Illustration: Jamie Wieck for "The 50"

Required Reading: Techno Life Skills, 50 Things, Realistic Optimism & Radiolab

Today, I’m experimenting with a new monthly feature that provides a hand-picked selection of the most thought-provoking and intriguing articles on creativity, productivity, and technology from around the web.

We put a lot of time and energy into filling our @the99percent Twitter feed with thoughtful links and quotes, but you’re probably not looking at it 24/7. Now you’ll be able to count on a monthly feature that skims the cream off the top.

Here are five of my favorite pieces from the past month:

Technology Life Skills

“If you are in school today the technologies you will use as an adult tomorrow have not been invented yet,” writes Kevin Kelly. Thus, the point of Technology Life Skills is not being good at using a particular technology (like, say, Twitter or Ableton Live), but being good at understanding HOW technology works.

Kelly lists out some great principles for understanding what he calls the “technium.” Here are a few favorites:

You will be newbie forever.

Get good at the beginner mode, learning new programs, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, soliticting help, and helping others with what you learn (the best way to learn yourself)

What do you give up?

This one has taken me a long time to learn. The only way to take up a new technology is to reduce an old one in my life already. Twitter must come at the expense of something else I was doing — even if it just daydreaming.

Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for.

To evaluate don’t think, try.

50 Things Every Idea-Maker Should Know

Designer Jamie Wieck compiled a tips list, called “The 50,” for graphic design students graduating into the real world. Happily, the wisdom of this truly fantastic collection of pointers pertains to any idea maker – not just designers. It also has some great, well-phrased advice on managing clients. I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes out as an illustrated book quite soon.
A few snippets:

5. Starting anything requires energy.

It takes more energy to start than it does to stop. This is true for physics, your career, and that idea you need to work on.

34. Embrace limitations.

Limitations are invaluable for creating successful work: they give you something to push against. From this tension comes brilliance.

45. Be an auteur.

Regardless of who you’re working with, speak up if something’s not right. Take it upon yourself to be the barometer of quality.

Reflections on Certainty, Memory & Creative Projects

Jonathan Harris – the mastermind behind We Feel Fine and other wonderful Internet oddities – recently put out a video with M ss ng P eces that showcases his latest project. When he turned 30, he decided to take one photo everyday. This lasted for three years.Harris’ voice-over meditations on the video are lovely:

You always think there’s going to be a clear endpoint with things, with life. Not always an endpoint but a clear signal of OK, yes, this is clearly the thing to be doing now – no doubt about it. But it’s so rare that I feel that certainty. Much more often I’m just endlessly wandering from one thing to the next. You just never know.

Watch the Jonathan Harris short film, “Today”:

On Becoming A “Realistic Optimist”

Tony Schwartz’s articles for the Harvard Business Review always have a straight-forward authenticity that’s really wonderful. (Of course, you know we’re biased since he’s speaking at the 99U Conference this year.) Perhaps it’s because I’m a consummate worrier myself, but I really loved his recent piece on breaking the cycle of daily anxiety to become a “realistic optimist.”

An excerpt:

Over the previous several months, I had begun experimenting with a new morning “ritual.” It was built around cultivating something called “realistic optimism” — namely the practice of telling the most hopeful and empowering story in any given situation, without denying the facts.

For years, when I woke up, my pattern had been to scan my mind until I fixed on some imagined difficulty I was facing that day. Then I started ruminating about what might go wrong. By the time I stepped out of bed, I was usually anxious and off balance.

The new ritual I built was to get out of bed when I awoke, go to my desk, and write down what I was worrying about — just the facts. Next, I wrote down the story I was telling myself about those facts. Finally, I worked to conceive a more realistically optimistic story I could tell myself, based on the same incontrovertible facts.

Why Is Radiolab So Successful?

I don’t know a single person who has heard the NPR show Radiolab that doesn’t love it. The unique perspective and tone that Radiolab duo Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich bring to scientific inquiry falls somewhere between the books of Oliver Sacks and the offbeat investigations of Ira Glass on This America Life, with a hint of the electronic magpie sound of The Books.

This fantastic piece by Rob Walker tracks the Radiolab creative partnership and delves into how much of the show’s success depends on its aggressive approach to editing and Abumrad’s background in musical composition. Fascinating.

A few paragraphs:

“It’s consciously letting people see outside the frame,” Abumrad suggested. “I think those moments are really powerful. What it’s saying to the listener is: ‘Look, we all know what’s happening here. I’m telling you a story, I’m trying to sort of dupe you in some cosmic way.’ We all know it’s happening — and in a sense we all want it to happen.”

This is how “Radiolab” addresses the tension between authenticity and artifice: capturing raw, off-the-cuff moments (or trying many times to get them right) and editing them in a gripping pastiche. The hope, Abumrad said, is to preserve the sense of excitement and discovery that often drains away in the authoritative accounts of traditional journalism. “It’s a funny thing,” he concluded, “when you find yourselves laboring for weeks to create what you felt at that first moment.”


What Are You Reading?

Are there any great articles or tips that you’ve come across lately? Please share them in the comments.

Jocelyn K. Glei

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As Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen. She oversees the Webby Award-winning 99u.com website, curates the popular 99U Conference, and is the editor of the 99U books, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.
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