Categories
Work

Make your work creative through practice

Most people I know equate creativity with being “artistic”. That then means that many people don’t consider themselves creative. This is a severely limiting view and a major tragedy.

Consider the following from renowned non-fiction writer John McPhee, who wrote an entire book on a single tennis match that is one my favorite books I’ve ever read, and who could write about rocks (he did) and make it riveting:

“What is creative about nonfiction? It takes a whole semester to try to answer that, but here are a few points: The creativity lies in what you choose to write about, how you go about doing it, the arrangement through which you present things, the skill and the touch with which you describe people and succeed in developing them as characters, the rhythms of your prose, the integrity of the composition, the anatomy of the piece (does it get up and walk around on its own?), the extent to which you see and tell the story that exists in your material, and so forth. Creative nonfiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.” (John McPhee, Draft No. 4)

You can be creative on multiple levels and are certainly doing that, or have done it before, if you haven’t already noticed.

This same idea that Mr McPhee is getting at can apply to any line of work, any discipline, any field. You can be creative on multiple levels and are certainly doing that, or have done it before, if you haven’t already noticed.

One of the things I have found recently is a renewed appreciation for the creativity within how I approach my current chosen domain (I’m not certain how to precisely name it, but a “engineering teacher” comes close). The appreciation has become stronger as I have taken the practice of my craft more seriously. I’ve found so many ways to exercise creativity in both how I produce and how I learn (and have taken feedback and tried to put my ego aside more as well). Creativity is not something you either have or don’t. Creativity is a skill that needs practice, everyone can be better, and it’s a simple matter of putting in the hours and looking for ways to make yourself more effective.

You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.

Cal Newport

Some ways that I’ve been more creative in how I produce include exploring new habits, like keeping daily (physical and digital) logs, doing weekly summaries/reviews (some of which has been shared here), and trying to stretch myself to be faster and more effective in the things I do everyday, from the most basic, like typing and setting up pre-defined text snippets and templates that can be called up from a keystroke. I have become creative in how I learn by actively seeking out projects/problems to go and solve with the technology I work with as a way to stretch my expertise in intentional ways (in some cases, I’ll considering doing “fake” projects as exercises as well, I learn best by doing).

I would also be leaving out something if I also didn’t mention the role that feedback from my coworkers, and a desire to be seen as useful to them, provides me in fuelling my practice. This feedback is often what seems to ultimately be able to push me out of my comfort zone into doing things that are scary, and not surprisingly, the most impactful in getting more creative and better at what I do.

Finally, I have become more creative by taking things away from my daily habits as well. Prioritization is already hard. Distractions, needless process, and an over-dependence on needing to keep things too tidy and neat make it harder.

It’s possible that your job is to make decisions. If that’s what you do, what would it mean to do it more productively? With less hassle or drama? If we make decisions all day, how can we do it better? Because that’s the question every other professional asks about her work. If we make decisions for a living, it might be worth figuring out what would happen if we made better ones. (Seth Godin, What do you make?)

In the end, what is creative is unique and relative to you. My recent path of figuring out new work and how to do it better has been a great re-discovery that being a creative, being a creator, is what I do and have always loved to practice.

“Throughout most of human history, to be a blacksmith or a wheelwright wasn’t glamorous. But this doesn’t matter, as the specifics of the work are irrelevant. The meaning uncovered by such efforts is due to the skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship—not the outcomes of their work. Put another way, a wooden wheel is not noble, but its shaping can be. The same applies to knowledge work. You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.” (Cal Newport, Deep Work)

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#60)

St Andrews is cold (and awesome):


The power of great feedback:

My notes: It’s all about working out your confusion. What does good look like, get in sync. What’s your experience? Describe it. Find out more about the other persons experience. Then if there’s a gap, figure it out and look at it together. No blame.

Worth a listen


Concierge car buying:

Then a guy called wanting a car. Carroll said he didn’t work at the dealership anymore. And the buyer said he didn’t care. Carroll decided then he would go solo. Not as the usual car “broker,” who tends to charge a direct fee to shoppers, but as a car “concierge” who planned to charge customers $0. He would work on commission.

https://eu.freep.com/story/money/cars/2020/01/23/fired-car-salesman-brian-carroll-dealership/4533934002/

Side note: I had no idea that USA Today has a trimmed down, super fast site special for the European Union which is intentionally bland and simple and fresh air compared to the usual bloat and ads on most news sites:

https://medium.com/usa-today-network/the-tech-behind-the-usa-today-networks-eu-experience-5631e99539fd)


The bad client/clueless boss trap:

There are two secrets to doing great work:

1. Persuade the client to let you do great work.
2. Get better clients.

They dance together every day.
You get better clients as soon as you act like the creator who deserves better clients.


