Category Archives: Creativity

The Three Things #15

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Tenth of December author George Saunders in conversation with his Random House editor, Andy Ward. – Slate Magazine

Michael on Writing: The more you write, the more you think about writing. The more you think about writing, the more you talk about writing. The more you think and talk about writing, the less you actually find yourself writing, but that’s another story for another day.

The only thing more enjoyable than these moments of contemplation and conversation about writing is the gift of getting to listen in as others share their own ideas on and approach to the subject. This exchange between former GQ writer George Saunders and his current editor Andy Ward is one of the best I’ve read (thanks to Todd Chandler, who was kind enough to share this). To some, these conversation seem like little more than pontification, to me, they offer a lens into how others accomplish their goals with their words. It’s a must read for anyone, who like me, cannot help but talk, think, and learn about writing as we do our best to actually make some of our own words appear on the page (or screen, if that’s your thing).

Biggest New Media Trend is Analytics Transparency

Howie on Media Transparency: This is very interesting. I have clamored for this forever. This started with print. Bundling. A newspaper will say ‘we have one million circulation’ but I would only read sports and business. So the brands advertising in lifestyle can’t reach me. But they still had to pay for one million readers. With digital this data is available. But media still bundles. We have no idea how many pages are read – a lot or a little. We have no idea how many Facebook users are logged in and active right now. There is an app called Social Bro that tells you how many of your Twitter Followers are active (tweeted in the last five mins) and it ranges from 30 to 80 for my nearly 1,800 followers. Transparency will cut to the heart of what is the value of a media property, content etc to advertisers/marketers.

Gone Girl

Gini on Fiction: Again. I’m reading a ton of long-form right now and my Vanity Fair, New Yorker, and Atlantic subscriptions are sitting quiet. My friend (and reading buddy) Christina Pappas suggested I read Dark Places (by the same author) last summer. It was decent enough and, at the end of the book, the first chapter of Gone Girl was there. I read it…and then had to buy the entire book. It was a little bit Scott Peterson kills his wife and baby, with a twist of phenomenal fiction and storytelling. It was in my top three books read last year.

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Expertise Does Not Have Units

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Gabe Weatherhead of Macdrifter. I’m an unabashed fan. Not only is Gabe an all-around nice guy, he’s wicked smart and is very generous with his time (read: he puts up with far too many of my annoying emails). Gabe is a creator, a maker of things. He has an annoying habit of turning his ideas into a reality. He leads by example, and it’s an example I strive (yet struggle) to follow.

We measure length in feet[1], weight in pounds, time in seconds and expertise in failure. The problem with becoming an expert is that often there’s no beginning and no end. Worse, there’s no measure we can use to perceive our progress. This is my attempt at a retrospective measurement of my journey.

What does a ten-year-old know about success? Well, if you were an uncoordinated oaf that had been repeatedly placed in special education programs by lazy teachers, you believed success was synonymous with respect. You believed that there was a magical point in your awkward progression where the world would take you seriously and believe in you. You knew nothing about success.

I began studying chemistry in the 5th grade. I read science books that I brought home from the library and idolized the scientist mythos in popular culture. I wanted to be an old gray man with wild hair that alternated between a tweed blazer and a lab coat. So I started a methodical progression toward becoming a “scientist”.

Over the years, chemistry became an escape for me. It was a topic that supplied an endless stream of ideas and small joys. I could play with thought experiments in my head as easily as normal people carry a tune. While I loved chemistry I never felt like a chemist. To me a chemist was still that gray old man in a lab coat shouting “Eureka!” and scribbling on a blackboard. So I continued on.

I proceeded through college throwing myself into the lab and plowing headfirst into graduate level coursework. I was no genius. I often floundered and struggled to keep my head above water. But I was single minded. I needed to become an organic chemist.[2] I completed every graduate level organic chemistry course with top grades by the end of my senior year (but nearly missed graduation by not completing humanities coursework). I didn’t attend a single party and spent every holiday in the lab, but that was OK because I was almost a chemist.

By my measure, I was half-way to my goal. I was 20 years old and knew more organic chemistry than I had ever imagined. I knew enough to get a job doing chemistry for a paycheck. My days were work and my nights were books. I focused on the small bits that are often left as floor shavings when a boy is turned into a college graduate. Half of every pay check was reinvested into chemistry textbooks and half of every day was reinvested into becoming an expert. Four years of work and study saw me off to graduate school and I was almost a chemist.

Now at this point, most reasonable humans would consider that I had reached some significant plateau. However, organic chemistry is a deep and subtle science, chock full of history and anachronistic legacy. We speak in combinations of English, German, French and Polish. We name things after old dead men who ceased being mortal and became gods. We prize minutia and celebrate knowledge of the obscure. At 25, I was ignorant and absurd and still not quite a chemist.

