Un-Program Your Thinking

program

Over on Fast Company, Jane Porter looks to the work of Harvard professor John Stilgoe and his book Outside Lies Magic to tackle the daunting topic of how to be inspired by everyday life:

His answer: Go outside. Look around. Walk. Notice. “Exploration encourages creativity, serendipity, invention….The explorer owns all the insights, all the magic that comes from looking.”

Stilgoe elaborates by offering five elegant ways to turn the mundane of everyday into creative inspiration, including:

3. Start to un-program your thinking. We tend to follow a regimented schedule, even when we are taking time away from work to exercise. Yoga at six. The treadmill for half-an-hour. Kickboxing every Tuesday night. What if, on occasion, you allowed that time of exercise to be unregimented? According to Stilgoe: “Unprogrammed exercise and a rediscovery of what schools and employers and television and computers suffocate blend into some larger whole that reorients the mind, that offers a reward greater than any posted by pure physical exercise.”

Among the other tips Stilgoe offers for being inspired by your life: learning to manage risk in order to find a balance, feeling free to feed your curiosity, and scrutinizing the unfamiliar. Explore all of the ways you can turn your routine life into one of creative insight right here on Fast Company.

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The Seven Step Method to Better Meetings

Notes designed by Ema Dimitrova from the Noun Project

Notes designed by Ema Dimitrova from the Noun Project

Brainstorming meetings can be disastrous, often eating up time and leading to poor decisions. Google Ventures has a way to avoid the pain of traditional meetings with a seven step method.

Over at Fast Company, Jake Knapp explains:

The next time you need to make a decision or come up with a new idea in a group, call timeout and give the note-and-vote a try.

1. Note: Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can…

2. Self-edit: Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites…

3. Share and capture: One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on…

4. Vote: Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard…

5. Share and capture: One at a time, each person says their vote…

6. Decide: Who is the decider? She [or he] should make the final call—not the group…

7. Rejoice: That only took 15 minutes!

The “Note and Vote” technique works by circumventing the usual suspects that cause brainstorming meetings to go awry: personal feelings, fear of being unheard, and building ideas off one another rather than focusing on originality.

Knapp also explains that this approach forces your meetings to be run in parallel (where everyone is contributing at the same time, without shouting) whereas traditional meetings are run in a serial fashion.

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Where Do You Fall on the Creativity Spectrum?

The Creativity Spectrum from Kevan Lee at Buffer

The Creativity Spectrum from Kevan Lee at Buffer

We often hear the advice “just start,” but it comes without a clear explanation as to how. Visualizing the gap between mediocre and great work in this way makes it evident that the only way to get on that scale is to overcome the bigger gap between nothing and something.

Over at Buffer, Kevan Lee gives us an answer by taking creative author Shirky’s notes to create The Creativity Spectrum.:

What holds you back from creating something?

For many of us, it’s fear. Fear that something might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.

Overcoming this fear is a huge and important step… Author Clay Shirky noted the importance of the simple act of creating—creating anything, even a silly thing—in his book Cognitive Surplus: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

The message is clear: to create great work requires that we create any work to begin with. Because until we have something to work with, great work isn’t even on our scale of possibilities.

Lee provides plenty of other creative insights in addition to this one over on the Buffer blog.

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6 Coffee Alternatives That Are Better for Productivity

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Regardless of where you fall on the “is coffee good or bad for you” debate, there will come a workday when you can barely keep your head up at your desk, and coffee is not an option. Maybe you’ve already had two or three cups with no real effect, or maybe you’ve been trying to quit but still haven’t found a good alternative yet.

As part of Fast Company‘s “Coffee Week” coverage, Lisa Evans offers a number (6 in all) of other options. Here’s a few of our favorites: 

Green Tea: This beverage has become known as the healthiest coffee alternative thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants and its link to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Green tea does contain caffeine, but a smaller amount than your regular cup of coffee, so you don’t end up with the same jittery side effects. Not only can green tea boost mental alertness, studies show it can also make you smarter. One recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found green tea is effective at improving memory and cognition.

Eat Some Chocolate and Have a Laugh: That cute cat video your aunt emailed you may be just what you need when you feel a dip in energy. Researchers from the University of Warwick showed boosting employee happiness by offering chocolate and showing stand-up comedy videos improved productivity by 12%…

Raise the Heat in the Office: That chill you feel in the office may be causing your productivity to drop along with your temperature. Cornell University researchers found employees working in offices with low temperatures (of 68 degrees) committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive than employees working in a warm office (of 77 degrees). When the body’s temperature drops, it uses up energy to stay warm. This leaves the brain with less energy to concentrate or to be creative. If you can’t raise the office temperature, be sure to pack a sweater or get a space heater.

And if what you’re really jonesing for are the sweet, soothing sounds of a coffee shop while you work, there’s always Coffitivity.

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Do Elite Colleges Produce Risk-Averse Students?

Statue of John Harvard aka the "statue of three lies" at Harvard University.

Statue of John Harvard aka the “statue of three lies” at Harvard University.

Extracurriculars, straight A’s, volunteer work. . . Getting into top-flight colleges demands a ridiculous amount of free time, dedication, and energy, which are exactly the kinds of things that stifle learning. So does that mean that the Ivy Leagues are now producing students who are better at following orders than experimenting?

The New Yorker takes on the issue using William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life as a backdrop:

They’re meant to do it all, and they do. But they don’t know why, or how, to find fulfillment in the absence of new hoops to jump through.

Learning is supposed to be about falling down and getting up again until you do it right. But, in an academic culture that demands constant achievement, failures seem so perilous that the best and the brightest often spend their young years in terrariums of excellence. The result is what Deresiewicz calls “a violent aversion to risk.” Even after graduation, élite students show a taste for track-based, well-paid industries like finance and consulting (which in 2010 together claimed more than a third of the jobs taken by the graduating classes of Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton). And no wonder. A striver can “get into” Goldman Sachs the way that she got into Harvard. There is no résumé submission or recruiting booth if you want to make a career as a novelist.

If our brightest minds are mainly falling into fields like finance, what does that mean for the next generation of leaders?

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The Case Against “Doing What You Love”

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Web developer Rachel Nabors followed her passion and was a full-time comic book artist. But an unexpected surgery and a lack of health insurance debunked her plans and gave her a new outlook on creative work. Now? She believes that “do what you love” is bad advice.

My first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.

But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.

Rather than telling you to do what you love, I’d like to say this:

Don’t do something you hate for a living.

There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.

We all have more than one true passion in us — sometimes it just takes time to find it.

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5-Second DIY: Notebook Index

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Adam Akhtar of Highfive has a great—albeit surprisingly simple—tip to add visual tags to your notebook or moleskin for organizing your notes. All it takes is your notebook and a pen:

The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it [in the back]…

Now you’d go back to the first page where the [note] is and on the exact same line as the…label you just wrote you’d make a little mark on the right edge. You’d make this mark so that even when the notepad was closed the mark would be visible. After repeating this for various [notes] you’d now have various tags visible on the notebooks edge.

The process is very easy to use, and can be paired with other “hacks” for an added organizational boost (like using different colors for different topics). If you still use a physical notebook, this is one approach you’re definitely going to want to consider.

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