The intelligence coup of the century:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/national-security/cia-crypto-encryption-machines-espionage/


Are people getting worse at the price is right?

Americans are worse at The Price Is Right than they used to be. On the game show, which has been running since 1972, four contestants are asked to guess the price of consumer products, like washing machines, microwaves, or jumbo packs of paper towels. The person who gets closest to the actual price, without going over, gets to keep playing and the chance to win prizes like a new car. In the 1970s, the typical guess was about 8% below the actual price. People underestimate the price by more than 20% in the 2010s.

https://qz.com/1740513/why-are-people-getting-worse-at-the-price-is-right/


Favorite book excerpts of the week:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.” (Haruki Murakami and Philip Gabriel, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)

Running = life in this context I think.

“Many people think they’ve determined the next action when they get it down to “set meeting.” But that’s not the next action, because it’s not descriptive of physical behavior. How do you set a meeting? Well, it could be with a phone call or an e-mail, but to whom? Decide. If you don’t decide now, you’ll still have to decide at some other point, and what this process is designed to do is actually get you to finish the thinking exercise about this item. If you haven’t identified the next physical action required to kick-start it, there will be a psychological gap every time you think about it even vaguely. You’ll tend to resist noticing it, which leads to procrastination.” (David Allen, Getting Things Done)

Boiling things down to the physical behavior is annoying and hard but makes such a difference. I’m trying to get better at it.


What I’m thankful for this week:

  • Almost every time Sam sits down to go to the toilet he tells me: “Daddy, boys have willies, girls don’t have willies.”
  • Playing cribbage with my Dad in the evening, hadn’t done that in a long time and had forgotten the simple pleasure of playing cards.

Quote I was thinking about:

The way you tell your story to yourself matters.

Amy Cuddy

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

Categories
Misc Work

I wanted to write but I took a nap instead

I was going to write today, but I don’t remember now what I was going to be writing about. I read something in the morning about late bloomers, and it gave me an idea I wanted to share about my experience as one. But as when I reached my afternoon break and left my office with time to work on it, the thoughts weren’t really gelling. Regardless, I was all set to give it a try despite not being in the best state of mind, as I had the window of time and an interesting (I thought) insight to share.

Instead, I took a nap.

I didn’t intend to, but my son happened to be sleeping in our bed, and when I went to check on him, expecting that to be a small detour on my way back to my notebook, I suddenly found myself lying down.

I gave in willingly. It was a short nap, followed by a long session playing legos, a late afternoon wrestling and superhero battle, and ending with me making dinner.

The idea that was so important to write about hasn’t seemed to come back. Instead of hunkering down and “working hard” to squeeze some productivity out of a spare moment, I unintentionally spent my time unproductively, and ended up very relaxed and happy as a result.

I guess there is no insight to be shared today. I’ll try to do better tomorrow. 😉

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#50)

Book excerpt I loved:

As we make progress in our practice of Stoicism, we will become increasingly indifferent to other people’s opinions of us. We will not go through our life with the goal of gaining their approval or avoiding their disapproval, and because we are indifferent to their opinions, we will feel no sting when they insult us. Indeed, a Stoic sage, were one to exist, would probably take the insults of his fellow humans to be like the barking of a dog. When a dog barks, we might make a mental note that the dog in question appears to dislike us, but we would be utter fools to allow ourselves to become upset by this fact, to go through the rest of the day thinking, “Oh, dear! That dog doesn’t like me!” (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life)


A grave reminder. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.


The importance of winters: As winters shrink, our discontent grows is a thought-provoking essay on the impact of climate change and how we rely on seasons to give structure and meaning to our lives. Hadn’t quite thought about it in this way before.

Whenever winter hits and however mild or severe it might be, we must remain cognizant of the fact that winter offers a change of pace, a reduction of the world around us. It can be a period of withdrawal, of reflection and regeneration. If we allow ourselves to embrace it, it can bring us back to a time when people were forced to be more flexible and responsive to the seasons. Maybe we, too, can become more receptive to the small pleasures and wonders that we otherwise perceive only peripherally, if at all?


