All Posts By

Brendan Schlagel

Giving and Taking Shape

By | Creativity, Education | No Comments

On the incarnations of a side project and evolution of an idea: how I’ve conceived, reconceived and re-reconceived “Antilibraries”.

This is the ongoing story of a project I’m working on, Antilibraries. It’s a look at how such projects can be containers for continued exploration of personal interests that are deeply felt, but also still coming into definition.

It’s a smattering of meditations on how projects slowly change and grow in ways both natural and forced. And it’s my attempt to articulate the unpredictability, the forces of chance, that so often govern the things we make and attempt to nurture.

Note: I just published another post — “Everyone Needs an Antilibrary!” — with more background on this project and why I think antilibraries are important! Read More

Everyone Needs an Antilibrary!

By | Creativity, Education, Reading | One Comment

Antilibrary.

It’s a strange word; a strange idea.

I first came across it in Black Swan, where Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes Umberto Eco’s massive library of 30,000+ volumes, many of them unread. These unread books, Eco’s antilibrary, embody the potential energy of knowledge, of books and reading and learning. Their value lies not in what they’ve already taught you, but what they’ll lead you to.

I love this idea. It makes me consider all the things I’d like to read and learn more about, and makes tangible how I might get there, slowly converting books from unread to currently-digesting to internalized, always adding more to my shelves as I explore the adjacent possibilities of my interests.


Why You Need an Antilibrary

You probably already have an antilibrary. Whether you have books piling up in corners of your home, or lists of “someday reads”, if you’re anything like me you always have more books in your peripheral vision than you have in front of you or under your belt.

This collection of books you know of, but have not yet read — your antilibrary — is tremendously powerful. It’s a window, a record, a goalpost, a fount of stimulus. It will open doors and take you places, direct and extend your learning.

Here are just a few of the ways thinking about this can be useful: Read More

Jiro, Mastery, and Limitations: Philosophies on Work and Learning

By | Business, Creativity, Life | One Comment

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an intimate portrait of mastery, an exploration of the practiced art and craft of one of the world’s best sushi chefs, through the lens of his daily routine and philosophy of training and practice. In many ways, it’s about asymptotically approaching perfection, and the process of constant learning.

Jiro’s approach towards training and education particularly stands out. He’s dedicated his life towards the focused — you could say singleminded, but it’s in fact surprisingly rich and complex — pursuit of mastery and excellence in creating and serving sushi. This includes everything from sourcing the best fish, preparing the best rice, spending hours or even days preparing ingredients, paying incredibly close attention to details of presentation and service before and during the meal — in short, crafting an entire seamless experience that’s as orchestrated and as close to perfect as possible.

His belief is that by working incredibly hard and consistently at a high level for a very long time(a lifetime, let’s say) one can gradually refine a skill and become one of the best in the world. But at the same time: there’s no ultimate pinnacle but rather a continual process of learning and improving. Read More

The Future of Work is Exciting as Hell But I Still Don’t Want to Be Your Wage Slave

By | Business, Life | No Comments

Let’s not forget to humanize the new economy.

This recent Medium article describes the changing nature of work — the rise of the on-demand economy, fragmented freelance work and emerging marketplaces for labor.

It gives a reasonably accurate description of trends in the labor market, at least along one vector. On another level, it’s a propaganda piece (native advertising) sponsored by a platform (Upwork) that perpetuates the commodification of human capital. While I won’t deny that the observed trends may hold significant benefits, I think they also pose implications that are more insidious.

This piece presents the shift from single-employer to a mishmash of “micro-careers” as something revolutionary, a new path for career empowerment. To me, though, it seems more often another way of extracting surplus value from workers and leaving them beholden to those entities that retain most of the keys to the economic kingdom. The main difference: now instead of having one boss, you might have a dozen, or you might have one (e.g. Uber, Taskrabbit) with whom your relationship is amorphous and unstable. Read More

My 56 Books of 2013

By | Reading | No Comments

Here you go: the books I read in 2013. Not just my favorites, but all of them — a nice soul-baringly comprehensive good-bad-and-ugly list.

True, this is a year overdue; I hope you don’t mind. I found it helpful to compile, partly to give me a point of comparison for my 2014 reading list (which I’ll post shortly), and also because books and lists are inherently fun.

First, the list itself; scroll below for accompanying bits of reflection. Read More

Writing 750+ Words a Day for 365 Days Straight

By | Creativity, Writing | No Comments

When I first set out to start a writing habit, I’d never consciously written on consecutive days, let alone kept a streak alive.

What was The Thing that Finally Motivated me to Write Daily? A strange, delightfully masochistic thing called NaNoWriMo. This, too, was something I’d previously observed from afar. It’s a yearly event, a monthlong writerly self-challenge (every November) the one and only goal of which is 50,000 words towards a novel, in 30 days. It requires rapid accumulation of words — at least 1,666 per day, on average — to meet the goal.

