Category Archives: School/Work

News from my professional life

New Course: Learning How to Learn #LH2L1

Barbara Oakley: A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)I started a new Coursera course today: Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects . One of the professors of the course is Barbara Oakley, whose new book just came out and is the basis of the course: A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). The other professor is Terrence Sejnowski.

I attempted to blog through the two classes I did on Coursera in the past, but didn’t keep up. (I enjoyed and finished the courses though). I will try again with this course, we’ll see how it goes. There are lots of short and required videos to watch and some optional readings, including the book. so plenty of materials to muse on.

The first good lesson is about rules of studying. Extended excerpts from the book are posted on the course’s site, but it wouldn’t be ethical for me to copy it out here to a public site. So let me just share the bulletpoints form the excerpts:

10 Rules of Good Studying

  1. Use recall.
  2. Test yourself.
  3. Chunk your problems.
  4. Space your repetition.
  5. Alternate different problem-solving techniques during your practice.
  6. Take breaks.
  7. Use explanatory questioning and simple analogies.
  8. Focus.
  9. Eat your frogs first.
  10. Make a mental contrast.

Ten Rules of Bad Studying

  1. Passive rereading—sitting passively and running your eyes back over a page.
  2. Letting highlights overwhelm you.
  3. Merely glancing at a problem’s solution and thinking you know how to do it.
  4. Waiting until the last minute to study.
  5. Repeatedly solving problems of the same type that you already know how to solve.
  6. Letting study sessions with friends turn into chat sessions.
  7. Neglecting to read the textbook before you start working problems.
  8. Not checking with your instructors or classmates to clear up points of confusion.
  9. Thinking you can learn deeply when you are being constantly distracted.
  10. Not getting enough sleep.

CIC 10: Idea Generation Videos and Articles

Here are my comments on the optional videos and articles for the second week of the CIC course*, which were all about generating ideas.

1. Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with lions (TED Talk; Duration: 7:21)

A simple idea presented, explained and used in a touching way.I got emotional, maybe because of the presenter’s age and background was so different from all the other TED talks I’ve seen. I hope this young entrepreneur will have a successful and happy life.

1. Charles Leadbeater: The era of open innovation (TED Talk; Duration: 18:58)

What I most appreciated in this talk was that it placed the open (source) movement into the marketplace. It showed real challenges and opportunities of opening up process, through real  examples in various forms of industry, healthcare, entertainment. Here is a quote from towards the end of the talk:

If you’re a games company, and you’ve got a million players in your game, you only need one percent of them to be co-developers, contributing ideas, and you’ve got a development workforce of 10,000 people. Imagine you could take all the children in education in Britain, and one percent of them were co-developers of education. What would that do to the resources available to the education system? Or if you got one percent of the patients in the NHS to, in some sense, be co-producers of health. The reason why — despite all the efforts to cut it down, to constrain it, to hold it back — why these open models will still start emerging with tremendous force, is that they multiply our productive resources. And one of the reasons they do that is that they turn users into producers, consumers into designers.”

Best example I heard for all of us becoming prosumers: it’s not just good for the individuals, but it is good for us as a whole.

3. Steven Johnson: Where do good ideas come from? (Youtube; Duration: 4:07)

This video is not just the trailer for the presenter’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From The Natural History of Innovation, but also a cool visual notetaking of an idea. Here are some of the more interesting points:

  • Good ideas normally come from the collusion of smaller hunches, so that they form something bigger than themselves. Example of how the word wide web itself got developed by Berners-Lee. Ideas need to collide with other hunches for a breakthrough. Coffeehouses and salons were spaces for ideas to mingle, swap and new forms.
  • The great driver of scientific and technological innovation has been the historic increase in connectivity.
  • Yes, we are more distracted [in the age of the internet.., ] but we have so many new ways to connect and reach out for people who have that missing piece that would complete the idea we were working on. Chance favors the connected mind.

This last line reinforces the importance of being open and involved for the ideation process.

4. Kathryn Jablokow: Creative Diversity and Problem Solving Techniques (2-page reader)

This paper offered techniques to help us use what we have in more effective ways through learned coping behavior.

