I haven’t even begun my Strategic Design MBA program at Philadelphia University, but it hasn’t stopped me from exploring some Ph.D. options. After doing some basic research, it turns out you can receive your doctorate degree in Creativity and Innovation. And while I want to laugh and say Who knew?! the biggest take away is not that such programs exist, but that you can pursue whatever your big heart desires. There. are. no. rules.
Boston University has a four-year Ph.D. in Strategy and Innovation. If you get accepted, you get an all-includsive, all expenses paid for, research adventure in which you dedicate yourself to original research, data gathering, analysis, hypotheses, predictions, experimenting, interviewing and conclusions. What a better thing to study? Drexel University has a similar program, one that includes the word “Applied” in the title of their Ph.D. degree program, which explores how these intangible characteristics are executed across various platforms like business, government, schools and nonprofits. There is, however, no such thing as a Ph.D. in Curiosity.
But one day after pursuing and completing such high-level, formal degrees, you’ll be able to diagnose the spirit of creativity and birthplace of innovation among individuals and groups. Just like that, you’d have that right as a doctor. Perhaps, the future of best medicines won’t be drugs or laughter. Maybe it’ll just be a a space to be creative and self-expressive. Is that the X-factor of successful people and organizations? If so, why aren’t we the interior designers of our own lives? The television would be the first thing to go. We can all feel inspired in our own skin. It’d be a shame if we always believed outside influences must inject our souls first.
I’m not saying everyone has to be an artist–what an uncreative thought. I’m just saying, our collective generational story would be a lot more exciting if everyone wasn’t afraid to tell their own. Because at the heart of it all, I’m most interested in why some people are unafraid to own their story and share it, in whatever shape and form they choose, and why others choose not to project their voice. I can’t even imagine all of the stories that never get told. They evaporate like unexpected rain that touches the hot asphalt on a summer afternoon. It’s mystifying in the most exhaustive way. So if I had to do original research, I’d want to know what are the contributing factors that determine whether or not a person shares their story? And tells it to the honest-to-God-truth as they so believe it to be.
-How does this impact the organizations we work for? And our daily work performance?
-How does this impact our personal lives? And the relationships we have with others?
-Does it affect the conversations we have? The connections we make? The people we engage with? The problems we solve?
-How does the media influence our ability to tell our own story? Or our ability to live it?
-Does this affect the way we learn? The way we teach? The decisions we make? The meanings we give to our actions?
-Why do we, or don’t we, think of our lives as a beginning-to-end story? What do we make of everything in between?
-What is the role of imagination in creativity and innovation? Of play?
-Does this have anything to do at all, with the way we love?
-What are we afraid of?
Are we just content to watch the sun set, and not curious at all for why it rises? Are we satisfied with laying ourselves down in the darkness of night, and not driven at all to discover the surprises of the day? How do we teach kids at a young age to be unafraid of their voice, to embrace the cracks and booms, and to use as a power that stands themselves upright, firmly rooted in the ground of their beliefs? How do we remind the adults who have forgotten this? Our voice is undeniable. It determines our thoughts, which determine our actions, which determine our impact. It is the current that carries our story from one chapter to the next. Though it may change, and it should, it’s the only thing we have.
Here’s what. I’ll give you two examples from my childhood that may explain why I am so eager to pursue these things–crazy, silly things like formal degrees in creativity and innovation. As a professional tall tale teller, my original research would be in the context of stories. How vague. How ambiguous. How volatile. How uncertain. How (im)perfect. How exciting.
