“Creativity and innovation are the keys to developing the potential of individuals, organizations, and nations.”

— World Economic Forum, 1999 Annual Meeting, Davos, Switzerland

For the past 40 years, I’ve been absorbed in many exciting “ArtScience Adventures” that directly connect to impact investing in the creative economy. Most of my adventures aim to better understand the nature of creativity and innovation, in order to help realize humanity’s creative potential.

A few months ago, a friend engaged me in a conversation about impact investing in the creative economy. Pondering our conversation, it occurred to me that I’ve been doing impact investing ever since I moved to Denver in 1993 and founded Think Like a Genius® with my brother Eric Siler and Scott Perlman. Although we never categorized the business model we created and invested in for 20 years as impact investing, indeed that’s what we were doing as we creatively used the arts to positively impact communities in the Denver-Metro area, as well as nationally and internationally.

The overarching challenge in cultivating innovation rests with how we educate ourselves and prepare our minds for chance discoveries, to paraphrase Louis Pasteur. As a student, Pasteur was so exceptional at drawing, which he favored over academics, that he might have become a professional visual artist if it weren’t for the encouragement of his school’s headmaster. His prepared mind combined artistic imagination and scientific experimentation to produce a series of revolutionary discoveries and innovations, which included the “germ theory” of infectious diseases, the study of viruses and microbiology, and “pasteurization.” As it turned out, the same powers of observation Pasteur exercised as an artist were essential to his pioneering work in the science lab.

On a similar note, Thomas Friedman hit the mark when he stated in a New York Times op-ed, “Worried About India’s and China’s Booms? So Are They”[1]: “Innovation is often a synthesis of art and science, and the best innovators often combine the two.” To build on Friedman’s observation: In the Smithsonian Oral History Interview with Steve Jobs (April 20, 1995), Jobs states: “The things I’m most proud about at Apple [are] where the technical and the humanistic came together…I actually think there’s…very little distinction between an artist and a scientist or engineer of the highest caliber. I’ve never had a distinction in my mind between those two types of people. They’ve just been to me people who pursue different paths but basically kind of headed to the same goal, which is to express something of what they perceive to be the truth around them so that others can benefit by it.”

Frankly, fostering innovators in all fields without the aid of the arts is just wishful thinking.

Today, we’ve expanded and blurred our definitions and examples of exceptional art-making and we find ourselves connecting the arts to everything! And why not? Art, like Imagination, goes with anything! Just as A.I. enables anything to go with innovation![2]

Innovation –> Application

Truth be told, “best practices” in both the arts and sciences rely on the creative process of connection-discovery-invention, or innovation-application. Consider how neurologists study a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scan searching for anomalies in the shapes, sizes and architecture of the human brain. In effect, they’re using all kinds of aesthetic descriptors and cues to communicate to one another the essence of a possible pathology or lesion (Siler 2015, 2012).

Unfortunately, formal education has become so compartmentalized that even brilliant practitioners sometimes overlook the fact that in unpacking the mysteries of nature they are making as much use of arts knowledge as science; that, in fact, at the highest levels of creative inquiry these ways of knowing cannot be separated.[3]

My art-making, research and exploratory ArtScience work on human creativity over decades has led me to conclude that, although we’re racing to become the most technologically connected society in human history, we remain conceptually disconnected in ways that dangerously deepen our divisions culturally, socially, intellectually and economically. In effect, our compartmentalized ways of seeing, understanding and experiencing the whole of life continue to fragment us and our collective future.

More to the point: In the mid-1980s I was researching the use of symbolism in art and architecture in southern India on a Fulbright Fellowship. It’s worth noting that I embarked on this adventure before the advent of the World Wide Web “Gold Rush”. However, I could see so clearly—even at that time—there seemed to be less regard for the great art and philosophy that help shape India’s astonishing culture than for acquiring the coveted tools of telecommunications. The pressure to “westernize” blinded many to what their symbolic artforms and metaphorical philosophies already privileged them to know—namely, that all open “creative” systems, such as human beings, live far from equilibrium. That term, equilibrium, is more readily associated with the physics of thermodynamics and not Hindu philosophy. However, as one probes the latter—for example, the Maitrayani Upanishad, an ancient document that illuminates the relationship between matter and spirit (or energy) — one discovers numerous insights into physical reality and nature’s innovation engine: the evolutionary process.

