Tagged: blogging

Daniel Clausen

Finding Creativity

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Isaac Asimov (1965), via Wikimedia Commons

The subject of creativity has been on my mind lately. As part of my dissertation research, I had to look at theories of policy entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are said to be many things — risk-takers, charismatic, disruptive.

But they are also said to be creative. They have insights on resources and constraints that lead them to act differently than their peers.

Diligence Contra Creativity?

We could say the same about scholars. Some scholars are like entrepreneurs, trying to revolutionize their discipline with bold new approaches. Some of these insights work, while others flare out.

Other scholars are less adventurous. They prefer to work within well-defined research traditions and grind out modest contributions. Even within this group of scholars, however, I often find that — at least in their own minds — they see themselves as creative.

But all researchers, no matter what field, soon find that diligence is the key to success. Without it, you get nowhere. Coding data, writing and rewriting, formatting bibliographies — without the ability to handle the minutiae of research and scholarship, you are nowhere. You have nothing.

And perhaps all this diligence does something to your creativity. Perhaps it makes you more guarded, less bold. You learn to write and think defensively. And perhaps these habits of mind inhibit your ability to make new breakthroughs.

Finding Creativity

I’ve been trying to rediscover my creative self. I’ve also been trying to write something meaningful on creativity. It’s hard. And perhaps it’s something I haven’t been attacking creatively enough (or shouldn’t be attacking at all).

Many things have been written on creativity (some of them not all that creative). But my favorite quotes on creativity come from an Isaac Asimov essay I was recently introduced to. The origin of the article itself is fairly interesting. It was the result of an official, government-sponsored project to think creatively about a very difficult problem. I encourage anyone reading this to check it out.

What’s interesting about the 1959 essay is its cynicism toward government-sponsored creativity sessions. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, there were all sorts of reports and media condemnations of the intelligence community’s failure to connect the dots — in a broad sense its failure to be creative. It’s bizarre to charge a government bureaucracy with a failure to be creative — as if creativity can be produced through a bureaucratic process. And in the aftermath of the attacks, the government sponsored a slew of workshops with “creative types” (novelist, actors, directors, and other eccentrics) in order to “red team” more possible scenarios.

Thinking about these sessions in light of the Asimov article is interesting because Asimov is skeptical that creativity can ever be the product of a governmental process. But he does have a few key sections where he suggests some ways that creative outputs may occur through government funding. Again, I encourage you to go right to the source material.

Eccentricity and its Limits

Here is one quote from the article that got me thinking:

“A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.”

My first thoughts on this quote have to do not with creativity but with the limits of rational judgment. Let’s say we are able to get a bunch of eccentric/genius types together. And let’s say one out of twelve has a very useful idea. Would we be able to pick out the one good idea successfully?

My answer: I don’t think so.

This is based on observation. We frequently see someone who is right about the next big event or who was warning us about some danger that was about to occur. They are usually columnists, commentators, think tank scholars, or something of the like. But typically we only find out who is right after the event has occurred.

So, not only can we not know which eccentric is the right eccentric, but we (or they) only benefit from their eccentricity if they are willing to put their ideas into practice or risk something they have to make their eccentric ideas work or to get noticed — as entrepreneurs do.

Since entrepreneurs often fail, they need to have either extraordinary insight or they need to be people of “considerable self-assurance” who take risks in spite of the consequences of being wrong.

Isolation and Unconscious Thought

Here is another quote that got me thinking:

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekulé working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)”

Isolation? I’m not sure isolation is necessary. Especially in my research on political entrepreneurship, the eccentric types need lots of exposure to their natural environment. Insights come from “continually working at it,” but usually in a social context. For some types of breakthroughs, isolation might be necessary, but for myself I prefer to work with others, especially when I’m stuck on a problem. Isolation might make people weird, but not necessarily in a way that provides useful insights about things in the world.

