Friction and process

Picasso observed that, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Inspiration has to find you in the midst of your practice.

Let’s say that I enjoy painting. When I find myself painting, I usually find myself happy. I love the feeling of setting down my brush after having worked out some little problem in a painting. And so, I decide I’m going to paint regularly.

Or let’s say I enjoy sailing. I love the adventure, or the wind in my face. And so, I decide I’m going to sail regularly.

Or, running, writing, movement, music … your choice.

But without concrete plans, and clear processes, I will never actually do the practice. Friction, followed closely by excuses, will sap my momentum. If I’m to be a runner, my shoes, clothes, music or whatever I need— Those things must be in place. For any practice there are some things which you will feel must be in place.

The processes that I’m imagining, which remove friction and enable my practice, have a steady state. For my process, what does “done” look like? It looks like me sailing so often I can’t even remember not sailing all the time. Or it looks like me running and jumping and playing so often that my body is a comfortable place for my mind.

Matthew Frederick, the author of 101 Things I learned in Architecture School, makes this point:

True style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely—even accidentally—out of a holistic process.

This point about a holistic process—the idea that mastery isn’t some higgledy-piggledy mish-mash of throwing things together—is an idea I’ve held dearly for a long time. Every single time that I’ve decided to take a process, and repeat it in search of understanding, the learning and personal growth has paid off beyond my wildest dreams.

I’m a process process process person. The second time I have to do something, I’m trying to figure out how to either never have to do that again, or how to automate it. (And failing those two, it goes into my admin day.) Random activity, powered by inspiration works to get one thing done. But inspiration doesn’t work in the long run, and it won’t carry me through my practice.

Instead, I want to know what can I intentionally do to set up my life, so that I later find myself simply being the sort of person who does my chosen practice? I want to eliminate every possible bit of friction that may sap my momentum.

There’s a phrase in cooking, mise en place, meaning to have everything in its proper place before starting. The classic example of failure in this regard is to be half-way through making something only to realize you’re missing an ingredient and having to throw away the food. Merlin Mann, who’s little known beyond knowledge workers, has done the most to improve processes for knowledge workers and creative people. I’m not sure if he’s ever said it explicitly, but a huge part of what he did was to elevate knowledge workers and creatives by cultivating a mise en place mindset.

And don’t confuse “process” or a “mise en place” mindset with goals. Forget goals. Focus on the process, and focus on eliminating friction.

To quote Seth Godin:

The specific outcome is not the primary driver of our practice. […] We can begin with this: If we failed, would it be worth the journey? Do you trust yourself enough to commit to engaging with a project regardless of the chances of success? The first step is to separate the process from the outcome. Not because we don’t care about the outcome. But because we do.

And I’ll give my last words to Vincent Thibault, author of one of my favorite books:

That is how we are still conditioned socially as adults: Do, achieve, produce results, instead of be, feel, enjoy the process. Quantitative over qualitative. We are obsessed by performance and “tangible” results. But that is one of the great teaching of Parkour and Art du Déplacement: That the path is just as enjoyable as the destination; That sometimes it is even more important, and that oftentimes it is the destination.

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Is it a process?

Not everything is a process, but much of what you do each day is a process. How much of what you do each day is a process, but you don’t realize it is? Because you’re wasting your life in that gap.

Two examples to illuminate my thinking, then you’re on your own:

Groceries. You know there’s a process for this. Get in car. Travel to store(s). Move through store in the usual pattern. Select things. Pay and leave. Travel home. Exit car. Move purchases into domicile and put them away.

Laundry. Move dirty clothing to the washing machine. Load machine with clothes and detergent. Start machine. Return later. Flip laundry to drier or to hang-dry. Return later. Fold or organize clean laundry. Return clothing to domicile storage.

Every detail of those processes will be different for each of us. You know your exact process very well, and you could tell me your process, just as I’ve done above. But these processes are actually closed loops which you are going to repeat a huge number of times. I could append, “Wear clothes. Repeat.” to the laundry process, and I could add, “Consume food. Repeat.” to the grocery process.

You know you can optimize things, but the entire process can be optimized—should be optimized. If it’s a process, you’re doing it by rote. (Yes, you can focus on what you’re doing and enjoy it. But you’re not doing anything creative.) So optimize the entire process. Is a car the optimal way to go get your groceries? Where do you keep the grocery list? How do things get put onto that list? Where do groceries etc. get stored in your domicile? How do you prepare and plan meals to use the groceries? Where do you store your dirty laundry? Where do you store “wear this again” clothing? How do you store and rotate seasonally changing clothes? How do you replace items that wear out? If it’s a process, you can optimize it and then you can spend less time on it.

