Creativity & Cognition, Completion-centric Planning, and the arsenal of a Chief of Staff

The High Five - Edition #17

Hello everyone,

I hope the weekend is going well and I hope that ‘The High Five’ will add a bit to it :-). Welcome to all the new subscribers.

In this edition, we explore creativity and (visual) cognition, a radically different approach to productivity, and the key skills and attributes of a ‘Chief of Staff’. Interesting? Just read on…


Creativity & Cognition: One thing that makes some people see things differently

Ever wondered what makes creative people creative? Whenever I see those quick DIY videos on YouTube or Instagram, I do wonder - “how did they see those possibilities, from such everyday objects?”. 'Possibilities' - the locus to the concept of creativity.

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not” - Pablo Picasso

Creativity quotient is often measured by looking at divergent thinking capability. That's the cornerstone of the creativity spectrum ranging from brainstorming and ideating to all the way building products of innovation. But beneath the activity layer, there is an underlying cognitive layer, that seems to drive our creativity - openness. An attitude to remain open to new things and experiences.

The creativity of open people stems from a “drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds”. - Wired to Create (book)

Openness is fueled when we take one innate human quality very seriously - Curiosity. Research says that curious minds tend to examine things from multiple angles leading to high degrees of openness and they also tend to discover “complex possibilities laying dormant in so-called ‘familiar’ environments”.

This article discusses 2 of the many experiments conducted on this topic.

  1. Binocular Rivalry: This is a phenomenon in visual perception and studies have shown that openness is linked to this. In this experiment, people are shown with two different images to each of their eyes simultaneously - such as a red patch to the right eye and a green patch to the left eye. Something like this:

    People with high openness saw a fused or scrambled combination of both images (see the middle frame, above), indicating that the creative tendencies of open people extend all the way down to basic visual perception.

  2. Inattentional blindness: Ever had this experience of frantically searching for your glasses when the glasses were perched upon your forehead? This is another perceptual phenomenon, that people experience when they are so focused on one thing that they completely fail to see something else right before their eyes. The below video is an interesting illustration of this phenomenon. Click and watch it before you read further - because you need to count something in the video.

    So - while you were busy counting the passes, did you miss the gorilla? If you did, you are not alone. Well apparently - open people are more likely to see the gorilla in this video clip. Which means - people high on openness can process more visual information in their conscious perception.

I find experiments like these fascinating (and grounding) because they stop us in our tracks and hold a mirror to our biases. This article reminded me - our views and perceptions are not necessarily better than anyone else's if we do not cultivate openness.


Productivity: What accomplished people do differently in their projects

One of the interesting blogger-writers I discovered recently is Scott Young. He has been writing thoughtful articles, consistently, since mid 2000s looks like. I discovered this old article from 2007 last week and it had some provocative perspectives on productivity. Scott says that the act of becoming ‘accomplished’ is unrelated to being productive and that many successful professionals are actually very disorganized. What then, makes them very accomplished (apart from their skills)? Scott’s answer: ‘obsession with completion’. Successful people have a strong compulsive craving to complete their projects (not just tasks). Scott posits that being productive, without this high level of desire for completion (of projects), results in what we see/call/experience as “being busy”.

While the traditional GTD-style frameworks have powered us to knock things off our to-do lists every day, the unintended byproduct of that is an obsession with creating/knocking off small tasks that do not make much progress on big projects. Scott proposes Completion-Centric Planning instead, which is about pivoting project completion as the central organizing principle for each day. With this model, the approach could be summarized as:

This approach puts big projects into our daily scheme of things and visibility and that drives work-flow rhythms that are closest to what successful people practice in their work.


Career: Chief of Staff - The 2nd Brain of the Executive

This past week, I published the 2nd article in my series on Chief of Staff (CoS) role. In this article I elaborated on the main functions of a CoS, the key attributes and skills needed, and the mindsets that a CoS need to bring to the fore to be successful in the role. I also wrote about the relationship between a CoS and the Executive and the target ‘resonance’ state which is essential for the Executive to view the CoS as his/her 2nd brain.


A funny/interesting quote I heard this week: There are 2 types of people in the world. Those who believe there are 2 types of people in the world and those who don't. - Benjamin Hardy


A question I pondered about this week: Did you ever pick up any values or beliefs from any of your favourite artists? If yes, what are some?

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In 2006, violinist-duo Kumaresh-Ganesh released an album, queerly titled as ‘Carnatic Chills’, that had a melange of carnatic music and some exotic fusion soundscape. It is one of the best fusion albums in that decade. Give it a shot!

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Signing off with a satisfying photograph I took this week.