The part that rang most true for me was the idea of the mind shuffling information, even when “not conscious of it.” I’ve become a true believer in defocused concentration. N.N. Taleb, the famous thinker on antifragility, has talked about the benefits of walks. I find that menial tasks often have the same effect. When I am doing something that requires little thought, but involves lots of motion, I can often have a mental breakthrough. (There is actually an episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon put this theory to work by trying to come up with a breakthrough by working as a busboy at Penny’s restaurant.)

For some reason, I get insights right before I go to sleep. Actually, I get them at the very moment where my mind begins to relax and slip into unconsciousness. This has become so annoying that I’ve just left a notebook by my bed so I don’t have to get up again and walk to my laptop.

Brainstorming Sessions — Real and Fake

A while ago, (I can’t say particularly where or when) I read about a certain government department holding brainstorming sessions. I tried to picture what this must have been like. My mental image was not of a real brainstorming session, but of a bunch of government bureaucrats sitting around, floating mildly interesting ideas with little risk, moments of uncomfortable silence, some obligatory back-slapping, and then calling it a day.

Again, I don’t think a real brainstorming session can occur in a place like a government bureaucracy, or even a large corporation for that matter. Eccentricity in those kinds of contexts can be dangerous. (Maybe if it was a corporate advertising agency. Maybe.)

So here is my last quote:

“But how to persuade creative people to do so [get together for a creativity session]? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.”

This is where academia often fails. Conferences, peer review, and other such academic conventions work against creativity. Usually, the only way around these inhibitors is to avoid them for a while. You have to find a context where genuine creativity is rewarded, and that can be difficult. An academic conference of like-minded individuals looking for a breakthrough might work better than some of the conferences I’ve been to (where scholars spend more time avoiding being wrong).

Like-minded scholarly communities help. Parties help. Talking with sympathetic friends helps. I’m also encouraged by the number of forums that have opened up for scholars to do “official bull-shitting” like blogs and web journals that have more flexible editorial requirements and allow speculative essays.

Another idea, keep a journal with ideas only you’ll ever read. (I guess isolation can be productive!) Then when something is ready to come out of the journal, let it out.

Creativity Finds You

Here is my simple definition of creativity: the mental state of childlike wonder.

If that is the case, then you need to find ways to put yourself in mental states where it’s okay to be odd, unique, experimental — and just plain wrong. It’s difficult to find those spaces as an adult, but not impossible. The problem is that many places within the university are not such spaces. Many places in public life are not such places. They are places of adulthood and consequences. They are places of diligence.

Creativity is what happens when you stop trying so hard.

Sören Stapel

German-speaking political science and social media

Social Media Bandwagon
Source: Matt Hamm / Photopin / cc

Two months ago, the German-speaking blogosphere organized a blog carnival, directly following the Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen’s symposium on the web 2.0. and social media in the International Relations profession. In the symposium, social media were approached as both an object of study, and a professional means to network and reach out to the general public. The symposium called for a reaction from the various German-speaking bloggers. And we got them. My initially planned contribution to the carnival never materialized when the work plate simply got swamped with editorial work on an edited volume, reviews of a book chapter, a data collection project, the preparation of field research, and me actually being on field research mission. So, this blog post should be considered a late addition to this little party.

Some of the contributions fleshed out part and parcel of bloggers’ experiences in general. Others reflected on the late arrival of German speakers to the use of social media for professional concerns and possible (negative) consequences (see Ali’s intro and collection of links, in German). Yet, it strikes me that an important question has been missing from the discussion: How much social media engagement of German-speaking political science researchers is out there? Continue reading

Mathis Lohaus

International Relations & New Media

zib

In the current issue of Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen (ZIB), four authors discuss International Relations and New Media. To complement the series in ZIB, we’re running a so-called “blog carnival” that deals with the topic. Please head over to zoon politikon to check out what our colleagues have written [in German].

Here, I would like to address two of the four ZIB articles. The first was written by Ali, a former colleague in Berlin, who is a very experienced blogger (and Twitter power-user).

