Tag Archives: Creative solutions

The Human Face of the Enemy

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

This month’s issue of National Geographic has a two-page aerial photo of Nairobi’s Kibera slum. A closer look reveals greatly magnified photographs of women’s eyes plastered in the middle of the slum. Hmmmm…. I am curious.
To find out more, I go to the fount of all knowledge: Google.
There I discover that the work is part of a larger international project by a photographer who goes only by the name ‘JR‘. The project aims to show the dignity of women who are often the target of conflicts.
Ok. Interesting. I read on.
Turns out JR has done a number of projects, all with the intent of showing the true, human ‘face’ of the opposition in conflict situations.
In one project- which, incidentally, was the biggest illegal photo exhibition ever– he took huge format portraits of Israelis and Palestinians. He then posted these portraits side by side on buildings in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities on both sides of the separation wall. The portraits weren’t ‘Sunday best’ photos either, but were rather of people making faces into the camera. How silly. How human. No one took them down.  
From what I read, none of the conflicts were resolved by any of these photos. But maybe, just maybe, one child will grow up with a little less hate in his heart because he can see that the ‘enemy’ is, after all, just like him.
What I love most about JR is that he combines art with action. In each location he works, he sponsors ongoing art and craft workshops for kids. In the Nairobi slum, his foundation re-covered 2,000 square meters of rooftops.

When art that changes perspective and action that changes lives are combined, possibility is more than just a dream.

Image source 


Today’s 4 Minute Writer  


I never did like photographs. They’re depressing.

As soon as one’s taken, it’s a record of an event that’s gone, a moment never to be repeated.

Years later you look at it and realize you’re fatter, balder. The woman standing beside you is no longer here and the smiling faces gathered around have faded into obscurity.

Moments need to move on, not be captured and held onto artificially.

Live in the now and appreciate what’s around you, because in a moment, it’ll be gone.

 Image source

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Beauty in the Back

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

“When engaging the ugly front of reality, don’t neglect the beauty in the back.” -Monica Wood

In the documentary, Born Into Brothels, photographer Zana Briski starts out taking pictures in the brothels of Calcutta and ends up teaching children born into them to record their lives through the art of photography.

The children learn to look at the world around them differently. While the ugly front of their reality is not changed,  they learn to see the beauty in the back. They gain a new lens through which to look at their surroundings and a way to share their stories with the world.

Their photographs receives international attention and are exhibited in New York. For several of these children, a door is opened to a world beyond the brothels. One of them, Avijit Halder, has even gone on to study film-making in NY. This short video is a compilation of some of his work:

The camera gave these children new eyes with which to see their lives. What do you see when you look at your life?


Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Erna and Florence

They’re in their 80s, both of them. Here they are in the nursing home, roommates. Cellmates? Seems all they do is lay around, each in their own bed, separated by a mustard yellow curtain that’s hardly ever drawn. Erna always has the tv on. Florence can’t stand it. In all the times I’ve come to visit, I’ve never seen them talk to each other. How odd, such close quarters and no interaction.

Today, for the first time, Florence suddenly tells me she likes her roommate. Maybe Erna overhears and that’s what starts it. She leans over and calls out, “Hey,” to get Florence’s attention. She has to say it loudly, Florence’s hearing isn’t that good.

We both look over. Eyes fixed on Florence, Erna sticks out her tongue. Florence laughs and sticks out her own. Erna counters with a tongue out and ups the ante by pulling on her earlobe. The game is on. Florence adds a nose wrinkle, Erna pulls both ear lobes. Florence snorts, Erna goes bug-eyed. They both break out into a bout of laughter like schoolgirls.

I didn’t know fun could be had in this place. I hope there’s more of it for them.

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Guns, Tanks, and Creativity

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

Creativity is not just about expressing yourself. Sometimes lives depend on it.

In 1943, as the Allies were planning D-Day, they realized that securing a beachhead would be their hardest task. They constructed an elaborate plan, dubbed Fortitude South, to deceive the Germans into thinking that the invasion would be at the Pas-de-Calais instead of at Normandy.

The Allies built an entire fake camp of inflatable rubber tanks, plywood artillery and mock landing crafts, and supported the illusion with false radio transmissions and stories to German spies of US General Patton being the commander of this non-existent force.

