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Can Creativity Be Learned?

At 2 a.m. on June 16, 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin awoke with a fright.

Mary was 18 years old and spending her summer at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva with her stepsister Claire Clairmont and the writers Lord Byron and John William Polidori. Her future husband, Percy Shelley, was staying nearby. They had intended to spend the summer swimming and sunbathing, but a year earlier, Mount Tambora, a massive volcano in Indonesia, had erupted, dispersing nearly 1.5 million metric tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking the sun, and sharply decreasing temperatures worldwide. It had such devastating effects on global weather patterns that 1816 came to be known as “The Year Without a Summer.”
Although the inclement weather foiled the group’s outdoor plans, the four of them contented themselves with indoor activities and took to reading scary stories, most notably fromFantasmagoriana, a French anthology of German ghost stories.

“It proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house,” Mary Shelley wrote, in her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus. “But,” she added, “Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French ...

Hey Boss, People Aren’t Machines

"People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." —Maya Angelou

Some executives see their organization as a machine with people as gears. They implement rigid processes to establish control and are disappointed when people respond by expecting to be told what to do in new situations. Effective leaders on the other hand see their organization as a collage of individual dreams connected by a higher purpose. Their conversations motivate and inspire as well provide direction.

Why do I make such an obvious point? Because too many executives devalue people and their ideas. With laser-like precision, they tell people what to do, how to do it, and when it must be done. By way of illustration, consider the following conversation between James, a sales manager trying to increase sales in a flat economy, and Susan his top salesperson:

James: "Be in the office at 8 a.m. every Monday this month to telemarket new clients in your area. No excuses, just be here."

Susan: "In 20 years as a top sales rep, I've had more success pursuing referrals than with telemarketing. I connect far better with ...

Three Trends That Will Revolutionize Federal IT

We’ve all heard about federal technology project disasters. Many of these disasters are caused by ill-defined and constantly changing requirements, a lack of a solid understanding of who the customer is, a contracting culture that at times incentivizes performers to bill hours rather than create a solution, and lots of cases of mission creep. The response has been to insert new levels of accountability and new processes. In many cases, these steps have simply added additional costs without really solving the core issue.

However, there is hope. We are entering a new era where at least three trends will lower costs and improve the quality of the solutions for the government: Software solutions are unbundling; new platforms are lowering costs; and Application Programming InterfacesOpen Source Software and the communities that form around them are initiating an era of continuous improvement.

  1. Solution Unbundling. Traditionally, software and the infrastructure needed to support it were expensive. In response, buyers wanted to concentrate their costs to achieve maximum savings. That meant buying enterprisewide software that encompassed multiple functions. Unfortunately, the more features and functionality you pack into a product, the lower your chances are of maximizing each one. So you had to ...

There’s a Selfish Reason To Be Nice to Others

Almost everyone wants to be happy, but surprisingly few people know exactly how to make themselves so.

A growing body of research has identified one reliable path to greater personal happiness: engaging in a rewarding activity—particularly one that involves doing something nice for someone else. Acts of kindness not only benefit the recipient but also “create a pleasurable ‘helper’s high’ that benefits the giver,” says Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jennifer Aaker, who has studied the phenomenon with University of Houston’s Melanie Rudd and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School.

Indeed, studies show that people who regularly do volunteer work report greater happiness and less depression than those who don’t; performing five random acts of kindness a day for six weeks has been shown to boost happiness, as has spending money on others rather than on oneself. “Telling people to do good things for others appears to be a good strategy for personal happiness,” says Aaker. “But what is less clear is the best way to create that ‘helper’s high.’”

To pinpoint what kinds of generous acts produce the biggest spike in happiness, Aaker and her coauthors looked at the types of ...

The Company That Wants Your To-Do List to Be Fun

6Wunderkinder is built on the philosophy of GTD: Getting Things Done.

The company is founded on the belief that we need to free our minds of all distractions, no matter how minor. The philosophy, originally made popular by productivity guru David Allenattracted a cult following and influenced the design of several productivity tools today, including 6Wunderkinder’s app Wunderlist.

“What we’ve figured out is the only key for becoming really productive is simplicity and focus,” says CEO Christian Reber, who co-founded the Berlin-based company in 2011 with five other people. His team came up with the idea while they were working at the digital design agency they’d founded and couldn’t find a project management tool that they liked.

Wunderlist 3

They’ve integrated the GTD ethos into their product, which at its core is a system where users write down tasks and cross them off as they go. “You don’t have to think about the context of your ideas, just write them in,” he says. “That frees your memory which is very rewarding.” Wunderlist uses a freemium model and offers additional features for $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year with Wunderlist Pro ...