Under the heading “The Republic of Scholars 2.0” [PDF, in German], he argues that academic discourse in less formalized settings (such as social media and blogs) is the modern equivalent of the exchange of letters among scholars in the 17th century. Thus, German-speaking academics should overcome their shyness and catch up to their American and English colleagues, who seem to be more active users of new media. You can find a summary of Ali’s argument on his blog.

Based on conversations Ali and I had last year, I have argued in the same direction:

Does this lead to shared cultural understandings or at least mutual tolerance? Or does the web merely offer a cheap and anonymous way of reinforcing prejudices and being angry at each other? As any self-respecting political scientist will tell you: It depends…

Academic blogging is probably a “most likely” case of a positive effect. After all, we’re talking about a group of people who share similar ideas and practices, are used to cross-border exchange, and have a lot to gain from talking to each other. Yet I am also cautiously optimistic for non-academic political blogs that speak to a general audience. Whenever people are exposed to voices from outside of their well-established “filter bubble”, this is a great chance to learn and understand new perspectives. The internet certainly offers a huge potential in that direction.

The second article is called: “Teaching IR with New Media” [PDF, in English]. Kimo Quaintance (who has a blog, too) advocates the use of tools such as Wikis and blogs in teaching, but also cautions that not all optimistic assumptions about digital natives should be taken at face value:

While students may possess broad experience with e-mail, social networking and mobile devices, this doesn’t necessarily translate into the kind of information literacy or knowledge creation skills useful in academia.

Kimo has some very good, constructive points on how to foster information literacy, collaboration and outreach. I recommend you read the whole piece.

Here I just want to echo his words of caution. Take the following as me playing the devil’s advocate: Under some conditions, I think that the usage of “new media” in teaching can feel artificial or forced. Blog posts instead of essays, web sites instead of presentations? That might work, but we should be careful not to be too optimistic based on our own enthusiasm for the medium.

First, and most generally, if the core elements of the discipline are old-fashioned, teaching might not be the best venue to change things. If the #1 skill to master is writing formal papers, that should be what you (are forced to) practice. But of course this is subject to change and should not be used to kill all kinds of innovation, so I don’t want to over-stress this point.

Second, think about the value added. Model UN and other simulations are useful because they are inductive tools to experience dynamics that might be difficult to understand based on theory alone. Spending many hours to set up a mock NGO website might be interesting, but we have to be sure that it really adds something that could not be learned in a more efficient way. Also, depending on the class, the experience should not overshadow the contents: If after three days of mock conference / web design I only remember how much fun the negotiating / coding was, but nothing about policy issues, maybe that’s a problem…

Finally, how many people do you know that were born in the 1990s and maintain a blog (in the “traditional” sense)? It might be that blogging is completely passé by now and  we’re beating a dead horse. Maybe the easiest way out would be to ask people about their media habits and productivity tools first, see how much desire for change there is, and then make suggestions. Or let people experiment in groups?!

To wrap up: Ali and Kimo have made a number of very good points on the usefulness of new media in the exchange between scholars and for teaching, respectively. I highly recommend both pieces! Again, please consider looking at the other blog posts dealing with New Media and International Relations, and of course the rest of the ZIB issue.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: International Law; Mali; Rwanda; Blogs in Germany

With a couple of bloggers back from ISA and MPSA, I hope we’ll be able to do some follow-up work in the next days. Meanwhile, here are some links to start the week:

At e-IR, Eric Lenier Ives writes about international law as the “permissive promise”:

[I]nternational law reflects a real-world distribution of power such that nations are free, in a sense, to test the will of other nations, to stretch the law and assert their own sovereignty. (…) Though international law may allow for this elasticity, and though it may be abused, it is precisely this relaxed approach that allows international law to act as both a codification of appropriate norms and a growing, living system.

Kim Yi Dionne takes a look back at what happened in Mali since 2012. In particular, she points to a discussion of a recent Afrobarometer poll: “In a complete reversal of opinion from one year earlier, two out of three Malians say that their country is moving in the ‘right direction’ at the end of 2013.”

