Earlier this month, the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation hosted a live-feed of the keynote address from the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference which took place in Seattle. The keynote was delivered by Jonah Lehrer, an author and journalist who writes on the topics of psychology, neuroscience and creativity. In his address, he shared with us the story of a young high-jumper. This high school athlete was over 6 feet tall, and as such, many assumed he would excel at this sport. But Dick couldn’t seem to get over the bar. He tried and tried but consistently knocked the bar down and his coaches told him to find another sport. But Dick persevered and continuously experimented with different styles of jumps all the while failing to clear the bar. Though his attempts were met with criticism and mockery, he refused to give up. This young athlete had an extraordinary ability to think creatively about how to clear the bar which….one day…..resulted in his jumping higher than ever before.
Instead of utilizing the Straddle or Scissors-Jump, Dick Fosbury created his own jump—throwing himself “backwards” over the bar. Again, he was mocked, but naysayers soon realized that Dick could consistently jump higher than his competitors with his new way of jumping. Dick went on to win the 1968 Olympic Gold Medal and his style became known worldwide as the Fosbury Flop.
In the weeks since I heard Mr. Lehrer speak, I can’t stop thinking about Dick Fosbury’s creative spirit which not only had a profound impact on the young athlete’s life, but also transformed the sport of high jumping. Somehow Dick knew how to tap into his creative life force and use it—experiment with it—in order to better his circumstances and achieve his goals. What an inspiration!
Jonah Lehrer went on to speak about certain factors which he feels are needed in order for creativity to “work.” He talked about the need to think like an outsider. He explained the importance of learning to relax and detailed the physiological connections between a “moment of insight” and the presence of alpha waves –a sign of relaxed brain activity. He reminded us that Einstein once said, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” He stated that 3M forces their engineers to switch fields every 5 to 6 years in order to foster creativity and innovation. And he spoke about the Grit Factor, defined as persistence and a passion for long-term goals. First named by leading researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, the studies showed that in many cases, grit predicted achievement better than intelligence or personality. And unlike intelligence, grit can be learned. Dick Fosbury sure had an abundance of grit, and dare I say so does New Jersey!
For those of us involved with Creative New Jersey, Mr. Lehrer’s speech fuels our fire. We agree that creativity and innovation can blossom when we take a step back from the frantic pace of our daily life. And, like 3M, we believe in the critical juncture between fields. This philosophy is embedded in our mission and realized through our local Calls to Collaboration – a statewide series of creative community convenings which bring together cross-sector professionals, in an open-space format, over the course of two days. We’re excited to be working with the towns of Orange, Rahway, Morristown and the County of Monmouth as we launch this series. Stay tuned—April’s blog will share details on Creative Monmouth: Call to Collaboration scheduled for May 21 & 22, 2012.
In the meantime, let us capitalize on our own grit factor, allow ourselves to daydream, and tap into our creative life force the same way our young Olympic athlete did. Inspiration and innovation awaits us at the top of the bar!
Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.
Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog