Jim Carrey and the Life Authentic

AristotleMindHeartWhen you are authentic, transparent, you will stand out as you are truly seen. When you are transparent, others can “see through” you into you as your heart and true essence shines. You are clear, direct and kind. You are not an enigma; you don’t leave people scratching their heads wondering what you just said and did. You do not hide. You are honest to the bone. You are courage enfleshed… Authenticity happens in the guts and bowels of your life. Being authentic is the grunt-work of the soul, of any deeply human, spiritual path.

Being half here, half there, half-hearted, faking it to look good, strategizing to make things easier for your self — that’s the common way of the unconscious clotted middle, driven by our egoic, addicted culture. It’s a way that lacks wholeheartedness. Lacks real courage to let the heart break. Shatter. Broken whole and holy open to finally know compassion for self, others, earth. To live and love — on-fire, fully alive, juiced and ready to serve. © 2014 Melissa La Flamme,  Excerpted from the article: Authenticity: The Juicy Mess of Our Human-ness


Passion-based learning, and its hoped for result, passion-based living, are relatively new terms in the education passion based learning info graphiclexicon,  but a natural component of the sharing economy – things like peer-to-peer networking, Zipcar , and Airbnb – that are growing all around us.  It may seem easy to  dismiss it all as some Millennial feel-good fad, that fails to take into consideration the harsh realities of the lives most of us lead, lives that require 9-5 (or more) in jobs we may not like, doing work we’d prefer not to do, for the very basic purposes of buying food and paying for rent.

But let’s posit there’s something bigger going on here, a slow dawning of consciousness among small  but increasingly connected groups.  Paul Ray wrote “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 million People Are Changing the World,” in 2000, and in 2002 Richard Florida brought a socioeconomic look to bear on the idea with his landmark book, “Rise of the Creative Class.”  The inexorable march of the maker movement, culminating with the recent White House Maker Faire, would seem to bear out these now decade old contentions that there just might be something to the idea of a passion based life of creative engagement.

Actor and comedian Jim Carrey’s commencement address, this past May, to the 2014 graduating class of  Maharishi University of Management (MUM) adds yet another compelling layer, not the least of which is the facility at which he spoke – a business school in Iowa that specializes in “Consciousness-Based education,” combining traditional post-secondary school subjects with things like Transcendental Meditation and Vedic Science.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” Carrey told students.  “What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.”

Carrey’s message to students is, essentially, a call to authenticity, to that wholehearted life of transparency Melissa LaFlame talks about, that way of being that is “on-fire, fully alive, juiced and ready to serve,” a way of being as true for a plumber or a taxi driver as it is for an artist or an engineer.  Can we always be or do what we want to be or do? Maybe not. But can we try? Can we live openly, honestly, with curiosity and interest in the world around us? Carrey suggests it’s the only way to peace of mind and light of soul.

“You can join the game, fight the wars, play with form all you want, but to find real peace, you have to let the armor fall. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.”

This call to the life authentic, to passion based living, is nothing less than a call for a civil society, to a world in which we are honest, compassionate, and creative, where we share our resources, our skills and our knowledge, where  there is less posturing and more productivity.

Ultimately,” Carrey says. “We’re not the avatars we create. We’re not the pictures on the film stock. We are the light that shines through it. All else is just smoke and mirrors.

Life doesn’t happen to you, Carrey contends, it happens for you. Make it Real.


The Creative Power of Play

Children are born scientists. They are always turning over rocks and plucking petals off flowers. They are always doing stuff that, by and large, is destructive. That’s what exploration really is when you think about it. An adult scientist is a kid who never grew up. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

That inner kid, driven by the powerful engine of unabashed wonder – the curiosity that drives children to turn over those rocks or examine bugs or

Leaves of joyconstruct blanket forts – is a selfless motivator for art ,invention and innovation, as well as science.  Children aren’t thinking anything beyond “What’s this for?” or “I wonder what will happen if I do this?” or “This looks like fun!” or “What if….” when they do what they do best as children: experiment.

Challenges like Red Bull Creation are invitations to that creative playground of the mind, opportunities to do something just for the fun of it (and maybe for a trip to Detroit to make more stuff for the fun of it)  They’re like those funky icebreakers and team building exercises for business meetings, only better, because there’s no business meeting – just the exercise of being creative.

Every single time we’ve participated in a Red Bull Creation event, we’ve learned something new- often many new and interesting things.  Not because we were looking to learn something, but because in order to make what we wanted to make, we had to figure out how to master some new concepts, and usually they were concepts or ideas or skills we probably wouldn’t have learned in the ordinary course of our grown up lives.

In a recent column in the New York Times (The Art of Focus), David Brooks begins by admitting he’s “losing the attention war,” giving in to the multiple distractions the make up the fabric of our modern work days.

“Many of us lead lives of distraction, ” he says, “unable to focus on what we know we should focus on.”

But upon reading an interview with child psychologist Adam Phillips, Brooks says maybe we’re looking at that “attention war” all wrong.

boys-with-bubbleThe lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

We’ve spoken here before about the importance of play in a productive society (A Players Uprising – A Manifesto for Play), because play, and more to our purposes as a creative, self-reliant and personally and economically fulfilled society,- its integral components of wonder, curiosity and joie de vivreis -  is a vital aspect of innovation.

Edutopia recently visited the story of the Robohand Club in Innovative Education: Make Room for “What Ifs”.  Educator Rich Lehrer , an 8th grade science teacher,  created an opportunity for his students to have “the kind of learning for which there are no textbooks or tests.”

What if we invite students to solve real problems? ” Lehrer asked. “What if the classroom doesn’t have walls? What if learning activities don’t always end with letter grades?

So he asked his students if they could help build a mechanical prosthetic hand for his 4 year old son, Max, who was born with a hand deformity.  They did, and learning happened – without structured classes, without assessments, without grades, his students were just able to “take an idea and soar!

Now Lehrer’s students weren’t “playing” in the playground sense of the word with this project. They were applying themselves at a high level of engagement to solve a complex problem – but in a creative group learning fashion often seen in play, and which David Brooks says we need to return to at the adult level as well.


Discussing ideas at the recent Hillsborough Hackathon

Forget those brainstorming sessions, Brooks says, and those conferences with projector screens. Instead, find some like minded associates with “overlapping obsessions.”

Brooks urges us to look at the way children learn in groups.  “They make discoveries alone, but bring their treasures to the group. Then the group crowds around and hashes it out. In conversation, conflict, confusion and uncertainty can be metabolized and digested through somebody else. If the group sets a specific problem for itself, and then sets a tight deadline to come up with answers, the free digression of conversation will provide occasions in which people are surprised by their own minds.”

“The only way to stay fully alive,” says Brooks, ” is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep.”

Eureka! That’s how our Red Bull Creation team works; that’s what happens in small informal learning groups, in FIRST teams , in our friends’ ASCII Warriors team, and in makerspaces all over the world, all providing playful opportunities to be surprised by our own minds.  This isn’t just project based learning, it’s project based living.

We need to find more engaging and productive ways to freedive into the depths of our creative being for our own good and for the good of our communities.



The Patience to Succeed: Playing the Long Game

Today, we want success in seventeen levels, or seventeen minutes, seventeen seconds — and when the promise of something new and better is just a click away, who wants to wait seventeen years? But that’s the thing that connects all of these great people — they played the long game.”  Adam Westbrook, in the Long Game

andrea12For most of the centuries of human existence, we have known the truth of the sentiment, “good things come to those who wait,” or it’s 21st century manifestation, the 10,000 Hour Rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.  Or at least we’ve understood its implications: that success, expertise, skill, knowledge, mastery and understanding take time to fully develop, to be realized, to blossom, and come to fruition.

In an interesting look at the work of Leonardo DaVinci, in the second installment of Adam Westbrook’s video series, The Long Game, Westbrook focuses not on DaVinci’s successes, but on the time between those successes – at one point a 16 year long dry spell, which wasn’t really dry so much as it was a spell of patient, persistent exploration. And everyone’s familiar with Thomas Edison’s endless light bulb trials and his sentiment that he hadn’t failed a thousand times, but rather knew one thousand ways not to make a lightbulb.

In his book, Mastery, author Robert Greene calls these down times between personal successes  “a self-directed IMG_3595apprenticeship” that can often last ten years or more but receives no historical or social attention because it often seems to lack stories of any significant discovery or achievement. The fact is, great people and their great discoveries, inventions, ideas, art and innovation don’t happen overnight.

“All of us have the brain, ” Westbrook notes. “and the talent, and the creativity to join them. But now, right when it matters, do any of us have the patience?”

frustrated-writerThat’s a good question, and an important one, because to do or create anything of enduring value requires time and patience.

In the aptly named blog post, Change takes Time,  Code for America Fellow  Molly McLeod talks about efforts to improve services and resources for the homeless in Long Beach, CA, where resources exist but it’s hard to connect people with them.

“…to be successful, ” she says, “interventions often have to be very hands-on, personal, and sustained over time,” often requiring dozens of conversations over months or even years to connect people with services.

In our high speed culture, it’s easy to forget that it actually takes time to do things, time to achieve things, time, ironically, to change things – especially in a world that seems to change so quickly.

But we’re only seeing the high tech legacy of efforts, not the history that led to their conclusions. Sure, Moore’s Law says technology advances exponentially, but it requires a lot of exponential developments to create truly valuable outcomes. Most of the stuff in between is bread and circuses, trinkets to amuse us. Most of the gadgets in cars are just gadgets. But there’s been a couple hundred years between the development of the car, and the development of the *driverless* car.

Similarly, cultural change takes time. There’s a great TEDx talk by Derek Sivers on “How to Start a Movement.” A dancingguymovement doesn’t happen when someone has an idea, he says, in this charming talk, but when the second person follows that first person with the idea, inspiring others to join in.

Real change requires community buy in, which usually starts with a small group of like-minded individuals and builds outward over time.  And even Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours rule has been tempered by the observation that it’s not necessarily the the amount of time invested in learning or creating something, but the quality of that time.

Efforts to fast track the success of products, opportunities, or ideas working from the top down are more often than not a flash in the pan, if  they spark at all, because they fail to take the quality time needed to nurture the relationships – personal, community, commercial and corporate –  that lead to real and enduring success.

It takes patience to really succeed, but the time spent playing the long game can be well rewarded.

The Maker Effect

Alumni Awesome-c

FIRST Robotics Alumni – Engineers, filmmakers, roboticists, tinkerers all

The Maker Effect is the sum of the personal growth, professional success, community development, and continuous innovation that results when makers learn, educate, share, and create together. ”  The Maker Effect

The Maker Effect Foundation,a Florida nonprofit headed up by some veteran Florida makers and community leaders,  in collaboration with the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, has undertaken a research study “to understand the personality characteristics, motivations, and behavioral skills used by makers when working alone and in teams. We hope to answer questions such as: “What are the common behavioral and personality characteristics of makers?”, “Why do maker communities work?”, “Why should I hire makers?”, etc..”

These are all good questions, because there’s a lot going on here, both within and without the maker community.

“Today’s makers,” say Maker Effect organizers, ” are providing the knowledge, skills, and tools to anyone willing to take ownership of their own future – democratizing innovation in the way that the invention of the printing press, the rise of personal computing, and the proliferation of the internet did in previous innovation cycles.”