Groceries and laundry are simply my examples. What other things do you do in your life that are processes which you haven’t considered at all? If you thought about them, and organized and optimized the process, how much time would it save you? Aren’t you always wishing you had more time? How much better would your mind work if it wasn’t trying to remember, and struggle through poorly-designed, (or worse, figured out on-the-fly each time,) processes?

What could you do with all that extra time?

Could you use that free time for things in your life that are not processes? Read a book… Spend a day relaxing on a beach… Have dinner with a friend…

To me, “life balance” is about how much time I spend on things which are processes versus things which are not processes.

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Anxiously panicking

A couple of weeks ago I started obliterating processes. I’ve often talked about how everything is a process, and I still believe that. However I’d reached a point where I simply had too many processes (I won’t bore you with unbelievable examples) and a couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough. I spent several days doing nothing but thinking about everything I was doing, and wanted to be doing but wasn’t “getting around to.”

We’re overwhelmed by it all: all the things we have on our plates, all the interruptions and messages and emails, all the things online and on social media, all the news and chaos of the world, all the things going on in our relationships.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/onebreath/

Some things I do can feel like a chore but when I was honest, they are actually things I enjoy doing. Furthermore, they pay off outsized benefits for the time they require. What then made them feel like chores? I think it was the anxiety of the other things I felt I should be doing—after all, I put those other things on a list or made a process so I could chip away at them in sane-sized chunks. I went through everything, and then started deleting things from that “everything else” space.

Is this simply me oscillating between no-planning, planning, no-planning, planning? Is this a 2/3-life (or, if I pretend I’ll live long, “mid-life”) crisis? Have I said a polite-but-clear “no” to some big things? Have I been having some anxiety-free days? YES, to all of those. I’m currently trying to be vigilant to notice the first thing I get anxious about—because I’m going to delete that next.

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Technology of societies

As I’ve written before, sometimes I find something that just makes me raise my eyebrows… and back away slowly… and, okay, lots more people should actually see this. Thus I present to you everything you never even thought to wonder about how the Athenians process-ified Democracy.

The Athenians had to keep those bodies flowing smoothly, then, and that was largely a matter of keeping track of who belonged where and when. They also had to maintain a smooth and dependable flow of the information generated by those bodies — the votes, the decrees, the endless speechifying. They had, in short, to do a lot of stuff that modern information technology would have helped them tremendously to do, and nonetheless they managed pretty well, with the materials at hand, to build the tools they needed to make their system work.

Those tools — the info tech of ancient Athenian democracy — are the subject of the following Notes. I present them now without further ado.

~ Julian Dibbell from, https://www.alamut.com/subj/artiface/deadMedia/agoraMuseum.html

I’m at a loss for words here. o_O

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What systems are in place?

Finish this sentence: I am the sort of person who…

Here’s a different way to look at it, one that we can broaden into an insight about adult decisions about where to work, where to live, who to hang out with. There are two parts:

Are the people this place attracts the sort of people I want to spend time with and become more like?

Is the system that is in place here one that pushes and cajoles and processes people to become more like the kind of person I’d like to be?

~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2023/12/on-choosing-a-college/

Not everything needs to be planned out, pre-visualized, processified, done-defined, and OODA looped. However, having mastered those things, it is massively empowering when things go sideways, off the rails, and get set back. Having mastered those things, I know I can always begin anew a slow upward spiral.

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Perspective with Jamie Holmes

Jamie Holmes joins Craig to discuss life’s admin tasks, her journey through holistic healing from melanoma, and insights into the world of circus arts and personal fitness showcasing her multifaceted life and philosophies.

I think it was three months from when I had my first, initial consult with my surgeon, and he said, “okay I can get you in. It’s going to be a bit harder because you’re doing both hips at once, but I can get you in within three months.” And that was horrid to me! I was like, “I have to live three more months like this!?” It wasn’t just that it hurt a little bit when I walked— I couldn’t move— I could not move— I was having weird panic attacks all the time, because if I dropped something and had to bend over, it was— I’m a bit of a tough cookie, but that? That broke me pretty hard.”

~ Jamie Holmes, 35:15

Not your average bears, Craig and Jamie begin in left field discussing ways of managing life’s “admin” tasks. Jamie professes integrating everything into her daily flow, rather than reserving them for a single day. Her approach, she explains, allows her to work at a high speed, avoiding the buildup of dreaded tasks. Her method emphasizes efficiency and the mental ease that comes from staying ahead of administrative duties, reflecting a deeper understanding of personal productivity and time management.

The conversation shifts into Jamie’s profound journey through holistic healing after a melanoma diagnosis. Rejecting traditional treatment paths, Jamie opts for a holistic approach, guided by her conviction in the body’s healing capabilities and her passion for health and fitness. This segment of the discussion not only highlights her resilience but also serves as an inspiring testament to the power of our minds and bodies.

