Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
The Pinnacle is Over in an Instant
In 2008, “In The Heights” won a Grammy and four Tony Awards. At Radio City Music Hall, the entire cast and crew went up to receive the final Tony award presented: Best Musical. Two of them picked up the writer and star of the musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and put him on their shoulders. There was fist-pumping, waving, screaming, and smiles. Forty-four seconds later, the lights shifted and everyone in the audience got up and started exiting. But “In The Heights” director Tommy Kail stopped on stage and stood there by himself. As everyone emptied out of Radio City Music Hall, they talked about what after-party they were attending and what they were going to eat and what they were working on next. Kail stood on stage alone and thought, “Well if this is a pinnacle, and it’s over in an instant, and people are already talking about what’s next, it can’t be about this. It has to be about something more than this.” It is. I wrote about that here.
A Wonderful Technique For Being Yourself
In his conversation with John Mayer, Bob Saget raved about John Mayer. For some twenty-eight seconds, Bob talked about how John brought the Grateful Dead back from the dead, about how they wouldn’t be selling out eighty thousand-seat stadiums without John, about how he gets those twenty minute Jerry Garcia guitar solos almost word-perfect yet with his own unique flair. John tried to cut in a couple times, but Bob raised his volume to not allow it. Bob finished and John gets his chance to say, “Yea but that’s just me trying and not doing it well enough, which is a wonderful technique for being yourself. Failing to sound exactly like the person you want to sound like is a wonderful way to sound like yourself. So I am not necessarily thinking, ‘Ok, I’m gonna do Jerry-esque things, but I’m still gonna sound like me.’ No it’s more like, “I wanna sound just like Jerry,’ and then the way I naturally obviously don’t—that’s your personality…You try to sound like who you want to sound like, and you just will always end up sounding like you.”
Look at the Toenails
Last week, it was butter. This week, our studies of the revealing powers of insignificant details take us to Italy. The great connoisseur of Italian Renaissance art Bernard Berenson made a fortune on his ability to authenticate paintings. In the late 19th, early 20th century, no one knew what was a Michelangelo or a Raphael or a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. To figure out who did what, Berenson borrowed a technique from a Swiss anatomy teacher named Giovanni Morelli. Berenson’s biographer says it became known as the “ear and toenail school.” Berenson found that the surest way to classify paintings was to look where the painter thought you wouldn’t look. Take a Madonna—the painter was more self-conscious when painting Mary’s face, for instance, than when painting Jesus’ toenails, for instance. So Berenson paid no attention to Mary’s face—that’s where the painter was least himself. He studied the seemingly insignificant details—that’s where the painter was thinking the least and so where his idiosyncrasies were expressed the most.
Short Knife vs. Jack Knife
Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, once told Lincoln he should talk faster and with more energy. Lincoln told him his mind works differently than Herndon’s. To illustrate the difference, Lincoln picked up a short twin blade knife a long jack knife. He picked up the small knife: “See here it opens quickly and at the point travels through but a small portion of space.” He then picked up the long bladed jack knife: “It opens slowly and its points travel through a greater distance of space than your little knife: it moves slower than your little knife, but it can do more execution…Just so with these long convolutions of my brain. They have to act slowly—pass as it were through a greater space than shorter convolutions that snap off quickly…I am compelled by nature to speak slowly. I commence way back like the boys do when they want to get a good start. My weight and speed get momentum to jump far.” Lincoln’s biographer doesn’t include anything about Herndon’s response, but apparently, we can imagine, Herndon said, “Touché.”
Productivity Hack: Be in a Good Mood
In a piece about the keys to his productivity, the entrepreneur/investor Sam Altman includes a section at the bottom he calls “other stuff.” There he writes, “And I generally try to avoid people and situations that put me in bad moods, which is good advice whether you care about productivity or not.” We can pair that with Voltaire, “The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.”
Don’t Be Paranoid. Be Pronoid.
Somewhat, in a way, kinda related to that, the psychologist Adam Grant introduced me to a new word. I don’t know him personally, but I read his book Give and Take. In it, he writes about pronoia. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia—”the delusional belief that other people are plotting your well-being, or saying nice things about you behind your back.”