This talk could well be up there as one of my favourite TED talk's. Maybe it's because I stumbled across it as I was half way through her excellent book 'The Philisophical Baby'. Anyway, it's great. Watch it.
The book looks at how babies experience the world through play and experimentation and as a result learn at incredible rates. Describing children as the research and development department of the human species she points out that, like artists, children are able to imagine how the world could be different.
With age comes focus, caused mainly by institutions such as school and the workplace. It's not that children are 'bad at paying attention' they're just bad at 'not paying attention'. They're bad at getting rid of all the interesting peripheral things that could tell them something and just focusing on the thing that's 'important'. I like the reverse butterfly analogy she uses whereby adults are the caterpillars and babies are the butterflies:
"Another way of thinking about it is instead of thinking of babies and children as being like defective grownups, we should think about them as being a different developmental stage of the same species, kind of like caterpillars and butterflies, except that they're actually the brilliant butterflies who are flitting around the garden and exploring, and we're the caterpillars who are inching along our narrow, grownup, adult path".
She also goes on to talk about the impact mediation and travel has on our attention, something I blogged about recently. All great stuff.
I went to see Woody Allen's new film 'Midnight in Paris' today and couldn't help smile when the main character Gil, who is fascinated by 1920s Paris, gets into a debate with Adriana about when was the best time to live.
Gil meets Adriana (a beautiful Parisian who is having an affair with Picasso) after travelling back in time to his favourite era. The conversation takes place when pair travel further back in time to the 1890s, which is Adriana's favourite period in history. Gil wants to return to the 1920s but she wants to stay in the 1890s forever because the era in which she belongs holds no excitement for her. Whilst they are there they bump into Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin and Edgar Degas who all believe that the golden age was the Renaissance and not the 1890s, the era in which they were living.
We all have a romantised vision of the past, a golden age that we long to return to for some rose tinted reason or other. We're great at ignoring the present and appreciating it for all its brilliance. Personally, I've never been like that, much to the disappointment of my friends as my enthusiasm for reminiscing falls short of theirs. I can be such a stick in the mud sometimes.
I've said it before. The greatest time to be alive is now. Teetering on the edge of tomorrow. I do forget sometimes, but then brilliant people share brilliant things using brilliant technologies and I get incredibly excited about the here and now again.
So. If like me you get excited by current thinking around the intersection of the real and digital world then you may just love the work of former MIT student John Kestner (thanks to the lovely Tom Uglow for bringing him to my attention).
Here are a few interesting things he has done. Please do check out the rest.
"Tableau acts as a bridge between users of physical and digital media, taking the best parts of both. It's a nightstand that quietly drops photos it sees on its Twitter feed into its drawer, for the owner to discover. Images of things placed in the drawer are posted to its account as well".
"The Proverbial Wallet gives us that financial sense at the point of purchase by un-abstracting virtual assets. Tactile feedback reflecting our personal balances and transactions helps us develop a subconscious financial sense that guides responsible decisions. In addition to providing a visceral connection to our virtual money, tactile output keeps personal information private and ambient".
You are all awesome. Totally awesome. Just saying. Anyway...
I'm very proud to be part of the Child's i Foundation family, an amazing charity attempting to bring real change in Africa. I don't ask for much so give me a minute of your time and a quick click and you can all get back to what whatever it was you were up to before I so rudely interupted.
Help us win £100,000 to get abandoned children in Uganda off the street and into families. Vote for Lucy Buck on Facebook. Go on. It'll take 30 seconds to change so many lives.
Children should grow up in families, not institutions. The Grahame Maher award will allow this new charity to start a foster care pilot scheme, to recruit and retrain foster families and provide a home for homeless children giving them the start to life they need. Go on. Vote for Lucy Buck now.
"I think there are periods that, when you’re in them, seem desperately unfruitful, and you think, “Why am I doing this? I’m completely useless, and I’ve lost it all.” Then an idea finally strikes you, and you suddenly realise that you’ve been working on it for quite a long time but you weren’t aware of it. You’ve assembled all of the mental and physical tools you need to handle it in what seemed like a fallow period".
It reminded me of some writing I did during my own recent creative pause about switching off and letting our unconscious memory do the work.
