January 8, 2020
Questions not Answers
What's more valuable, the question or an answer?
The internet is filled with answers, and people supplying them.
This on net is a good thing, and the literal fabric of the web was based on this dynamic (with Google being a question box, to find answers).
But it feels like today there is more value in good questions, and there are many answers which are cheap, ineffective, or not quite a fit for any of your specific situations.
This has us seeking short cuts, and, often we find ourselves seeking answers from everywhere and everyone.
But what if everything great came from a really great question?
A question that can lead to months or even years of development and learning.
What if inside of a really great question contains the seeds of a great answer?
The seeds of a journey? And the seeds of a new way of seeing the world?
So now I have to ask.
What question have you been asking, lately?
December 30, 2019
I've been writing a bit less due to other commitments, and I've noticed my writing start to atrophy a bit.
It's like the wire that goes from somewhere in my mind to my fingers has started to fray. It's a bit clumsy.
I have a notion in my head but the words that translate to just... don't have that same feeling of what I was looking for.
How we put ideas together in our heads, from nothing to something, is beyond me.
But it made me think about my process.
I realize now that a key part of my writing is that of having space.
It is space that creates my best ideas and writing. Or rather, ideas and writing need space to exist below the surface of the mind.
And so here is the practice: It's just like meditation.
You sit down, on your computer or with paper, and you simply wait. You sit and you wait.
Then, after some time (short, if you've been writing a lot lately, or long, if not) you will have something bubble up to the surface.
You write that thing down, or you recognize that it's not THE thing, and you let it pass.
You wait, something arrives, you write it down or you let it pass.
At some point, if you've given yourself enough space, enough time away from distraction, enough silence...
A "good" idea comes along. But it's not that it's a "good" idea, rather it's just "right." You just know that's what you're supposed to add, so you add it. And then things may flood in, in which case you just let them all out onto the page, doing your best to keep open a space for the writing to be there.
Sometimes it will stop again, in which case you repeat the process.
Great writing needs space. You can't force it, and most times I don't know what I'm thinking until I let it show up on the page.
Like a great conversation, it's unplanned but only happens if you don't crowd it out.
I don't know how else to describe it.
Or maybe I do.
December 29, 2019
This holiday I went through my Kindle and added all of the books I'd bought over the past few years to an Airtable spreadsheet. I tried to rank them, list out which I'd finished, and more importantly; write a line or two about what I'd learned from each one.
Not unsurprisingly, there were many books I've read (at least part of) but couldn't quite remember what I'd learned from them. I remembered a feeling, and I'd remembered a general sense of the book, but I couldn't list out anything specific.
Doing this review helped me look a bit deeper into my world view. And it also taught me about books themselves.
It taught me that a book is a life's work of thinking.
It's distilled into a neat package or present to gift to the world.
A book is a gift of life experience and wisdom passed on to someone else.
A book is question.
It's asking "Will you see the world that I see it?"
"What would your life be like if you saw the world through this perspective ?"
Most of the lines of "learning" I had from each book was the new question I was able to pose (despite if I agreed with the answer).
A book is a bias.
And I'm really happy to read all of these biases.
Because it helps me check my own, or question my own, or adopt another bias, happily.
A book is a feeling.
A character is portrayed in such a way that you feel a certain way.
Maybe a part you haven't dared show to others.
A book is an idea that gets oversold.
After all, the work of the author is to transfer an idea. And so they look to add more credibility, more ways of saying it, more stories, more ways of approaching this idea than are likely necessary. But this also helps you "get it" deep the way the author "gets it."
In this way, a book always oversells the idea they have. It's built in. It forces the author to write more on an idea than they ever had before.
But that's OK.
Ideas have no limits.
It's our minds that we keep limited.
A book is a vehicle to expand the limits of your mind beyond where they are now.
One thing I loved looking through this list was that I would see certain books and they would once again spark that first, fresh idea that they dropped into my mind all over again!
Reading the ideas of someone else is like trying a new food.
Sometimes you think "How could I never have tasted this before!?"
And sometimes it just tastes bad and you spit it out.
But even still...
I'm still glad I tried it.
December 23, 2019
Your Algo vs. The Social Algo
This past week I went live with Khe from Radreads via Makerpad (we hosted a workshop) to learn about building your “Digital Brain” and managing your productivity using Notion.
You can rewatch it here: https://app.livestorm.co/p/dea0350d-a35d-4688-b7ee-8691bf9de6c5
I’ve spoken about the “PARA” method before, as well as this balance between consumption and production.