And so, the Germans concentrated their efforts in the Pas-de-Calais while the real invasion landed in Normandy. Thousands of lives were lost. It could have been millions, the war lasting years longer.

Sometimes creative thinking is not an option but a necessity, even a matter of life and death.

(More info on Fortitude South


Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Cigarettes and Margaritas

I bump into him at the gas station counter. He’s been away for a couple of weeks, looks a little tanned.

“How was your holiday?”

“It was alright.” The muscles in his face are tensed.

He’s having a hard time deciding which cigarettes to ask for, wants to quit. Should he get the light ones, but then he’ll just smoke more, get his usual, but then he’s in a rut, start on another brand, not get any at all…

I make some joke about him not taking all day, I have a root canal appointment to get to. No smile, eyes set on the cashier.

He decides on a brand. They’re out of that kind. The muscles in his face get tighter, he squints. Quite the reaction from a guy who’s just spent two weeks on a beach. He’s always that way, and no amount of lazily sipping margaritas is going to help. I’ve seen him crack a smile a couple of times. It’s a big deal when the ice melts. Why so tense?

There’s a lot of sorrow back there- divorce, kids shuffled back and forth. He wishes it wasn’t like this, can’t believe this is his life.

If he doesn’t have this serious-tense-guy thing going, he might fall apart. And that terrifies him. He’s afraid of himself, what he would do, who he would turn into if he faced his losses head on. Maybe there would be nothing left of him.

Photo from http://flic.kr/p/gDGuo

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From Poor to Entrepreneur

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

Why are poor people poor? A loaded question with potential for lengthy argument and debate. The way you answer that question will affect your attitude and actions toward people who are categorized as poor (or your attitude and actions toward yourself if you consider yourself to be poor)- will you give money to pan-handlers? to organizations that help people who are poor? tell your friends how they’re lazy and should just get a job?

What about challenging the way we see people who live in poverty? Grameen Bank in Bangladesh chooses to see individuals who live in poverty as people with skills who have not been given the opportunity to use them because of institutions and policies around them. They believe that the answer to poverty is the “unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being” (see Grameen Bank website). Their attitude then guides their action, causing them to provide microcredit loans on reasonable terms to people living in extreme poverty so they can build on their skills and earn a better income through entrepreneurial endeavours.

The dividing line between rich and poor is growing smaller these days with the instability of the marketplace. The comfortable of today may be the poor of tomorrow. Seeing the creative potential in people who are poor, rather than seeing charity cases, will go a long way in creating a society with room for all.

(For an example of peer-to-peer lending, see the Zopa website.)


Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Where’s My Share?

He’s mumbling something as he staggers toward me. His eyes are honed in on my face- is he talking to me? I’m not sure whether to respond or just keep walking- he doesn’t look like the kind of person I’d usually have a conversation with. He continues to approach me, making full eye contact the whole time. I look around. There are other people on the street. I am reassured.

“Pardon?” I ask timidly.

“I said, where’s my $1,500?” His tone is matter-of-fact.

“What?” I’m confused. Does he think I owe him money? He must not be thinking straight, who knows what he’s on.

“The government just announced that they’re giving three million dollars to help the homeless. There are 2,000 homeless people in this city, so where’s my share?”

I stare at him, at a loss for what to say. He breaks eye contact and just keeps walking.

His question stays with me. I know all the answers about how funding goes into programs so that lots of people can get help, it’s not a ‘stand in line and get some money’ free-for-all. Still, there’s something in his question that makes me wonder if we’re losing the value of the individual in order to support programs that keep people trapped in the situations they’re in. I turn around to find out more about who he is and what he thinks, but lose sight of him behind the “Renovations Coming” sign in front of the 12th Street Mission.

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Community the Simple Way

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

Many societies worldwide have become fragmented and extremely individualistic. We don’t know what community is anymore. I read an article a while back in which a young professional reflected on his experiences living in a long-term rental unit in a hotel building. He commented that he now parcels the concept of community into brief conversations in the elevator with people he will never see again. Somehow I don’t think that’s what the word was supposed to mean…

Philadelphia, 1998. Seven students from Eastern University move together into a house they name The Simple Way in ‘the bad part of town’. Their goal? To build community inside the house and in the neighbourhood. The students share their lives and belongings with each other, then get to know their neighbours and do the same with them. It’s about day-to-day, face-to-face, equal-to-equal relationship building and acting to help each other out with whatever comes along the way. The house is still there to this day and has even expanded to another one in the same area. Doesn’t that sound more like community than a soon forgotten elevator chat?

