July 13, 2009
Recently I have found myself stopping and checking out Borders (a book store). I go there looking for something to read. Go figure. I enter not wanting any particular book and just explore what grabs my attention. It is a great feeling just checking out new ideas and creative efforts without intent on buying a checklist of items. Often I don’t intend on buying anything. I am aware that the same book is significantly cheaper online and since I won’t start reading it right away it is fine if it takes a couple of days to arrive.
But I usually buy it anyway. I want it then, not in a week. I don’t want to forget about the book. I might never end up purchasing it if I wait. And the hysteria builds.
This is a catch-22 situation for me, an internal strife. Recently I’ve decided to screw it. The extra cost is reflected in the satisfaction I get from the in store experience. Problem solved but not really.
I have found that neither the online experience nor the in store experience is complete. Online I get reviews of the books and user opinions that I can’t easily get in store. In the store I get a better shopping experience. How is it better? It isn’t structured. I can look around in a truly random fashion. Amazon.com is great but not for exploring. Search bars aren’t built for random and neither are selection tree hyperlinks.
The internet requires direction which makes it much less relaxing and less fun. Web shopping and other online activities that are meant to be enjoyable should offer less structured and more random options so they can capture that in store feeling. The first steps to engaging the freedom of random exploring on the web have been presented with services like stumbleupon with great success. Maybe online stores will be next.
July 6, 2009
Professors tell you to follow your passion. Friends tell you to do what you enjoy. Experts, rich people, and great achievers say they found their purpose and then perfected it (with loads of practice). This shouldn’t be that hard except how do I know my passion?
There seems to be this misconception that we each know what we are capable of, good at, and of course what we enjoy but do we? How fast do you run the 100 meters? Could you rob a casino in Las Vegas (Oceans 11 made this a legitimate career)? Can you learn Arabic? I don’t know and I won’t know unless I try these things. Everyone hates guess in check, if you don’t your weird. Here is 5 ways to skip guessing:
- Examine past activities. When you were younger you chose to do what you liked independent of social pressures, future possibilities, and responsibilities. You chose to do things you liked to do. Try and remember these activities they hold clues to what you really enjoy. If you drew pictures than that tells you something. If you moved between things quickly that indicates something to.
- Find similar elements in childhood activities. Look at activities you have enjoyed in the past and try and find similar links. Much like an investor looks to the past to predict the future so should you. Find out if you like high risk activities or if you are risk adverse. Look for degree of group interaction. Look for guidelines and rules or open endedness in activities. Make a list of characteristics of activities you enjoy or have enjoyed.
- Look for Flow. Ever lose track of time or zone everything out while you were doing something? Assuming you were conscious and sober than you may have experienced Flow. Finding Flow is huge. If you experience this sensation, you’ve almost certainly found a passion.
- Consider the Journey. It is unlikely something that you hate now is going to grow to be something you love (this is why I don’t understand arranged marriages). If you hate art than graphic design isn’t going to be your thing. Even if you were famous and getting paid loads to do it (this wouldn’t happen if you hated it but in theory) you would still hate it, it would still be the same type of work. You must find something that you like to do because you like to do it not for some future promise.
- Are you a team player or a master? This is not are you a loner. This means do you like to work independently or rely on a team. This is huge because most people are one way or the other. Find out which way you are and find or develop a work culture that meshes with you.
It is likely that you are still going to have some guessing and checking to do after you limit down your list. But now you are an explorer with a purpose not a lost victim.
June 14, 2009
I took a class a couple years back where we were asked to make motorcycle helmets. Not literally make them but illustrate them. Paint was the encouraged medium. The teacher said we should draw out many ideas and then pick our favorite to create. Since I was not the fastest painter I figured I would bypass this redundant step besides I already had an idea. I painted the greatest checkered design for the helmet. Checkered flags reminded me of racing and motor bikes so naturally it was perfect. I thought it was pretty awesome when it was finished as I had used some advanced shading techniques that added depth and detail. It was a technical tour de force in my professional option. The teacher saw things differently. Much like a lazy English teacher doesn’t read entire papers, I don’t think this art teacher gave my work much consideration. He gave me an unmemorable grade and permission to see him later (what nerve). He also took the liberty of exclaiming how uncreative AND unimaginative my work was to him. I thought well screw him, I like it.
