Bottoms up

Attention works like a loose gate. We can’t always control what information sneaks in, nor can we parse the data so it makes sense coming out.

We grind away at the information life throws at us, some of it tangible and worthwhile but most it nonsense.

Like a Google search, the stuff worth keeping is like finding a needle in a haystack. When we discover something of value, it sticks. We share the knowledge with others, recasting it as our own.

Yet, our minds remain terrible RSS readers.

It’s impossible to unhear and unsee things — conversations, teacher’s lessons, tweets — without getting sucked into the commercialization of attention. The public sphere promotes mindless chatter, so rationalization sinks to the bottom.

The race to admiration prevents the interrogation of ideas. The noisy flood of information buffers thought until finally, the chaos settles to the bottom. And pieces of clarity return.

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How to unthink

via giphy

Knowledge can be a hindrance. The more we know, the more likely we’re to hesitate in times of execution.

So the overthinking basketball player misses a wide-open layup, the tennis player misses an easy return, or the painter or writer can’t seem to get their inspiration to convert on a blank canvas.

Stalling is a symptom of facing the resistance. When we try too hard to be perfect, we may do nothing at all.

So how can we stem the tide of excess contemplation?

One of the ways to think less author Flann O’Brien once said was to act “calculatedly stupid” and to enjoy what we’re doing. As Vincent Van Gogh put it: “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile.”

We are at our best when we’re relaxed and instinctive, free from the chaos of the monkey mind.

Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Its power is not confined to sport: actors and musicians know about it too, and are apt to say that their best work happens in a kind of trance.

So do the work and let go, let God. Let inspiration be free-floating perspiration.

Read Non cogito, ergo sum

7 articles to read this weekend

Every week I like to collect a bunch of articles on creativity, culture, and tech. Below are my 7 favorites.

1. Team Genius

Behind every genius there’s another partner. People are social animals; they need other people to bounce off ideas and to collaborate with. One could say that the mind engages in its own internal dialogue but a second person is actually needed to get all that work done.

Steve Jobs needed Steve Wozniak. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen. Genius comes in pairs. I like to think that today’s genius can be defined as a ‘scenius,’ where one person can be influenced by many people because of the strong interconnectedness built by the Internet.

2. Brainpicking

People say sadness is the root of creativity. But as Maria Popova explains happiness or rather “emotional excess” are also powerful contributors to creative work. In short, you don’t need a mental disorder to think differently.

3. Write It Down

The list is only way to keep the motor of life running. The list makes history and assigns new duties. The list is how we remember. “We like lists because we don’t want to die.” Umberto Eco breaks down the everlasting process of making lists.

4. Photorealism

Why waste your time painting when all you need to do is point and shoot? Photography is quicker and easier than painting. There will always be more photographers than painters. But photorealism showed just how replicable photos were and put photography back in its place. Now, painters get the last word.

5. Draw Something

Doodling helps you remember more than rote note-taking. The act of drawing what you learn in pictures is essentially mapping out how it all works together. Personally, I understand the bigger picture when I use mind-maps and understand less when I type note-for-note. **Learning requires reinterpretation**.

6. Faking Confidence

There’s a big difference between competence and confidence. Someone who talks a lot is not necessarily competent. A big mouth rarely equates to skills. All we really just want to know how competent someone is.

As this HBR Podcast explains, confidence is really a distractor.

+ Fast Company:. Don’t let the person with a big mouth taint the meeting with their biased ideas. The most effective meetings require everyone to write down their own ideas first.

7. Utopian Capitalism

Capitalism creates opportunities yet distorts the world. Businesses confuse profits with meaningful work. We can all point the finger at companies that make people unhealthier and dumber.

Utopian capitalism puts forth societal progress with profits instead of cheating workers and consumers in a race to the bottom.

More Reflection, Less Action

Instead, we too often view the opposite of “doing” as “not doing,” and then demonize inaction. In fact, good judgment grows out of reflection, and reflection requires the sort of quiet time that gets crowded out by the next demand.

Don’t mistake inactivity for laziness, for doing nothing could also be deep thinking, or sleeping for that matter.  Clarity emerges from an over-connected mind trying to be blank.

Sometimes the mind needs nothing other to do than to rest.

On Thinking Caps

I’d like a literal thinking cap. A regular baseball hat, but with the look of an orange or yellow construction hard hat. It would say “Construction in Progress, Do Not Disturb” on it.

Here’s why. There is an annoying asymmetry between inside-head and outside-head thinking. A thinking cap would solve this problem.

People think they can disturb you when you just sit.  They think you’re doing nothing but staring off into space.

You don’t necessarily need a pen and paper to think.  You need peace and quiet and little movement.  Just because you’re not moving or holding something, doesn’t mean you can be interrupted.   

Can what you do *before* you write improve your actual writing? | Literally Psyched

While ritual in itself may not play any role in the quality of the creative output, the simple act of engagement could heighten both anticipation and enjoyment of the entire creative process.

Rituals enhance engagement. That added engagement benefits the entire experience. Experience puts the bones in the goose.

Remain Skeptical

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Doubt on purpose.  Doubt in order to jump start different thinking and experiment, rising above the ordinary.

Narrow-mindedness is accepting things by default. Life requires diversity which begets progress.

Nevertheless, skepticism is only one step one in redefining existence.

Thinking different is a cop-out if there’s no creative work to back it up.

Skeptics are as equally as responsible as conformists.  They have to convert questioning into viable action. Naturally, the next is doing the work.

It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. – Scott Belsky

The biggest hurdle in any creative process though is communicating it effectively and converting the work into sales. Creativity is one part making and equal part commerce.

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art. – Andy Warhol

If your work matters, then it’ll probably matter to others as you convince them to share your labor of love.

In summary, here are the steps to maximizing skepticism:

  1. Think Different.
  2. Take positive, creative action.
  3. Communicate effectively.
  4. Sell your idea/art.

Uniqueness is a prompt for action, not an excuse to sit back and mock what’s already been done.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things the matter. – Martin Luther King Jr.

Un(u)sual Assumptions

  • Everyone assumes allergies or sickness upon a sneeze.

  • Everyone assumes a tech maladroit for owning an old cell phone.

  • Everyone assumes guilt before innocence, even though the legal system believes otherwise.

  • Everyone assumes that prayer increases their chances of luck.

  • Everyone assumes that life goes on.

All of these assumptions might be true, especially if they work for you. People need a certainty bias even when they know it might be false.

Assumptions leave little chance for divergent thinking. What if your initial thought just wasn’t the case?

11 Tricks For Battling Creative Blocks, From Leading Creatives

The physical world is ultimately the source of all inspiration. Which is to say, if all else falls: take a bike ride.

In short, leave the computer to restart the creative system.  This could be anything from a walk to a bike ride to riding on a plane with no access to email. 

Wonderful things happen when your brain is empty. – (link)