Techniques for Enhancing Your Creative Level

  • Releasing Potential Level: to help us utilize more of the capacity we were born with or to utilize it more effectively. E.g if idea generation is blocked, relax or reduce fatigue or anxiety. Or if you are distracted find a quiet place.
  • Enhancing manifest level: increase how much we learn (and retain) and how quickly we learn it, as well as how much of it we recall and how quickly/effectively we recall it. E.g. mnemonics, (acronyms, acrostics, rhymes) and speed reading.

Techniques for Simulating a Different Creative Style

Stimulate different creative styles to increase your problem solving effectiveness directly by enhancing your behavior in the direction of a particular style for a specific occasion and time period.

This was not a helpful paper on the technical level, as didn’t really spell out enough techniques. Interestig though on the theoretical level.

5. Radical Openess (Vimeo; Duration: 2:48)

End line: we need to cultivate radical openness as  a way of participating and accelerating evolution.

It was designed to dazzle with me fast pacing words and images, but instead just dizzied me mostly. There might be some good ideas hidden in there, but hard to see, for me, under the flashiness. Not my style: too much of everything.

6. Innovate or Die: Chapter 4 – Success and Failure

Points to remember from the chapter:

  • Productive failure is the use of intelligence to optimize the yield of partial truths and speed is an essential component
  • Success can lead to failure, can make you feel secure and lazy, reduces motivation, makes you arrogant.
  • Fear (of failure) is part of  survival machinery; it usually results in a common defense mechanism – inaction.
  • The key is to overcome crippling fear and have a little bit of nervousness.
  • Fear can be completely irrational, be pleasurable, must be listened to.
  • Nothing stands between you and your desires except trying and risking.
  • The flip side of fear is confidence and action.
  • Imitate someone you admire for his risk-taking skills.
  • Play is a great way to involve yourself in risk-taking.
  • In any risk-taking situation, do your homework.
  • Success/failure resume: write down your two greatest successes and two worst failures. Add a paragraph on how you view risk taking. Then try to connect your failures and successes.
  • Business is not an end, but a means to serve others. You’ve got to have fun, because it is a game.

These bullet points may not make much sense without the context of the whole chapter, but serve well as idea nuggets. The most exciting is the success/failure resume that I would want to try one day.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 9: Idea Journal + Ideation Methods and Mastering the Luck

The second and third video of the second week of the CIC course* was titled “Idea Journal” and “Ideation Methods and Mastering the Luck” respectively. The former emphasized the importance of keeping a good track of your ideas. voice, journal books, electronic file, whatever works for you. “It keeps you from forgetting things, and it helps you build habits of observation. And it gives you information, tools, and resources that you can use going forward.”

The second video started off with four best practices of ideation methods:

  • Be open
  • Understand the problem
  • Have a toolbox of techniques
  • Practice the techniques

Mastering luck means, aiming for it, opening up for serendipity by getting involved in a number of things and being aware during those times. You never know when  and where will you make a connection (to a person or to a new idea or tool or process…) that will enable yo to do the next great thing.

Personal comments:

  • The idea/word of “Ideation” was a new concept for me. Never thought that the process of coming up with ideas needs its own name. Now I know.
  • I started a GoogleDoc as my idea journal. I don’t have the best practices of how to do it yet. I find my ides so far too detailed level (how to fix a bug in code), too limited (they revolve around the same 4-5 topics of interest) or too grand (building an EarthShip). I need to practice figuring out what should I record and also moving away form the “how” type of question to the “what”.
  • The best practices for “Ideation Methods” make total sense, but now I need to get familiar with the tools.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 8: Creative Divergence and Convergence

The first video of the second week of the CIC course* was about “Creative Divergence and Convergence”. It introduced the concepts created by J. P. Guilford, who was the President of the American Psychological Association:

  • Divergent thinking = generating multiple ideas, solutions, or alternatives.
  • Convergent thinking = evaluating and selecting from among those alternatives.

Both of these happen at different creative levels and styles and everyone does both.  The lecture went on explaining how the combinations of divergent/convergent thinking can look like at various creative styles/levels. We also got reminded that divergent thinking don’t necessarily generate radical, breakthrough solutions.

