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  • Natasha Tsakos

The Secret Sauce of Innovation

If innovation is not the answer, but the process of it is, then what does that process look like?




Distinguished Guests, Delegates, Left Brains, Right Brains, United Brains of the World.


I am humbled to be here today. My name is Natasha Tsakos, and I do not cure diseases, solve world hunger, provide clean drinking water, or fix the ozone layer… I am passionate about live performance and fascinated with technology, and create experiences that integrate the two. I’m an Artist. And Artist do other things. They see beyond what is. They see monuments in a block of stone, hear symphonies within silence, envision futures that don't exist. They transport us to other worlds, bring communities together, and create awareness. Artists can move you to tears, move you to move, move you to reflect and change, move you to step out of your comfort zone. Qualities that are hard to quantify, yet bring a fundamental value to society. But what’s interesting today is not the outcome: what Artists do or don’t. What’s interesting today is the process. Because if we are talking about Science, Innovation and Technology, then we should talk about the Arts. And here’s why:


I looked up “innovation” in the dictionary, and the definition is illuminating. Innovation: the action or process of innovating… I searched some more, discovered other people’s interpretations, shook it up… what about: Innovation is the result of a process that brings radical ideas that create positive change. Yes? So innovation is not the answer, but the process of innovation is, then what is that process? What secret sauce makes innovation happen? I think we could all agree that creativity is one ingredient, then again, what is creativity and how do we get creative? Back to the dictionary. Creativity: the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. Wait a minute! Does it mean only artists can be creative? Linda Naiman who focuses on innovation and leadership writes “When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do, our work takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity.” Isabel Izquierdo reminded us this morning that our cousins, the Bonobo monkeys might have mastered the art already. hmmm… bonobos, creativity, play… where is she going with this?


Innovation is also not the same as an invention or an iteration. The process needs to leap instead of walk linearly. It’s the ability to think big, bold, preposterous, in exponential terms: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ideas, and have the audacity and persistence to see them through. But at some point, we stopped being encouraged to think big, bold, preposterous ideas. Albert Einstein said “It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of education have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty”. Einstein said it, not me. "The holy curiosity of inquiry"…


I’d like to share how Theatre folks like myself spent our years learning. And by no means am I saying it was perfect, I had my rebellious moments. But please come with me...


We were taught self expression: how to articulate our thoughts and emotions with our voices and bodies. How to enunciate and project, not just our words, but our intentions. We were instructed to make up imaginary circumstances on the go, and believe them as though they were real. Years training our mirror neurons immersing ourselves in virtual realities- headset-free. We were told to be interesting. To make interesting choices. That every single action we took, needed a sense of urgency. How to improvise to anything by saying “Yes and” instead of saying “No”. We were warming up by shaking our bodies, making funny noises, stretching our eyes and mouths, grimacing with our faces, we were told looking ridiculous was ok. Being vulnerable was expected. And we still had to complete all of the required academic tracks, but we were encouraged to play. What was missing was a crash course on science and exponential technologies. Imagine the potential then!


What I realize now is these were not so much Theatre skills as they are practical life skills. Now I am not suggesting you change your career to theatre - though you’d have a lot of fun- nor am I implying that actors will change the world. Actors, Dancers, Designers, Musicians are technicians performing their skills like any other technician. An Artist combines her, his, or their skills in surprising ways to create original work that has value, no matter the discipline.


Back to the process. When was the last time we were given permission to be different, to be ridiculous, to take risks, exercise our imaginations and empathy by diving in make believe worlds and becoming different characters? Practical creative gymnastics that might help us prepare for this Next Wave. Robots are taking over the dull, dum and dirty jobs. Artificial Intelligence is eradicating redundancy. We should be celebrating! But we’re not. Not half of the population projected to be out of work in the next twenty years. It could be me. It could be you. We’ve squandered our passions and originality. Let politics, status quo, rules and regulations, a media that may not have our wellbeing at heart, and so much nonsense in the way, we might have forgotten or under practiced the Art of Being Human.


We’ve been running on automatic. We were the machines of the industrial age. But this is a time of exponential change. It’s time to snap out of our machine state, and disrupt everything with creativity. And creativity is not a gift, it’s an mindset that you practice.


Today we are acknowledging the 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals, which are none other than our basic human and planetary rights. And we are looking at Science, Innovation and Technology as tools to solve these challenges. But if innovation is not the answer, and the process of innovation is, and if the process demands a whole new mindset, as well as fresh set of skills that can stimulate imagination and original ideas. Then we should value The Arts with the same regard. The idea is not new, it was proposed in 1851, and we hear its need echoing from big corporations to parts of the educational system. But still not enough. Taking STEM, Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to STEAM: Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. And I don’t mean just Art and Design. I mean The Arts. For the process and the outcome.


Because think about it: when every surface becomes a digital display for an augmented world, who will imagine and write your new realities? In an Internet of Everything: who will explore the anthropomorphic dynamics of our relationship with everything? In a 3 dimensionally interactive world, who will choreograph new motion commands and communication phrases? If we can gamify learning and then everything else, who will humanize the experience? Artists.


This is a time of interdisciplinary research, creative collaboration and convergence: biology and technology, neurology and robotics, genetics and programming… Arts and Science. The word may be too small, often times misinterpreted, and could use some disruption. And while it may seem counterintuitive in such technologically sophisticated times, one of the answers to Innovation might present itself in the simplest forms.


A toast! To the holy curiosity of inquiry.




Talk Transcript from the NOVUS Summit held at the United Nations General Assembly, July17, 2016.



 

QUOTES


"Artists see beyond what is. They see monuments in a block of stone, hear symphonies within silence, envision futures that don't exist. They transport us to other worlds, bring communities together, and create awareness. Artists can move you to tears, move you to move, move you to reflect and change, move you to step out of your comfort zone."


"It’s time to snap out of our machine state, and disrupt everything with creativity. And creativity is not a gift, it’s an mindset that you practice."


"Today we are looking at Science, Innovation and Technology as tools to solve global challenges. But if innovation is not the answer, and the process of innovation is, and if the process demands a whole new mindset, as well as fresh set of skills that can stimulate imagination and original ideas. Then we should value The Arts with the same regard."


"When every surface becomes a digital display for an augmented world, who will imagine and write your new realities? In an Internet Of Everything: who will explore the anthropomorphic dynamics of our relationship with everything? In a 3 dimensionally interactive world, who will choreograph new motion commands and communication phrases? If we can gamify learning and then everything else, who will humanize the experience? Artists."


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