Simon Sinek has a brilliant talk that reminds us that getting at the “Why” of things is incredibly powerful.
It goes well with this Hugh MacLeod’s illustration about the market for something to believe in.
I want to think of another aspect of it. It’s a place to come back to, a home base.
When I was in college I led a student trip to Mongolia. On the way we had a layover in Beijing and wanted to explore the city during our only evening there.
Since we didn’t speak the language and there weren’t many English speakers, the concierge had a great idea.
He gave us one of the hotel business cards and then wrote down a few names of places that we might want to visit on the back. When we left in our cab, all we had to do was point to the name of the place we wanted to go on the card. Our cab driver waited for us at each place – the duck restaurant, a couple markets, that famous square. When we wanted to get back to our hotel, we just showed the front of the card and he knew to get us back.
That card was our security that evening. I probably checked my pockets several times to make sure that I still had it. It was how we got home. If we had become lost or separated from our original driver, it would have been the quickest way to get back.
Our “why” can be like that card. When we’re working on a project or testing an idea in uncharted territory – it can be the thing that grounds us. Brings us back to a safe place where we can get perspective on everything else.
It might be worth it to check my pockets. Am I remembering my “why” for each thing I’m working on? It’s by remembering the underlying reason that I’ll be able to gain direction for the project as a whole in the first place.
I drew this a while back, and while I no longer remember the exact context, one thing sticks out. The idea of the new is so often tied to the fruitful, lush hopes we have.
Yes, that’s the point! But the pruning seasons and even winters can be (or are) just as valuable. They prepare the way for renewal and create space for the abundance to happen in the right time.
This is Part 2 of “Beauty vs. Ugly.” A theme proposed quite a while ago when I was playing with an idea I called the email games. It ended up being on pause for too long, but may find a new life soon.
Part 1 is an interview with Dan Denardo, one of my favorite photographers. We talked about learning to see. Sometimes beauty is obvious. Like when you’re at the Grand Canyon or a tropical beach. But everyday there is beauty all around that you can easily miss if you don’t look for it.
In this interview, we talk with Adam Palmer about creating art that turns the grotesque into something interesting.
Adam says that it started off as a teenager’s act of rebellion. The art teacher pushed and pushed for the perfect replication of a nice bowl of fruit. At least that’s how it felt. His response was,
I’m not going to do that!
Things became more and more grotesque. Then in college the idea developed further when the challenge was to find create interest within something apparently grotesque.
(illustration by Adam Palmer)
He found a tension between interesting and attractive. Clean lines versus details that give character and frame a story.
For example, which is more memorable and intriguing? Someone who looks like they jumped out of a stock photo? Or someone with a giant scar on their face? Who would you remember more?
(Drawing by Adam Palmer)
Art is more than pretty pictures. It’s about storytelling. It’s finding the angle that is overlooked. It’s the subtle details that create texture and hint at an emotion or a backstory. It’s about creating things that make people reconsider and give a second thought to what is in front of their eyes.
I asked Adam about what might come next. His answer?
This current theme developed not-on-purpose, so I’d like it to develop naturally into the next thing.
For now, we’re still enjoying the occasional glimpse into this theory of the grotesque.
A while back I asked Mike Cassidy about his productivity method. Here is what he said:
Here’s my system. I’m sure it’s not the most efficient system in the world, but it works for me.
– I have a big list of over 150 todo items in an excel spreadsheet. 2 columns: “date” and “action item”
– Over the course of the day, I’ll jot down on paper new todo’s to add.
– At the end of the day, I’ll add the new todo’s into my spreadsheet and assign a date to each one.
– Then I sort the spreadsheet by date.
– I’ll look at all the items listed for the next day. Usually about 20. Then I may push some out to a later date (for follow up) or cross some of the list if they’re done. So maybe I have 15 left. I print those out.
– The next day when I come in I have my 15 todo items ready to go.
– One good thing is that it’s easy to follow up on stuff because it’s easy to push dates out for follow up….
Here’s a sparse example of this simple method. You can view the google doc here.
What is great about this?
The simplicity and speed should be apparent. The daily review is key, too. But as I’ve thought over this method for a few years, I think the hinge that makes it brilliant is this:
It forces the commit.
You must prune the master list daily, perhaps before you even put it down. But then what you do enter into the system MUST have a date! It instantly brings a time demand to the entry.
This method both scares and intrigues me (scares because you HAVE to commit) and intrigues because it seems that consistently following it could have a great impact on how you make decisions and plan.