While this workshop focused on staying productive using Notion made me have a broader realization about something all knowledge workers must focus on.
That idea is that unless you have a strong personal algorithm (a process for how you set priorities, consume and filter information), you will get swept away by the broader social algorithm – that of email, slack, twitter, etc.
A personal algorithm, if done right, surfaces the most important priorities and information on a regular basis.
It’s a method for having what matters bubble up to the top of your mind as frequently as possible.
A personal algorithm could be setting your 3 most important tasks of the day.
Or it could be setting New Years Resolutions.
But, as we know, so often we fail at this.
The reason we have the “5 Regrets of the Dying” is because it’s the list of things that people succumbed to allowing to fall to the bottom of the stack of priorities instead of the top.
The problem is that we have competing algorithms which are seeking to divert our attention.
After all, advertising is about the companies priorities, not your priorities. It’s about taking your precious attention and nudging you to focus it elsewhere.
On occasion, this is helpful – but that occasion is only when your priorities and problems are in line with the solution you’re being sold. Otherwise it’s diversion.
Unless you have a strong method for continually seeing your priorities, you will get lost in someone elses.
And it seems like today we need an almost hourly reminder. Because looking at our priorities and keeping them is hard.
And in some ways, giving up control to the algorithm is an easier way to live. It is a path of least resistance. And our dopamine plays a role in hooking us into diversion as frequently as every 5 or 15 minutes (the times we pick up our phone to check x social network).
What I learned from Khe today was that you can build your own algorithm with intention.
You can use it to filter and rank information.
And more importantly, you can set Cues for yourself.
Cues Remind You About Your Priorities.
A Cue is a reminder.
It’s like a mantra.
It brings you back to what you are wanting to focus on. A Cue could be a sticky note on your computer. But, being that our minds live in the digital realm, we similarly need these Cues in our digital domains.
But if you care about your attention. If you care about your time. If you believe you can set your own priorities, instead of going with the flow and following the priorities of others, you need to have a system, an algorithm that can hold your priorities. Like a boulder in the stream, to make sure you’re holding on to what matters.
This Holiday, and new year, I’m thinking about how to continually hold onto what matters.
It’s your Algo vs. the Social Algo.
December 9, 2019
Art is a Feeling pt. 1
You want to glow.
You want to be as excited about the idea as anyone else. Even mores o.
You share but you don’t need to.
You don’t need a response.
You want to overflow.
It comes to you naturally, sometimes during a discussion or a conversation. Sometimes that conversation is with a book or a notebook.
The best ideas for art don’t need to be justified or argued for, they stand on their own.
The best books don’t need a detailed interpretation.
The best movies make each person feel exactly what the feel.
Even the ones who didn’t like it or are frustrated by it.
The best art exists on its own.
It doesn’t echo.
The best art has depth. Sequels exist within it.
When something has true staying power, it can’t be explained.
The best art is silent, even when it’s adorned.
It’s a vacuum. Its flaws don’t need correction.
It's like it has always existed.
December 9, 2019
Nature Wants Art
What is culture if not art?
We think we live in a serious world. And no doubt there are plenty of things to be serious about.
But look around you. Clothing has become fashion. Writing has become poetry. Food has become Art. All things converge to going beyond function.
Nature then, wants art.
Products have labels with beautiful drawings we call logos.
Kids are drawing on tablets and singing to friends. At the bars people are dancing.
Don’t discount playfulness. Despite how you try you can’t hold back the blooming of art and expression beyond pure function.
But the world doesn’t ask you to participate. It keeps on moving. So you might as well enjoy it. Might as well sew in the tapestry.
Might as well identify meaning and share it.
Might as well graduate from seeing it all as simply function.
November 19, 2019
What is "Making it?"
There is no finish line.
Throughout your life, time moves at varying speeds. When it’s hectic it all moves fast. Like life is piling on complexity and you’re buried. You remember that there is spaciousness somewhere out there but time is unrelenting in its march forward.
So if you don’t catch up you can’t catch your breath, and things just keep piling on.
But as I said, there are no finish lines. Except maybe Death. And that might not be one either...
Instead of finish lines, there are rhythms.
So you never really cross anything off, you don't arrive anywhere.
You get a book deal? Well, that’s just the beginning.
Launch a product? That's just the start?
Sell a company? What's next?
To believe in finish lines is to chase a ghost.
It’s a firefly that lights up but goes dark right when you catch it.
Rhythms, though, are ever-present.
