From the Journal
We live increasingly in a world of streams.
Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media seduce us into a river-like model that sweeps us along, carried away on the current of conversations (if, that is, our thoughts even spark conversations).
The stream is relentless. You commit your ideas to it and hope, against hope, that they might find traction somewhere… anywhere.
To be a part of this stream is to be a part of something (or so we’re told). A short update here, a brief link to something there… feed the stream.
These fragments of thought are all too easily imparted, but when we live in the stream – in reality a torrent, that can easily sweep anything of lasting value away – we’re in danger of committing our thought to a world that often seems only interested in the superficial.
I’m beginning to question the need to be immersed in this river.
The stream is seductive, of course. It’s fuelled by a fear of missing out. We’re led to believe that turning our backs on the wealth of social media platforms that vie for our attention will leave us isolated, disconnected from the masses immersed in the rapids that are hurriedly moving forth.
However – if we’re not careful – we can get swept along by the stream and find our thinking lost all too quickly in a relentless torrent of fragments. Shallow shortform thoughts are easily swept away.
This idea – of shallow thought, versus deep thought – is something I’ve been thinking about a great deal of late (thanks, in no small part, to a decision I made on 1 January, 2017 to forego the shallows of social media streams – Twitter, in particular – in favour of spending more time reading, thinking and aiming to share thoughts that were more fully thought through).
Deep thought – by its nature much harder to mine – is where I believe the real value lies.
Over the holiday period I read and re-read Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and, whilst I might not agree with the entirety of Newport’s thinking, the book did force me to question the sheer quantity of time I was committing to what you might term ‘shallow outputs’.
As an educator, one of my roles is to signpost interesting thinking and, for the last year, I invested a great deal of time sharing links to interesting articles and other discoveries via Twitter. I hoped that by doing so I might point my students, and others, in interesting directions.
On balance, however, I think the effort I expended on this was, for the most part, sadly wasted. Looking back I think the time I expended in the stream would have been better spent elsewhere.
This line – from a recent post by Newport – shouted at me from the screen:
Deep, audacious results are the only currency that matters.
It might seem obvious – it is to me, now – but deep, audacious results (the result of deep, audacious thoughts) are less likely to emerge in the fragmentary streams we currently find ourselves immersed in. We need to focus on life beyond the stream.
To find the ideas that matter – the ideas that really last – it might be an idea to step out of the stream altogether.
If we do that, I believe, we might share ideas of value to an audience that is crying out for more – much more – than 140 character status updates.
If the web’s your forté I’d urge you to take a look at Pixel Pioneers, a series of affordable events that brings world class advice from designers and developers right to your doorstep.
Courtesy of Oliver Lindberg – until recently the editor of net magazine (and, in the interests of full disclosure, a good friend of mine) – Pixel Pioneers 100% echoes my values: it’s priced incredibly reasonably; it has a line up that features a balanced mix of speakers; and it’s touring the UK, so travel expenses should be less of an issue.
Pixel Pioneers’ inaugural event will take place in the lovely city of Bristol on 22 June, 2017. It’s just £99 for an early bird ticket, so it’s well within reach of all: snap a ticket up quick!
Even better – from my perspective – Pixel Pioneers is coming to Belfast on 16 November, 2017.
I’m very much looking forward to attending a conference in Belfast once again, having run Break and contributed heavily to Build. It feels long overdue to welcome everyone to our city once again (this time without the stress of running a conference!).
Roll on November!
I’m very much looking forward to joining a wonderful line up of speakers at DIBI, Edinburgh in March, 2017. I’m honoured to be part of a schedule that includes a host of world class speakers, including: Joshua Davis (always an inspiration), and a wide range of inspiring speakers from Slack, Clearleft and Adobe Typekit, amongst others.
I’ll be delivering the closing keynote on the first day and (I hope!) priming the audience for an evening of heartfelt discussion.
My talk, ‘A Calculated Leap of Faith’, will touch on some of the ideas I covered in my first Tiny Book, ‘Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion’, and will explore the pieces you need to put in place to turn your ideas into a reality.
