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Reading list

June 2011

Carrol Capital

Reading list

Books and articles that matter

By Dean Andy Boynton

Acclaimed dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (Simon & Schuster, 2003), which has contributed to my own thinking and approach to idea-hunting, would appeal to anyone interested in spotting and shaping high-value ideas.

Among the noteworthy habits Tharp describes in the book is her system for storing, retrieving, and repurposing ideas for each of her creative projects. Its essence? A plain old file box. Every dance Tharp choreographs or Broadway musical she creates is documented in a cardboard container filled with notes on ideas and inspirations, notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videos, books, photographs, even toys. Sometimes she puts whole boxes on a back burner, then returns to them and repurposes their contents for other projects.

A MacArthur “genius award” winner, Twarp sees innovation—not originality—as the key to creative success. “Personally, I don’t worry about originality at all,” she said in a 2008 interview for Harvard Business Review. “Has anyone ever done what I’ve done before? Yeah, probably. But I’m not going to worry about it; I’m going to use it and get on with it.”

I, too, borrow and repurpose constantly. And, like Tharp, I don’t dwell on whether my ideas are original. Rather than storing ideas in boxes, I create piles on bookshelves. I have about a dozen piles on a range of subjects, from classes I’ve taught to an exhibit I saw recently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, featuring work by Dale Chihuly, who revolutionized the art of blown glass. Chihuly works with a team of about 90 people, from glass-blowers to installation experts, to create and display his large-scale sculptures and environmental art. Spotting some great ideas, I bought books about Chihuly’s approach to teamwork and creativity, and put those on the shelf.

Tharp and Chihuly’s individual inspirations come to fruition when they work with teams to create a production or exhibition. Years ago, I collided with great ideas at IDEO, a Silicon Valley design firm, and put some of those on the shelf. Those ideas led to the DeepDive™—a combination of brainstorming, prototyping, and feedback loops that helps diverse teams develop solutions.

Here at the Carroll School, I have adapted DeepDive™ elements to work on two major undergraduate curriculum projects: creating Portico, our required introductory business and ethics course, and reviewing and proposing an overhaul of our core curriculum (more on that later this year). Each of these initiatives involved finding, storing, and using ideas—and realizing they are the key to innovation.

It’s not about originality. As Tharp says, we’d all do well to tap into existing ideas, use them, and get on with it.

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