Whatever happened to spontaneity? Remember when you used to wake up and say, “What do I want to do today?” Now, we wake up and look to our phones for a directive. We check the weather app to see what we should wear, we check our email to tell us what we should do.
As designer James Victore writes in our new 99U book:
We have become so trusting of technology that we have lost faith in ourselves and our born instincts. There are still parts of life that we do not need to “better” with technology. It’s important to understand that you are smarter than your smartphone. To paraphrase, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your Google. Mistakes are a part of life and often the path to profound new insights—so why try to remove them completely? Getting lost while driving or visiting a new city used to be an adventure and a good story. Now we just follow the GPS.
To “know thyself” is hard work. Harder still is to believe that you, with all your flaws, are enough—without checking in, tweeting an update, or sharing a photo as proof of your existence for the approval of your 719 followers. A healthy relationship with your devices is all about taking ownership of your time and making an investment in your life. I’m not calling for any radical, neo-Luddite movement here. Carving out time for yourself is as easy as doing one thing. Walk your dog. Stroll your baby. Go on a date—without your handheld holding your hand.
This is an excerpt from Manage Your Day-to-Day, the new book from 99U, with contributions from James Victore, Gretchen Rubin, Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, Stefan Sagmeister, and many more.
Illustration courtesy of James Victore.
Do you get pissed off whenever someone asks you to setup a “quick call” to chat? Gary Vaynerchuk bets that you do:
We have gotten to a place where everything happens on our time. You watch the TV show when you want to watch it, not because it airs on Wednesday at 8 (7 central). You text because you can respond to that person on your time.
To avoid the awkwardness around small-talk, try to outline what the topic of the conversation is going to be. It makes you feel less guilty for transitioning into the purpose of the call.
Use email to get your high-level thoughts communicated first, and then use a phone call to add a personal touch or to have a higher bandwidth conversation.
If your work requires phone calls, that’s understandable. But remember that more often than not, synchronous communication puts you in a reactionary state. Don’t feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings; what’s urgent isn’t always important.
Editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine Scott Dadich says it’s time to start getting it wrong. In the field of technology design, we have figured out how to do it right. We have beautiful, sleek devices that are an ease to use – and it’s getting boring:
…once a certain maturity has been reached, someone comes along who decides to take a different route. Instead of trying to create an ever more polished and perfect artifact, this rebel actively seeks out imperfection—sticking a pole in the middle of his painting, intentionally adding grungy feedback to a guitar solo, deliberately photographing unpleasant subjects. Eventually some of these creative breakthroughs end up becoming the foundation of a new set of aesthetic rules, and the cycle begins again.
Dadich emphasizes that it’s not about throwing out design rules and starting from scratch. You need to master the rules so you can effectively break them. In his work for Wired Magazine, Dadich would apply his ‘Wrong Theory’ in small ways by only breaking one or two rules to regain visual interest. He would make large images small, overlap graphic and type and put headlines at the end of stories. Our future lies in failure as Dadich states, “…only by courting failure can we find new ways forward.”
Being shy or introverted doesn’t mean you can’t network like a pro at events. Over at Atomic Spin, Phil Kirkham gives us three tips on how to get the most from a conference or event. Our favorite is The Restroom Test, a way to check how well you’re doing at mixing and mingling with your fellow event-goers:
Take a walk to the restroom and back and see how many people that you did not know previously nod in recognition or say Hi. By the second day of the conference, I could count on getting at least 5 nods of recognition during my walk.
Even if you’re not overly shy, conferences can be intimidating thanks to the sheer number (and talents) of those around you. If at the end of the conference, you still find yourself among only strangers, it’s a good indicator that you’re not making the most of your time there. At the heart of it, Kirkham’s Restroom Test is a great way to not only help measure the number of new people you’re meeting during the event, but also to strengthen your memory of them.
Web designer and author Paul Jarvis wants you to find your “rat people.” These are the people who are passionate about the same things as you, in Jarvis’ case, that’s pet rats. Not everyone is going to have the same interests and that’s perfectly alright. However, stay away from those who insult you because of who you are.
The ones who think your work is useless or worse, disgusting don’t truly matter. Their dissension should fall on deaf ears because they’d never support you, pay you or join your secret club. When you give up trying to please everyone your work becomes much more focused and valuable to the people that matter.
Your rat people get what you do and love it. These are the people you should look for as clients, have on your mailing list and friend on social media. Too often we let the client decide if we are the right designer for them when we should be questioning if they are the right client for us. Jarvis reminds us, “for your creativity to support you, you need to find your 1%. Your rat people.”
Creative professionals who practice rapid iteration believe in the mantra of “fail fast, fail often.” And while quickly bouncing back from mistakes is essential to accelerated progress, not adequately reflecting upon failure can prevent complete recovery. Sometimes, deeper reflection is needed.
Founder and CEO of “failure consultancy” Fail Forward, Ashley Good, recommends performing what she calls a “deep-tissue post-mortem” to thoroughly recover from failure:
Our tendency in times of failure is to try to figure out what caused it, fix it as soon as possible and move on. That undermines the depth of learning that’s possible.
Good suggests asking the following questions to get started:
Try to figure out why the failure happened. What assumptions were made? What experiences led to it? That really deepens what you can learn from the experience. Also, listen to other perspectives on what happened. I often bring together different stakeholders in the failure to talk about it. If you bring five people together, you’ll get five different stories about what went wrong.
Don’t just sweep the failures under the rug and move on. Take some time to sufficiently prepare yourself for when you will, inevitably, fail again.
Intentionally leaving part of an idea blank can actually make it more engaging. Over at Harvard Business Review, author Matthew E May describes the benefit leaving intentional spaces in our work creates:
When we respect the white space — or when we intentionally create by removing just the right thing in just the right way — we allow others to fill the void, adding their own interpretation and impact. In fact, I’d argue that some of the most engaging ideas have something purposefully missing. Limiting information engages the imagination…
There is nothing more powerful than the ability of the human mind to create meaning from missing information. Whatever form your idea takes–strategy, product, service, startup–if you want it to “tip,” you might just want to make it more about less.
A great example of this strategy in action would be working on a story — for a novel, or a project storyboard — and creating only the beginning and the ends. Presenting the story to your peers allows them to generate their own ideas for what happens in-between, ultimately creating a more powerful story than if you had otherwise come up with it entirely, from beginning to end, on your own.