Here are the questions form the end of the lecture and my answers

  • Q: In learning about divergent and convergent thinking, did you have to unlearn anything first?
    A: Not really, It was more like a clarification of what I noticed on my own. Some people are full of ideas and sometimes having a hard time choosing from them, while others are great at making decisions, by narrowing down options, but could not come up with an “original” idea even if their life depended on it.
  • Q: Think about your own way of working with ideas: do you tend to diverge in a more adaptive (more structured) way or a more innovative (less structured) way? What about converging?
    A: In general I am more of an adaptive, structural thinker, so I like to go through options in a systematic way. E.g. when I troubleshoot code I just go through the whole thing form the beginning, instead of intuiting where to look.
  • Q: What is your creative level and how does that impact the way you diverge and converge?
    A: I am an integrator, so at the lower level of creativity I like integrate lessons from different areas. In this way I am a convergent person. At the higher levels though I am not always capable of combining things and then I diverge.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 7: Idea Cloud – Week 1

The Creativity, Innovation, and Change course* has an “idea cloud” section  where we can watch and read other clips on creativity, that are not part of the course curriculum. Here is what was shared by the professors this week and my reflections on them

Can You Teach Creativity? – Chris Staley

Compared to the title the video was a disappointment. It gave no answers to the titular question. It showed the professor working with clay and exploring his own creativity. Nice, but didn’t meet the expectation set in the title. The lesson shared at the end is to be fearless and be willing to try anything.

A Search for Meaning – Chris Staley

The best takeaway from the video was Maslow’s four stages of learning/competence. I’ve heard variations of it in the past,but wasn’t aware where they came from. They ring pretty true to me:

  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence

Liking Mistakes – Chris Staley

I liked the arch of the stories. First we learn that kids like the mistakes in objects. Then we learn that objects have stories, shaped by all the people who touched them. Then we learn that people have stories and mistakes and they are also shaped by everyone who are in touch with them.

Where is home? – Pico Iyer (TED Talk)

The talk was entertaining and I was attuned to it, being an immigrant who spent time in different countries, just like the speaker. What spoke the most to me were these lines:

“It’s only by stopping movement that you can where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home. …Movement is a fantastic privilege, and it allows us to do so much that our grandparents could never have dreamed of doing. “

This I wholeheartedly agree with.

If You can Dream it, You can Do It – Michael Michalko

The summary:

[Walter Disney] summarized his creativity in one word: Imagineering. The term “Imagineering” combines the words imagination and engineering. Imagineering enabled him to transform the dreams, fantasies and wishes of his imagination into concrete reality.
Disney’s thinking strategy involved exploring something using three different perceptual positions.

An insight into these positions comes from the comment made by one of his animators that: “Disney’s thinking technique synthesized three different strategies: the dreamer, realist, and the critic. A dreamer without a realist is often not able to translate fantasies into tangible reality. A dreamer and critic become engaged in constant conflict. A dreamer and realist can create things but find that a critic helps to evaluate and refine the final products.”

I am glad that I read this paper, because I realized that I squarely belong to the Realist group. Whenever somebody asks me to dream about something I panic and get blocks. I am better at being a critic, but don’t like to hurt people’s feeling so I end up self-censoring myself. Hence I am a realist according to these categories/strategies.

Innovate or Die: Chapter 19 – Davis Software Company –  Jack Matson

This chapter of a book is a (fictional?) case study of an accountant and how he went ahead about branching it and expanding his business. It was very inspirational for me as I am also at the point, where I need to grow my business or expand my income in other ways. The best parts were the idea generation methods:

  • Brainstorming
  • Visual connections: looking around the office, jotting down objects he saw and use them as a basis for ideas)
  • Guided fantasy: listing random words, picking one, write a fantasy with that word and connect it to possible business ideas
  • Paradox: what would “unbusinesss” look like, with what characteristics

By the end he had lots of ideas that he assigned values and feasibility scores, totaled them and executed the top level ones. This is something that I should do to. I think I would not only enjoy the process, but might also come to a creative outcome.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 5: Intelligent Fast Failure

I took away, more like re-learned, two things from the third video of the first week of the CIC course*

  1. Failure should have nothing to do with self-esteem. A great way to achieve something is to keep experimenting. The more frequently I fail, and the more I learn form it the higher the chances that I will create something great. If I don’t attach feelings to it, just observe the failure of the mistake that will help me learn from it and move on and higher.
  2. Failure is an essential part of the creative process. If I don’t fail how do I know that what I built would measure up.

