Creative Careers Interviews

Creativity & Innovation Author, Lecturer, and Painter John M. Eger

By Chris Dunmire | Posted 10/12/22

"Nice! I didn't know you painted, John! Tell me more about that."

And so this is how the interview begins.

John's written prolifically about creativity and education on Creativity Portal since 2010. A Professor Emeritus at San Diego State University, he's an internationally known author and lecturer on the subjects of creativity and innovation, telecommunications, and economic development, and has quite the resume of accomplishments that took him all the way to the White House.

John's new book, Untold Power: The Marriage of Art and Technology is a call to action. He says:

Untold PowerThe COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated our use of technology and our responses to changes we must make in education, the workplace and the workforce that have been lying dormant for too long. At the heart of the changes we must make is the vital realization that art and technology are the new benchmarks of the global economy, an economy where creativity and innovation are shaping a new world order. We are entering a new era and we must act now to prepare for a very different future.

John's perspective is unique and important. And so when he sent me a picture of his painting with the subject: "Abstract canvas I did for my hairdresser," I carpe diemed and started asking questions. Then he sent more art and I made a gallery. Here's our conversation.

PaintingA: Long story Chris…when I was young (maybe 12) I won a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute. I loved it, and said at the time, this was it for me! From a poor neighborhood, I also had dreams of making a buck, but was told by an older artist whose opinion I valued, that this was a tough tough way to make a living. So I quit that idea. But through the years, I would occasionally take a class or try something, perhaps a new medium.

Since retirement, painting is what keeps me sane. I exhibited a few times, even sold a few pieces, but mostly paint for my kids. This exercise greatly affects my thinking in life. Thus, this latest piece ("Abstract Untitled") for my hairdresser who cut my hair for 40 years.

Q: Tell me more about how the 'exercise of painting' has affected your thinking life.

A: It shows in a 1000 subtle ways, Chris.

At an early age, I was taught before you take a brush to canvas…you are told to see in your mind the whole picture and the portion that most interests you. Only then do you turn to the canvas, see where everything should go, see the white spaces, imagine the light and dark, and proceed.

In everyday life I do much the same. I try to see the whole and the parts. This allows me to zero in more quickly — whether it is a problem I need to solve, or a construction, or something that requires imagination. Not to be too self-serving, but in government, at CBS, or putting together a lesson plan together, I see the whole picture faster than most, and quickly separate the wheat from the chaff to come up with a solution. I see shapes, colors, light and dark better, too. Again it's looking, looking hard.

Being able to see, or listen, before acting is clearly an advantage. These skills are also helpful: understanding people, zeroing in on what they are saying, what they want. This helps you to better manage, and to negotiate.

Q: Why is creativity important to you?

It's what humanity is all about.

Q: Do you believe that having an artistic bent is necessary to being creative?

Actually, I think I know the answer. We are all born creative, but get it squeezed out of us by the time we reach the 4th grade. If we are not sure we know the answer to a question asked in class, we simply don't raise our hand. Parents are at fault too. They always ask: "When you grow up, are you going to be an artist, a musician, an engineer, or physicist?" Everybody can be creative.

Q: What is the main thesis of your recent writings? What tangible changes would you like to see your perspective impact?

A: I am most concerned that we take the soft skills too lightly.

Just because soft skills are difficult to measure, they have no exact formula or ending, or equations, and they are harder to teach. They don't have the masculinity of math or science. The new economic world requires both skills, so my first concern is about jobs. Oh, there will be some jobs, but lower paying, mostly uninteresting, jobs.

My bigger concern is about humanity. Few of us are really empathetic, do not care or wish to understand the other person's feelings. There is an economic dimension to all this, but it's the human aspect that is most troubling, most disturbing.

In my writing, my speeches, in every endeavor, I always try to set the record straight:

  1. We are born creative.
  2. The workforce will badly need people who have the new thinking skills.
  3. The world needs people who think with both sides of their brains, and see humanity as the most special gift of life.

I ask too: What kind of society are we creating? Now, the kind of society we are creating is fearful, tragic.

Q:Why do you suspect humans lack empathy?

There is likely a book, or two, here. I am not sure why, but I do believe it is a learned response to another's dilemma or situation. Life has its ups and downs, and no one is born to be sympathetic or helpful unless that is their adopted disposition or view of life — maybe their worldview. It seems that most artists are empathetic, but that may be because they are more sensitive to things around them. No doubt, it would be a better world if more people were empathetic.

Q: Talk more about the "economic dimension" to life and why it's necessary. What if it could be reimagined? What would you change?

A: The capitalist system has its merits, but it badly fails to recognize the differences in people, excellence in service to others, and the wealth and wellbeing of others in building communities that nourish us as humans.

A fixed percent of all corporate income directed to non-profit enterprises:

  • Including public space, museums, and buildings.
  • CEO earnings in line with employees.

Q: As how the way things are going, what do you think it will look like in 100 years? What would you like to see?

I would like to say 'the glass is half full,' but things now don't look so promising.

Q: What three changes would you make right now in the realm of public education if you could help shape its evolution for the future?

  1. Change the curriculum to nurture both hemispheres of the brain.
  2. Teach coding and algorithm development.
  3. Use active learning so students only deal with real world problems.

Q: What else is on your mind?

Public programs to try to educate the world's publics. That global warming is real. That guns — especially AKs — are banned. That cooperation and collaboration are not just nice — but necessary — for the new capitalism. End

©2022 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

John M. EgerJohn M. Eger, Professor Emeritus at San Diego State University is an internationally known author and lecturer on the subjects of creativity and innovation, telecommunications and economic development. ...