole truth, or even an adequate part of it.

**

Sometimes what we think is true or think we know isn’t so. And sometimes, those truths that we think are in our deepest selves, are actually things whispered in our ears while we’re going to sleep..

While dreaming of pretty little horses.

EOF

Non-Fiction versus fiction in an apocalypse culture, Adam Parfrey, the essay, and the novel.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his anthology, Apocalypse Culture, Adam Parfrey muses as follows;

“..reality has taken on such a dire and phantasmagoric cast that fictionalizing has become superfluous. The essay form has superseded the novel as the vehicle that best suggests the prevailing apocalyptic gestalt, and as the talisman that is most able to repel the onset of paralyzing dread.””
-Adam Parfrey, 1990.

The form of written language best able to convey a sense of, and indeed help make sense of, this age along these lines, would be the non-fiction essay. Some may disagree, it’s a perspective worth considering however. Truly paradigm shattering novels along dystopic lines are rare; 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, the crop of current dystopian narratives seem to simply deepen the mood and spit it back at us while we, un-reflexively, watch and scratch our heads over The Hunger Games.

What the essay has that the novel or fictionalized narrative lacks is it’s ability to not be completely reduced to entertainment, and thus to a soporific, inducing dreams, but not waking us. Film fiction narratives, like The Matrix, being partial and useful exceptions that sort of prove the rule.

Where to find the language to express ideas? Indeed what is language in all of this? “All language is at once the ‘sensualization of the idea’ and the ‘idealization of the sensuous’. Language is, therefore, the most distinguishing characteristic of man..” notes C. Nisbet and D. Lemon in their 1892 Everybody’s Writing-Desk Book. Noting further that man can be defined, in quotations, as the speaking animal. A pity they didn’t note the origin of that quote, being the Classical Arabic definition of al-Insan, The Human, as ‘al-Hayawan al-Natiq‘ or the speaking, articulating, animal.

The theme of the Book of Eli, another fictionalized narrative, is interesting here; what obsessed Garry Oldman’s character was obtaining the word. At all costs. The overly biblical cast of the movie might distract a more skeptical viewer from the vital urgency of its core message, which is that the word, language, is all important in either controlling humanity, or saving humanity, Oldman’s character, though a villain, was in a way a flawed and tragic hero, stuck in a particular paradigm that gave him an edge, but only the sliver of an edge, in a world gone mad. It was an edge that he grasped without justice. And hence his undoing.

Words, language, are vital. And though Parfrey wrote those words something like 25 years ago, I think with the increasing popularity of Creative Nonfiction he was onto something.

One interesting quote on altruism in nanny states

I personally believe in altruism over selfishness. However if altruism is coerced or forced is it really altruism? Is it really a virtue? If a virtue is coerced is it a good or evil? This quote strikes me in this regard.

“Big Sister does not want her peasants holding values that are incompatible with the Good Society.  She will not tolerate adult behavior, or independent thought and action.  Thus she hates religion, morality, political dissent of any kind (democracy is, again, intolerant of dissent, even in dress), and in particular she hates the kind of moral abolutism that underlies most systems of honor.  As an example of how this works, Big Sister promulgates the now widespread idea that anyone who refuses welfare to which he is “entitled” is INSANE.  Thus even a debased petit-bourgeois notion of personal responsibility and independence becomes a symptom of insanity, and since insanity is, in our mythology, a disease like influenza, the insane must accept treatment. Must.  Tyrannies of the left-socialist type are characterized by their insistence on compulsory  altruism as the prime “social directive”.

Compulsory altruism is NOT a virtue, it is the behavior pattern of a slave or a mechanism.  NO compelled behavior is virtuous.  The Lizards have convinced most people that “obeying the law under pain of death” is *virtuous*.  This is useful to them, but there is no virtue in it.  It is virtuous to give alms to a worthy beggar, but it is not virtuous to pay taxes that aid the poor. This is why socialist tyrannies strive to monopolize charity: through taxation the element of private virtue is eliminated, through the perversion of meaning of virtue into “obedience”, virtue is no longer the result of honorable behavior, but is another “entitlement” dispensed by Big Sister.  Consider the travesty of “Honors Day” in the UK, when people are rewarded for making money and paying large taxes, i.e. for being good subjects.” – Marmota monax, the digital peasant, on a Def Con mailing list 30 Oct 1999

A note for anyone who gets in a tizzy over the writer’s mentioning, in a linked phrase, a nanny-state’s hatred of “religion, morality, political dissent of any kind” – the writer was an agnostic or atheist, if I recall, and certainly not religious. One does not need to be, however, to notice that when the State is effectively presented as god – or goddess as the case may be – then it obviously cannot tolerate other forms of religious expression. This is a matter of degrees of course, ranging from the gross to the subtle. In more subtle cases religion, morality, political dissent of any kind, are best assimilated to the operative logic of the state’s civil religion itself.