I was aware of both of these so I had no problem accepting it from a professor’s mouth. What I still need to learn is not to internalize a project failure as my own character failure. The key is to learn from it and build upon it.

This reminds me of the name of the German industrial band called “Einstürzende Neubauten“. I believe their name means “Collapsing New Buildings”, but I always thought of it as a building that rebuilds itself as it collapses. So if creativity is a reiterative process, than collapsing/failure is necessary so something new/better could rise form the ashes.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.



CIC 4: Creative style estimation exercise

As part of the CIC course* I did a “Creative style estimation exercise“, by answering 10 questions and placing myself on a scale of 1-10 for each. These were the questions/ranges:

  1. I prefer a methodical approach to problem solving. – vs –  I prefer a loose approach to problem solving.
  2. I prefer situations where few rules exist. – vs – I prefer situations where well-established rules exist.
  3. I prefer to stick with one task until it is finished.  – vs -I prefer to switch frequently among a variety of tasks.
  4. I prefer to leave the problem definition open as I search for solutions.  – vs – I prefer to define a problem thoroughly before I search for solutions.
  5. I prefer to use existing policies and procedures to solve problems. – vs – I prefer to move away from existing policies and procedures to solve problems.
  6. I tend to generate ideas that challenge the existing process or system. – vs – I tend to generate ideas that refine the existing process or system.
  7. I like to maintain group consensus while solving problems. – vs – I am not really concerned about group consensus while solving problems.
  8. I like proposing many solutions, no matter how impractical they may be. – vs – I prefer to offer several solutions that are practical and feasible.
  9. I prefer working with the details of a problem. – vs – I prefer working with problems at an abstract level.
  10. I often break with tradition as I solve problems.- vs – I prefer to build on tradition as I solve problems.

I learned that my score of  37 means that my style is “Mild Adaptive Preference“. With this result I am right in the majority of the population as 68% are in the “mild” region of the chart and half of them/us is mild adaptive. I was first surprised by this low number as I thought of myself more of being on the innovative style. Looking through the questions and my answer I realized that in some areas or from some aspects I am innovative. From most of these perspectives though  I am more of an adaptive person. As it was emphasized earlier, there is nothing wrong being one or the other. I just have to adjust my self-image.

More information about adaptive/innovative styles are offered at, where the “K” stands for Dr. Kirton’s name, who has been researching this topic.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 3: CENTER acronym

The second lecture of the CIC course* identifies three obstacles that may prohibit “starting with your core – your Character, your passions – and moving those toward meaningful change in the world

  1. Fear – of losing job, of hearing no, of losing opportunities
  2. Busy-ness – lack of focus, too many “important” things
  3. Needing certainty – which may prevent you from doing anything

One strategy to overcome these is abbreviated as CENTER. Below is what it stands for. I filled in the blanks and those will show up as underscored text. How would you fill it out? (These questions may help.)

  • Character. I am _a supporter (of my family, leaders, bosses, communities)_and_have some unhealthy habits_; I will be _enthusiastic about my own life, ideas and leadership and become healthy in mind and body_.
  • Entrepreneurship.  I run experiments and risks toward my dream of _integrating ideas from different paths and showing the underlying beauty and utility of their patterns_.
  • owNership. Based on my Character, I choose _to focus on myself more, to become happier_, and employ external “agents” to execute and systematize my choices.
  • Tenacity.  I will hold on in my pursuit toward _staying happily married, losing 15 pounds (and keeping it down), working no more than 40 hours a week and making  a great living_, amidst all barriers.
  • Excellence. I plan and focus hard work on gaining skill in _writing, video editing and WordPress_.
  • Relationship. My family is _my wife and daughter_; my home is _both a village in _Northern California and Budapest, Hungary_

