Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
Aim For Better Tasks
Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and all around interesting guy, recently published, “103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known.” As I said a couple Sundays ago of Ben Casnocha’s piece on his learnings from Reid Hoffman, all of Kelly’s bits are worth reading. But here’s one to file next to or below the misguided goal of Productivity and the infinite player’s way of filling work with time: “Productivity is often a distraction. Don’t aim for better ways to get through your tasks as quickly as possible, rather aim for better tasks that you never want to stop doing.”
Don’t See Around The Edge Of The Frame
One of the things that makes us bad judges of our own work is that we weigh the costs paid to make it. It is very easy to get caught up in the conditions under which something was made. To convince yourself that something is good because of the time and energy you invested. To see around the edge of the frame, as the movie editor and sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, etc.) puts it in In The Blink Of An Eye. After shooting a movie, Murch writes, when the director gets to the cutting room, “they can’t help, in their mind’s eye, seeing around the edge of the frame—they can imagine everything that was there, physically and emotionally, just beyond what was actually shot. ‘We worked like hell to get that shot, it has to be in the film.’” On the flip side of the same coin, “you may be blind to the potentials” of something made when you were in a bad mood or under the thumb of a client or only just messing around. To objectively judge your work, you have to try to free yourself from the context of creation. “Try to see only what’s on the screen [/page/canvas/etc.],” Murch writes. “I’m urging the preservation of a certain kind of virginity. Don’t unnecessarily allow yourself to be impregnated by the conditions of shooting [/writing/painting/etc.], by the beyond-the-frame information.” Instead, pretend you had nothing to do with shooting this film or writing that article, and “see what is actually on the screen [/page/canvas/etc.].”
Have No Sunk Costs
Here’s an example of someone who doesn’t see around the edge of the frame. The personal finance writer Jason Zweig worked with the world-famous psychologist Daniel Kahneman on Thinking, Fast and Slow.He later wrote about what he learned from the great psychologist. “Many things amazed me about this man,” Zweig writes. But there was one thing that particularly struck Zweig: Kahneman’s ability to throw out writing they’d work for hours and hours on. Zweig would go to bed feeling great about a chapter they finally finished, but… “The next thing you know, he sends a version so utterly transformed that it is unrecognizable: It begins differently, it ends differently, it incorporates anecdotes and evidence you never would have thought of, it draws on research that you’ve never heard of. If the earlier version was close to gold, this one is hewn out of something like diamond: The raw materials have all changed, but the same ideas are somehow illuminated with a sharper shift of brilliance.” Zweig is more like most writers: it is hard for most writers to cut anything they put time into. How could Kahneman do it so easily? “When I asked Danny how he could start again as if we had never written an earlier draft,” Zweig writes, “he said the words I’ve never forgotten: ‘I have no sunk costs.’ … Danny taught me that you can never create something worth reading unless you are committed to the total destruction of everything that isn’t. He taught me to have no sunk costs.”
Creativity Is A Function Of The Library In Your Head
Tinker Hatfield was originally hired at Nike as a corporate architect in 1981. For four and a half years, Tinker designed stores and showrooms and offices. But in 1985, Nike was struggling. In an attempt to find top creative talent, all designers within Nike were asked to take part in a 24-hour shoe design competition. “As I often say,” Tinker said, “when you sit down to create something—it can be anything: it can be a car or a toaster or a house or a tall building or a shoe—what you create is a culmination of everything you’ve seen and done previous to that point.” Drawing on the things he’d done, the books he’d read, the places he’d been, Tinker designed a shoe that won the competition. He wasn’t asked, he was told he was now a Nike shoe designer. He brought his architectural senses to the shoe department, where one of the first things he learned was that Nike wasn’t doing a good job describing some of their innovative footwear technology. In particular, the Air-Sole. One ad showed the bottom of the Sole below some copy, “The pressurized interconnected channels of the Air-Sole are encapsulated in our PolyCushion midsole.” So no one understood the Air-Sole. In Architecture school, Tinker learned about a building in Paris he later visited: the Georges Pompidou Center. It’s an inside-out building—the structural and mechanical and circulation systems are exposed, on the exterior of the building. “That building,” Tinker said, “was describing what it was to the people of Paris. And I thought, ‘well why not do that with a shoe? Let’s cut a whole in the side and show what’s in the shoe.’” That thought led to Tinker designing a shoe that revolutionized the shoe industry: the Air Max 1. Had he not studied and seen the Pompidou center, Tinker says, he wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, created the Air Max. Creativity is a function of the “library in your head,” Tinker says. Our capacity for creativity is contingent on the resources and materials in our mental reserves. For something to come out your brain, it has to have first been in there.
Observe The Obvious
Hatfield would describe the observation—that Nike should flaunt/better show their innovative footwear technology—that revolutionized the shoe industry as pretty obvious. There is a Sherlock Holmes quote at the front of Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money, “the world is full of obvious things, which nobody by chance ever observes.” Housel was asked how he thinks about that line in the context of investing. He said that’s a lot of what investing is: it’s really obvious ideas that nobody pays attention to because they’re so obvious. “If you took just the simple construct of ‘spend less money than you make, save the difference, buy a diverse/low cost portfolio, and be patient’—that’s literally 90% of what you need to know to do well in finance and investing over time.” But that’s not what people do, Housel said, “because it’s too obvious, it’s too basic, it’s too simple for people to take seriously. So they try to make it more complicated.”
Wait A Second, Why Did That Work?
As I said a few Sundays ago, I’m interested right now in the question of how one develops taste, how one gets better at distinguishing a Sistine Ceiling from a floor tile. David Mamet was asked how he developed his taste, his eye for good creative work, his storytelling abilities. He said, “One of the things I do—and I think that all serious people do—if you watch a movie or listen to a joke or listen to song, say, ‘Wait a second, why did that work? Or why didn’t that work? My wife and I watch a movie every night. After, we say, ‘Ok, where did it fall apart? How would I have done it differently?’” (File next to or below: Break Down What You Love About What You Love).