Laura Seay has put together a very instructive reading list 20 years after the incident that triggered the Rwandan genocide. These are her opening remarks:

Everything that has happened on and since that day twenty years ago is under dispute. From the question of who shot down the plane, to which members of the regime were involved in planning and executing the genocide, to the number of people killed overall, to whether and how revenge killings unfolded, to the continuation of Rwanda’s civil war on the soil of Congo/Zaire and the tremendous suffering that has occurred there, too, to whether the Rwandan government’s success in poverty reduction is justified by its repressive authoritarianism – all of it is contested.

On a completely different note: Now we have some backing for my perception that German scientists don’t really use Twitter. In this recently published survey [in German], 15% of respondents said they use microblogs, and 61% of that subgroup then said they actively post. 30% of all respondents said they use blogs, with a third of that subgroup saying they write posts themselves. Overall, male respondents were much more likely to report an active use of (micro)blogs.

A rather curious finding: The number of people saying they don’t know what a blog is was higher than the number of people saying they don’t know what a microblog is. I guess there really is a lot of hype around Twitter. (The questionnaire mentioned Twitter as an example of the latter category, but did not mention WordPress or any other recognizable brand name for the former.)

Finally, the list of links curated by our colleagues at the Bretterblog [in German] is worth checking out as usual. (Uh, I’m doing meta-links now, I guess!?)

Mathis Lohaus

IR Blog Anniversary #1

Birthday cake (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Birthday cake (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We’re celebrating one year of IR Blog with some virtual cake and, unless you’re underage, sparkling wine. Many, many thanks to all contributors and readers!

This is a heat map indicating where our readers came from:

visitor-heatmap-year1

Not surprisingly, almost two thirds of our traffic originated in Germany, the U.S., and Canada. Still, it’s nice to see that there is some diversity in the remaining third…

And these are our top-10 post by visits:

  1. “A North American Perspective on Doing a PhD in Europe”
  2. “Impostor Syndrome as a PhD Student”
  3. “Paper Stacks vs. Android Apps”
  4. “Elections in Germany: Forecasts and Polls”
  5. “Nap Your Way to a PhD!”
  6. “The Toddler-Thesis Nexus”
  7. “German Foreign Policy Bingo”
  8. “Protests in Brazil and Turkey: Not Yet Social Movements”
  9. “About ‘The Gender Gap in IR and Political Science'”
  10. “The Amateur Forecaster’s Diary”

We’re looking forward to the next year(s)! Please consider spreading the word if you (occasionally) like what you see here.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: ISA and Blogging, Munich Security Conference, and much more

isa-vs-wp

Last week, Steve Saideman kicked off a debate after the International Studies Association’s Executive Committee proposed to adopt a policy that would ban editors of the ISA’s official journals from blogging. Several people involved in blogging and/or official ISA business have commented at Steve’s blog. (Nobody called it “lex Nexon”, though.)

Here is another post on why banning blogs is a bad idea. Burcu Bayram has a post on how blogging is useful for young scholars in particular. As immediate reaction to the “ignorance about social media and its role in 21st century IR scholarship and teaching” expressed in the proposal, Steve and others are now planning to create the ISA Online Media Caucus.

Meanwhile, it seems that the ISA’s Governing Council will not implement a ban:

If a vote was held today on the initial proposal, I am pretty sure that we would win.  Of course, if I felt that there would be such a vote, I would do some more work to be sure of it.

The 50th Munich Security Conference is over now, but you can watch many videos of the panel discussions on the conference website (just scroll down past the “highlight” clips).

I agree with Tobias Bunde and Wolfgang Ischinger that U.S. and European members of parliament should cooperate to curtail NSA surveillance and other violations of civil liberties.

Our colleagues at Bretterblog have collected some links [in German] with critical comments on the MSC as well as new developments in German foreign policy.