But you don’t have to a Nobel laureate or an Indic scholar to see how creative critical thinking is so naturally entwined in both the arts and sciences. To miss this reality or dismiss it is to be ignorant of the history of these two complementary worlds of applied knowledge and creativity.

Integrating Arts and Science in Education

Many of our American public schools still don’t see this bigger picture. Nor have they figured out how to remedy the situation by integrating the arts and sciences in teaching the National Standards-based curriculum. In the rush to exhibit competencies in science and math, many schools forget that students are more than the sum of their skills. When district, state or federal initiatives reveal that students are performing deplorably in science and math, they often jettison the arts—leaving students even further behind as teachers scramble to meet the “No Child Left Behind” test score mandate and School Report Card. There’s simply no time to “play” with the arts and humanities. Consequently, the human imagination is marginalized, trivialized or sacrificed like so much fresh air at recess.

To compete more effectively in today’s globalized world, our educational systems need to call on the arts and sciences to create informal learning experiences that inspire innovative thinking and practical innovations. These adventurous experiences tend to propel integrative thinkers to advance new concepts by empirical tests, bold thought experiments, and basic common sense.

The Think Like a Genius® Metaphorming workshops—which I’ve been conducting in various forms and functions for the past 40 years—make use of some proven, arts-based learning methods and tools for catalyzing and cultivating innovative thinking. This all-purpose process of creativity and communication provides a “global common language” for people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures to freely express their ideas and solutions for important challenges, in ways that are personally meaningful and purposeful to them and to others. The facilitator ensures that the process of exploring and sharing these models is done in non-judgmental, non-confrontational and non-contentious ways.

Using everyday crafting and building materials, participants are guided to freely create a personal, multi-dimensional, symbolic model, or “metaphorm,” that enables them to visualize and give form to their thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, knowledge, views, and opinions. Since 1993, when my brother Eric Siler, Scott Perlman and I started working together in Denver on our company, we have applied the Think Like a Genius® Metaphorming Workshops on various innovation-oriented projects for schools, businesses, cultural centers, and communities. Eric has continued to apply these workshops in the organization he founded and currently heads as CEO, the Think Like a Genius® Foundation (TLGF)[4], a Denver-based non-profit that helps young people realize their creative potential by collaboratively meeting various challenges in practical ways, as well as through goal-setting and achievement. TLGF is “challenging young people to find ways to solve community issues that affect children and youth, and [we’re] providing the means and incentives to do so.”

Furthermore, they’ve been used successfully for many years as part of the “Art of Science Learning” (AoSL) Initiative[5], which was founded by Harvey Seifter, Principal Investigator, and funded by the National Science Foundation.

If anyone doubts why or how impact investing in the creative economy helps “make a better world,” simply remind them of all the avoidable human catastrophes since 2000 that may have cost us our future—which is a whole lot more overwhelming than the trillions of dollars we have wasted while critically destabilizing our sense of civil society. Sadly, many of these human-made catastrophes could have been prevented or curtailed had we wisely invested in the creative economy, which supports nothing but the positive “things” that unite and strengthen our sense of humanity, such as tackling the most urgent “15 Global Challenges facing humanity”. Why not make more financial resources available to address these challenges with viable solutions instead of adding to them? That makes real common sense!

This is an excerpt from Cornerstone Capital’s report Creativity & The Arts: An Emerging Impact Investing Theme.

[1] The New York Times, March 24, 2006.

[2] Geoffrey Ozin and Todd Siler, Catalyst: New Materials Discovery: Machine-Enhanced Human Creativity, Chem 4, 1183–1190, June 14, 2018, Elsevier Inc

[3] Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values (New York: Harper & Row, 1956); Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein 2000, 2008; https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/1035/arts-foster-scientific-success.pdf; Seifter et al. 2016; http://www.artofsciencelearning.orghttp://bif.is/summit/video/harvey-seifter-fluid-relationship-between-art-and-science#.WBEWoRSsmV8

[4] www.thinklikeageniusfoundation.org

[5] http://www.artofsciencelearning.org/metaphorming/