The phrase “democratizing innovation” is an important one.  As with 21st century blended learning  that began democratizing education through online content and virtual classrooms a couple of decades ago, the Maker movement provides a wealth of opportunity in every sense of the word.   The “Maker-Entrepreneur” is the empowered  everyman and everywoman who can become an instant small business person on the strength of his or her own elbow grease and ingenuity. It’s the new Personal Industrial Age,  3D printed in the garage.

But there’s another “Maker Effect”, a sort of shadow presence that hangs around the periphery of the maker community.  As with the advent of MOOCs and virtual schools that  made every space potentially classroom space, and conceivably freed us of the “experts” who previously controlled knowledge,  come new “experts” trying to capitalize onthe glass blower our new found Maker freedom, as they did with open education.   Becoming your own expert can be threatening to some people, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on some form of expertise that others can now access or develop for themselves.

These new “experts” trail in the wake of the grassroots maker movement, selling their wares and their services to people who originally distinguished themselves through their ability to fill their own needs.

  • Makerspaces literally started in people’s garages and empty building spaces. But now there’s TechShop franchises providing a makerspace in a box for the well heeled.
  • The Instructables were freely sharing how-tos for years.  But you can also pay for glossy how-tos with a Make Magazine subscription.
  • Early makers scrounged parts in junkyards and scavenged dumpsters.  Although many still do, today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of suppliers for every possible tool, part and electronic and mechanical need.
  • Makers have always been able to sell things through Ebay and Etsy and Kickstarter. But now there’s a fleet of experts promising to make every Maker a Maker Entrepeneur and a successful start-up.

KThese aren’t bad things, of course. TechShop does cool stuff with DARPA. MAKE Magazine has a great community and provides terrific and very instructive hangouts and contests.   It’s nice to be able to shop at Adafruit.  And it’s helpful to have entrepreneurial support if you want it.

But here’s the thing:  Not every maker wants or needs to be an entrepreneur.

Many, if not most, makers simply want to – make stuff.  They’re  hobbyists and tinkerers, artists and explorers. They want to  build a widget, fix a motor, sculpt or paint, make a video, create a game, craft a costume, command a robot uprising.  Many makers already have jobs.  They’re engineers and fry cooks and writers and taxi drivers and parents and store managers and cashiers and mechanics and programmers and designers and students and any number of other things.

The exercise of making something  provides  intellectual enrichment, personal fulfillment and creative entertainment and relaxation.  Making things in a safe, accessible and collaborative environment like a makerspace provides community development and capacity building,  empowering ordinary citizens to be self-reliant, capable individuals who can take control of their own lives.  Sometimes that means selling their own products.  Oftentimes that just means being able to fix their own car or paint their own walls or play with their drone.

The real Maker Effect should make experts of us all, in a million different fields, empowering us to collaboratively improve our communities and to care for each other through the exercise of our shared skills and knowledge, as entrepreneurs, and as capable individuals.

Sometimes, Making is just the end in itself, and that’s a perfectly fine Effect.

Make Glorious Mistakes!


by Daniel Dennett

Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.” Neil Gaiman

Brain Pickings, one of our favorite sites for inspiring thought and introspection,  shared a look at philosopher Daniel Dennett, on the recent anniversary of his 72 birthday.  Dennet is often considered one of our greatest living philosophers.   What? You didn’t know there were still philosophers?  Allow us to introduce you to Mr. Dennett.

Daniel Clement “Dan” Dennett III is an American philosopher, writer and scientist with a particular interest in evolutionary biology and cognitive science.  He is currently the Co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Among other things, he has been referred to as  one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism“, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens- a sort of evangelical atheist, a phrase he’d probably disdain.

More to our interests, though, he’s a huge proponent of failure.

“Mistakes are not just golden opportunities for learning, Dennett wrote in his essay, How to Make Mistakes, “They are, in an Oopsimportant sense, the only opportunity for learning something truly new. Before there can be learning, there must be learners. These learners must either have evolved themselves or have been designed and built by learners that evolved. Biological evolution proceeds by a grand, inexorable process of trial and error–and without the errors the trials wouldn’t accomplish anything. “

Recently, on the journey to creating something we believe is amazing and good and important, we made some big, truly glorious mistakes.  They were errors of judgement, mostly, affecting process and to some degree, perhaps the outcome of initial effort.

