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Tools for Creativity and Stuff

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Boyd and Beyond 2014 this weekend there were a few references to creativity and whether creativity could be taught. I prepared what follows back in August in response to a friend’s request for ideas and/or resources.

Free writing: author Mark Levy’s book Accidental Genius is a good resource of concepts for how to get “it” in writing. Levy argues our internal editor gets in the way of our creativity and advocates writing quickly without regard to style, grammar, etc—the idea being to get the ideas out in a tangible form and provides methods to synthesize. It has a sort of gimmicky feel, but I’ve used variations of his methods four or five times a year—and just used last week to get my head around part of a problem.

Michael Michalko’s THINKPAK, THINKERTOYS, and Cracking Creativity are all good resources, but I’ve found the card deck to be the most valuable (Fred Leland uses these, too). In the card deck Michalko divides his thought-prompting cards into the acronym “SCAMPER” (S-Substitute Something), (C-Combine it with something else), (A- Adapt something to it), (M-Modify or Magnify——[I added miniaturize] it), (P- Put it to some other use), (E- Eliminate Something), (R- Reverse or Rearrange it). Here is a link to the google book. I keep the card deck on my desk and use several times a year.

Visible Thinking has moments (a painful read in places, but there are some good nuggets, too), but the larger theme is The Mind Map Book, which many admire. I know Lynn uses mind maps—and I have several for my boat project. I find them good for getting the ideas out there and establishing connections. I use Mind Maps software—which is very good on a PC, but not so good on a Mac.

Systematically, I have found combining Michalko’s THINKPAK with a Mind Map to be useful, and THINKPAK “backwards” with free writing (using the cards as a jumping off place to begin writing). Handwriting might not be popular with the younger folks, but free-writing isn’t the same on a keyboard for me. It is a question of what style best fits for you.

A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants — both by Roger von Oech [he has a "Whack Pack" set of cards, too, but I don't have them yet.] are campy with dated graphics, but when I’m stuck, one of these books is often my first place to stop. Parts are goofy to be sure, but sometimes goofy is good.

At the other end of the spectrum, Barbara Minto’s The Minto Pyramid Principle, Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving I have a love/hate relationship with this very expensive book (I paid about $50 for a used copy) that I purchased back in 2008/09. Minto’s genius is in her simplicity and elegance—it is also very linear, so focus is rarely a problem when using her methods. Her schema is focused on a consultant-client relationship, so you may want to skip or check if google has parts you can review online.

My father-in-law shared a column from an investment newsletter several years ago that I’ve also used intermittently: everyday write down “10 ideas”—this is sort of a riff on free writing, but the idea is to get 10 new ideas on paper everyday—unedited. It gets hard after about five or six consecutive days. I’ll typically go three or four days in a row and take a few weeks off. I’ve ideas for three different weapons platforms that came from this method.

Terry Barnhart’s Critical Question Mapping [see Terry's excellent Creating a Lean R&D Enterprise]  is a good place to approach problems from the perspective of what/which questions must be answered. Mark (aka: “Zen”) has used with students and Fred Leland uses in training law enforcement. We used it a couple of years ago to help establish a big project I’m working on.

Lastly, two tools I use everyday are a small Moleskin notebook and my iPhone camera. Anytime I’ve an idea/insight I’ll copy into my notebook and assign a suspense date to “running it to ground,” and this includes copying marginalia and/or quotes from a book I’m reading—particularly for adjacent ideas as a prompt to come back. Also, I’m a big fan of using my smartphone to photograph magazine articles, shapes or designs that may have applicability to something that interests me. For aid in memory, I’ve found Evernote.com to be very useful, too.

What tools do you use to boost your creativity?

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Sir Richard Dearlove speaks — and the caliphate responds?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a nasty piece of news to come across after listening to Dearlove's RUSI speech ]
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Here is Sir Richard Dearlove, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, speaking on Terrorism and National Security: Proportion or Distortion? at the Royal United Services Institute, yesterday:

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Sir Richard’s thrust was that 9-11 has overshadowed our thinking about intelligence resources, and we (which means the Brits, here, but with wider possible application) should cut back on CT and focus more on Russia, China, and other non-jihad-driven threats. In his view, we have seen CT through the lens of 9-11 as jihadists vs the west, naturally enough, when in facty it is becoming clearer and clearer that the “real” ME issue is the ancient rivalry of Sunni vs Shia.