In other news, I recommend the following items from the (IR) blogosphere:

Mathis Lohaus

Links: New Blogs, New Crises, NSA Reform, Ethics in Academia

global-matters

Our colleagues from the Center for Global Politics (CGP) at Freie Universität Berlin have set up a blog called “Global Matters”. The idea is promising:

every two weeks the CGP posts a question related to an important topic in current affairs – and presents short but profound comments from distinguished International Relations experts and practitioners from all over the world

Good luck and have fun! The current post is on conflict in South-East Asia. (Also, there seems to be a tendency at our university to pretty grandiose names for blogging projects…)

Speaking of new blogs: Dan Nexon, of Duck of Minerva fame, now runs a personal blog called Hylaean Flow. Much of it will probably deal with insights from his role as editor for ISQ and the publishing process in general (via the Duck, where they also posted the new Game of Thrones trailer, just in case you missed it)

Tyler Cowen presents opinions from different people on “Which countries will have the next financial crisis?” If you’re a citizen, resident or investor in one of the following, now might be the time to worry: Denmark, Sweden or Norway (high private household debt), Singapore (a lot of loans), Malaysia or the Philippines (economic bubble), Ukraine (although Russia helped), Canada (real estate bubble), Thailand, Turkey, Greece, India or Indonesia (Tyler’s picks).

One key question is the relative worry weights you assign to private debt vs. bad institutions.

What about the rest of the world?  The eurozone is seeing ongoing credit contraction and perhaps deflation too.  Japan just announced a surprisingly large and apparently persistent current account deficit.  And the United States?  Things look pretty good, but in fact by the standards of historical timing we are soon due for another recession.

I’ll put my money on Turkey.

On cyber security and surveillance: Bruce Schneier has an excellent piece on how the NSA and other agencies threaten national (U.S.) security. The text is a commentary on the reform debate in the United States; let’s wait and see what President Obama will announce on Friday. Meanwhile, the tone in Germany gets angrier. As the “no spy” treaty seems to be canceled, now some people make the case for retaliation through the TTIP and other transatlantic negotiations.

PS. At the Monkey Cage, there’s a short interview with Peter Singer, whose book on cyber security and cyber war looks very interesting.

Last but not least, two items reflecting on academic practice. First, Megan MacKenzie has written on the ethics of adjunct professors and other “casual” posts in (U.S.) departments. She presents four reasons to be careful about taking these jobs and four ways for permanent staff to improve the situation. A lot of this probably also holds for the European context.

Second, Burcu Bayram on how to tell MA students that pursuing a PhD might not be the best option for them: Should you be the blunt “dream-crusher” or try a more empathetic approach?

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Graduate Conferences; Betrayers’ Banquet; Blogging Awards; Compliance

Two calls for graduate conferences

Today, I’d like to share two calls for applications for graduate conferences:

  • First, our colleagues at the Graduate School of North American Studies hold a conference on “Trust Issues. Community, Contingency, and Security in North America”. It’ll take place here in Berlin on May 9 and 10, 2014. The full call is on their website, and you can apply until February 9.
  • Second, a group of graduate students at Georgetown’s Center for German and European Studies organizes the 2014 Transatlantic Policy Symposium on “Hot Wars and Cold Wars: Europe’s Near Abroad“. The deadline is on the coming Monday! Again, all information can be found on their website.

Then, there is an intriguing case of applied game theory. A company in London organizes an event called The Betrayers’ Banquet. For £ 99, you can spend an evening enjoying a “32 course banquet with an embedded implementation of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma”:

The event works as follows:

A banqueting table is set with 48 chairs, 24 on each side, at which players are seated at random. For a period of two hours, the food is served in small portions every fifteen minutes, and varies in quality; at the top end of the table, it is exquisite – food you could expect at a fancy restaurant. At the bottom end, the food is charitably described as unpalatable. In between, it is a spectrum between these two extremes.

At regular intervals, pairs of opposing diners are invited to play a round of the prisoner’s dilemma with each other; They are each provided with a small wooden coin with symbols on each side representing cooperation and betrayal, which they place on the table concealed under their palms, and then simultaneously reveal:

• If they both cooperate, then they are both moved up five seats towards the good food.
• If they both betray, they are both moved five seats down towards the worse food.
• If one betrays and one cooperates, the betrayer moves up ten seats, and other down ten seats.