Bit of a self-reflection:

  • I was hesitant whether I should share my answer, here in public, but decided that I have nothing to hide and people close to me may find my answers interesting. And why don’t really care/mind if people not close to me end up reading it.
  • It was not easy to answer these questions. The problem was mostly the abundance of possible answers and how to narrow it down just one or a few options at each blank. I come up with the answers above, but not sure, that next week they might be slightly different. OTOH I spent an hour with the exercise, so I don’t think there would be significant variations.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 2: Creative Diversity

I just watched the first lecture video of the CIC course* on Creative Diversity. It contained two myths that the professor thought needs to be busted:

  1. Only some people are creative. – This has been obvious for me since high-school, where I learned to love creative problem solving in Math. Ever since then I know that creativity can be found in any task, hence by any people, not just artist types.
  2. Only certain kinds of ideas are creative. – Same as above, although it can be harder to recognize its truth in my own activities.

The lecture also provided tools in the form of the four principles of the Creative Diversity Model

  1. All people are creative. – D’uh. As long as we are alive we create. If nothing else our next meal is a creation.
  2. Creativity is diverse. – Yep, we are all beautifully different
  3. The Four Variables of Creative Diversity:
    • Creative level – This, related to mental capacity was compared to a bucket. My first reaction was that it’s a bit judgmental, after all we have little control over, how big our bucket is. But then I realized that I was judgmental and this is purely descriptive.
    • Creative style – This can range on the spectrum from the structured style (evolutionary) to radical (revolutionary).
    • Motive – It’s easy to see that motivation plays into what I put my creative energies in and (when and how.)
    • Opportunity – Without a problem or challenge, how can anyone be creative?
  4. There is no ideal kind of creativity. – All levels/styles/motives/opportunities are created equal. Harder to swallow, but have to accept an internalize that. I need to unlearn the notions of what’s good creativity and what’s less valuable.

The action steps at the end of the lecture suggested that I find my own creative level, style, motives, and opportunities. However that feels simplistic to me, because it assumes I exist only at one point on any of these four variables. I think it’s more like a four-dimensional matrix. E.g. I am at a particular level of creativity, when I take photos (“style”) and my motives and opportunities are also set, but could be a whole different level at say, cooking dinner, building a shed or raising a child, with very different motives and opportunities.

Sidenote: I notice my creativity includes spatial thinking. The above idea, to think of the four variables in a matrix, instead of on a linear manner is a sign of that.

After viewing the lecture I also read “Engineering Styles“, an article adapted from “The Substance of Our Styles,” by Kathryn Jablokow, for Mechanical Engineering, February 2007. What gained from it is a better terminology for creative styles: Adaptive and Innovative. The article enlisted not its the advantages and the necessity of each, but also went through systematically the differences between creative levels and styles and their various combination.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.

CIC 1: Getting Started

The CIC course* had a soft opening, before the official start date. The first challenge right now is to get myself oriented among the course materials, options and dozens of forums.

The biggest question is how far I want to go with this course. Do I want to become and “adventurer” and actually work on a creative project or do I want to stay an “explorer” and satisfy all the requirements for a certificate, but not do a project. I am very tempted to do a project, but have to recognize the limitation on my time, so I decided that for now, stick to being an explorer. That’s exciting in itself, isn’t it?

Also if I’d choose a project right now it would be probably something that I’ve been already involved with, such as my “hobby” sites on film and religion, technology and religion or Jewish films. I would love to turn any of this three sites into a full time gig or at least to something that not just generates some revenue, but has a wider positive impact. On the other hand I am hoping that this creativity course will help me find other new direction(s).

Other actions so far:

  • I placed myself on a map of the students. It is fascinating to see where we all come from.
  • I learned how to get the videos of the course for offline viewing
  • I enjoyed learning a discussion on the Grand Idea of the Day. So many ideas from so many walks of life…
  • I started looking for a study group, but didn’t feel inspired to join any one of them yet. Maybe I need to start my own.
  • My first post was a a reply to someone who is from Budapest and the second my introduction in the “What’s your background? why are you taking this course?” topic

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” course I am taking.