Making for the micro

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People always made art. Now, we just make it and share it in abundance.

But all the noise makes it impossible for aspiring creators to stand out.

On the flip side, the bell curve is widening from the masses to the niches. We can build an audience around sub-genres at scale for the first time ever; the Internet helps us stay connected.

Once we shift our strategy from marketing to everyone to the marketing to the micro, we set ourselves up to make deeper work that lasts.

Your weirdness is not only acceptable, it’s mainstream.

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“Stare at the world, not at your model.”

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Photo by José Martín

Continually learning, constantly changing. The human mind is as fickle as the seasons. It is not mathematical models that predict the future but the law of nature.

Writes Richard Bookstaber in his book The End of Theory“The world could be changing right now in ways that will blindside you down the road.”

Nothing is linear and predictable; rather, everything emerges from its highest, heuristic probability — the upshot of the freedom of trial and error.

“Humans are not ergodic, however. We move through the world along a single path, and we get only that one path. Where we are on that path, our experiences, our interactions, the view we have of the world at that moment all determine the context for our actions. That path is not repeatable; we are not taking draws from a distribution.”

Even the rare anomaly becomes the impetus for our actions. People try stuff on a whim to check their pulse.

It is futile to aggregate behavior so we can algorithmicize systems. The world is unpredictable, especially the economic one.

“Chaos is the law of nature; order is the dream of man.”

— Henry Adams

Read The Practitioner’s Challenge
 

 

Richer by design

What if we had everything we already need? We can give value to things that already exists and instantly feel richer.

Say you don’t own a car so you have to take the train or bus to work. Outsourcing the driving frees up your time to do something else like plan your week, catch up on the news, or get some more sleep. Time is extra money earned.

Owning a car can be a burden. And while it makes grocery shopping and running errands on the weekends, we can appreciate the benefits of an automobile’s absence during the week. 

Just as constriction begets creativity, we can find value in our limitations to find our own happiness. It’s all the complaining that drags us down.

Independent of reality

All photos by Wells Baum

Inference precedes information. We are preconditioned to view the world with cognitive bias. That’s why we think we know before we know it.

What corroborates analysis is the outcome. Did we get something positive — a product, a feeling, praise — in return for our supposed rational decision-making?

We expect the grass to be green and the sky to be blue because that’s the common way they appear. But reality exists in the brain; the external world is colorless.

The abstract thinker avoids thinking in concrete terms, bumbling around to make way for further inspection.

The upside to questioning the status quo is that it immediately makes the world more interesting.

Against conventional thinking 

Do you prefer labyrinths, racetracks, or straight lines?

In following others and jumping through hoops, we can assure the most predictable of lives.

What if instead we danced with the uncertainty of being lost, gathering string on the way to a slow realization

You can be the tortoise or the hare, desire speed over power. 

There are no shortcuts to keeping it interesting. 

Normal is boring

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Paddington Bear
– The Purple Cow
– An Albino Giraffe

Standing out is what it means to be remembered. To be remembered is to be unique.

Never has the conformist or the lemming lived on to make a name for themselves.

Normal is too forgettable. Life is cooler at the edges.

When you know you’re different, you’re condemned to accept it.

The internet saves your individuality. It celebrates weird and flattens the middle of the bell curve of normalcy.

 

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From Seth Godin’s book, We Are All Weird

 

Now you have no choice but to show people who you really are and what you believe in.

Your tribe awaits and it wants you to break the status quo.

Pursuing boredom for boredom’s sake

If you can’t stand boredom for boredom’s sake, take on a mundane task to put your mind in a wandering state.

Doing the dishes, organizing your vinyl collection, mowing the lawn, and taking a shower are all triggers that help release you from the grip of now.

Your brain needs time to chew over all that it absorbs, which it can only do by looking backward and rummaging though experiences, memes, and fleeting thoughts to bring them back alive. 

Pursing tedium rewires the unconscious mind and strengthens mental processing. It is no surprise that eureka moments occur when you suspend the sober thinking robot and let your mind play instead. 

Genius strikes when you quell the monkey mind, roaming into a chore with the means to chase something. 

Trust your internal compass

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One of the oldest surviving maps (the Babylonian Map of the World) is “about the size and shape of an early iPhone.” But it too was artifice and spin.

“The map is not the territory, said Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski. Maps are deceiving representations of reality. To quote the author Mark Monmonier of How to Lie With Map, “No map entirely tells the truth. There’s always some distortion, some point of view.”

Maps drive conquest, gentrification, taxes, and voting polls. Google Maps, as Google does, gives us the turn-by-turn directions to a final destination. But we trust GPS a little too much yet remain frustrated and bewildered when the software leads us into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Rhode Island.

And we thought Google had all the answers! Blame the humans, not the machines.