My guess is that this method plays extremely well with Mike’s business approach of “speed as competitive advantage.”
We had to check it out. Because how do you build a building just for the “art of writing?”
Here’s a list of some things I noticed:
natural elements (wood)
light (lots of glass)
many nooks for writing, reading and conversing
a video editing room
magnetic word board
a central gathering space (could host a tiny concert, lectures, speaking series)
a piano (only use when NO ONE IS TRYING TO DO ANYTHING)
bookshelves with books and writing resources
a coffee shop (including a stuffed Ostrich!)
A place that makes for good writing might be a place that allows for intersections of ideas as well as places to withdraw and reflect. Not just good for writing, this seems like a kind of place that is good for thinking.
What about you, what are your best places for writing and thinking?
(If I was going to add a kind of place, I would need to include an empty space with only the things I need to work on, a place to take a good walk, and maybe a deadline).
I’ve been reading Nilofer Merchant‘s book on the #SOCIALERA. The main point is that “Traditional Strategy” is dead. For example, one shift is that organizations can’t behave like 800 lbs. gorillas who use a single driving strategy to dominate a given space – and then expect to hold their place in the market for decades. Those business models are being disrupted every day (uber, airbnb, *cough, cough*).
Instead, the shift is toward the idea of 800 gazelles who are able to act independently and make shifts quickly and gracefully as a herd.
This phrase stuck out in particular:
In the Social Era, the idea is to get the general direction right and rely on feedback loops to iterate and adjust direction.
And it brought on a few simple illustrations.
What Traditional Competitive Advantage Looks Like:
What Competitive Advantage in the #SOCIALERA Looks Like:
When I was a kid I would sometimes get concerned about doing the right thing in some really mundane situations.
“Mom, can I go to a friend’s house?”
“But should I?”
I’ve been learning about decision fatigue. Basically, in some matters, making a decision is more valuable than which decision you make.
If it’s of little consequence, just make a decision. You’ll have saved energy for a more important decision.
But, what if it is important? And you’re inclined toward indecision?
Here’s one starting point. Instead of all the options of what you should do, what about what you can do?
In one of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies, Kirk says this line:
I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I can do.
The context was somewhere in the realm of “everything is falling apart” and he did not know what the textbook answer to that scenario should be.
That line has stuck with me. In uncertain situations, I’ll often not know what the best possible choice of action is. But maybe I have a starting point, a course of action that takes into account current resources, abilities and experience.
So if there’s an overwhelming, possibly chaotic event unfolding, maybe this is an option: what can you do?
…is actually not the same as, “doing everything I can.”
When we tell people we’re doing the best we can, we’re actually saying, “I’m doing the best I’m comfortable doing.”
As you’ve probably discovered, great work makes us uncomfortable.
And then there’s this from Paul Jarvis.
Only by experimenting with fear can we find our true limits – no the limits we think we have, because these are only assumptions until we try. When we push up against fear, we realize that our limits are much further away than we realized; sometimes those limits are so distant, we can’t even see them.
– Paul Jarvis, Everything I Know, pg. 78
Even the next layer beyond safe isn’t much threat. By “Risk To Reputation” I mean that it might hurt your image, you might lose some confidence, maybe your judgment will be questioned, but it’s more of a superficial loss. It appears to be a poor choice. But I’d rather know if and what you learned in those moments.
There are probably many more layers in this inception quadrant – and eventually if you get too careless you may actually hurt yourself or someone else. But the whole point is this:
We tend to live with a much smaller set of assumptions as to what choices we have available to us.
We live bound by our own insecurities, fears and comfort.
Maybe it’s time to see ourselves and others in a new light. With the possibilities of who they could be. And maybe we can be willing to step out just a little into more of the possible and available choices that we have in our work and day to day activities.
Last fall I took suggestions for topics to dive into. One of the ideas was “Beauty vs. Ugly.” I decided to take it on and pretty quickly knew at least two people I wanted to talk to because of their perspectives. This is part 1 of 2. It’s an interview with Dan Denardo about looking just a little bit harder to find beauty.
If you want to listen to the unedited phone interview, here it is:
I recalled a post from Dan Denardo where he talked about how easy it is to miss beauty if you’re only looking for it in obvious places. Dan is a photographer, but his way of approaching life is something we all can learn from.
He had written about what choosing (or not choosing) to see the beauty around you.
