Jessica Chastain in “Work of Art” photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue USA December 2013

Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June, Henri Matisse’s Odalisque with Red Culottes, Félix Vallotton’s Le Retour, Anders Zorn’s Frances Folsom Cleveland, Gustav Klimt’s Ria Munk, Vincent van Gogh’s La Mousmé, René Magritte’s La Robe du Soir, Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography.

Weekend Reads: Creativity

Creativity is a bit of a broad concept, so these weekend reads are quite disparate. They deal with thinking, making and getting better at it, and also rile against the big business of creativity, which (as we may have suspected) has very little to do with creating in the first place.

Ira Glass on Storytelling, on Current TV.

In this 5-minute interview, the man behind the This American Life radio show argues that people who like to create things all suck when they start out. Getting better takes a while.  – a long while, even. “And you just have to bite your way through that.”

TED talks are lying to you, by Thomas Frank for Salon.

The writer debunks our society’s worshipping of “creativity”, along with the publishing and conference businesses that come with it, as way for the  professional-managerial class to reassure itself while the real creative class is economically screwed.

Interview: Clive Thompson’s “Smarter Than You Think”, by Michael Agger for the New Yorker.

Clive Thompson’s new book is being hyped quite enthusiastically in certain (techy) circles, which is usually off-putting, but after reading this interview I’m intrigued. Here he lays out his ideas regarding technology’s impact on awareness, communication, thought processes and learning, and they’re worth considering.

The Inventor, the Designer and the Maker: 3 different ways of getting things done, by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino on Designswarm.

Three visual models that highlight the evolution of “making” in the past ten years. Alexandra is planning to turn this idea into a small publication, which I’m quite looking forward to.

Sehenswert: Ein 140-Sekunden Interview mit Teresa Bücker über Essstörungen. 

Weekend Reads: Doing Business Differently

After an extended hiatus – for lack of time for reading, and spending the little time I did have on reading the wrong things – I’m returning with a lightweight version of Weekend Reads today. Novel approaches to management. It’s quite the fad subject in certain circles, of course, but despite myself I’ve become more interested in that lately so if you have come across any good reads on the subject, feel free to add the links in the comments.

How Medium is building a new kind of company with no managers, by unknown author for First Round Review.

Medium, the blogging/publishing platform built by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, has adopted the theory of Holacracy, one of the more radical approaches to managing teams without traditional, hierarchical structures through empowerment and two-way communication.

Breaking Workplace Taboos: A Conversation About Salary Transparency, by Sean Blanda for 99u.

The social media scheduling platform Buffer has opted for radical transparency: all salaries are calculated through a formula and known to all the world. This brief interview with co-founder Joel Gascoigne covers the advantages and possible pitfalls of that approach.

Paperart by Canadian artist Myriam Dion, via ignant. Because print is dead etc. 

The film posters for Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac have been released and I am completely in love with them. See the full set here

What’s participation worth, anyway?

Last night I attended Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Webmontag event in Berlin, at which three esteemed journalists – Thorsten Denkler, Johannes Kuhn and Michael König – talked about different aspects of what in German is called “Netzpolitik”, or internet policy: a combination of government attitude towards the internet and the internet’s influence on government and democracy. 

Michael König presented the CDU’s shortcomings when it comes to keeping its promises on internet infrastructure and education and concluded by demanding an Internet Ministry. Johannes Kuhn spoke about the NSA scandal and our lack of response to it. But what I found most interesting was Thorsten Denkler’s talk – not a talk even, because he spoke for five minutes, then posed a couple of provocative questions and let the audience take it from there. 

He started out by lamenting the fact (reminiscent of Ole Reissmann’s Twitter bubble argument from a few weeks ago) that on the night of the general election, 39,000 people were tweeting under the official hashtag or tagging politicians – only a fraction more than fit into Germany’s medium-sized football stadiums. In comparison, 17 million people watched the debate between Merkel and Steinbrück on TV. With that low a rate of participation, where’s the democratisation that social media promised us? 

The audience (especially the men) took the bait. Phrases like “most people”, “the vast majority of the population” and “the average citizen” were dropped galore – mainly to denote a passive “other” that either doesn’t understand technology or is not interested in having a voice. (NB: Some smart things were said as well. But I’ll leave the task of reporting those to someone else.) And the later the evening, the bigger the exasperation and arrogance shown towards our fellow citizens, who simply don’t know any better. 

Honestly, it pissed me off. And it made me think about the value of participation, especially when measured quantitatively, as Denkler so provocatively did. A written or spoken word has no value in itself. Social Media goes both ways: I can speak up when I feel I have something to say, or I can watch or read when I want to learn. Abgeordnetenwatch (a website tracking German MPs’ votes and positions and allows citizens to pose questions) say they have 400,000 uniques per month. I’d venture to say that only a fraction of those visitors actually ask questions, the others – like me – prefer read our representatives’ answers. 

