Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#73)

Quote I enjoyed:

A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes.”

Wade Boggs

Book excerpt I was thinking about:

“Martin Luther King was asked how, as a pacifist, he could be an admirer of Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James, then the nation’s highest-ranking black officer. Dr. King replied, “I judge people by their own principles—not by my own.”” (Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People)


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 (#65)

Quote that I loved:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

Ten stories you need right now:

https://www.sciencealert.com/here-are-10-good-news-stories-you-need-to-read-right-now


50 things to do:

Just some ideas between friends.


A great talk on self-renewal:

Hard not to just copy the entire talk here, it’s really good.

We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day “How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?” And I said “Let me count the ways.” Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that’s true I know some very busy middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask “What is it trying to teach me?” The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.

There will inevitably many who will find the current disruption a reason to venture out and do something new and scary. At least there is something good there to think about.


It’s normal to feel weird about this:

And so the drunken carousel of wildly-spinning emotions goes on, staffed by octopods, ridden by monkeys, narrated by a short-circuiting robot.

These are weird days, friends. It’d be weird if you weren’t weird about that.

I love Chuck Wendig.


Favorite book excerpt:

“What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

Writing, drawing, making, doing…the same rules apply. Go make a mess and leave it for awhile. It’s ok.


A gripping story to keep you occupied:

Forty five years ago, eight Soviet women climbers were pinned on top of a high mountain in the USSR in the worst storm in 25 years.

The presentation on this is super cool.

https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/01/sport/russian-climbers-peak-lenin-spt-intl


Art projects keep us sane:

Here’s what we did this week. Lots more to come.


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

Categories
Kids Parenting

Get a helmet

I got Sam this race car helmet from the gift shop at the Glasgow Museum of Transport recently (an awesome place to go by the way). Museum gift shops are a guilty pleasure, I always find something I want that’s usually overpriced, and the kids always seem to as well. However, this helmet was only £4! It must have been a mistake, as I’ve seen all manner of plastic items with much fewer parts priced three times as much, so I considered it a purchase worthy of the few hours of fun that we would have with it.

The thing is, Sam barely took it off once over the course of the next couple of days. I think I actually had to tell him that he couldn’t sleep while wearing it on the first night.

That £4 purchase has now given us days and days worth of fun.

But the best part of the helmet purchase is seeing how Sam behaves differently with it on. He’s a race car driver! A superhero! He’s invincible! He pretends that the visor gives him an extra shield to protect him against the sun (which is actually kind of true) and against Grandpa’s robot laser beams and careens about shouting and sliding with wild abandon.

Aside from the huge smiles that we all get and how much fun it is to play with Sam and his helmet, it’s gotten me thinking about the connection between the playing dress-up and pretending to be something versus actually being it. What’s the difference? We all start as pretenders and we all feel like fakes at first. What you wear (and how it fits) can make you feel invincible or invisible. You have to start somewhere.

One of the best pieces of advice I have been given was from a former mentor who would tell people that really wanted to switch what they were doing professionally (i.e. take on a new role doing different work than they are currently doing) to simply find a way to start doing the work now, regardless of whether they had permission. In other words, get a helmet and start pretending.

A £4 helmet gives Sam permission to be something that he might not think he is, but that’s exactly where the path to being a race car driver starts.

Categories
Misc

Books I read in 2019

Here’s my list of books for this year. I counted 21 for 2019, which definitely constitutes a great year of reading for me. I love reading and have been working hard on keeping my throughput high by putting aside books that I don’t enjoy without guilt, freely skipping through books if I feel like it, and not getting stuck on any one in particular. I’d like to keep increasing the number of books I read per year (or at least remain constant) and have plenty on the list to start off 2020.

Here is what I read in 2019 in roughly sequential order, descending from the most recent:

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

Great collection of stories and was surprised by the humor and impact of the writing.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

A legendary productivity system I had yet to understand until this year.

⭐️ What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murukami

One of my now all-time faves. Good for fans or running or just those who like a good memoir.

A Guide to the Good Life by William B Irvine

Deep Work by Cal Newport

What if instead we didn’t have to schedule deep thinking time, but instead had to schedule time to be distracted?

The Lessons of History by Will Durant

A short summary of world history. Really entertaining and educational read.

⭐️ Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

One of my now all-time faves. The journey and methods of an artist building their skills until they were the best in the world.

⭐️ So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

One of my now all-time faves. It’s all about deliberate practice.

Remote by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun

⭐️ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

One of my now all-time faves. Cannot recommend enough.

⭐️ Levels of the Game by John McPhee

One of my now all-time faves. Impossible to put down once you start.

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Philips

Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

Will make you think about the tools and processes you use at work or for any project more intelligently.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman

Waking Up by Sam Harris

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

A book about writing that’s brimming with wisdom about life.