 

“Yet Schiller, Dante, Shakespeare I devoured.
My forehead trembled as I read their works.
As to those rakes that former tunes admired,
Virgil, and Horace, Homer, Cicero,
We know, thank God! just what to think of them.
Then quick to learn the art poetical,
My lisping muse began to plagiarize;
And then, in turn, I worshiped England, Spain,
And Italy, and, chiefly, Germany.
What would I not have done to know the dialect
The cobbler Sachs had gloried years a-gone!” – Alfred de Musset

If one wishes to be subtle, and not gross, and thus in the long term to be effective One may consider adding to one’s worship by consent and not naked bare coercion.
The Muslim, the Hindu, the Jain, the Christian, the Odinist, the Mithraist, the Jew: each becomes an acolyte of the mother goddess of the state. His or her belief system and sense of morality and virtue are best re-molded in ways consistent with the dominant narrative.
How many Hindus worship India instead of Vishnu or Krshina – in actual effect. How many Israeli Jews worship Israel instead of YWEH, in effect? How many Evangelical Christians worship Old Glory, the US Flag, and the Unites States of America – instead of Jesus? How many Anglicians worship Britain (and indeed it’s How many Muslims worship – in actual effect, as in each case – the Arab State and Qawm, or Pakistan or what-like, instead of Allah? How many Mithraic soldiers worshiped (rather openly) Rome itself and her emperor instead or, or in addition to, Mithras.
What is it to worship? It is to obey and to adore. Find out whom you obey and adore with emotional fervor and then you shall know who or what it is that you really worship.
So I think that a clever Big Sister would express her underlying intolerance of her little siblings’ questioning by more subtle, than gross, coercions and cooptations. In this way the Soft Tyranny is more effective in the long term than the Hard Tyranny, for is tyranny with the consent of the tyrannized really even tyranny anymore? Irrespective of how that consent was gained?

 

Hanif Kureishi’s effective admission of being a failed teacher

(Photo linked from the guardian)

The Guardian ran a recent piece on Britain based novelist, and Kingston University writing professor, Hanif Kureishi‘s claim that creative writing courses are a waste of time, and that most of his students are able to write sentences but incapable of telling an actual story. Hence, of course, taking a creative writing class is a waste of time. Writing is, in his view, something one either has or does not have.

(on the side, Hannah Jane Parkinson in her Guardian Books Blog response takes a somewhat different course than I am about to. This is, of course, fine..)

So, here is the irony; what we have is essentially a case of projection. Kureishi, author of The Black Album and My Son the Fanatic, is effectively admitting to being an ineffective teacher. Why call yourself a shitty professor in one of Britain’s most read papers? My mind boggles. This, in effect, makes him sound like a pretentious ass. Given that he is one of Britain’s more talented authors, in his generation at least, this is a bit dreadful.

I think, to some degree, Kureishi may be purposefully exaggerating, for the purpose of being provocative.

Something can be said about the long term value of many creative writing courses, or MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs. Indeed some people have said certain things, some positive and others not so positive, about them. Some people defend both wholeheartedly; and the entire Anglosphere literary establishment more or less requires an MFA for entry.

In reality, though, there have long been multiple routes, formal and informal, through which people learned the craft of writing. There is, moreover, a long history of people tutoring and teaching the craft, and if you look deeply into the biographies of some of our most noted writers in history, there is always a learning phase. Sometimes in Journalism school, sometimes by excessive reading and self-taught practice after such reading, sometimes of course by creative writing classes, or reading and writing circles and groups.

No writer is born knowing craft. Every writer, be it of prose or verse, has to learn the craft of writing. As for storytelling, I couldn’t give a damn about it. Literary writing is far broader than making up fables read by a recondite small circle of literary critics. Let me put it a bit differently; being a good writer and a good storyteller are two separate things. Since I am neither, I feel no compunction regarding pointing this out. I simply have no dog, cock, or monkey in the fight.

What people like Kureishi forget is that the novel’s tyranny as the epitome of literary production is recent. In fact, to snidely plagiarize a turn from Matt Taibbi, one could almost call the novel a vampire squid, sucking with fanged chitin beak the very life out of modern literature. History lesson; at the turn of the 20th century English letters on an academic level had only recently conceded the novel a literary status of serious merit. The greatest novelists of the 19th and 18th centuries were seen, by the literary world’s doyens, much like genre novelists are today. At best, talented but not quite engaged in serious pursuits, say like William Gibson, Anne Rice, Steven King, or even J.A. Konrath (I do put him on the same line, he’s that good actually.) At worst, they saw novelists as hacks who pandered to the marketplace.

Literary fiction was viewed exactly like genre fiction is today. In fact our division between literary fiction and genre fiction is, in itself, a bit recent. It’s roots go back, of course, to the division between primarily market motivated, and artistically motivated, writing that predates even pulp fiction, and goes back to the division between dime novels, and cloth novels (the ancestors of our paperbacks and hardbacks). Of course there were authors who crossed over, just as today paperback editions exist of serious literary fiction.

In reality all of these divisions are contingent, and ignored in practice though not in cant and rhetoric. People read what they enjoy reading, and do not read what they do not enjoy reading, and today’s classics were yesterday’s disposable yarns. Nothing essential changes, only forms and names.

Back then the non-fiction essay and poetry held supreme sway as literary modes of production. To be respected as a literary figure (as modern English readers respect Hanif Kureishi for example) one would not write novels, rather one would write serious essays, critical ones at that (some essayists of course were critics of novels, ironically) and one would write verse. French letters held novelists and the novel in far greater respect, but it was only from the 1880s to the early 19teens that the novel fully emerged as something worthy of not just enjoyment but actual literary respect.

Today we conflate the concept of “writer” and “novelist.” This conflation is even more recent, really not only stemming from after the second World War, but from the late 60s and early 70s. With this in mind Kureishi’s claim should be rephrased. His students are bad fabulists, bad storytellers perhaps, but not bad writers. And frankly since storytelling itself is a craft, or has craft like aspects, that exist independently of the ability to produce good prose (or verse, for as people forget long form storytelling in the form of Romances, Romans, the very ancestors of the novel, were all in verse).

In this light, really, all that Kureishi is claiming is that he’s a bad teacher. This is hardly something one would want to claim in public, unless one was exceedingly honest and blunt. He is being blunt, but he is not being honest. Or, at least, that’s my opinion. Perhaps you disagree.