I’d  like to visit The Simple Way one day and experience this kind of real community- or better yet, start one right where I am. Now there’s a radical thought…


Today’s 4 Minute Writer


“Hi! How are you?!” She comes at me in those shaky high heels and frizzed out blonde hair.

“Good thanks.” Not exactly an open-ended response.

“Wasn’t this weekend just so awful? We had the kids over for a barbecue and had to stay indoors the whole time. When will the summer ever get here? I mean, really, it’s the middle of August already!”

The pace of her speech tires me. A slight nod is all I can muster.

“How about you? What did you do this weekend?”

I open my mouth  to respond-

“Oh, excuse me a second,” she cuts me off, “that’s Bob Jenkins from the President’s office over there. I need to go talk to him.” And without further ceremony, off she flitters toward him.

I breathe a deep sigh and shake my head. My day can only get better from here.

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Brains + Guts = Watch Out Big Corporations

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

What do you get when you take two smart guys with a ton of guts and a major axe to grind against big corporations they feel put profits ahead of everything else? You get millions of BBC viewers watching a phony Dow Chemicals representative admit responsibility for the largest industrial accident in history after 20 years of virtually no action to clean up this mess in Bhopal, India that killed thousands and left over 120,000 people needing lifelong care. 

Meet Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, The Yes Men. This activist duo create and maintain fake websites impersonating major corporations. They then wait to be contacted through the sites to participate in interviews, conferences, and TV talk shows. At these forums, they highlight how they feel the companies they are impersonating commit acts against the public. In the case of the BBC Dow Chemicals interview, once Jude Finisterra (whose first name refers to the patron saint of lost causes and last name is Latin for ‘end of the world’) was exposed as a fraud, Dow was left having to answer questions about what action was and was not taken to help those affected by the incident in Bhopal.

Though they are small and corporations gigantic, Andy and Mike manipulate and leverage media to get their message out there. Now that’s creativity! 


Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Still Alive

“I, oh, I’m still alive,” sings Eddie Vedder in a half-dead monotone.

Alive. Still alive. Truly alive? Half alive? Live truly, live so it counts, really counts, not just to get through another day. Live like it really matters, for what’s important, what lasts. When all is said and done, how much of what was will remain and how much will be rolled up and chucked into the cosmic incinerator?

Living in the right plane- that’s what’ll get you there. See through the right eyes, see for real. Close your eyes, and see.

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Copenhagen’s Bicycle Culture

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

We all know about climate change and how the environment is in rough shape and that we need to go green. So, most of us do our little part to help out- we recycle, compost, buy ‘green’ products. And these things are all good. Of course, the more we do on a collective, societal level, the better. One shining example of a collective, creative way to go green is Copenhagen’s bicycle culture. Although residents see their cycling as utilitarian and not environmentally motivated, the fact that 37% of commuters in that city are cyclists reduces commuter automobile emissions by, you guessed it, 37%. In a city of over a million inhabitants, that’s huge!

A major factor in the number of cyclists in Copenhagen is the city’s cycle-friendly urban design and designated paths, tracks, and lanes. They even have bicycle repair points where you can rent or repair a bike.

To encourage cycling to work, some workplaces in Copenhagen have implemented “Trappers”, recording sensors that track when a bicycle is within the vicinity of the work building. Employees earn points based on how often they cycle to work, and redeem these for products on the Trapper website.

Taking Copenhagen as an example of a municipality’s creativity to encourage environmentally friendly transportation, what unique solutions to environmental issues can our own cities come up with?

(Link to information on bicycle culture in Denmark)


Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Data Entry

Jim parks his bike at the racks in front of the building and makes his way inside and to his desk, passing rows of co-workers already hunkered down in their cubicles.

Within minutes  he is seated, staring at a computer just like everyone else. But when Jim sits and stares, it’s different. No amount of mindless data entry can bring his energy into submission. His unruly hair flies around him, even without the slightest breeze. His shoulders move disjointedly as he types, each new angle leaving traces of continued motion extending on. His legs are always shaking up and down, up and down- they probably don’t even stop when he sleeps. He’s a ball of energy inside a body too small to contain it. I fully expect that one day I’ll hear a soft “pop” when I walk by and realize that he simply spontaneously combusted.

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