This is not the attitude that I took in math when an earlier teacher had told me math might not be my thing. In that case, I asked for help and before long it became my thing. I mean I knew he knew the material better than I did and I didn’t want to fail. Why didn’t I feel this way with the art teacher? I mean I was no artist at the time and the art dude was very good at what he did.
This inconsistency in perspective is the reason that creativity is condensed to such a small sector of the population. Most people consider their creative works an extension of themselves hence are very sensitive about them. It takes a lot to open up your work to critical appraisal. Aggravating the issue is the fact that many people thing that creativity is completely in born. This isn’t true. Creativity is developed although we do have different starting points, just like every other skill.
How well you learn is a reflection of the quality of the teaching and your openness to learning.
Write a list of cool super powers. Your list probably contains things like invisibility, flying, super healing, and morphing. This is not a creative list. A teacher assessing this list could easily show that it wasn’t creative and show you techniques for developing truly novel ideas.
Creativity has recently been brought to the forefront as an essential skill for the future. But to teach this skill we need to change student’s perspective of creativity. Students must start treating their creative development like their other studies where they don’t fear exposure and encourage feed back.
June 7, 2009
I heard a radio ad that suggested that the best investment could be made on… you. This seemed like a solid idea. I wanted to know more. I had even refrained from scanning the radio to hear their answer and it was: getting an MBA. An expensive investment and one I don’t know how to hedge the risk on. I was expecting an ad for Rosette Stone or something along those lines. I was hoping for something much cheaper. I wanted low risk, high return. And I wanted to investment in me not a university. So how can you invest in yourself?
Learn something new. Learn it with a project. Create a project that generates positive results financially, socially, or some other way while learning. Let your learning have a positive externality on society. Project learning is low risk, high return and here are the 6 reasons why:
- It is important to have a purpose in everything. Is a goal needed? Yes, but possibly more important is the reason for that goal. So the goal may be to learn Photoshop but what is the immediate reason? That reason is your most important learning tool. That reason becomes your project.
- Learning from projects is practical. Life problems aren’t given at the end of a chapter where the solutions to the problems are located several page turns back. The knowledge that is needed to solve problems isn’t all located in even a single book much less a chapter. So it makes sense to do projects that are built upon. Where the solution is developed not found. Real life problems are novel and therefore so are there solutions so learn in a way that reflects this.
- The project limits the scope of learning and gives structure to learning. As there is too much information to learn, an intelligent method to limit the material is needed. You have limited time, resources, and focus they need to be concentrated to be effective. This is one of the reasons for the “more is less” and simplicity movements for increased productivity. Learning too much becomes impossible as there is no where to start or finish and without a finish there is no way to win.
- Things that are scheduled get done. You have probably heard this one but how do you schedule learning? One chapter a day or a week… this doesn’t work. A project comes with natural deadlines; it has to be done at a certain time. There is a reason for this deadline. It is not arbitrary. This deadline will help you keep motivated.
- Homework, end of chapter questions, and reviews are typical components of most learning techniques but this kind of structure often prevents deep understanding. The understanding of the connection betwixt ideas is often lost. In a project it is essential that everything fit together for the leader. It is essential that the leader have a working, practical knowledge of the material in its entirety not just one chapter at a time.
- Projects often involve teams. When you are working on an interesting project you can often enlist the help of others. Others can help you grasp new ideas faster and often expand the project in interesting new directions. Much like jogging with others can motivate you to keep at it, working with others on a project ensures you don’t quit.
Who learns faster: the doctor reading a med school book or the one practicing in a developing nation? the person watching basketball or the person playing? If you want to know about something read, watch, or talk about it, if you want to learn it then practice it.
