Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Creative thinking fosters progress

May 26, 2010
Creative thinking fosters progress

By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

On May 12, I wrote about Jerry D. Weast, an education leader of one of America's most successful public school systems, who described as a leader's "toughest job ... to move from strategy to execution," which requires "teams" of "people who do the work" to sustain the change that is driven by "visionary leadership."
Thus, it's those "people who do the work" every day in their unsung roles in the office, streets or field who form teams of "heroes" and "sheroes" whose activities enable a leader to steer the organization or movement toward success.
"The power to move forward rests in staff engagement, in each person's belief that his or her role ... is critical to achieving the goal," Weast says. Teams "work within a culture" that can be poisoned by "entrenched habits, practices and structures." But "for every poison there is an antidote."
However, the contrasts between attitudes and processes of those in traditional cultures and those in a globalized modern world complicate the work of progress.
Those in the first category generally revere the old and are suspicious of the new, while those in the second seek improvement and are more accustomed to confronting change. The first are generally resigned to what is, avoid risks and are prone to fatalism; the second question what is and intervene to influence outcome.
Interwoven creative and critical thinking is medicine to deal with what Weast called entrenched habits, practices and structures." The creative mind seeks professional educational and learning opportunities to motivate successful collaborative efforts, and to promote a culture of mutual respect. The critical mind assesses and judges the result of what the creative mind produces.
According to Weast, "cultural change gains strength when what is desired is supported and hat is supported is rewarded."
One's desired goal stands a better chance of a wider support if one thinks creatively and considers M.J. Ryan's suggested "SMART" goal -- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. It should make believers of people in the teams and render them more committed to achieve and sustain the visionary leader's goal.
Ryan, dubbed "an expert in human fulfillment," is an associate of the Professional Thinking Partners, which specializes in maximizing thinking and learning individually and in groups.
To Shankar Vedantam's "free rider problem" -- about a giant pothole in the middle of the block that troubles all the residents, but nobody wants to make phone calls and go through the hassle to get it fixed while everyone hopes "someone else will do the dirty work" -- an old colleague, a University of Guam faculty member, e-mailed how he and his 12-year-old nephew chose to fix "quite a big pothole in our neighborhood street." This "common-good-minded activity" of fixing a pothole was actually "more fun than a chore."
His nephew "got to spray paint" a traffic sign warning of the road work and to prepare the concrete for "the first time in his life." Both learned the "foundation/earth/dirt" composition of the street. The boy applied math skills learned in school. Both shared good laughs and received appreciative comments from neighbors, and as the boy walks past the repaired pothole each day he says, "I did this!"
Lately, there have been many calls for "unity" of people to struggle for higher goals of reedom, human rights, democracy -- all grandiose goals. There are calls to put aside ifferences of opinions in the name of unity. But organizations' and movements' successes are better assured when individual members are encouraged to think creatively and critically, to innovate and take risks. Sometimes the consequences of setting aside differences of opinion to achieve a united public front may be negative.
President John F. Kennedy declared, "The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.
The strand of authoritarianism hidden in the different calls for a united public opinion can be dangerous: When uniformity of opinion is not achieved, what follows is usually the ategorization of non-conformists as "non-supporters" of the cause, then "opponents," and then, "betrayers" of the ideals, and eventually, "traitors" to "unity" – as has happened many times in many places across cultures and national boundaries.
Authoritarian governance condones cults of personality and directly or indirectly promotes the high-pitched emotionalism that results in the categorization of individuals and a false sense of unity that will not withstand the open discussion that is central to democratic structures.
I have occasionally referenced psychologist Jonathan Haidt's "The Happiness Hypothesis." Haidt wrote, "It's fun to laugh at a hypocrite. ... There is a special pleasure in the irony of a moralist brought down for the very moral failings he has condemned. ... Scandal is a great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt. ... And best of all, contempt is made to share."
Check the closets of those who engage in character assassination for their hidden skeletons!
Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, who introduced the term "inferiority feeling" that became inaccurately called "inferiority complex," said, "There is always this element of concealed accusation in neurosis ... wanting to fix the responsibility and blame upon someone."
He said: "Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority. ... It is as if a man feared he was too small and walked on his toes to make himself seem tall."
Recall the Turkish proverb, "A knife wound heals; a wound caused by words does not"; and Buddha's "The tongue like a sharp knife ... kills without drawing blood."
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where
he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at


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