However, and notably for my purpose here, he had one qualification to add to that overall assessment:

In one important respect I need to add a qualification to my argument. I’m surprised that some of the more chilling threats that we did worry about, and should still probably worry about, have not materialized. And I’m of course referring to the possibility of CBRN, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. A single successful urban attack using any of these methods would probably have far-reaching consequences. It would represent an escalation that could fundamentally change — in the opposite direction from what I’m saying — how we do counterterrorism, and destroy my argument about proportionality.

However, with the exception of a possible radiological contamination event, I think that this threat is more latent than actual. The technology bottleneck is a narrow one. Chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are largely state developed and controlled, and unless an ISIS-type movement were to rest control on aspects of a state program, we should have the means to exercise surveillance and control of that bottleneck.

This transcript is partially my own work, partially drawn from JustSecurity.org‘s abridged but helpful version.

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That was yesterday, July 7th 2014.

Today, an AP bulletin caught my eye:

Iraq says ‘terrorists’ seize chemical weapons site

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iraq has informed the United Nations that the Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad where 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin or their remnants were stored along with other chemical warfare agents.

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon circulated Tuesday that “terrorist” groups entered the Muthanna site June 11 and seized weapons and equipment from the protection force guarding the facility.

He singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex, which according to a 2004 U.N. report also contained the toxic agent sodium cyanide, which is a precursor for the chemical warfare agent tabun, and artillery shells contaminated with mustard gas.

For obvious reasons, that had a lot of folk concerned. The current version at the same link begins:

Iraq: ‘Terrorists’ seize ex-chemical weapons site

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled decades ago with the deadly nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical warfare agents, Iraq said in a letter circulated Tuesday at the United Nations.

The U.S. government played down the threat from the takeover, saying there are no intact chemical weapons and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the material for military purposes.

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter that “armed terrorist groups” entered the Muthanna site on June 11, detained officers and soldiers from the protection force guarding the facilities and seized their weapons. The following morning, the project manager spotted the looting of some equipment via the camera surveillance system before the “terrorists” disabled it, he said.

The Islamic State group, which controls parts of Syria, sent its fighters into neighboring Iraq last month and quickly captured a vast stretch of territory straddling the border between the two countries. Last week, its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land the extremists control.

Alhakim said as a result of the takeover of Muthanna, Iraq is unable “to fulfil its obligations to destroy chemical weapons” because of the deteriorating security situation. He said it would resume its obligations “as soon as the security situation has improved and control of the facility has been regained.”

Alhakim singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad in the notorious “Sunni Triangle.”

The last major report by U.N. inspectors on the status of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program was released about a year after the experts left in March 2003. It states that Bunker 13 contained 2,500 sarin-filled 122-mm chemical rockets produced and filled before 1991, and about 180 tons of sodium cyanide, “a very toxic chemical and a precursor for the warfare agent tabun.”

The U.N. said the bunker was bombed during the first Gulf War in February 1991, which routed Iraq from Kuwait, and the rockets were “partially destroyed or damaged.”

It said the sarin munitions were “of poor quality” and “would largely be degraded after years of storage under the conditions existing there.” It said the tabun-filled containers were all treated with decontamination solution and likely no longer contain any agent, but “the residue of this decontamination would contain cyanides, which would still be a hazard.”

CBRN would be the game-changer…

And I’m not quite sure yet, whether to feel relieved again or not.

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Three DoubleQuotes via Paradoxes of War MOOC

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's actionable intel, and then there's the chewable kind -- guess where my own interest is focused ]
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There’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of actionable intelligence, and in the software and trainings that serve it, Palantir being among the most notable. And there’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of “inactionable” intelligence, and in any software and trainings that serve it, the HipBone/Sembl/DoubleQuotes combo fitting into the way of things under that “uncomfortable” rubric.

So let’s give those cognitive modes other names, and call them, for simplicity: act-on mode and chew-on mode. Some people need to act on the intelligence they receive, some need to chew on it.

The three DoubleQuotes that follow are the byproduct of today’s discussions on Princeton’s Paradoxes of War MOOC, and to mmy mind they’re worth chewing on.

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Brilliant! These two quotes are juxtaposed as epigraphs to James Der Derian‘s paper, War as Game. Given my interest in both war and games, that was a natural DoubleQuote to borrow..

