Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

A child of the ’60s, I grew up in a world struggling to realize the dream of racial equality. At school, my teachers pried at the doors of my Wonder Bread world to show me the truth of a color-conscious reality. My family, active in the civil rights movement, counted among its friends families both white and black and some that were mixed. Playing with kids of different skin color and ethnic backgrounds, I quickly learned that these all were superficial traits and that, beyond them, we are all very much the same.

The black-and-white TV showed us black men and white men as they spoke, marched, fought, preached, protested, and prayed in an ongoing dialogue that was peaceful at times, violent at others. Then, in the spring of ’68, that dialogue turned deadly. My family watched as the news of blood and death spilled out into our living room. At one point, as cities burned and people ran riot, my father turned to me and said:

“You are one of the luckiest people in the world. You were born white, you were born male, and you were born in America. This gives you opportunities that others will never have. Always remember that, and be grateful.”

His words puzzled me and even scared me a little. They described a world with a built-in unfairness that I neither understood nor believed. Alerted to its presence, though, in time I saw that what my father said was true. I am lucky. I do have more than many, simply because I am a white American male. And yes, it is unfair. Deeply unfair.

This knowledge did not rack me with guilt, though. Rather, it heightened my awareness, taught me to see the opportunities before me, and to appreciate them. With regard to others, I learned to empathize with the less fortunate. Women, people of color, LGBT folks, immigrants, they all face challenges I do not, challenges maintained and bolstered by a society controlled by people who look like me. I became determined never to judge someone by appearance or background, but only by their individual actions and words. I also decided to support every proposal designed to even the scales.

This past year, though, I’ve learned something new. I’ve learned that my view of the world is still shaded by my own inherent privilege. Unequal treatment is still rampant, and white hatred of “The Other,” after lurking in back rooms for decades, is now taken up as a rallying cry. Any progress made toward equality in one area has been offset by burgeoning bigotry in another, and I despair.

I know we can be better than this; I’m just not sure we want to be.


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My father was not a demonstrative man. Raised by cold and distant parents, virtually on his own from the age of thirteen, he learned early on to be self-sufficient and contained. He rarely exhibited anger (though, believe me, we kids got him there on occasion) but also rarely did he exhibit overt love or tenderness. He was gentle while being stern, but he never doted on us, and thus he was particularly hard to read.

On one particularly sunny day in my early adolescence, I was consumed with the suspicion that I’d disappointed my father. I had really screwed up at something — though today I can’t remember what it might have been —and I was sure this failure removed every chance that I might someday make my father proud. Trembling, I stood before him, the sun hot upon my hair, my brow bound by worry, and confessed my fear. In answer, he said:

“Don’t worry about the level of your accomplishments. Just be happy. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy”

The immediate release these words provided was so profound that they stuck in my psyche. They told me that neither by my successes nor by my failures would my father take my measure. At times, I have forgotten this lesson and worried if I’ve failed him, but eventually I do remember and in doing so I realize that doubting his approval is the one thing most likely to displease him.


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In 1966, when I was eight years old, my birthday present was a Vac-u-Form. For those unfamiliar with this “toy,” here’s how it worked:

Shaped like a rectangular box, the Vac-u-Form had a heating plate on one side and a vacuum platform on the other. Between them, a “window” was hinged so that it could swing to cover either the plate or the platform. To operate it, you first put a mold on the vacuum platform; the kit supplied several molds of cars, boats, etc., but you could put any small (heat-resistant) object on there. Then you put a sheet of styrene plastic in the “window” and closed it over the heating plate. When the heat sufficiently softened the plastic, you swung the window over to the other side, covering the mold on the vacuum platform and, using the side lever, pumped out all the air. The vacuum sucked the softened styrene down around the mold, making a 3D impression of the shape beneath. With a razor, you trimmed off the excess plastic, freeing the molded pieces, which you could then glue together and paint, making a toy boat or car or whatever was used as a mold.

Think about that for a second.

My parents — by all reports and observations two reasonable and responsible adults — gave their eight-year old child an open hot plate with which he could melt plastic to create shapes which he then cut out with an X-Acto knife, glued together with airplane dope, and colored with flammable paints. All unsupervised.