Switching off to get results:
The ‘creative pause’ is a deliberate self-imposed interruption of your consciousness flow of thoughts as you attempt to solve a problem or come up with creative solutions. In other words, it’s taking a break, walking away from what you are doing, then daydreaming a little bit. It may sound counter productive when you are facing deadlines but it’s a proven way of producing insights when it appears that your brain has given up on you. By walking away from the problem you are giving the non-conscious resources in your brain permission to make the connections that your conscious resources are struggling to make.
I’m yet to meet a person who hasn’t hit a creative wall at some point in their working lives. This creative crash usually comes as a result of over thinking the problem. You’ve gathered all your resources, you’ve started making connections, but you are failing to come up with the final answer. After countless hours working the problem over in your head the ‘a-ha’ moment you desperately seek seems further away than when you started. Battling through is not the answer yet it is how most people attack the problem. You can’t ‘walk off’ a blister so why try. Taking a pause, whether it is for 30 minutes, 30 seconds or even 30 days, will help quiet the noise in your brain allowing the answers to rise up.
The creative pause is one of the more tricky elements of the creative process for people to come to terms with because the results it produces are difficult to account for. But think about it for a moment. How many times have you heard people say ‘The idea came from nowhere’ or ‘I was in the shower’ or ‘I was doing the dishes and it struck me’ or ‘I was in the car on the way to work’. For Archimedes his famous eureka moment happened whilst taking a bath. Newton was hanging out in an orchard when the penny dropped in the form of an apple. These epiphanies happening away from the actual process of problem solving owe a lot to the size of our subconscious brain power compared to that of our conscious brain power.
The science bit: how the creative pause works: When we solve problems we not only use different sides of our brain, we are also using different bits of memory: our ‘working memory’ and our ‘unconscious memory’. Because we are more familiar with our working memory we tend to give it more credit for problem solving than our ‘unconscious memory’. Let me explain how they differ.
Our ‘working memory’ is used to solve simple mathematical problems like simple addition, multiplication and conversions: calculating the cost in dollars of a £5 meal (if the dollar is $1.60 to the pound) is something our ‘working memory’ can cope with without having to resort to using fingers, a paper and pen or calculator. Change the cost of that meal to £5.37 and all of a sudden the ‘working memory’ is beginning to struggle. In fact, for most people it has probably fallen over.
Your ‘unconscious memory’ has an incredible ability to call upon stored information to help us complete challenges way beyond the capabilities of the ‘working memory’.
For one moment I want you to imagine that you are Lionel Messi, the slightly short but rather brilliant Barcelona and Argentina center forward. You're about to take a free-kick, which is 30 meters away from the goal. The ball is placed 11 meters to the left of the center of the goal. In front of you stands a wall of players situated to mandatory 10 meters from the ball.
The average height of the 5 players in the wall is 6 feet tall. Because of their positioning your view of the goal is totally obstructed. You want to kick the ball in to the top right corner of the goal, as far away from the goalkeeper as possible.
To compensate for his positioning slightly left of center the keeper has positioned his wall to cover the right side of the goal. To have and hope of hitting your target you must make the ball curve around the wall and come back in before the ball travels a distance further than the goal.
As well as curving the ball you must also apply enough power to make the ball rise and then dip just at the right point so that when it hits its desire target it enters between the posts no more than 2 inches from the top post and 2 inches from the right post.
To achieve all of this you must hit the ball with a specific part of your foot, with your foot at a certain angle and with an exact amount of pressure. Easy. Right? Wrong.
It’s the kind of goal Messi scores on a regular basis using his unconscious memory to make the exact calculations for him. Just walking requires your basal ganglia to make a multitude of calculations every second to coordinate all the muscle groups required to create the actions required.
Throughout our entire working day we continually put faith in our ‘unconscious memory’ to make the kind of incredible calculations our ‘working memory’ could never solve. Yet somehow when we have a big problem we insist on piling the pressure on a part of our brain already buckling at the knees. Kicking a donkey harder will not win you the Grand National, mounting a thoroughbred might.
It's got to be, hasn't it? Glad Theo did this because I was never going to get my lazy ass off the couch to make one - no matter how much I wanted to see a wind-powered Strandbeest stride proudly across the beach in Rhyl. We all did, didn't we?