Graduate school was a playground full of the hardest problems I had ever faced. I was consumed by becoming an expert and the world around me disintegrated. I emerged six years later with another degree, far less hair, and a keen mastery of organic chemistry. I overshot my goal.

Sometimes, the problem with achieving a goal set for you by a ten-year-old is that you have no idea what to do at the finish line. The world changed and I missed it. I was an expert and I was tired and bored. For me, the sweet spot of expertise hovered around the 70% mark. Being an expert is boring. While there’s always more to learn and new problems to solve, nothing is so thrilling as problems that make me fail. The moments when I struggled the most were the moments when I was scientist. I was at my best when comprehension was just out of reach.

Expertise is a funny thing. There’s no way to measure our progress towards obtaining it, yet we always feel far from our goal. When I did finally feel like an expert it hardly felt valuable enough to hold on to. I only learned afterward that expertise is not a destination but a vehicle. It’s the golden ring that makes us jump higher and reach further. In the end, it’s just a ring.

I can’t blame that little boy though. How could he know that he was already a scientist?

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  1. Sorry world. I’m an American. We use logical measurement standards like the appendage of a long dead ordinary human from the Roman empire.  ↩

  2. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based chemistry, not an aisle in Whole Foods.  ↩

The Three Things #14

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

The Generational Podcast – Curiosity and Analytical Thinking with Dr. Drang

Michael on Analytical Thinking: I’m an unabashed fan of Gabe Weatherhead’s Generational podcast (and his site Macdrifter for that matter… and Gabe himself, now that I think about it). Not only is Gabe a natural conversationalist, but the subject matter is always right up my alley. His format and his guest choices (with one notable exception) offers a perfect mixture of tech and thoughtfulness. The latest episode with Dr. Drang with Dr. Drang is no exception… actually scratch that, it is an exception… it’s even better than usual. While some of you may not be into the geekier parts about scripting, their earlier conversation surrounding the relationship and differences between curiosity and analytical thinking is well worth your time.

Newtown Conspiracy Theories

Howie on Thinking Globally: What a bizarre article, but it highlights how easy it is to be micro- vs macro-focused. The world is big: Nearly seven billion people and counting. It is way too easy to look at a You Tube video and see 25 million views and say wow! Or, as this article shows, three million crazies tuning in to TV or radio and think, “How can so many listen or view?”

That is easy when you compare with 300 mil people in the United States, but we are global now. There are probably three billion people- or more – with Internet access. YouTube has almost a billion unique viewers. Then things are in perspective and you see how little these numbers actually are. Sometimes it makes you sad because you realize Justin Bieber has fewer fans than you think he should. And in the case of this article you are happy knowing that less than a percent of people are truly crazy. Yes, still too many. But not so many you start spying on your neighbors.

11/22/63

Gini on Fiction: It won’t come as a surprise to you that I love fiction. Not only does it transport you into a world that lets your imagination run wild, it helps your creative thinking (and writing) skills immensely. I read a ton of fiction – to the tune of a book a week. But it took me my entire holiday break to read 11/22/63, Stephen King’s masterful story about going back in time to change the outcome of Kennedy’s assassination. I am not a Stephen King fan, but I loved this book. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves history, loves storytelling, and loves a good twist on facts.

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Doing More Of What You’re Meant To Do

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done.

Today’s contribution comes from Myke Hurley of the 70Decibels podcasting network. Hurley is a friend and a hero. I admire the hell out of the work and the man. Now right about now you’re probably wondering, “um… where’s the post?” Fair question. You see, initially when I asked Myke to contribute to the series, he said no. My first instinct was that he was being a jerk (I kid because I love), but once he explained his reasoning for turning me down, we had to go about things a little differently.

You see, Myke’s big thing is making great audio content and, well, writing a post for me is not going to help him get any better at doing that. Myke has this crazy idea that the best way for him to improve at creating great audio content is to, well, attempt to create great audio content. So that’s exactly what we attempted to do. To hear Myke’s thoughts on the subject of actually getting big things done by doing more of the thing you’re looking to do, you’re going to have to take a chance on one of my “things,” the Mike Techniques newsletter and the complementary podcast. The good news is that it’s free and you can subscribe to get ahold of the podcast information here.

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Take A MakeCation

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Bryan Clark, one of the creators of Threadnote, a note-taking app for the iPhone. I first got to know Bryan when he reached out to ask if I’d try the app out. I was instantly impressed by the personal touches in the pitch as well as the app itself. After getting to know him better, I’m persistently impressed by what he’s working on and what he has already created.

This past March, I was stuck.

For the better part of a year, I’d been working on my first iPhone app, Threadnote. It was nearly done – my buddy Ryan and I had gone through weeks of beta testing and a few minor redesigns, and we thought we were very, very close to being finished. However: as anyone who’s shipped a product will tell you, the last 5% of a project will take far, far longer to complete than the first 5%.

