Filed under 'Thoughts'
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.
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.
The first post – after a break – is always the hardest. The rhythm of writing, interrupted, is hard to re-ignite. A day becomes a week; a week becomes a month; and soon the months are stretching out ahead of you….
Before you know it the habit has been broken and it becomes easier to bury the thought (“I need to write!”) at the back of your mind, suffocating it hurriedly whenever it surfaces for air. Silence is easy, and soon it becomes second nature.
Life often interrupts.
Due to unforeseen circumstances – life, interrupting – I’m three months behind. June, July and August. Gone.
This post, short as it is, has been a struggle to write. It’s hard to start again, but it’s necessary. Take it one step at a time.
In May I hoped to have a PDF of ‘Start!’ for beyond tellerrand. I didn’t. I promised too much and delivered too little. I broke a golden rule that I always stress to my students: under-promise and over-deliver. When you make promises you can’t keep, you deliver on one promise and one alone: added stress.
I’m back in the saddle, I’m working on ‘Start!’ again, but I’m not making promises. I’m proud of the book and it will be published soon. I’m looking forward to sharing it and I’m hard at work on it.
Much has been made of Apple’s ability to innovate, compete – and even matter – in an era characterised, inevitably, by a CEO other than Steve Jobs at the helm.
Every other week it seems we hear another story about how the company has lost its way, is drifting or – worse – is facing impending collapse due to a lack of innovation.
As an Apple shareholder I have a number of concerns about the product decisions the company is making (more on that, in due course), but I have no doubt about the company’s ability to innovate, compete and matter.
Of course, Apple – under Tim Cook’s guidance – has different priorities. Anyone who’s worked in a company of any reasonable size will understand that when the leadership changes, the priorities change and the direction of travel alters.
Perhaps the problem with Apple – one of the world’s largest companies – lies in the fact that the focus of the world is on the bottom line (of profit), when it should be on the bottom line (full stop).
If there’s one thing Tim Cook’s era – so far – has underlined, it’s that Apple has a responsibility beyond the bottom line in pure cash terms; rather the company has a responsibility, as one of the world’s largest companies, to set an example for others.
Cook is, unquestionably, leading by example here, with Apple’s focus on environmental and other, non-product, concerns.
Sustainability is hardly eye-catching when your focus is solely on profit and loss, and yet – if you put your mind to it – sustainability might just be all about profit and loss.
Apple’s latest environmental report provides detailed information about the company’s efforts to put the environment front and centre and, thanks to the company’s scale, this effort is more than paying off.
As Tech Insider put it:
Apple found $40 million in gold from used phones and computers last year.
When the average smartphone uses fewer than 30 milligrams of gold, mostly in circuit boards and other internal components, recouping tonnes of gold is no small order. This gold could end up in landfill, carelessly discarded, but when a company the size of Apple addresses the issue – and innovates around it – it becomes a sizeable source of revenue.
Of course there are other notable by-products of this approach, namely a company acting as a beacon signalling the importance of environmental responsibility to others.
This focus also helps to tell an important story, that – when a product has reached the end of its useful life – that useful life is, in fact, only beginning. That a company of Apple’s scale is focusing on telling this story is admirable.
Yes, there might be issues with some of the product decisions the company is making, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t innovating elsewhere and telling a captivating story in the process.
Countering Donald Trump’s assertion: “Always be around unsuccessful people, because everyone will respect you.” Austin Kleon states: “Stand next to the talent.” As Kleon puts it:
You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with.
It might be difficult, at first, but the best way to grow is to surround yourself with talented people. As I put it to my students: “Talent in, talent out.” The best way to grow, regardless of your discipline, is to surround yourself with others that are talented – preferably more talented – than you are.
Aligning with other talented people encourages you to develop your practice, rise to the challenge and improve.
Of course this isn’t easy – it’s much easier to enjoy the limelight around others you deem less talented – but when you’re moving in the shadows there’s little incentive to move towards the light.
The best way to grow? Find other that are brighter than you. Work with them. Learn from them. When you do so, you’ll find your talent – and, by extension, your success – grows as a result.
I’ve always enjoyed music and, as the owner of an independent record label – in the days when CDs were one of the primary means of distribution – I’ve purchased a great deal of music in my time. My music collection is, as a happy by-product, extensive.
As the world of music moved on, from one characterised by ownership to one characterised by borrowing or ‘renting’, I regretted the evolution from physical to digital. I missed the days when music was given meaning by the quest to own a particular release, pinpointed, hunted down carefully and – ultimately – owned.
Adrian Shaughnessy’s Music by the Numbers, unsurprisingly, resonated with me and, if you’re involved in the world of music, it’s well worth a read. (Even if you’re not musically inclined, it has lessons to offer.)
Shaughnessy recalls a time when his, “Inability to buy [certain records] turned them into objects of mythic unattainability – jewels that could only be enjoyed by reading about them.”
That memory echoed my own, when I would yearn for certain releases, only available physically, often far from reach.
As Shaughnessy puts it:
I have floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with CDs.
But today these trophies of my musical infatuation lie untouched, forming a sort of silent mausoleum to my long-standing obsession with music of all kinds. And as they slowly acquire the dull patina of neglect, my musical needs are served by the new online streaming services that offer a cosmos of music in exchange for the physical expenditure of a few keystrokes, and a small monthly fee.
In that accessibility, available at a few keystrokes – the promise of a near infinite supply of… almost everything – something is lost, however. The ‘collection’ is replaced by the ‘everything’, and in the ‘everything’, we find ourselves owning ‘nothing’.
As we move towards a digital culture, where everything is within our digital grasp, infinitely reproducible, we are in danger of losing what attracted us in the first place, namely, the unattainable.
Algorithmic recommendations surprise us – pleasantly, of course – but an algorithm is no substitute for a friend’s heartfelt assertion: “You must get this!”
What can we learn from this?
We might have moved from a world of atoms to bits (as Nicholas Negroponte predicted in his excellent, and still relevant, book Being Digital), but – in that journey – we’ve lost something important. As humans we yearn to own objects, objects that we can identify with, as such it’s no surprise to see the rise of physical ownership re-asserting itself.
We might be living in an increasingly digital world, but – contrary to popular opinion – the analogue age hasn’t passed. The yearn to hold something in your hands, something physical, remains.
Your products might be digital, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider the tangible when you create your touchpoints. Ask yourself: What physical counterparts might you offer that align with your digital catalogue? Make these. Share these. Your audience will thank you for it.
I woke this morning to witness the terrible events unfolding in Belgium… and my heart sank. I have many, many friends and colleagues living in Belgium and they are all in my thoughts tonight.
Stay true to your values, stay strong and stay safe.