Jamie also shares insights into the world of circus arts and her studio, The Circus Fix, illuminating the challenges and rewards of managing a fitness and arts studio. Her narrative encompasses the delicate balance of artistic passion with the pragmatism of business management, underscoring the significance of adaptability and understanding in leadership roles.

Takeaways

Efficiency in daily tasks—integrating administrative duties into everyday life can enhance productivity and reduce stress.

Holistic healing approaches—exploring non-traditional methods for dealing with serious health issues, such as melanoma, can lead to personal insights and unexpected journeys.

The importance of movement—engaging in physical activities, whether through circus arts or other forms of exercise, is vital for mental and physical health.

Adapting to individual needs—understanding and accommodating the unique ways people process and work can lead to better management and teamwork.

The value of outdoor activities—spending time in nature, particularly in activities like walking on the beach, can serve as a form of meditation and rejuvenation.

Facing life-changing decisions—confronting severe health challenges with courage and openness to unconventional treatments can inspire others.

The challenge of balancing—managing a small business, especially in the arts, requires juggling creative passion with the practicalities of administration and leadership.

The role of community—creating spaces for learning and growth, such as a circus studio, contributes to the well-being and development of both instructors and students.

Personal transformation through adversity—overcoming physical and mental hurdles can lead to profound personal growth and a deeper understanding of one’s capacities and resilience.

Resources

The Circus Fix — Jamie Holmes’ circus studio, offering classes in aerial arts and other circus disciplines.

https://jamieholmes.com — Jamie’s web site with all her professional details.

Carrots, Coffee, and Cancer — Jamie’s book recounting her approach to overcoming melanoma, emphasizing diet, lifestyle, and alternative treatments.

Instagram@jamie7holmes and @thecircusfixto

Surrounded by Idiots — by Thomas Erikson as briefly mentioned in this episode as a resource in relation to understanding team dynamics.

(Written with help from Chat-GPT.)

It never gets easier

Very early in my rediscovery of movement, someone said: What was once your workout, will one day be your warmup. It’s both motivating (simply do what you can, today, and the changes will come) and inspiring (it implies that the people far ahead, at one time, were here, where I am today). I can now see in hindsight that it is an expansive perspective: One will expand their capabilities as one expands one’s practice to bigger and better things.

Years later I realised that the answer to this question is: everything. There can be more articulation of the toes; rotation can be made more extreme; even that ineffable quality of artistry can be developed. It’s often thought that the greater your prowess, the easier your performance becomes. However, as I progressed upward through the ranks of the ballet world, I saw that this wasn’t the case.

~ Barbara Gail Montero from, https://aeon.co/essays/the-true-expert-does-not-perform-in-a-state-of-effortless-flow

Years into my rediscovery of movement, I realized it was truly a mastery practice. Something which can be done, forever, just for the process.

And just now, it’s occurred to me that this is also true: What was once my warmup, will always contain enough challenge to also be my workout.

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Using structure

I’m aware that I have a habit (or perhaps it’s a dysfunction depending on your perspective) of turning everything into a process. Before I even do something a first time I’m imagining the whatever-it-is as a checklist— imagining it as a process. I’ll be generous, and I’ll call that being detail-oriented and being a planner. I’m also processifying (my spell-checker balks) everything from both ends: The first step I imagine is: What does done look like? I’m building the process from the front (“gather materials,” let’s say) and from the back (“deposit check, dance jig”). In the middle I’ve a place holder: Magic happens.

I refine and sub-divide the stuff at the front. I refine and sub-divide the stuff at the back. I’m creating more and easier steps, and I’m trying to pull as much as I can out of that “magic happens” step in the middle. When I look honestly, I see this everywhere in my life. That ill-defined, magical, central step is the feature. The struggle there is real, and it’s not to be avoided. Once I’ve factored out—moved to before, or move to after, the magic, middle part—all the stuff I’m more or less certain of… what remains is tension, in that magic, middle part. When I do it just right, that tension makes the magic happen.

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Upwards

As the edges of human knowledge are advanced, the total amount one must learn to be able to then contribute to further advancement grows. If there’s a proverbial mountain of knowledge, it grows taller as each contributor adds. If you start from the beach (at birth), wander inland in your early years of not-guided-by-you learning, and eventually decide to scale the mountain… well, it really matters in what epoch you happened to be born. Or maybe it doesn’t?

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers-conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

~ Vannevar Bush from, As We May Think

Bush played a complex role in the history of the United States. (It’s better if you form your own opinion about him and his work.) His short essay from about 80 years ago is these days seen by technophiles as heralding our own, current Internet and information age. In particular, a lot is read into Bush’s description of a desk which behaves like our modern Internet, information systems, and data processing. That’s fine. It’s like reading 80-year-old science fiction that became science fact.

