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?
Go Get It From The Universe
In a conversation with the DJ and producer Zane Lowe, John Mayer picked up an acoustic guitar and demonstrated his process in the studio. “Well, I don’t always do it,” he admitted, “because it requires a stupid bravery all the time.” He strums a couple chords without singing. A nice melody begins to form—”you can sit here all day [doing this] and go, ‘okay, maybe that’s something.'” “But if you don’t go,” and then he improvises vocals, “sunlights beating on the corner of the walls / and I’m a mr. know-it-all / heaven calls / get yourself right / get yourself right,” he stops playing, raises his finger to his mouth, “if you’re not ouija boarding immediately, you’re wasting time.” Zane remarks how crazy it is that Mayer can turn it on just like *that.* “Yes,” Mayer says, “you just go into…you just stare at the corner of the wall,” more improvising vocals, “stare at the corner of the wall / try to get it going on / but I can’t sometimes / you just keep going ’til you get something / maybe I’m a little bit shy / maybe someday I’ll tell you why,” he stops singing, “you gotta keep forcing it, forcing it, forcing it.” Improvising again, “go get it for the universe / you can’t rehearse / you’re on stage now / and everybody’s listening to the thoughts coming out of my mind / but I won’t be scared / ‘cuz it do it for a living / it’s not a taken it’s a given / tell me why / do you still want to hear me sing.” He stops singing, “it doesn’t matter [what comes out of your mouth]. If you can get fearless, fearless, fearless, fearless, fearless, fearless…it’s hard to do.”
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.