Ideaphoria

JohnsonOConnor

The researcher, Johnson O’Connor, studied aptitudes as a way of measuring intelligence as opposed to “IQ.” Interestingly, I was reflecting today that this notion seems to underlie much of gifted education.

In the book “The Unique Individual”, he wrote of “ideaphoria.” We all know the story of the absent-minded professor who crosses the street without looking. I would venture to say that person had ideaphoria.

For me, the most moving anecdote in the book is the story of the teacher who has extremely high ideaphoria and frustration as a result. O’Connor offers advice at the end:

“Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown. A fourth-grade teacher came with a feeling of inferiority which had twice driven her to seek psychiatric help. Every afternoon by three-thirty, when school closed, she was exhausted by refractory disciplinary problems. In personality she scored probably objective, but only three significant responses away from the extremely subjective division. As worksample 35 is inaccurate to this extent, the Laboratory considers it wiser for her to assume herself extremely subjective.

In ideaphoria she scored at the 100th percentile, 460 words written in ten minutes where 341 is grade A for women. She wanted to write, but whenever she tried her vivid imagination raced ahead at a speed which her pencil could never equal, and she grew discouraged and gave up.

She then thought of editing a collection of children’s stories. This gave the counterfeit satisfaction of having produced something without the long laborious hours demanded by actual creation. But secure editors score highest int he reasoning work-samples, analytical reasoning, worksample 244, and inductive reasoning, worksample 164, in both of which she scored low. Also editors score lower in ideaphoria, where she ranks at the 100th percentile. Continued editorial work would give her little permanent enjoyment.

College teaching involves fewer disciplinary problems but demands more inductive reasoning than the grades. A change from public to private school seemed likely to give a congenial atmosphere for her subjectivity. But the only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 84-85)

Interestingly, below are the traits O’Connor associated with a writer (p. 81):

writing-attributes

 

For more info:

O’Connor, Johnson. The Unique Individual. Human Engineering Laboratory Incorporated, Boston: 1948.

The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in New York works to advance the research of Johnson O’Connor.

 

From Analog Surrogates => Camping

Airstream copy

A gifted teacher changes you. Linda Tanis taught an experimental, gifted program in the public schools of Hendry County, Florida, in the late ’70s, and the two years I participated changed my life. She was a volunteer firefighter who would overturn old school buses and set them on fire to practice fire rescue and train the men in town. She went camping in Canada with two friends for a month each summer and brought us films on reels with the most pristine forest views one could imagine. Her passion for conservation filled my soul with awe. She showed us films like Soilent Green. She put 4th graders to work on computers in 1978; I remember the dreaded haunted house trap doors awaiting in a single text word on screen and the ensuing gasp. She formed the conviction in my mind that women are fearless.

I dreamt of camping from the time I saw her first film and could fumble through the camping section of the Sears catalogs of 1979. I’ve now (tent) camped in nearly every state in the union except maybe Washington, Oregon and Minnesota. Several years ago we also bought an Airstream from 1973 on eBay to take our boys around Colorado on more extended trips. Kurt and I got tired of breaking down camp for 4 people and moving it every two days.

When we speak of digital surrogates, as in a digital image standing-in for the original work of art, I think of those catalogs as “analog surrogates”. They don’t “stand-in” for anything; what they do is light a forest fire in your imagination. I think of 7-year-old-me lying in bed basking in the campfire glow on the printed page. I never bought a thing. If you looked at them from a consumer/advertising perspective, you’d miss the whole point. Yet I would say they are a huge part of my childhood for the camping gear sections were the *only* access to camping I had at that time. I think I’ll go look for one of those ’70s catalogs on eBay…

SearsCatalog1979 copy

Enjoying Ideaphoria

It’s probably pretty safe to say many entrepreneurs have what Johnson O’Connor calls “Ideaphoria.” Ideaphoria demands modifying your behavior to feel joy. Here are some things I learned the hard way.

Flesh Out the Ideas
O’Connor wrote: “Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown.” (p. 84) He recommends: “The only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 85)

Stay away from people who don’t get it
This is easier said than done because most people don’t get it. However, you can calibrate how you internalize what others say. It starts when you are a child and you hear this:
“stop asking so many questions”
“you think too much”
“you’re too deep”
“that’s complicated”
As you get older you start to recognize the response and it takes this form:
“wow, you really have a lot of different interests”
“did you invent a new business today?”
“that’s too ambitious”

The gifted education curriculum takes this into account. Many kids who have a strong ability in one area (a “giftedness”) are often teased in public schools, bullied into “toning it down.” Whereas in a curriculum that understands and supports these strong aptitudes, kids are encouraged to run with it. My son, for example, is doing algebraic expressions in 5th grade that I didn’t encounter until 9th grade. That is because he is in “pull out math” and allowed to progress at his own pace at his school.

Don’t Chastise Yourself or Try to “Fix” It
When I was 18, I bought this book called “Help for Women Who Do Too Much.” Kurt hilariously pointed out that there are likely no books entitled Help for Men Who Do Too Much.” I realize now that this was me trying to “fix it” instead of understanding my ability to generate ideas.

When your thoughts are too scattered
Do something manual. For me it is cleaning or playing tennis first thing in the morning. Rollerblading in Central Park also had that mind calming effect on me. Cleaning is something I’ve done as a coping mechanism since I was a child. It gives me immediate control over a messy situation and I have instant gratification in seeing it resolved. It’s like the more complex the problem, the more my mind is working on it, and can’t reach a conclusion. So instead I try to clean up my environment. I find the process of doing that helps organize my thoughts too.

Don’t Let Others Question Your Work Methods
When I was under lots of stress and would start cleaning, Kurt would say, “What are you doing?! Why are you spending time on that? Get to work; you have so much to do!” I know he meant well, and in his more aware-of-the-clock biology, it makes sense. However, for me, the cleaning wasn’t a distraction, it was in fact a fundamental part of my work process.