Different world, eh? (more…)

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Dad at Work

Ronald Achilles Giambastiani
05 Nov 1929 – 13 Jul 2016

My father taught me many important lessons: lessons that shaped the way I see the world, the way I approach my work, the way I conduct myself, and the way I treat others. Naturally, he taught me the basics — “Don’t play with fire,” “Always look both ways,” and his favorite, “Never turn your back on the ocean” — but his most formative lessons were often just bits of wisdom he tossed my way with the casual nonchalance that one uses to state the patently obvious. Well, they may have been obvious to him, but to me, they were revelations.

Last week, Dad passed away. Since then I’ve been thinking back on the relationship we had over the years — sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth — and reviewing the many, many ways in which he made me who I am. These lessons, for him but the work of a moment, were each an integral part of who he was, an irreducible truth, so simple and clear that they required no further explanation.

They still have great pertinence to my daily life, and so I thought I might share them with you during the next several days. Five lessons from my father: On Creativity, Parenting, Opportunity, Humility, and Love.

Watch this space.


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SwordleafI was not your usual kid. I was a mass of contradictions.

I would spend hours on something, working a task over and over until I got it right, but couldn’t be bothered with homework. I spent a great deal of time by myself, reading and imagining, but could also spend long afternoons and evenings playing with friends. My moods would vacillate: at times I would be withdrawn while at others I would lead the charge amongst friends in games of make-believe.

These, and other quirks of personality, have followed me into adulthood. (Yes, even the sound effects; how else can you properly bedevil a cat?) My behavior, at different times, is introverted and extroverted, humble and arrogant, iconoclastic and conservative, naïve and cynical. (more…)

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Canterbury PillarsMy life has two major occupations: developing computer software and writing books. Both of them require creativity, discipline, and concentrated effort and thought. They require freedom from interruption and a quiet atmosphere.

Yeah…ain’t gonna happen.

Corporate America and the Agile revolution that has swept up nearly every IT shop in the nation are both completely enamored with the concepts of brainstorming, groupthink, and open office layouts. “Fewer walls! More ideas!” they proclaim.

The problem is, these ideas don’t work. Study after study, we’ve seen these bastions of corporate culture debunked.

  • Brainstorming does not generate more ideas. Creativity is fostered when individuals think separately. Yes, collaboration does have its uses; it can be especially effective when dealing with complex problems, and is an excellent way to debate various solutions and winnow the wheat from the chaff. But this work is best done after individuals sit and think about the problem on their own.
  • Open office floorplans actually detract from productivity. Solitude allows concentrated, focused, uninterrupted work, while open floorplans create a noisy, distraction-filled atmosphere. Employees in a bullpen environment are less happy, have more colds/flus, have higher stress levels, and are more apt to leave the company. More importantly (to the corporate value system), software developers who work in open office environments work slower, and produce lower-grade work.

The studies disproving these long-established myths are decades old, but still Corporate Culture marches toward an ever-more open and generic work environment.

I can’t control what my company does regarding the floorplan for my office. Who am I, after all? I’m just the worker who knows how to do the job, not the suit with the MBA. So, I make do, and find ways to block out the noise and chatter and limit the interruptions.

When I write, I also need solitude. I need my quiet time. I need isolation. I get all Greta Garbo when I’m writing.

Franz Kafka explained it well when he said,

“That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”

With writing, I have a little more control over my environment, but even in a household of two, it’s sometimes difficult to be “alone enough.”

Thankfully, some of the techniques I use at the office also help at home.

  • Silence the phones
  • Turn on the music or an environmental soundtrack
  • Don’t even try to work in a room where the television is on
  • Work to a schedule that capitalizes on times when others are away, asleep, or busy with quiet tasks

I don’t find quiet time to write. I have to make quiet time.


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A recent episode of “The Good Wife” made me laugh out loud. (In case you didn’t know, “The Good Wife” is not a comedy.)

In the episode, the management at a (rather ill-defined) software development firm referred to their staff as “artists.” Yes, that’s right; we were supposed to believe that this firm not only believed that the job I do–variously titled Programmer, Developer, Coder–is highly creative in nature, but that this firm also chose to encourage that by building an atmosphere that was conducive to the artistic temperament.

It’s not that software development isn’t creative. It is.

I spend my day solving problems. As a software developer, you bring me a problem and I create a solution for it. That’s it in a nutshell. I create a solution. Oh, sure, there’s a bunch of other bushwa in there, like translating your problem from Business-talk into Tech-speak, like translating it from Tech-speak into something a machine will understand, like trying to break the solution through testing, but the kernel of this job is highly creative in nature.

What I found laughable is the idea that corporate management would recognize this. Anywhere. (more…)

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