Thoughts on how to think about your career: The Obvious Way to Improve Your Career (That Might Not Be So Obvious) has some good perspective worth a quick read. I’m of the mind that your career is a painting and not a ladder, but the same thinking here applies.

Often the kinds of efforts that will move forward your business are hard. They are uncomfortable. They require doing things that you (currently) have no idea how to do.

Many people pass on these to pick hobby projects instead. Projects that are fun, seem related to their career, yet, ultimately deliver underwhelming results. Improving their social media marketing, rather than creating compelling content. Installing a new development environment, rather than becoming an expert in their language. Designing business cards instead of drumming up business.


Werner Herzog doesn’t really watch movies: Why He Didn’t Need to See ‘Star Wars’ Films for ‘The Mandalorian’ Role.

You shouldn’t feel upset that I haven’t seen the “Star Wars” films; I hardly see any films. I read. I see two, three, maybe four films per year.

This made me think, but his comments about watching and understanding what the rest of the population is watching (which it sounds like he’s been saying way before it was trending) also stuck with me.


Tiger stripes are like fingerprints: While creating a book about tigers with my daughter (her idea), we came across the following fact from Wikipedia:

As with all tigers, the white Bengal tiger’s stripes are like fingerprints, with no two tigers having the same pattern. The stripes of the tiger are a pigmentation of the skin; if an individual were to be shaved, its distinctive coat pattern would still be visible


Finally, see what we’re up to now.

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#42)

A week of release: A lot happened this week, as the kids and I battled sickness (Therazinc and tea tree oil to the rescue!), I finished my trial with Automattic (one of the hardest stretches of work I’ve done), we took a weekend jaunt to Linlithgow Palace, and had a Sunday day doing nothing but playing.


I felt a little like this over the past five weeks: During my trial I felt so tired at the end of each day. Reading the The grandmaster diet: How to lose weight while barely moving made me think about just how much energy I was expending:

In October 2018, Polar, a U.S.-based company that tracks heart rates, monitored chess players during a tournament and found that 21-year-old Russian grandmaster Mikhail Antipov had burned 560 calories in two hours of sitting and playing chess — or roughly what Roger Federer would burn in an hour of singles tennis.

Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience.


I attended the Rangers v Feyenoord football match on Thursday. Before moving to Scotland I knew next-to-nothing about the club, but the history is epic, and the Wikipedia page for Rangers F.C. does not disappoint:

Rangers have won more league titles and domestic trebles than any other club in the world, winning the league title 54 times, the Scottish Cup 33 times and the Scottish League Cup 27 times, and achieving the treble of all three in the same season seven times. Rangers won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972 after being losing finalists twice, in 1961 (the first British club to reach a UEFA tournament final) and 1967. A third runners-up finish in Europe came in the UEFA Cup in 2008. Rangers have a long-standing rivalry with Celtic, the two Glasgow clubs being collectively known as the Old Firm, which is considered one of the world’s biggest football derbies.

Note that they have to keep the stands next to and above the visiting team’s fans cleared (visitors are the few stands in the far corner). The multiple rings of police in yellow coats can give you an idea as to why.

All those yellow coats in the distance are the police…

Reading the Lessons of History and really enjoying the writing:

So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it – perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts. It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition, and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race. It is good that the old should resist the young, and that the young should prod the old; out of tis tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole.”


A good question to help cut through the clutter: From Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir on how she recovered from not qualifying for the 2014 Crossfit games (she won in 2015 and 2016):

I wasn’t a failure. I had just failed at a certain event. Past tense. What could I do in this exact moment to get better? It got me focusing on giving my absolute best in any given situation without the pressure of constantly stacking myself up to others.”

Timothy Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors

A useful definition of art from Seth Godin:

Art is a human activity. It is the creation of something new, something that might not work, something that causes a viewer to be influenced.

Art uses context and culture to send a message. Instead of only a contribution of beauty or craft, art adds intent. The artist works to create something generous, something that will change us.

Art isn’t painting or canvas or prettiness. Art is work that matters.

It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.

Everyone can be, if we choose.

Thing I learned about Scotland: Fall walks are as brilliant as ever.

A little path through the woods by our house. Fall is starting to peek through.