Dennett says, “The fundamental reaction to any mistake ought to be this: “Well, I won’t do that again!” “

That was, in fact, our reaction.  And that reaction, says Dennett, is the start of the reflection that is at the heart of the value of making mistakes.

“…when we reflect, we confront directly the problem that must be solved by any mistake-maker: what, exactly, is that? What was it about what I just did that got me into all this trouble? The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it, and not be just another blind stab in the dark. “

There’s a movement afoot in schools to de-stigmatize the action of making mistakes.

Credit: Hunter Maats and Katie O'Brien

Credit: Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien

Mistakes, said authors Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien in a recent Edutopia article (Teaching Students to Embrace Mistakes), are the most important thing that happens in any classroom, because they tell you where to focus …deliberate practice,” the exercise of “isolating what’s not working and mastering the difficult area before moving on.”

That’s one of the reasons FIRST robotics is such an effective educational program; mistakes – big glorious messy mechanical mistakes, emotional teamwork mistakes, complicated programming mistakes – are common and, thanks to the culture of FIRST, expected, embraced, documented and built upon.

When we first realized our mistake(s), we were disappointed, sad, frustrated and mad at our ourselves.  Once we could put aside some of the emotion of the experience, we were able to take at serious look at what happened and earnestly evaluate how we wanted to move forward.   And we became excited anew about the fresh possibilities presented as a result of the new knowledge gained from our big mistake, and even somewhat grateful for the experience. (Maybe we’ll be more grateful when a little more time has gone by!)

The folks at GoogleX have a “fail fast, fail often” philosophy.

“If we can get to a no quickly on an idea, that’s almost as good as getting to a yes,” says Rich DeVaul, head of Google X’s Rapid Evaluation team.  (How GoogleX Employees Deal with Failure)

If, as Dennett asserts, anyone who can say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” is standing on the threshold of brilliance, then we’re near geniuses!  But a critical part of making the best of mistakes, Dennett points out, is to not hide from our mistakes, nor to hide our mistakes.   Dennett says we should savor our mistakes, suck out ” all the goodness to be gained from having made them, (and then) cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity.”

It is that indomitable spirit that builds character and resilience, and makes good ideas become workable realities.

Back to the drawing board!

The FIRST Fountain of Youth & Promise

FIRST ChampionshipWe are in St. Louis this week, immersed in the wildly costumed, metal mashing,  techno rock drenched thrumming of the FIRST Championship, where over 12,000 youth from around the world have convened to compete in what is essentially the World Cup of geekiness – 120 lb robots flinging yoga balls across a 60 ft. field; smaller nimble robots grappling blocks and suspending themselves above the playing field, and LEGO robots caroming around a tabletop field racing to complete as many autonomous challenges as possible in 2 1/2 minutes.

Barry and watts up

FIRST Alumni and volunteer, Barry Bohnsack, with team Watts Up

It is loud.  It is crowded.  It is a sensory overload of sound, sight and movement.  For volunteers and staff like us,  it is exhausting.

And it is also and without a doubt, the Fountain of Youth.

A week spent among this energetic crowd of smart and warm-hearted young people is a week of promise and hope for the future, a tonic against the premature aging of  jaded pessimism.  Being with all these great students,  driven by the simple ethic of “Gracious Professionalism“,  with an enormous mentor base of adult supporters who believe in them, and in the power of empowered youth – is absolutely rejuvenating!

with woody

Dr. Woody Flowers, the father of Gracious Professionalism.