Cycles are always occurring. And if you can pay attention to them you can see your life as a journey. You can look at yourself from afar, and recognize where you're at. Not to get to a resolution, but to get to the next leg of the journey.
So you’re not finishing and starting so much as you’re transitioning.
You're letting go, you're understanding, you're growing. Just like age, the fixed numbers are made up.
Then life moves slower, and that's a good thing. You let go, and change happens all at once. You get more of what you want with less effort. This is the irony of cycles.
Not only can change come out of nowhere, but things can happen all at once. Years of slow growth, and a week of everything all at once. Just as you think you’re totally stuck, a new step-change occurs.
But often that takes action...
There is no such thing as time.
Think back, and remember something, maybe a day or a moment from high school.
Now, remember something that happened yesterday.
To your mind, and in that recall, is there any difference? Both appear in your mind equally fast, whether it’s 18 years ago or 8 days. So everything in the past is equidistant.
And the future, that’s the same.
Time is a process.
And, if we're lucky it's a process towards well-being.
What does it take to "Make It?"
As long as you're growing towards well-being, you're "Making it."
As Marcus Aurelius says,
“Well-Being is luck.”
Consider yourself lucky.
November 18, 2019
Monday Coffee (Nov 18)
Hey all – it's been awhile since I've done a ☕ Monday Coffee.
This is where we sort of catch up and I share a bit more about what's new with me.
Feel free to share whatever is on your mind in return. I want to share more about the everyday work I'm doing with founders and brands as well as some latest stuff with (DTS) so I'll see if I can weave that in here and in my A$A letters. Anything you want to share? Any questions on your mind? Shoot.
Last week I was at the No Code Conference put on by Webflow in SF. I've been working with the Makerpad Team and so this was a chance to get together in person
"What is the deal with "No Code"?"
"No Code" refers to the series of applications that allow non-technical people or non-programmers the ability to create websites and applications.
Programming computers has continued to get democratized, meaning that more and more people are able to do it with less technical skill – thanks to new abstractions from root level programming.
At every step, we're making it easier to program computers to work for us.
It went from punch cards, to the command line, to languages like HTML, to site builders (Squarespace, Wordpress) and now there is a giant flood of applications making it even easier to create, Webflow being one of them.
This is, I believe, a 10x-100x improvement and is going to lead to more opportunities for more people to build and launch products.
29.5, the Emotional Flu
I don't know what it is, but it seems like the transition for Men (women, do you feel this too?) from age 29 to 30 brings up a ton of change.
The more guys I talk to, the more I see this as a recurring pattern. Many guys will say this was the year that things fell apart, or changed, or where things really got started for them. There's even an interesting astrological thing about this if you're into that, called Saturn Return and probably some other mythological stories with this narrative.
All I know is I'm 29.5 and suddenly I'm getting really emotional and a lot feels like it's changing. I welcome all growth, and I'm curious to see what's around the bend. I've been writing less but I'm learning more, which is interesting because usually the two run in parallel. Hopefully I'll try and capture more of this in writing as I know many people might have similar feelings.
What are your thoughts about major transitions like this from one decade to the next?
Do you feel the same way about going from 2010's to 2020's ?
"How Do you Make a Brand that Stands Out?"
I'm writing more at my Brand/Community/Tech focused newsletter here:
In a recent post I wrote a big list of obvious (once you see it) edges that brands use to stand out.
Examples from that list:
Engage Overlooked Senses
- Pop Rocks
Beef up security
- Stainless Steel or an OtterBox Case
Make it Sensual
- Magnum Ice Cream
Revive an Old Format
- Vinyl Resurgence
Treat Customers like Owners
Treat customers like shit
Read 40+ Other Brand Edges.
Telegram Reading List
I'm still looking for the best place to allow readers to "subscribe" to the articles I'm reading around the web. That way if you're looking for something to read you can see everything I've been reading in the last week to pull from in case that's interesting to you.
Right now I'm using Telegram https://t.me/artxattention
You can subscribe to that list and you'll see notes every so often with links. Is there a better place to share a stream of links? Lmk.
Quote I'm Digging:
“Well-being is Good Luck”
- Marcus Aurelius
I've never thought about Luck that way but I find this quote to be incredibly deep.
My call times for 🍵#ArtistTherapy were fully booked up, and it's been great to meet so many of you all. I'll do another one or two of these before the New Year.
As a reminder, now is the best time to start to think about sending out cards, or planning.
Be well and be lucky,