If you’ve not picked up a ticket – and you’ll be in the vicinity of Edinburgh in March – I’d encourage you to get a ticket before they disappear. I very much hope to see you there.
If you’ve ever wanted to speak at a conference, I’d strongly recommend reading Des Traynor’s thoughts on How to Get Started at Conference Speaking. It’s to the point and filled with useful advice that’s well worth heeding.
Traynor, one of the co-founders of Intercom, is a seasoned speaker and his advice, hard won in the trenches, is worth taking on board. One idea that caught my eye is the idea that you can, “Build your own speaking resume without having a stage.” As Traynor puts it the web is a powerful – off stage – medium for practising your on stage thoughts:
As examples, Ryan Singer and Benedict Evans have given great talks to their laptops and published these online. So when people tell me they can’t find their, “first speaking event,” I tell them it’s right in front of them.
This is great advice (and something I’d overlooked before).
I’m a firm believer in the power of conference speaking to shape your thinking, but getting started can be a challenge. If you’re considering embarking on the road to a keynote, I’m sure you’ll appreciate Traynor’s thoughts.
Taking time off from time to time is, I think, important (if often overlooked). It’s hard to recharge your intellectual batteries if you never retreat and regroup.
As the new year dawned I made a conscious decision to pause and set aside some time for reading, something I’ve enjoyed tremendously over the last few weeks.
I’ll be sharing some recommendations for required reading shortly – drawing from my recent reading retreat – but for now, it’s time to get started again and, from today, share some thoughts for a new year (albeit a little belatedly).
I’m looking forward to 2017, there’s lots to learn and I’m looking forward to learning it.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a week, but I’m delighted to have finally launched my first book: Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion. It’s been a long – very long – journey, but it’s a relief to have finally shipped.
Not before time!
I’ll be writing a longer, reflective post – sharing some of the lessons I learned on the journey – in due course, but for now… I’m looking forward to having a short break and catching up on some long-overdue reading.
If you’d like to buy the book I’d very much appreciate your support. It’s timed perfectly for a spot of holiday reading, and if you have an idea for a business you’d like to turn into a reality, it will help you achieve your goals.
MailChimp’s tools are incredibly easy to use and – equally importantly – their guides are a gift. If you’re embarking on an email marketing journey (which I am), I’d thoroughly recommend using MailChimp and availing of all the helpful advice they offer.
As they put it:
The Email Design Guide is filled with tips and advice to help you convey your message in style. Learn how to better use images, fonts, calls to action and more.
The guide takes you step-by-step through everything you need to know to design effective emails, ensuring your message is heard loud and clear.
I’m looking forward to hitting ‘Send’ on my launch email later today. If you’re not subscribed to the newsletter, sign up and you’ll get a special 48 hour discount when the book launches, saving you 1/3 off the price.
I’d like to thank MailChimp for ensuring the process of creating my launch emails was effortless and easy. Hats off to their team for all their hard work!
If you’re interested in improving your thinking, one way to do so is to read smart books recommended by smart people.
Bill Gates has shared a short list of five books for Holiday Reading in a short – less than three minute – video, complete with a few thoughts on why they’re worth your time.
On that note, I’m off to my local book store….
My father was a world class chess player and, as such, I never stood a chance playing against him. (It’s a measure of his single-minded dedication to the game that he found it profoundly difficult to allow anyone to win, even when playing his grandchildren.)
As a consequence – never winning and never having a chance of winning – my early passion for the game evaporated over time. I just lacked the strength required to win, and playing against an international standard player didn’t help.
Discovering Really Bad Chess reignited my love of the game. An iOS app, developed by Zach Gage (@helvetica on Twitter), it turns the game upside down, breaking all the rules in the process. I discovered it via John Gruber via Jason Snell, who both wrote glowing reviews. As Snell puts it:
[The game] puts a clever spin on chess by seeding the board with a totally random collection of pieces.
Whilst the allocation of pieces seems arbitrary – “Try 8 Knights, 4 Bishops, and 3 pawns… why not?” – it is in fact heavily weighted. Snell summarises one of its innovations nicely:
Ranked mode lets you play increasingly difficult boards – you start with a huge power advantage over your computer opponent, and the advantage slowly shifts until you’re trying to defend while underpowered.