Steve and I have been involved in FIRST robotics for nearly 10 years now, starting with our son’s involvement in FIRST LEGO League when he was  12.  We had never seen anything like it: kids screaming with excitement as their robots, designed out of LEGOs, made pre-programmed runs across a table top field studded with a variety of challenges involving moving or triggering certain game elements in two and a half minute matches.  There were crazy team names, wild costumes, rock music and energetic line dancing.

That’s what the kids loved. We loved that it was a character based STEM education program, emphasizing “Gracious Professionalism”, a paradigm that calls for achievement not just through academic and technical ability, but through kindness and compassion, as well.  What a brilliant idea – to be successful AND kind.

It wasn’t long before we were coaching and mentoring, too. And while our son has long since graduated, after 8 years of involvement in FIRST, Steve and I are still here, in the midst of this celebratory crowd of the green haired, and tie dyed, the helmeted and masked, the monkey suited and tiara crowned, who are wielding hand tools and drills,  crowding in on computer screens to tweak programming, and  talking earnestly with adults who care about what they have to say.  Our son, like many other youth who have graduated out of the FIRST program, is a FIRST mentor, drawn back into the caring community of FIRST that not only graduates academic and workforce capable young people, but nice and good people who care about each other and their world.

It is that culture of intelligent goodness, this intergenerational community of confidence and encouragement, that makes FIRST such an elixir of optimism,  and such a joy in which to participate and belong.  I wish for all the children at the FIRST Championship here in St. Louis, and the more than 300,000 worldwide across 80 countries who are also part of FIRST, a lifetime of that joy and promise, and the courage, character and grace to be successful and kind, all the days of their lives.




Lives of Holy Curiosity

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAs with all great journeys, there are more questions now than answers, not the least of which is, where shall we go from here? As that remains to be answered, all we can do now is keep living life to its fullest.  – Andrea Willingham, our daughter

Life is a work in progress.  We’ve always told our children that.  Sometimes we need them to remind us of that, too, when we lean towards sedentary thinking.

We’ve also always told our children to “Question everything,” to not make a habit of accepting things at face value. Sometimes, as you get older, it’s easier to just accept things. Questioning – and dealing with the sometimes complicated answers – can take a lot of energy, not to mention brutal self honesty in assessing situations and deciding how to proceed with both the questions and the answers sometimes.

In a recent article in Mindshift (Why It’s Imperative to Teach Students How to Question as the Ultimate Survival Skill ) author Warren Berger ( A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (Bloomsbury)) . observed on “Pi Day,”  the anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birthday, as well as my own, that questioning “was a big theme for Einstein, who told us, “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” while also urging us to question everything and “Never lose a holy curiosity.”

Berger designated March 14 “Question Day 2014″ , which I think is my new all time favorite holiday.  I hope this trends!QuestionDayHeader2

Apparently at one time it did.  In  2008, Einstein’s birthday was observed as  “National Question Day”  by the Inquiry Institute, a consulting organization founded by Marilee Adams.   But it didn’t seem to catch on.  I hope Berger’s effort meets with greater success.

“Questioning is a critical tool for learning,” says Berger. ” It helps us solve problems and adapt to change. And increasingly, we’re coming to understand that questioning is a starting point for innovation. In a world of dynamic change, one could say that questions are becoming more important than answers. Today, what we “know” may quickly become outdated or obsolete—and we must constantly question to get to new and better answers.  Questions also spark the imagination.”

With our children grown, and asking new questions that only they can answer, my husband Steve and I found ourselves reevaluating some of  our life and work, and asking hard questions about our own way forward.  It can be especially difficult to set free the things you’ve created.  Like children, the creations we birth often take on lives of their own; bending,  and sometimes breaking,  under the influence of other forces, and other ideas, becoming things other than expected.  If these creations are meant to be, they’ll persevere, follow the course of their own history, unfold in their own way. If they’re not meant to be, they won’t.

What remains is us: The Creators.

And we have so many more questions about so many more things! So we forge onward here, in the next chapter of the next stage of our lives of holy curiosity.

We hope you’ll join us!

-Terri Willingham

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