June 5, 2009
I watched The Pursuit of Happiness four score and a couple of days ago and I had mixed feelings. I was expecting an uplifting, go get it done, motivating movie but that’s not what I got. Generally I hate it when this happens but I got something else from Mr. Smith’s hardships. An idea: we spend too much time on plan B. The entire time I was watching the movie I was wondering “why doesn’t Will Smith get a second job so he can pay for an apartment?” What is this dude’s deal? Then I realized he was working on plan A. And screw plan B until plan A flops.
Will Smith puts almost all of his time into becoming a stock broker and guess what it happens. He becomes a stock broker. If he had split his time between stock broking and selling hot dogs before long he’d have moved into the full time weenie business. No I’m not psychic just a damn fine guesser.
Plan A is your passion, it gets you going in the morning, it is the really cool plan and the fun plan. Plan A is the dream. So why would you put so much time, thought, and energy into bitchin Plan B. People do this every day and wonder why plan B has a tendency of working out instead of kick ass plan A.
If plan A doesn’t take up most of your time then it is going to become a hobby, which makes sense because you are treating it that way.
May 28, 2009
Do you know what you’re missing? No… probably not and neither do I. With only six degrees of separation (this is a stretch but whatever), finding anything can only be couple people away; I mean someone knows about it. So how hard can it be to find anything and everything great? Hugely difficult hence the huge advertising, publicity, and marketing fields. If something isn’t popular it is almost unfindable. Who is to blame? Introverts. Maybe. But even extroverts only spread their absolutely favorite material; after all they are putting their name on the line when they recommend something. So Google is how we find things, places, material, and everything else.
Google is developing a monopoly here. If your website, blog, product, or whatever isn’t on the first page of Google results for a typical search phrase how do people find you? Through other people… I guess and then how has the internet made everything smaller? Maybe the internet made big things bigger but small things well Google keeps them small because what else can they do?
This is not new. And creative people have seen the opportunity. Stuff has been tried. But each time big gets bigger and underground gets well not much. Digg.com and Stumbleupon.com took different approaches and made great strides but I still think there is tons of great material out there that I don’t know about. It is like the software kids developing in a garage. Companies want to find them. I want to find them. But we both fail unless they succeed on their own. And the worst part is that people have created greatness out there that will be lost because “build it and they will come” is a pipe dream.
Today we need a new kind of talent scout. One that searches for each of us without somehow stripping us of our privacy. Amazon.com already makes suggestions when you go on based on your history but how can the internet do this… how can I find what I’m missing?
May 27, 2009
When a car salesman advertises that his cars have electric windows, A/C, and a radio, it sets the bar. And I get an image… and it is not pretty. If the best thing that you can say about your cars is that they come with a radio well that’s saying something and it is saying it loud. A radio would be fine if I was buying an iPod (an exciting addition) but when I’m spending thousands of dollars over the course of several years I hope that a radio isn’t the only positive thing he can think of (to be fair there is the A/C and windows).
The kind of the thing I want to hear… reliability, great customer service, built to last, fun to drive, great MPG, really there is a number of things but radio isn’t one of them. Radio isn’t a thousand dollar feature so why are they using it to sell the car?
People make this mistake everyday when selling themselves. Being able to use basic Microsoft Word isn’t worth thousands a year plus benefits plus health insurance. Think about how you are selling yourself. When using a resume or in person or however else it is you are finding employment show your real value. Why are you worth it? Why should you be the one?
Unless you have some special skills with Word don’t include it. This may make your pitch or resume shorter. Great, that way the employer is focused on how you add real value.
If you are a journalist pitch your writing style, your knack for finding interesting topics, or your ability to connect with people. Start selling your real value, that way you don’t have to be found. Many talented people go undiscovered because they don’t sell their real value. So really think before you start including things like Microsoft Word in your sales pitch. It sets the bar.