This fundamental reimagining of the game completely alters its dynamic and I’ve been enjoying playing it as a result. As its creator, Gage states:
Chess is one of those games I always wished I enjoyed, but its commitment to beauty, elegance, and perfect balance always turned me away. Really Bad Chess removes these boring restrictions and flips chess on its head.
The game itself offers lessons we can learn from and apply in a wider context. The history of chess stretches back thousands of years – it’s rules are set in stone – and yet, here’s a version of the game that questions those rules, toying with them to create something similar, but entirely new.
Just because something exists it doesn’t mean you can’t rethink it.
Ask yourself, what might you reimagine? There’s plenty of room in the world for more than one execution of an idea. If you make an idea your own, who knows what you might achieve.
Once a year the team at Campaign Monitor put together a list of the Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns. It’s always a helpful reference, and if you’re thinking of running an email campaign, it’s worth exploring.
As they put it:
We’ve curated a selection of the most inspiring and effective email marketing campaigns sent in 2016.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your email marketing campaign – and email remains a great way to connect with your customers, so you should be – take a look. They’ve gathered together some very lovely work.
I try to focus my attention at Tiny Books on the intersection of design and business. Occasionally, however, my mind strays… and I hope my occasional foray into the worlds of typography and music don’t prove too distracting. I’m me and these are my thoughts. (Most of them.)
I discovered Cory Arcangel’s ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’ yesterday (heaven knows how… hyperlinks, I imagine). It’s utterly wonderful. I’ve been using it as an aural wallpaper and it’s a perfect backdrop for getting work done.
Arcangel describes himself as a post-conceptual artist (make of that what you will) and I’ve always found his works consistently interesting and challenging. He studied at Oberlin Conservatory for Music and this pedigree suffuses ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’.
I’ve always enjoyed compositions for piano – Debussy, in particular – but Arcangel’s two dozen compositions hit a sweet spot, marrying the crisp cadence of the electric piano to musical motifs drawn from the era of house music.
You don’t have to have lived through the golden era of house music – I have warm memories – to appreciate Arcangel’s music. These motifs have carved their way into the fabric of contemporary culture. As he puts it:
The sounds on certain machines can take on a life of their own. They’ve been used by so many people that they have this whole history when you hear them. You don’t hear a tinny, shitty sound; you hear all the previous songs you have loved.
I couldn’t summarise it better. What’s so enjoyable about ‘24 Dances for the Electric Piano’ is the fact that it’s the essence of house, and pop, culture. Boiled down. Incredibly distilled versions of versions.
I was surprised to discover, in an article at Vulture, that – contrary to what you might think when you’re listening – every composition is original. This only serves to underline the remarkable nature of the project.
Arcangel has captured the semi-anonymous, underground language of turn of the millennium club culture and abstracted it into the distinctive, machine language of the here and now. The album’s liner notes, summarise this ‘ghost in the machine’ spirit perfectly: “As performed by Musical Instrument Digital Interface Controlled Korg Emixr Music Workstation.”
Human. Computer. Soul.
It’s been a long journey, but I’m excited to – finally! – announce that the first of my Tiny Books, Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion, will go on sale on Tuesday.
If you’ve ever dreamed of running a business, and imagined a future where your business aligns with your passions, I think you’ll find it useful.
The content of the book – and its accompanying screencasts, slide decks and worksheets – will help you get started so that you can turn your idea into a reality, building a profitable business. As Lee Munroe, one of my successful Masters graduates, puts it:
Think of it as a Masters education without the Masters price tag.
Helping others realise their dreams is incredibly important to me, so I’ve priced everything very affordably. I believe education should be within reach of everyone, and through Tiny Books I’m sharing my tried and tested teaching tools with as wide an audience as possible.
Even better, if you sign up for the Tiny Books Newsletter you’ll get a special 48 hour discount when the book launches, saving you 1/3 off the price. Win, win!
I can’t wait to share what I’ve been working on and I’m very much looking forward to reaching lift off on Tuesday.