Digitalisation allows us to participate and to gather information in new ways, and the latter is just as important as the former. And just because you know how to hit the Send button on Twitter does not make you a smarter or more informed or democratically better equipped person than your neighbour, who prefers to read the newspaper and cast a ballot. Jeez. 

Weekend reads: Profiles of Extraordinary Women

A confession: I have not yet read any of this weekend’s recommended reads. I have started reading all of them, in the queue at the coffee shop and while eating lunch and when I had to take public transport to work this week because my bike has a flat tyre. But because I so wanted to read all of them, I kept jumping between the three like an excited child and didn’t finish a single one. Finishing all three is my plan for this weekend. Your weekend reads are my weekend reads. 

Miley Cyrus: Confessions of Pop’s Wildest Child, by Josh Eells for Rolling Stone. 

Miley’s latest antics and how they’ve polarised people and caused Twitter interventions by Donald Trump have fascinated me. I can’t tell whether she’s being incredibly smart or about to fall off a (metaphorical) cliff. I can’t tell whether she cares or doesn’t. Maybe she’s just having a laugh? Whatever it is, it feels much more authentic than what most pop stars do. I’m hoping this profile will shed some light on the matter. 

Hillary in Midair, by Joe Hagan for New York magazine. 

Is she going to run? Is she not? Is she going to win? And most importantly, is she truly the badassest woman in American politics? I know it’s a lot to ask of one magazine profile to answer these questions, but one can dream, right? 

Varieties of Disturbance, by John Lahr for The New Yorker. 

I haven’t watched Homeland in a while now, partly because I found Claire Danes a bit too overbearing. However, I haven’t missed the accolades heaped upon her for her performance. So my plan is to read this profile (subtitled “Where do Claire Danes’s volcanic performances come from?”) and then go back to the series to give a second chance to what easily is one of the greatest female actresses of our generation. 

Amended: Stand for Something, by Sandia and Samia for Rookie Mag. 

I hate the word “inspiring”, but in this case I’ll have to cave: this Rookie interview/fashion feature portraying six teenage girls from New York City who are active in three different organisations supporting other teenage girls has massively impressed me. 

Soundly asleep in the back seat

My sister is 24 years old and just finishing her Master’s degree. She goes out a lot, she’s interested in what’s going on around her, she’s excited about her first job and about all the things lying ahead of her. Generally, she’s a normal 24-year-old, and not unlike me at that age. 

Except that when we talked about the upcoming elections last Saturday, she told me she was “a CDU/CSU voter”. I nearly dropped the phone.

"Well, Germany is doing quite well right now, and I want it to stay that way. Also, Merkel has been defending Germans’ interests abroad. But above all, I don’t want higher taxes." 

"But what about adoption rights for homosexual couples?" I asked. "What about equal opportunities? What about the minimum wage?" 

"I’m for those things, sure. But can you imagine Steinbrück negotiating bailouts with other European leaders?" 

And thus, my 24-year-old sister revealed herself to be one of the rather large number of Germans of all ages and income groups (though not locations – thank you, East Berlin) that the CDU’s campaign messaging was designed for: In Safe Hands. Or, as Adenauer put it in 1957: No Experiments! 

She and all those other people, 41.5 percent of voters and nearly 25 percent of the adult populace, want no experiments; they want to be safe. That, for me, is the real meaning behind Merkel’s nickname “Mutti”. It’s not so much misogynist – rather, it shows Merkel’s appeal is down to people wanting a leader who lets them comfortably fall asleep in the back seat of the car. Who takes responsibility off their shoulders and assures them that they don’t have to worry about all those difficult questions, mommy will take care of it. 

And that, for me, is the real problem with that election result: it’s not that so many people voted conservative. It’s that so many people didn’t do it out of real conservative convictions, but because they’d rather not risk anything. 

It is that same yearning for stability and security that explains the wish of so many people (64 percent out of 1,000 respondents in a poll two days ago) for a grand coalition. If the CDU/CSU and SPD joined forces, the government would control 503 of the 630 parliamentary seats – that’s nearly 80 percent. The opposition would basically be nonexistent. “That wouldn’t be the worst solution,” my father said. At what point exactly my liberal, well-informed family decided that democracy really isn’t such a good thing, I don’t know.  

So who is going to break it to our fellow countrymen? There are very few certainties in life. Wealth, economic growth and social stability can not be guaranteed. However, one thing is for certain: time passes, and the future will come. And I, for one, would much rather participate in the debate about what it’s going to look like than be asleep in the back seat of the car.