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Creativity

My Gift to You: A Bounty of Billion-Dollar Business Ideas

By | Business, Creativity | No Comments

One night not so very long ago, my self-imposed daily writing word count goal loomed. But I was feeling like a sleepy dumb rhinoceros, and didn’t know what to write about.

So, I decided to play a game. It worked like this: J would prompt me with problems — potential gold mines of of disruption potential, as we’d say in the vernacular of innovation — and I would come up with solutions.

What resulted? Why, nothing less than a surprisingly fertile bounty of billion-dollar business ideas!

But alas, I’ve no time to build every business. So, I’m sharing these results with you. Read More

Intersection of Fiction and History

By | Creativity, Storytelling, Writing | 2 Comments

Fiction and reality often intersect in interesting, surprising ways. Actual events merge with the imagined; invented stories draw on and feed back into history. In many ways they’re obviously distinct and identifiable; in other cases differentiation becomes impossible.

Such relationships and dichotomies — experience versus invention, reality versus invented stories — came vividly to mind after seeing a deftly-acted and well-written play, Red Velvet, at St. Anne’s Warehouse a while back.

The play was based on the life of a nineteenth century black actor; but half the characters were fictional and much of the story was invented and interpolated, the known biography providing a framework within which the playwright could project her own beliefs and experiences and emotions, upon which the director and actors could layer their own interpretations as well.

I’ve thought before that it might be worth trying my hand at some combination of creative writing and journalism — writing something at once spawned from the imagination and rooted in historic reality seems like a fun and interesting challenge. Read More

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

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.

I knew that writing daily would be essential to hitting the 50,000+ word total. So I decided that I’d spend the few weeks leading up to November as a practice run. I’d try to write at least 750 words a day (using 750words.com — a nice, minimalist site with useful statistics and a cool creative philosophy) to track that goal. I started with an odd day or two, then put together a streak that gained momentum, turning into an uninterrupted 17 days of writing leading into November.

I’m not one to break a streak if I can help it; I’m drawn to the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that comes with keeping it alive. I tried to start strong and dedicate as much time as I could to getting off to a good start. I had a few story ideas in mind, but I didn’t spend much time plotting it out ahead of time. I frequently jumped around, changing direction as I went, testing out subplots and meta-referential digressions and other things anathema to any kind of final draft.

But luckily, my goal wasn’t a final draft — it was simply to write every day and end the month with 50,000 words. Those words had to somehow relate to my novel idea (Tangleverse — about extraterrestrial contact and a family of scientists and quantum entangled communication and other weird things I still haven’t fully hashed out yet) but there were no rules to dictate each day’s writing.

So, within the constraints of word count and consistency, I gave myself a flexible framework within which to focus my daily energy.

Sometimes I’d write barely more than 750 words; other days I’d get on a roll and write 2,000 or even 3,000 words — I knew it had to average out to at least 1,666 per day, and I tried to stay ahead early on, but I knew some variance was okay. I dedicated around an hour per day to writing, which actually proved quite manageable! It was a considerable change from not-writing — a major new habit — but it wasn’t burdensome. And I tried to make it fun by choosing an interesting topic and being comfortable with digressions and playfulness in my writing.


When NaNoWriMo ended, I scaled back my time commitment, but made it a point to continue the 750-words-per-day habit.

I gave myself minimal constraints on what the topic of these writings had to be, so they varied greatly: from journal entries, to blog posts, to short stories or prose poetry, to automatic writing, to business ideas and listmaking and miscellaneous creative exercises, to side-project excursions.

I enjoyed giving myself the freedom to focus on different things each day while staying within a larger framework of simple constraints.

I’ve read a lot about how habit formation takes daily effort on the order of 21–30 days to solidify and internalize. It so happens that NaNoWriMo fits this length just about perfectly. I wasn’t fully aware of that when I started, but it turned out to be a great forcing mechanism, giving me both the impetus to start the habit and the momentum to sustain it.

As I continued for dozens, then hundreds of days, it become simply another part of my daily routine, something that I felt compelled to do — and do every day, even if tired or feeling rather blah. Early on, I sometimes had to force myself, but it gradually became second-nature. I think it helped to begin with a greater, even exaggerated conscientiousness, and I think that a short- to medium-term project with well-defined goals, like NaNoWriMo provided, can be very useful for establishing this.

Another thing I found quite useful was to keep a “spark list”. This is basically just a scratchpad in the form of a text document on my computer where I collect brief and random ideas — jotted down in my phone, thought of in the shower, noted while reading, etc. — and consolidate them in one place.

This spark list forms a kind of on-deck circle for ideas, always ready to be used to kindle a writing session when the need arises.

Sometimes I’d start my daily writing with a topic in mind, or an idea I wanted to work on for a preexisting project — but other times, when I felt stuck or uninspired, I’d turn to my sparks, grab an idea (or three), and riff until either I started to get in the zone, or I exhausted the topic and shifted focus to something else. Either way, it made it much easier to hit the 750 word mark. I usually met the day’s goal within 20–30 minutes.