In early fall of 2013, I toyed around with both potential story ideas and the idea of submitting myself to the challenge. I’d always loved writing, but aside from a few short film scripts hadn’t much practiced my hand at fiction, and I thought it would be fun to try. Read More

A Personal Niche, An Internet Cathedral, A Networked Empire

By | Creativity, Life, Media, Technology | No Comments

Some people — and no, not the .gif virtuosi that walk among us — really are winning the Internet, sitting several cuts above the rest with really outstanding, intriguing, thought-provoking online presences. Oh, how I aspire to their ranks! It isn’t just that they blog well, or post great links on social media, though both are often the case. Beyond keeping a clean house and communicating with wit and aplomb, they manage to create a place that feels like an online home, a well-curated, carefully built space that shows the heart of their thoughts and creative work, reflects who they are and what they live for. Bret Victor. Derek Sivers. Frank Chimero. Diana Kimball. Lance Weiler. Jane McGonigal. Seth Godin. Robin Sloan. All — to name just a few of my favorites — sharing their musings and explorations and the traces of what they add to the world, built over time, with love and care and generosity and effort shining through.

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Visions of My Flawed Left Eye

By | Life | No Comments

I haven’t published anything here in a while, and one of my biggest goals for 2014 is to change that. I’ve been writing every day for 3 months straight, and have a lot of drafts and partial posts I’m sitting on — I simply haven’t dedicated adequate time to the processes of organization and editing which are so important in crafting finished products. To start the new year with something offbeat and low-pressure, I’m posting the following brief essay, in which I try to put into words the particulars of a strange ocular defect that has inhabited my left eye for my whole life. It’s something I’ve always been acutely aware of, but unable to articulate well, so this is my attempt to describe what it actually feels like — what the experience is of having a completely screwed one-half of my vision, and not really be able to describe it when I try.

As long as I can remember, so probably my entire life, I’ve had somewhat-flawed-to-decent vision in my right eye (correctable to 20/20 with the minor distortion that glasses can provide), and totally and indescribably crippled vision in my left eye, to the point that no form of corrective lens can make it good enough to so much as read the text of a book from a foot away. The odd thing is, the image I see in my left eye is not a blurred out mass; I know what blurry vision is like from my right eye, and the problem with the left is not just the same thing but to a greater degree — it’s a different phenomenon altogether.

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Field Guide to Phenomenal Creation (Learn Do Share #4)

By | Creativity, Education, Storytelling | No Comments

The following is one of my two contributions to this year’s “Learn Do Share” project—a booksprint designed to document the incredible diy days, using a process of open collaboration, and distill the lessons learned to serve as a resource for anyone interested in applying design thinking, social innovation, storytelling, and collaborative creativity. For more, visit the Learn Do Share and diy days websites, and download Learn Do Share #4 (available as a free PDF). Special thanks to all those who participated, and most of all to Ele Jansen and Jasmine Lyman for directing the booksprint and Lance Weiler for masterminding diy days itself.

Field Guide to Phenomenal Creation

The following is a list of things to keep in mind in creating phenomenal work. Not phenomenal as in “great”—though we, of course, should aspire to that as well—but work guided by the ideals of phenomenology, of creating experiences focused more on audience than object.

Brian Clark talked at length about how, as creators, we must approach our work from the perspective of subjective experience, not simply creating things but creating things for people, to be experienced and processed by conscious individuals. When we direct our creative forces with precision and care, and focus on channeling meaning effectively, we can use “things” and “objects” to guide experience—or eschew objects altogether and create experiences directly.

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Emergent Creators, Emergent Economies (Learn Do Share #4)

By | Creativity, Education, Storytelling | No Comments

The following is one of my two contributions to this year’s “Learn Do Share” project—a booksprint designed to document the incredible diy days, using a process of open collaboration, and distill the lessons learned to serve as a resource for anyone interested in applying design thinking, social innovation, storytelling, and collaborative creativity. For more, visit the Learn Do Share and diy days websites, and download Learn Do Share #4 (available as a free PDF). Special thanks to all those who participated, and most of all to Ele Jansen and Jasmine Lyman for directing the booksprint and Lance Weiler for masterminding diy days itself.

Emergent Creators, Emergent Economies

Emergence is a powerful concept, referring to the capacity of complex systems, composed of individually autonomous entities, to give rise to mass-scale intelligence larger than the sum of its parts. If evolution is the optimization of something over a long period of time, as beneficial characteristics are naturally selected for, emergence is something similar on the systems level, a level of collective intelligences.

Reflecting on the keynotes from this diy days, I gleaned several meta-themes, important threads running through all or many of the big ideas presented. These themes include creative entrepreneurship, innovation, and community-building—but one of the most important I saw was that of emergence. The concept itself is powerful, but its implications—that cooperation, group interaction, and human networks can converge to enable revolutionary systems of creation and transaction—are even more so.

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