From his post:
I would much rather discover beauty than have it handed to me on a platter. I don’t need overused clichés of beauty. I have seen the beaches of Thailand and the Caribbean, the rainforests of Brazil, the Swiss Alps, Venice, Rome, Nice, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the canals of The Netherlands, Mount McKinley and more. I loved them all, but if I didn’t see the more “pedestrian” beauty around me, I’d be missing an important and fulfilling part of life.
This is hard. It’s easy to get caught up in seeking the next adventure, the next shiny object, the next great thing that might be somewhere else.
But what about this moment? What about seeking the everyday beauty that might be playing hide and seek?
It’s about learning to see.
Photo by Dan Denardo. Read the story behind it here.
And it’s something we need to train ourselves in.
I suspect that living here has made me a better seer. When I hear people criticize this area, it saddens me. Not because they’re badmouthing the area I’ve chosen to live, but because they are choosing not to see. They’re being lazy with a God-given gift. They are putting their brain in neutral. There is beauty here, they just don’t see it. It’s on a different measuring stick.
When we talked on the phone Dan told me that, “Yeah, I’m a photographer, but more specifically, I’m a seer.”
One of the ways that his being a seer plays out is in simple things.
It’s goofy things too. I look up toward the sky more than other people do so I see things up in trees or I see cloud formations. I just make the effort unconsciously to do that stuff when other people don’t.
Photo by Dan Denardo. “Seedless” – Such a fun deconstruction.
So is this something that can be learned?
Dan says that it’s a muscle you have to train. You can give yourself assignments that will push you to grow in your ability to see:
shoot things of a certain color
shoot things and shapes that spell out your name
shoot things that could mean something else
shoot things in a certain genre, like the 4 “r’s” – Rust, Ruin, Ramshackle & Rubble
One lesson: Obvious beauty and beauty that you have to seek out can be equally fulfilling (consider the Grand Canyon versus a desert flower.
It’s really about a passion for seeing and you might be surprised when the work you most want to share is your personal projects (over commercial ones).
My sense is that people who do it have always done it, and people who don’t do it have never done it.
Photo by Dan Denardo. Such a great story behind this one too.
I was also curious about Dan’s process for his personal projects. Here’s how they generally happen for him:
You can give yourself assignments, but for me I do it almost unconsciously. They just kind of bubble up. If I have something that bubbles up to the surface and I want to make it an assignment, I write it down and then I make a roadmap to help me get it done. And nine times out of 10 I do get them done.
At summer camp, one of the cabins had a wasp problem. Nope, no fun.
When I got there to check on it, it was easy to see that these wasps were not just outside, but had made nests inside the walls. And it scared some campers.
These wasps looked dangerous with their yellow and black markings. No one had been stung, and for this I was glad.
When the camp manager came to take care of the situation, he clarified what kind of a problem we were dealing with.
These aren’t aggressive wasps. They’re dirt daubers, and they survive by looking like the scary kind.
These were even difficult to provoke. You would have to really try to get them to sting you.
And some fears are that way. They look scary, but are pretty harmless. It’s good to know the difference and treat them accordingly. And if you can’t tell, it’s great to have someone who can help discern which is which.
On one hand there is the need to test, fail fast, ship, respond. On the other is the bigger picture of what this is all building toward.
Pressfield’s The War of Art wasn’t an immediate hit. But it was about the long game and it has continued to gain traction over the course of several years.
The work of Krista Tippett and her team at On Being isn’t in response to the latest trends. They aren’t trying to ride the emotions of a current crisis. Instead, their focus is simply asking important questions that are relevant to the human experience.
Perhaps part of the tension is in the purpose of shipping fast. Is it to test something? A small experiment? What happens if we try this?
And then maybe that gets combined with the longer vision, the bigger purpose.
And then maybe that becomes a culture of experimentation where prodding, poking and testing leads to relevant ways to accomplish the goal we’re aiming toward.
Kind of like a pilot or driver who makes thousands of small incremental changes and adjustments (and sometimes huge ones) in order to reach the chosen destination.
A worthy goal plus relentless creative pursuits toward making it happen…
I don’t always read warning labels, but when I do they occasionally make me chuckle.
Like this one that was on a Tiki torch:
This product… may contain chemicals KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA to cause…
I’m not quite sure how that works. Why does California have this special knowledge that is unknown in New Mexico, Kansas and Rhode Island?
And then I wonder… How many times do we practice selective knowledge? Or selective denial? Or when does our territory define what we accept as true? Or when is something declared true by a group around us when it might not be so.
Here’s to having open eyes to see things as they are, and also understanding the lenses through which those around us see.