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The thing about Thomas Friedman‘s quote — which became a semi-tongue-in-cheek theory after he wove it into his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, under the name “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” — is that it traces back so directly to Immanuel Kant, thus demonstrating the theorem, applicable to both waterways and spiritual utterances, that matters whose beginnings are pure tend to accrue contaminants as they move away from source — an effect for whose religious variant Max Weber coined the phrase, “the routinization of charisma”.

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Lastly, here’s one for the Zenmaster, knowing his appreciation both for ancient history as it relates to military matters, and for the art and science of education:

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Sources:

  • Der Derian, Epigraphs from War as Game

  • Friedman, Big Mac
  • Kant, Perpetual Peace

  • Mead, Military Recruiters
  • Deligiannis, The Spartan ‘Agoge’
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    Posts from my Coursera classes 3 — on knowing Shia from Sunni

    Thursday, June 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Bush, Reyes and McCain as leading indicators of a difficult learning-curve ]
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    Here’s another in my series of posts taken from MOOCs I’ve been participating in. This one comes from the Changing World Order Coursera MOOC from Leiden University, and deals with the knowledge senior US politicians have shown of the distinction between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam — as fundamental as the distinction between Protestant and Catholic within Christianity, and similarly basic in that further distinctions of detail also merit our awareness and consideration.

    I am posting it here today not just because it’s part of the series of “bigger picture” mini-essays [1, 2] I’m drawing together as I continue to participate in these MOOC discussions, but also so that I can link to it in my post on Nomenclature, ISIS and beyond.

    Here’s the post in question:

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    As to the knowledge of these distinctions present in American politicians, here are some data points, one from George W Bush shortly before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, one from the incoming Democratic chair of the House intelligence Committee in 2006, and one from John McCain in 2008.

    President GW Bush:

    A year after the Axis of Evil speech, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans … As the three described what they thought would be the political situation after Saddam’s fall, they talked about Sunnis and Shiites.  It became apparent to them that the president was unfamiliar with these terms. … So two months before he ordered U.S. troops into the country, the president of the United States did not appear to know about the division among Iraqis that has defined the country’s history and politics.  He would not have understood why non-Arab Iran might gain a foothold in post-Saddam Iraq.  He could not have anticipated U.S. troops being caught in the middle of a civil war between two religious sects that he did not know existed.

    — Peter Galbraith, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End

    Rep Silvestre Reyes:

    In 2006, the New York Times reported on Rep Silvestre Reyes’ answers to two questions:

    • Is Al Qaeda Sunni or Shiite?
    • Which sect dominates Hezbollah?

    Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic nominee to head the House Intelligence Committee, failed to answer both questions correctly last week when put to the test by Congressional Quarterly. He mislabeled Al Qaeda as predominantly Shiite, and on Hezbollah, which is mostly Shiite, he drew a blank.

    “Speaking only for myself,” he told reporters, “it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.”

    — New York Times, Refresher Course for Congress: Telling Sunni From Shiite

    Sen. John McCain:

    Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.

    He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.

    Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.”

    Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate’s ear. McCain then said: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”

    A McCain Gaffe in Jordan, Washington Post, 2008

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    Somewhere between intelligence and decision-making, there’s a gap…

    – hipbone

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    Previous posts in this series:

  • Posts from my Coursera classes I — dehumanization, consequences
  • Posts from my Coursera classes 2 — angles on the Taliban
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    Eric Cantor and the invisible menagerie

    Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- who is personally blind to the ultraviolet, the infrared and the classified -- and speaking of intel analysis, to a subset of elephants and gorillas, too? ]
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    Noting quickly that I don’t “do” American politics, I’d still like to point to the occasional specifically religious aspect of the matter. In today’s New York Times, for instance, under the heading Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates, we read:

    David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

    “Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

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    Talk about an elephant in the room — or was it a gorilla? Have you seen this brilliant remake of a classic video?
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    How helpful is Richards J. Heuer‘s Analysis of Competing Hypotheses in finding invisible gorillas — or elephants? I wouldn’t even know how to test the question using PARC’s ACH software: the evidence is there, but if we’re “blinkered” we won’t even see it.

    And just how blinkered are we?

    There may be known elephants in the room — to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld — and also unknown elephants. How will we ever know about the unknown elephants, before they tusk us?

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    Question and Answer:

    Q: When is an elephant a gorilla?
    A: When it’s in the room with you.

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