1) Every day from the second to sixth grade, I would play football at recess. I was the all-pro, only girl quarterback. And not-surprisingly, the only girl playing football, unashamed to return to class just as sweaty and disgusting as the boys. I wore the athletic look proudly as a badge of honor, knowing that I could connect and relate to, and draw attraction from all the boys in ways that no other girl could, did, or even tried to. I had just about everyone’s attention simply by being myself. And while the boys had mine, they didn’t have all of it. There were a few students who held my attention even more, for reasons that had nothing to do with school girl crushes. At a much more deeply human level, I was interested in those who had trouble communicating. And it wasn’t because I too, went to speech class for four consecutive years. Truth is, I didn’t even have a speech impediment but somehow had to work on my “Sh” “Ch” and “J” pronunciations. Knowing I could say these words just fine, I mean after all, my brother’s name is Jimmy, I decided to walk the halls with my star-studded Speech Class folder as a secondary badge of honor. Yes, I was the football playing, speech-slaying girl. And next to the Speech room, was the classroom for special needs students. They were the stutterers and slow-thinkers. They were the ones who didn’t look quite like the rest of us, or talk quite like we did. While we were learning multiplication and long division, they were trying to grasp basic addition and subtraction. While we were reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, they were reading the Cat in the Hat. Needless to say, I became their friends. I didn’t feel uncomfortable in their presence the way some others might, I just wanted to share the same space with them, spend time and communicate in other ways that didn’t have to involve talking. A smile. A drawing. Coloring the same picture. Sharing the crayons. There was one girl in particular who I had befriended during this time. While we were friends in the space of Speech and Special Needs, we had no interactions outside of that. Until one day at recess, I decided to quit playing football and join her in the sandbox, where she was digging by herself with not a single soul within 100 feet of the monkey bars and slides nearby. She never spoke a word, ever. But it didn’t stop me from asking her questions. I sat down in the sand next to her and together we used our imaginations, me telling her a story of what we were digging for, searching for an unknown. She would shake her head Yes and No to determine the next storyline, smiling if she liked what we were creating, frowning if she didn’t. When the boys beckoned me to come back to football, I said No Thanks. I was diggin’ a new kind of storytelling, spending time and connecting with a fellow student no one else had dared to engage with. We were both better because of it. I think of those moments often, nearly two decades later.
2) It was an August afternoon the summer before going into 7th grade. My grandmother had lived in the townhouse section of our neighborhood, less than a mile from where we lived. And while she was always close in proximity, I was never really close with her. We were cordial and polite, with her offering the miniature Mr. GoodBars and dark chocolate or Krackle bars, and me wiping my dirty sneakers on the Welcome mat before taking them off inside her townhouse. After listening to her and my mother debate whether or not to return the iron that had a scratch on it, or the tea pot that didn’t whistle quite right, or the shirt with the button that was too loosely sewed, it occurred to me that maybe I should be spending more time with my grandmother. I wanted our time together to be more than smiles and candy bars, and the imperfection of material things. I actually wanted to have a conversation with her. She had never told me any stories and I was sure she had plenty. I decided that I would finally ask. So I said to her as we were leaving, “Grandma, what are you doing this weekend? Can I stop by on Saturday and have lunch with you? You know, I’ll just ride my bike over here and we’ll spend the afternoon together. Can we do that?” And she said yes, she would love that. She said that she would be looking forward to it. Only, that Saturday, I didn’t ride my bike over there and have lunch with her. I distinctly remember that Saturday, knowing I had made plans to do so, and that I should probably do what I said I was going to do, but decisively made other plans with friends instead. I blew off Saturday afternoon with my grandmother, and by the time my mom and I had visited her on Sunday morning, she answered the door with a bruised face and broken nose. Her swollen eyes and bloodied forearms were shocking at the site, but my heart ached at the shame in which she tried to hide them from us, unable to comprehend, remember and communicate what exactly had happened to her. I stood there knowing that I would have known, and probably could have prevented all of this had I shown up for lunch the day before. Did she get mugged on the way walking to the mall? Did she fall down the stairs? How long had she been like this? What had happened? I’m still not even sure. I just knew that my absence had impacted the sequence of events. It has probably also impacted my preference to be present in the years since. I can never get that lunch back.
I’m interested in our stories, as they unfold and as we tell them. How we live them and how they can change us. I believe stories can heal just as much as they connect, and when they divide, we ache. When we’re silent, we accept defeat and indifference. Our stories matter. We have to do a better job of engaging with those who have trouble telling their story, and hold ourselves accountable when we don’t spend the time to create our own and make memories with others. So years down the road, when I pursue Ph.D. in something totally ridiculous like Creativity and Innovation, I hope to discover some answers to the questions I outlined for the context of Storytelling. I hope my original research includes a sandbox and a million lunches on Saturday afternoons.