After all this, it may surprise you to hear that I consciously brought my streak to an end after exactly 365 days of daily writing. I’ll admit the timing, if symbolic, was arbitrary — but the decision wasn’t.

I found that though this practice was a great exercise in developing a habit and improving my writing, there was one side effect I wasn’t happy with. I was writing constantly, accumulating tons of content (over 400,000 words!), but these words were simply piling up. I wasn’t publishing enough.

I wasn’t sharing, shipping, showing, getting my writing into the wild where it could both improve (based on feedback) and actually have an impact.

I was also feeling a bit exhausted, and I wanted to reevaluate my priorities. So I stopped the daily writing, and decided to focus more on making and sharing things publicly — writing, but also other creative projects that I thought a lot about over the past year but, when it came to execution, got left on the back burner.

For me, then, 2015 will be a year of publishing and pushing projects into the world, to live, and breathe, and — with any luck — fly.

To start, I’m setting a goal for myself to publish one significant thing — blog post, Medium essay, newsletter, etc. — every week in 2015. Let’s call this the beginning of a new stage: a new habit for the new year.


To Follow Along…

  1. Medium!
  2. Tumblr!
  3. Mailing List!

I’ll be publishing more things here, but not only here, so if you want to stay in the loop…hit up those links above ☺

Also — if you’d like to give some input on what I write next, I’d really appreciate it. And it turns out there’s actually an easy way to do so:

Check out my potential topics here on helpmewrite.co, sign in with Twitter, and vote on which you’d like to read about!


Also posted on Medium.

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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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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Spirit Fingers: Gestural Art in Action with the Leap Motion

By | Creativity, Media, Technology | No Comments

I received the Leap Motion a couple weeks back, and have had fun using it sporadically and testing out as wide a variety of apps as I can without breaking the bank. There’s an impressive lineup already available, from educational to music, games to random art/physics interactive visualization simulators—and more being released each week—so it’s exciting to see what people are doing with this new technology and have the change to engage with it myself.

It must be said: for the vast majority of computing tasks as we currently conceive of them, the current incarnation of Leap doesn’t add much to practical human-computer interaction. It’s not 100% reliable; in fact it’s probably not even 98% or 95% reliable, at least for many of the early, first generation of applications designed for it. But the Leap is a fascinating and fantastic device for many other reasons.

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Twofivesix Conference Notes

By | Creativity, Education, Media, Storytelling, Technology | No Comments

Below are my notes from the Twofivesix conference that took place in Brooklyn a few weeks back. I serendipitously discovered the conference via a tweet the morning of, and luckily was able to watch it via livestream and take notes at home. These notes are fairly comprehensive, though with a couple caveats (I missed the brief introduction at the very beginning so may be missing a bit of the scene-setting and context, and I didn’t identify speakers and attribute each point to a specific person). But this was a fascinating conference, both well-curated and expertly moderated, and I wanted to share what I learned. I hope you find this useful—I know I learned a lot!

 

Twofivesix

May 11, 2013, at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn

http://www.two5six.com/

 

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Mysteries of Small Systems

By | Creativity, Life | No Comments

I’ve been on a bit of a complexity kick lately—been getting really into books dealing with information theory, emergence and self-organization, networks, and the like. As I’ve been digesting these topics in the substrate of my mind (usually while in the shower) there’s one topic that’s come to mind several times and that I find particularly intriguing: the idea of small systems. What I’m thinking of here are the mysterious microcosms of our daily routines, methods or techniques or patterns that are simple but at the same time opaque, because they tend to be very personal and infrequently shared with others. In fact, they often exist at that fuzzy liminal zone wherein we might not even be wholly cognizant of their existence; they perplex even us, their very inventors and masters, if we’re aware of them at all. Here are a couple illustrative examples to give an idea of what I’m talking about:

By what methodologies, techniques, or maelstroms of confusion and chaos do different people organize their computers? Think—this is the most complex device most people own, but we’re rarely given any best practices regarding how to use it. Instead, we gradually adapt habits, digital tics and unconsciously evolving patterns of doing things, that passively align with our typical modes of thought and procession of common tasks, yet for all we know there are better ways to do almost everything we actually use a computer for. It seems a highly personal process for an individual to figure out optimal methods (developed or organically habituated) by which to structure their file system, organize their emails, arrange their application windows and allocate the space on their hard drive. For both personal and professional reasons, I spend a plurality of my waking hours as a MBP power user, and I’m still discovering workflow improvements and keyboard shortcuts and obscure-but-useful applications all the time. I can only imagine that a cross-sectional view of computer users’ tendencies—not a panoramic demography but a granular, individualized inquiry—would make a fascinating anthropological case study!

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