Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
Quentin Tarantino’s Greatest Accomplishment
Tarantino’s list of awards has its own wikipedia page. But this one is not on there. In the early 1980s, Tarantino started working on his first movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday. He was making minimum wage at a video store and every dollar he made went into making this movie. In 1987, he finished it. Whatever your definition of “failure” is, it was. “Of all the accomplishments I ever did in the course of my life,” he told fellow screenwriter Brian Koppelman, “the one I’m the proudest of is the two weeks after that movie failed.” I believe it, Koppelman said, talk more about that. “The fact that I didn’t quit,” he said, “is my single single most proudest moment of character. I’m just proud. Everyone I knew would have quit. There’s not anyone I knew at that time—after donating three years of their life and having it not be good—who wouldn’t have quit.”
Fields of Precision vs Fields of Uncertainty
On January 19, 2006, NASA launched the space probe New Horizons. The primary mission was to do a flyby of Pluto. On July 14, 2015, it did. “New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey,” NASA explained the day the probe made its approach to Pluto, “took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006.” NASA predicted New Horizons’ decade-long journey with 99.99998% accuracy. In The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel uses this example to illustrate what he calls “fields of precision”—not to be confused with “fields of uncertainty.” I wrote about the difference here.
The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius
I stumbled on this theory of genius by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham. To explain it, he uses the example of bus ticket collectors. In particular, two features of bus ticket collectors. First, they care about bus tickets. Second, they don’t care if anyone else cares that they care. That turns out to be a pretty powerful combination. It shows up again and again in the lives of those who have done great work. “They often begin with a bus collector’s obsessive interest in something that would have seemed pointless to most of their contemporaries,” Graham writes. Conversations about what it takes to do great work usually focus on the importance of having natural ability and determination. Graham observes that this kind of interest is a proxy to natural ability and a substitute for determination. If you don’t care about something, you won’t discover or utilize your natural ability. And if you really care about something, you don’t need much determination. Graham: “you don’t need to push yourself as hard when curiosity is pulling you.”
What Butter Indicates
The designer Stephen Gates asked the world famous chef Heston Blumenthal if, before trying the food, can Heston tell if a chef/restaurant is good? Almost immediately after he sits down, he said. As soon as the butter is brought to the table. Butter, he said, is an indicator of whether or not the chef has eaten at their own restaurant. It’s an indicator of whether the chef is creating for themself or for their guests. If the butter is rock solid, if you tear the bread as you try to spread the butter, it signals that the chef hasn’t eaten at their own restaurant. It’s a small detail but it wouldn’t be overlooked by a chef wanting to create a great experience start to finish. But if the butter is placed on the table, it’s room temperature, not so soft it looks limp but so soft it spreads easy—you’re in the vicinity of a chef who cares not just about their craft but their customer too. It’s a small detail but you won’t ever be able to probe your knife towards the butter on a table at a restaurant without wondering, what’s it going to be?
There Isn’t Any Book
David Mamet was asked the advice he most often gives. Differentiate yourself, he said. When he auditions actors, he said, after the third person he can’t remember the first person.” So he tells actors to make themselves memorable, to throw some interesting jobs on their résumé. No one takes his advice, he said. “Actors don’t want to do this. They think, ‘we have to do things by the book.’ But there isn’t any book.” He’s reminded of Dr. Dealgood’s line in Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome, “I know you won’t break the rules. There aren’t any.”
Just Do The Daily Stint
John Steinbeck wrote in a journal every morning before he wrote what became The Grapes of Wrath. There in the journal we get to see Steinbeck daily reminding himself what it takes to finish such a project. “There are so many things to go into this book. An astonishing number of things,” he writes. “This is a huge job. Musn’t think of its largeness but only of the little picture while I am working.” Nearly a dozen times, he tells himself some version of, “just a stint every day does it.” “Just do the day’s work.” “Just work a certain length of time and it will get done poco a poco.” “Just a matter of doing the daily stint.” “Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.” “Just worry about the day’s work. That’s the only way to do it, I have found. But damn it, I have to learn it over again every time.” I think it’ll be my motto this week: Just do the daily stint.