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Pacific Northwest College of Art  Online Magazine  Portland, OR

President's Voice

Creative Intelligence and the Art of Reframing of the Future

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Introductory Remarks by Tom Manley at PNCA's 2013 Commencement Ceremony.

Welcome to you all and congratulations to the Class of 2013 and congratulations to your parents, families, friends, and mentors who have supported you in your journey to this day.

Welcome also, of course, to our honoree and speaker, Roger Mandle, and to the members of the talented PNCA community—Governors, faculty, staff, alumni and students. I want to take this moment to acknowledge especially our dedicated faculty and staff, whose commitment to your education, graduates, has been unflagging and passionate.

Let me start with a little informal poll. How many people in the audience, other than our graduates and faculty, have a portfolio of their creative work? Graduates? Faculty? OK. We’ll get back to that.

Graduations may be time-honored occasions with rituals and regalia rooted deeply in the past, but we cannot deny that current times present different and perhaps greater challenges to college graduates and their families than ever before. So even at the beginning of this celebration, we need to acknowledge two things.

First, that to get here today has required real sacrifice, courage and commitment on your part and, in many cases, on the part of your families and loved ones. We stand in admiration of your perseverance and gratitude for the gift of your creative effort.

Second, tomorrow you will face new questions, uncertainties, dilemmas and unknowns. And unlike graduates in prior eras, the very value of what you have worked so hard to claim—a college education—is being called into questioned and not without good reason.

The news media is filled with reports about the unsustainably high cost of postsecondary education and the related rising student debt, which has surpassed one trillion dollars. In a post recession world, where the economic landscape is radically altered, how will new graduates find employment, pursue careers, and make lives that are meaningful and manageable? In such, times some ask, is an investment in a college education wise?

My answer to the value question is not and never has been an unequivocal “yes.” Rather, I would tell you it depends largely on how you choose to use and grow what you have worked so hard to learn with your faculty at PNCA. To think that we can measure the lifetime value of learning in terms of the first job you find six months after graduation is symptomatic of what is wrong with much of our approach to an educational system that generally suffocates creativity and confuses standards with standardization. This is a huge flaw in my opinion of the media and government critique of education.

And, mind you, I am very much a proponent of reshaping the higher education system to make it affordable and more efficacious. Along with other schools of art and design, PNCA is engaged in an active discussion to reinvent that model through innovation. Our honoree and commencement speaker, Roger Mandle, is very much a part of that conversation. But as we know, there is a difference between the tools and techniques we acquire and the imagination, knowledge and talent with which we apply them.

But here is the unequivocally good news for you, graduates. Your faculty and your College believe you are not just prepared to meet the future, we are confident that you will be among those who invent it and that places you at a distinct advantage tomorrow. Why do we feel you are so well prepared?

Because based on the tools, techniques and knowledge you have developed here and HOW you have applied them, evidence of which abounds in the stunning thesis exhibition that awaits us after this ceremony, you have proven your capabilities to observe, envision, think, play, collaborate, experiment, fail, problem solve, iterate, prototype, stand in ambiguity, contextualize, critique, pivot, make and reframe. According to Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence, this last capability—reframing—may be the most powerful and relevant to current world circumstances because it allows people, especially people with a lot of creative intelligence, that would be all of you, to break the routine of “narratives that structure our lives…frames we were born into-–and even many of the ones we’ve created ourselves…In a world that doesn’t change much, in a time of relative stability, the need for reframing is not quite so urgent. But if you are enmeshed in narratives that don’t work, changing your frame just may be the first step toward changing your life” (92). And I would add, changing the world.

Now, how does this relate to finding a job? That will still take work, but we have to recognize that we are not in a time of relative stability. That’s why Thomas Friedman, the author and New York Times columnist and many others have echoed Nussbaum’s idea on reframing by emphasizing that in the current economy if you need a job you should have the skills to design one for yourself. As inventors and makers, you have those skills. In fact, a study commissioned by none other than IBM surveyed 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 worldwide industries and found that the most sought after capacity for “successfully navigating an increasingly complex world” is creativity. That’s creativity, not finance acumen, management discipline, linear thinking, or business degrees. No offense to anyone, I’m not making this up, this is IBM—International BUSINESS Machines talking.

The world needs people with creative intelligence and creative training, people with the highly human skills that can’t be performed by robots or easily outsourced. The world needs practitioners of creativity: painters, sculptors, animators, illustrators, writers, photographers, designers, printmakers, filmmakers—it needs makers. And here you are.

But there’s no GRE or GMAT test for creative intelligence so how will you prove yourself? Not to worry. It turns out that many leading companies (not just design firms) in search of creative practitioners aren’t interested in only seeing a resume—if they want one at all. They want to look at your portfolio, have your work “juried”, hear and see presentations; all things that you have done here and should continue to do and hone.

Let me conclude with a parting gift to you, one which we hope will keep you connected to our community. Starting this fall PNCA will establishing a new resource center called BridgeLab—an idea developed by one your fellow graduates, David Laubenthal—Where is Dave?

Among other things, BridgeLab will help current students and alumni span the gap between college experience and creative professional practice through mentorships, workshops, coaching in business and legal basics, entrepreneurial skills, and networking. It will be the regions first ever incubator dedicated to art, design and creative practice, a place where you can get assistance in how to grow your ideas as you invent your futures…and ours. It is bridge for you into the world and bridge that brings you back.

We wish you good luck, graduates. We are here for you always.

Thank you.


President Tom Manley delivers his introductory remarks at the 2013 Commencemnt Ceremony. Photo by Micah Fischer ’13.

— Posted on 05/31 at 07:34 AM

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