The last steps of turning our project into a product felt pretty grueling: fix the big bugs, stop writing code and start preparing your marketing materials, nudge pixels, and go through the hoops of getting your app in the App Store. This is work that requires a lot of uninterrupted time, and that’s not always easy to find.

When you’re stuck on a project, there’s only one way out: push through it. I was finishing up a year-long project at work, so I put in for two weeks of time off. Normally I’d relax, but this wasn’t a vacation: I wanted to finish the tough bits and ship the app. As cheesy as the name is, I called it my “MakeCation”.

I woke up at the usual time, headed to a cafe, and worked on our app as if it were a full-time job. I only needed three things: Wi-Fi, Xcode, and OmniFocus. Those ten days led to an app that was nearly done, and a few weeks later, Ryan and I launched our app.

We’re often told to “just ship it”; there’s a notion that quality can be built in later. With an app, though, you only get one launch day.

For us, the MakeCation was a way to refine the product without delaying our launch. It’s not that we launched the app earlier; it’s that we launched the app better.

The extra time led to some great things. The focused time allowed me to fill holes in the app that I hadn’t seen before, and add in big features like geo-tagging notes, clustering pins on the map, refining animations, adding search to every list, and the ability to share notes to other apps. Threadnote became a far better app as a result.

If you’ve got a project that you want to get out there, and you’re fortunate enough to have a job that allows it, take a bit of time off and get your project out there. Michael’s doing exactly that with his project, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

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The Three Things #9

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Fish: a tap essay

Michael on Loving Something on the Internet: Many of us shared a common and awkward moment this week. While stuffing our faces full of stuffing, we were forced to go around the table and tell our family what we were thankful for. Of all the things that were likely to come out of our mouths, something we love on the Internet probably wasn’t it. I mean if, while surrounded by my family, I were to declare my undying gratitude for Radiolab, Back to Work or even friends such as Gini or Howie, my four-year-old might take it personally. Yet, moments after this unfortunate holiday ritual, the conversation picked up and chances are that you did talk about something you love on the Internet (or at least it’s a certainty I did). It’s also probable someone else at the table turned you on to something they love on web.

Because none of you invited me to Thanksgiving (not that I’m angry), I thought I’d share something that I love on the Internet: Robin Sloan’s app Fish. Fish is an app-based manifesto that (quite fittingly) encourages you to recognize the difference between the things you like and the things you love on the Internet. Not only is it great, but having a better understanding of that seemingly subtle difference between what I like and what I love is something I’m very thankful for. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.

Consumers Punish Brands

Howie on Brands Using Social Media: Social media has become complete anarchy. Every brand wants to talk with you on social media….RIGHT NOW! Yet we spend most of our time interacting with our friends and family. So few people consumer brand’s social network engage. And their networks tend to be just a fraction of total customers. Yet if you aren’t there to respond, take complaints, give stuff away, people have their pitchforks out and are ready to light you on fire. Your mistakes get amplified. Your triumphs often barely mentioned. And yes, if you intrude, they will hate you.

The Branding of Black Friday

Gini on Crazy Shoppers: More than a century ago, Black Friday referred to the day the stock market crashed. But today we know it as the day after Thanksgiving. The busiest shopping day of the year. The day people camp out for hours, waiting in line to be the first inside to grab deals. But how did it come to be? This Bloomberg article explores the evolution of the name and gives credit of its branding to Philadelphia cops.

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The Three Things #8

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web – The Oatmeal

Michael on Creating for the Web: Non-traditional schedules. Crippling self-doubt. Moments of uncaptured brilliance, lost forever. Being inspired by the suggestions and ideas of others to have more of your own. A wealth of people telling you the things you should do, or what they think you do poorly. These are just a few of the universal experiences shared by those of us who create for the web that were brilliantly and hilariously captured by Matthew Inman. If you’ve never heard of Inman, aka The Oatmeal… you’re welcome.

Fetish for Making things Ignores Real Work

Howie on Perception vs. Reality: I just blogged about the silly perception of gas prices and how saving five cents a gallon is a big deal to people, even though they really saved a dollar or two. In the U.S. we talk about jobs that make things. But as my two esteemed amigos buy expensive electronic tools and gizmos, I am shocked how little of that price is the actual making of the end product.

Hundreds Register for New Facebook Website

Gini on The Facebook: I can’t decide if this is real or fake. It’s a reprint of the article that ran in The Crimson when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook (then called The Facebook) at Harvard. It’s on the university website so I think the actual article is real, but the comments are the real gold. There are some from Zuck himself and some from the Winkelvoss twins, but the comments seem, well, uncharacteristic (based on my expert opinion from seeing a movie and reading articles).

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