I can't even begin to imagine how long it took to build one of these. One thing I can almost be sure of though is that from the minute the idea jumped into his head right through to the moment his creature first walked on the beach there will have been numerous occasions when he considered packing it all in. He will have questioned himself as to why the hell he was doing this. He will have wondered if anyone really cared. He will no doubt have thought about putting it off for another day then weighed up the idea of turning on the TV to see what was happening on the Jeremy Kyle show instead.
There's this theory in fashion that once you spot something three times in quick succession then it's officially 'a trend'. There's also that thing that once you start thinking about something more than usual you simply notice it more. Either way, I agree with Matt, conversation around storytelling seems to be everywhere at the moment.
I love this from Charlie Kaufman in The Guardian on why he wrote 'Being John Malkovich'. A great example of the combinatoral nature of the creative process:
"I wrote Being John Malkovich while I was waiting for hiring season. My idea was that I would write a script and use it to get work. I had this idea that someone finds a portal into someone's head, and I had another idea that somebody has a story about someone having an affair with a co-worker. And neither one was going anywhere, so I just decided to combine them".
But what I really like about the article is this great anecdote about running. It's goes back to what Ira Glass has to say in 'Part 1' of this post.
"I'll tell you this little story. There's something inherently cinematic about it. I run in my neighbourhood, and one day I ran past this guy running in the other direction: an older guy, a big hulky guy. He was struggling, huffing and puffing. I was going down a slight hill and he was coming up. So he passes me and he says: "Well, sure, it's all downhill that way." I loved that joke. We made a connection. So I had it in my head that this is a cool guy, and he's my friend now.
A few weeks later, I'm passing him again, and I'm thinking: "There's the guy that's cool." As we pass each other, he says: "Well, sure, it's all downhill that way." So I think: "Oh, OK. He's got a repertoire. I'm not that special. He's probably said it to other people, maybe he doesn't remember me ... but OK." I laughed, but this time my laugh was a little forced.
Then I pass him another time, and he says it again. And this time he's going downhill and I'm going uphill, so it doesn't even make sense. And I started to feel pain about this, because I'm embarrassed for him and I think maybe there's something wrong with him. And then it just keeps happening. I probably heard it seven or eight more times. I started to avoid him.
I like the idea that the story changes over time even though nothing has changed on the outside. What's changed is all in my head and has to do with a realisation on my character's part. And the story can only be told in a particular form. It can't be told in a painting. The point is: it's very important that what you do is specific to the medium in which you're doing it, and that you utilise what is specific about that medium to do the work. And if you can't think about why it should be done this way, then it doesn't need to be done".
It has the first building block, the sequence of actions - I went running and met this man and he told a joke and I met him again and he told the same joke. That's followed by a moment of reflection - he says this to everyone and it kinda makes me feel uncomfortable. Then the big point - It's very important that what you do is specific to the medium in which you're doing it.
A very simple story, built with basic building blocks creating something wonderful in a few paragraphs.
There are few better storytellers in the world of radio than This American Life's colossal host Ira Glass. If you're not familiar with This American Life then I suggest you subscribe to the podcast and feed on its wonderful archive of amazing stories.
So as a huge fan of the man, and the show, I was delighted to stumble across this great interview in which he discusses his craft in great detail. some great advice in there for anyone in the business of telling stories regardless of the medium or platform the story is made for.
"OK. So you have the building block which is the actual sequence of actions, the anecdote part of it. This thing happened and then this thing and then this thing. That's one building block. And the other big building block, your other tool, is that you have a moment of reflection. And by that I mean at some point somebody's got to say here's why the hell you're listening to this story. Like here's the point of this story. Here's the bigger something that we're driving at. Here's why I'm wasting your time with all this".
"You have to be really a killer about getting rid of the boring parts and going right to the parts that get into your heart. You just have to be ruthless if anything is going to be good. Things that are really good are good because people are being really, really tough".
"And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short, you know, and some of us can admit that to ourselves and some of us are a little less able to admit that to ourselves".
"And so we've all seen really bad videos done by people who talk like people on TV. Just like when I was first on the radio I just tried to talk like somebody on the radio. And of course everything is going to be more compelling, it's just like one of the laws of broadcasting, everything will be more compelling the more you just talk like a human being and just talk like yourself".