If any of our readers were in London and willing to go, I’d love to hear their experiences. In the comments at Marginal Revolution (where I learned about this), the game designer chimes in: “People are cutthroat, especially when they’re drunk and hungry.”

Somehow I had missed that the Duck of Minerva crew has announced the 2014 Blogging Awards and Reception at ISA. Please make sure to nominate excellent bloggers and/or go to the show, which was a lot of fun last year.

Also at the Duck: Burcu Bayram discusses Lisa Martin’s recent article “Against Compliance”. This discussion is relevant for several of my colleagues and I hope we will be able to follow up on this… (yes, this is a hint to a certain co-blogger)

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Good Abstracts, News from the Blogs, Misunderstood Data

Abstract "check list" from the LSE's Impact blog
Abstracts “check list” from the LSE’s Impact blog

Tips & tricks for academics

How to write a good abstract, with some interesting advice on how to manage search keywords. This is part of a bigger series of “how-to” guides by the LSE Impact Blog.

New blogs & new affiliations

“Democracy & Democratization” is a brand new blog by our colleagues at the WZB. So far, all posts have been in German, but I guess it’s going to be bilingual!?

– Dan Nexon will leave the Duck of Minerva (to focus on his new role as ISQ editor), which makes me wonder a bit about the new ideas he had floated earlier…?

– Even bigger news: The Monkey Cage has struck a deal with the Washington Post. Interestingly, the blog will be placed completely outside of the Post’s paywall for the first year. After that readers with US government or education IP addresses will be exempt. And us poor Europeans? Well, if you land on the page after clicking a Facebook or Twitter link, you’ll still be fine.

– Some reflections on that: (1) That’s quite a leaky paywall, isn’t it? I’m curious to see how they will handle advertising. (2) The only ones who are truly screwed are people like me, who are relying on RSS/feed readers. It’s a pity that this great technology is being abandoned in favor of “walled gardens”. (R.I.P. Google Reader!)

Interpreting & Representing Data

– Jay Ulfelder did a post last week on how a data set on the media treatment of mass protest has been misinterpreted, despite the authors’ best efforts to include all relevant caveats:

So now we get a version that ignores both the caveat about GDELT’s coverage not being exhaustive or perfect and the related one about the apparent increase in protest volume over time being at least in part an artifact of “changes in reporting and the digital recording of news stories.” What started out as a simple proof-of-concept exercise —”The areas that are ‘bright’ are those that would generally be expected to be so,” John wrote in his initial post— had been twisted into a definitive visual record of protest activity around the world in the past 35 years.

Mathis Lohaus

The Cultural Impact of Blogs: Awareness, Affinity, Reflection

A map of the traffic to this blog. Darker color = higher share of visitors.
A map of the traffic to this blog. Darker color = higher share of visitors.

FutureChallenges.org and Google’s Internet and Society Collaboratory are running a “blog carnival”, inviting comments on the cultural aspects of Internet-driven globalization. They’ve asked the following questions:

“Do globalized telecommunications and communication across borders and cultures have any impact on intercultural practices? Does the Internet create a bigger space for cultural similarities? Or does it instead have the opposite effect? Does it increase awareness of the cultural differences all over the world?”

A few years ago, I watched a TED Talk and read a book by Clay Shirky, who offered an impressive range of examples of the social “surplus” created by the internet. Being a somewhat early adopter of technology as well as an avid user/consumer of social media, I have made many of these positive experiences. Yet a uniform effect on “culture” seems hard to identify: On the one hand, there are scale effects that lead to huge rewards for those who attract the most attention (“there’s only one Google, or maybe three”). On the other, niche markets and social groups also prosper online (Anderson’s “long tail”). So the internet allows you to focus on your obscure obsession, but also makes sure you know about Justin Bieber.

I’ll leave it to more qualified observers to comment in detail on the internet and culture as a whole. What I want to do instead is look at a tiny set of online communications, namely (micro-)blogging about politics and political science.

Continue reading