Faulty computer intelligence reminds humans that our devices are imperfect just like us and that perhaps, we should continue to leverage our internal compass.

Noticing things 

Photo by Wells Baum
It’s difficult to notice things when we’ve seen them a thousand times. So we walk the same path, use the same apps and listen to the same music, without noticing the notes in between. 

We become accustomed to our habits and surroundings we do things on automatic.

Everyone’s got an eye for something. The difference is in how we compel ourselves to see.

Let’s take up the observational challenge to travel in our own backyard to take notes, snap pictures, and try to get unfamiliar with fresh eyes. 

In making the banal interesting, we can live more inspired lives.

‘Be a first-class noticer’

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We travel to escape the plague of the routine and unexciting. In return, we get a new perspective and acquire new ideas.

But the slightest contrast quenches the thirst for discovery. Our own backyard is full of interesting things.

Life contrarian Aaron Goldfarb writes in How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide:

Interesting people don’t need to fill the voids of their life by simply placing their body in another state, country, continent.

We are blind, even to ourselves.

Grab a camera to help train the eye to look for subtleties. Photography recasts everyday things into novelty. Commit to a way of seeing.

The often unseen and unheard beg for acknowledgment. In the words of Warren Bennis, “Be a first-class noticer.”

Procrastinators can be finishers

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We are told to ship it; release it before it’s finished, get it out of our hands so we can get the feedback we need to iterate and perfect our product. It’s a grueling process that fires up the anxiety. Is this thing going to work or go out to the void?

In his latest op-ed Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination Humanities professor and author Costica Bradatan writes:

Procrastination and mourning are tied tightly together: for to procrastinate is to mourn the precariousness of your creation even before you bring it into the world.

We are stuck between thinking and action, for which we have no choice but to finish what we started:

The procrastinator is both contemplator and man of action, which is the worst thing to be, and which is tearing him apart.

Procrastination is the purest form of idleness. And it is brain’s neurons that dictate what we decide to do. “Who you are depends on what your neurons are up to, moment by moment,” says David Eagleman in his book The Brain: The Story of You.

So if neurons predict our fate but the mind is plastic, we should be setting up the entire system to prepare for better decision-making. For starters, we can make a list of the things we can control. But there will never be any guarantees that it’ll work. That’s where the habits and enthusiasm come in to help us overcome the fear.

You can quote this

When they asked all graduating seniors to record their favorite quote for the high school yearbook, I pulled one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

Even at that moment, I refused to conform. The irony, of course, is that I used a quote to help express myself.

I still have a love/hate relationship with quotes. They are first and foremost someone else’s thoughts, and while they can motivate us, even relieve us, and sum up how we think, they can often be as cheesy as Pinterest. They make words look trapped in between a prison of quotation marks.

“Quotation marks” de-energize quotes, just as much as using them as substitutes for our own thinking de-individualizes us. Call it cynical, but we’re living in the Internet era–the world’s greatest copy-past machine– where everything can be reduced to a shared tautology.

What if, instead, we listened to ourselves rather than allowing others to validated our neuroses. Quotes are merely thought starters; even children like to originate their own opinion.

TED Talk: Tim Ferriss ‘Fear-setting’

As an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, investor, motivational speaker, and life hacker, Tim Ferriss is a jack of all trades.

Like many of us, he’s obsessed with work and optimizing work habits. But he learned the hard way. A near suicide and a breakup with his girlfriend made him change. Instead of being goal-driven, he played with ‘what ifs’ in what he calls fear-setting.

To much chagrin, he left his business in 2004 to spend a month in London. It turned out all those fears he had – his company would collapse, the IRS would come after him — never happened. The opposite unfolded. He ended up traveling the world for a year where he lived more and worked less. an experience which led him to write his best-selling book The 4-Hour Work Week.

At the core of Tim’s life-practice is stoicism, an age old philosophy that has guided successful leaders from George Washington to Bill Belichick.

So around 300 BC in Athens, someone named Zeno of Citium taught many lectures walking around a painted porch, a “stoa.” That later became “stoicism.” And in the Greco-Roman world, people used stoicism as a comprehensive system for doing many, many things. But for our purposes, chief among them was training yourself to separate what you can control from what you cannot control, and then doing exercises to focus exclusively on the former. This decreases emotional reactivity, which can be a superpower.

There are two quotes Tim always keeps the top of mind in his daily life. The first is that “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality,” wrote the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger. The second comes from a modern-day Stoic Jerzy Gregorek “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life,” which became the backbone in his survival as a political refugee and endurance as four-time world champion Olympic weightlifter. 

Fear-setting is a life practice. It takes a lot of nerve to imagine our worst fears and take calculated risks, but the cost of inaction is even worse. Remember things are never as bad as they seem.