Weston McBride writes about what he calls a “moment of clarity.” While he was building a mobile shopping startup, McBride’s girlfriend challenged him. His dream in life was to help solve the world’s water problems. So why wasn’t he doing that? The subsequent soul-searching made McBride realize he was on the “deferred life plan.” His post explaining the jolting realization and the subsequent weeks are worth a read for anyone who doesn’t feel quite right. His take:
My immediate defensive reaction [to the question] was to explain my 5 year plan, as I had rehearsed: “I’ll be [there] soon enough. I just have to sell this mobile shopping company for $200M and then I can actually pursue my dream of solving the world’s water problems.”
But my girlfriend challenged this: “How does selling a consumer app company help you disrupt the potable water market?” She was right, and I knew it.
McBride then decided to act brashly.
I knew that I was powerfully unhappy, that something was wrong, but I was powerless to do anything about it.
It took a piercing question from my girlfriend to wake me from that trance. I knew I was working on a startup where I had no empathy for my users and had no passion for the space or the problems we were solving, and I knew that was wrong. But what I had to realize was that I didn’t need to do that.
That revelation liberated me. The next day, I talked with my co-founders and transitioned out of the company over the next 4 weeks.
McBride says he’s currently researching for his next project: solving the world’s water problems.
Entrepreneur Ivan Kirigin share his process for preparing a presentation. A few gems:
But if the target is a talk, don’t write a script because it won’t sound like you. You shouldn’t memorize the talk word for word, but you should have the ideas down front and back. This means an outline is as close as you want to get to writing everything down.
Don’t be that guy that surveys the crowd asking for a show of hands. The process is bland, biased, and lazy: you should already do the legwork to research your audience beforehand. A story is far more engaging than a survey.
The running theme through Kirigin’s post? Respect the audience. Read his entire post here.
Game of Thrones creator and author George R. R. Martin discusses his creative process in an wide-ranging interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. One of our favorite insights? The two kinds of writers:
There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another, and I am definitely more of a gardener. In my Hollywood years when everything does work on outlines, I had to put on my architect’s clothes and pretend to be an architect. But my natural inclinations, the way I work, is to give my characters the head and to follow them.
The “architects and gardeners” dynamic can seemingly be extended to many other aspects of our creative lives as well. Read the entire interview here.
There will always be the outliers, but most accomplished creatives need many years of practice, mistakes, and determination before they make their best creative work. So when can the average person expect to hit their stride? Economist P.H. Franses decided to come at the question in a different way with surprising results.
In a newly published paper, he reports that painters create their most masterful works (at least as determined by the marketplace) “at the 0.618 fraction of their lives.”
Does that number sound familiar? Another term for it is the “Golden Mean,” the mathematical ratio that appears throughout nature.
On average, the painters produced their most highly valued work when they were 41.92 years old; they had lived just under 62 percent of their total lives.
We normally think by analogy — by comparing experiences and ideas to what we already know— but Musk says there’s a better way to innovate. From an interview with Kevin Rose:
“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”
The benefit of “first principles” thinking? It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. Musk gives an example of the first automobile. While everyone else was trying to improve horse-drawn carriages, someone looked at the fundamentals of transportation and the combustion engine in order to create a car.
Naturally Musk does give one warning about using first principles for innovating however, “it takes a lot more mental energy.” Watch the entire interview below:
Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, wrote a great piece on a way to keep your higher-ups happy and feeling needed without hindering your work. The secret? Put a deliberate mistake in your final piece.
One of Joe’s clients was forever ruining projects by insisting on stupid changes. Then something odd started happening: each time the client was presented with a newly photographed layout, he’d encounter the image of Joe’s own arm at one edge of the frame, partly obscuring the ad. “The guy would look at it,” Joe recalled, “and he’d say, ‘What the hell is that hairy arm doing in there?’” Joe would apologise for the slip-up. And then, “as he was stalking self-righteously away”, Joe said, “I’d call after him: ‘When I remove the arm, can we go into production?’ And he’d call over his shoulder, ‘Yes, but get that arm out of there first!’ Then I’d hear him muttering, ‘These people! You’ve got to watch them like a hawk.’”
Even those in authority want to feel useful and leave their mark. Let them do it without erasing your contribution.
Patrick Stokes at Aeon Magazine explores all facets of the offline/online dynamic, but one passage is a prescient reminder of how most of us contort our identities online:
But it would be wrong to say that we’re simply being ourselves online, pure and unfiltered. Most of us aren’t catfishing, or creating fictional characters, but we are probably spinning our lives to some extent. In their study ‘Identity Construction on Facebook’ (2008), published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Shanyang Zhao and fellow sociologists at Temple University in Philadelphia found that user profiles were not strictly identical with the users’ offline identities, but were rather the identities they would like to establish in the offline world, but have not yet been able to. This illustrates how the online identity that most of us use is, to borrow a phrase from the American philosopher Stanley Cavell, our ‘next self’. Dress your avatar for the life you want, not the life you have.
It’s been said that we see everyone else’s highlight reel while we’re stuck with our own behind the scenes footage. Our colleagues and friends may appear to be living impossibly happy and productive lives at all times when judged by their online personas, but remember that our online selves are aspirational.
Read the rest of the essay here.