Much more interesting to me is the point that with just a bit of squinting, it looks like nothing has changed in 80 years. Everything about this—the mountain of information, the tools [eg, Bush’s imagined desk, our internet], the people feeling overloaded, the specialization—feels fractal.

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Creating something

I’m the obsessive type. I’m ordered and process driven to a fault, but not quite (or at least, only rarely) to the point where this affects my ability to function. I’m continuously thinking about things like can I carry something else if I’m going in a certain direction— which is fine when heading out to run errands with the car, but which can stop me in my tracks, and cause me to turn in circles in place, before moving from room to room. I’m also obsessive about doing things. I’m the guy you want physically setting up your complex computer systems and networks—physically arranging everything. I’m the guy who got really into roller skating, bicycling, skiing, Aikido, scratch-building radio-controlled gliders, sailing… there’s a much longer list.

I learned one lesson on my own over the years and many obsessions: Do or do not. I am unable to “spend less time” on an obsession. I have to lean into it, or let go of it. Many of my obsessions paid off either as income or simply being useful to my personal growth. Being able to assess when continuing an obsession is not going to do either of those things for me is a hard-won skill.

But there are some heuristics you can use to guess whether an obsession might be one that matters. For example, it’s more promising if you’re creating something, rather than just consuming something someone else creates. It’s more promising if something you’re interested in is difficult, especially if it’s more difficult for other people than it is for you. And the obsessions of talented people are more likely to be promising. When talented people become interested in random things, they’re not truly random.

But you can never be sure. In fact, here’s an interesting idea that’s also rather alarming if it’s true: it may be that to do great work, you also have to waste a lot of time.

~ Paul Graham from, http://paulgraham.com/genius.html

Graham’s point about creation is a second lesson about obsession. I agree, and I think an obsession’s being about creation is critical. I stumbled really near this lesson a few months ago when I wrote Being Genuine for Open + Curious where I wrote…

A great conversation is one where we (and our partners) feel the joy of creation, even if that’s while discussing a contentious topic. We have little chance of being creative if we know, or think we know, where things are headed.

Creation is critical. I need to imagine the world differently, and then try to go and create that new world.

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Priorities

Having priorities isn’t enough for me to end up sane. I’ve overcome the naive urge to line up everything into a single-file queue; That’s not how life actually works. Leaning into parallel-ism is the way. Social engagements bubble up on their own, and I lean into those whenever I can. Maintenance and administrivia need to be regimented and so I’ve process-ified everything so the important but not-urgent things get attended to. One must have the mental space—the ability to sit with one’s thoughts—to really think about life.

At the individual level, it is not enough to work on good ideas. You must only work on the best ideas. It is not enough to ask “is this good” you must also ask “is there something better?” As painful as ruthless prioritization is, it is not as painful as failing to do it.

~ Andrew Bosworth from, https://boz.com/articles/half-staffed

Unfortunately, prioritization stands upon the idea that “best” or “better” have meaning. I have no interest in being particularly disciplined at anything. (Setting aside various comments people make about how much I get done.) I have no interest in doing what’s “best”. I have a moral compass I’m comfortable with, and I enjoy creating things (like great conversations).

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Podcasting

My podcasting journey started when I was finding myself in really great conversations… and then I wanted to share them.

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Should I keep blogging?

This is not a passive-aggressive maneuver to get you to scroll to the bottom, read the footer and consider supporting my work. (It would mean a lot though if you did.)

This is a serious question which I ask myself at a frequency approaching every minute. All the benefits are not directly measurable.

Exposure — In order to ensure I have material to write posts, I have various processes and systems that force me to skim an insane amount of stuff pretty much every day. If you imagine skimming my weekly email in a second or two, that’s 7 items. I skim about 300 to 500 items every day. A small number each day catch my attention enough that I toss them on my read-later queue. There are 764 things on that queue at this instant. It takes me significant time to read them, but often just a few seconds to realize, “yeah this is going to be a blog post” (and then I go on reading to the end and then I write the post.) If I stopped blogging, would I still do all that work to be exposed to ideas?

Learning — Writing blog posts creates a third “imprint” in my mind. First a glance, then a read, and then thinking about it. Even if I sometimes abort the blog post mid-writing, it’s still three different repetitions. And I have software that feeds me my own blog posts (“what did I post 10 years ago, today?” etc.) so I am constantly re-reading everything on this site; that’s more repetitions as things drift into history.

Integration — If I write a blog post about it, I generally try to figure out its relationship to everything else. Adding blog tags is the most obvious bit of integration. But figuring out what to pull quote involves deciding what is salient to me. And deciding which part(s) I want to focus on, magnify, or disagree with requires further integration.

Writing — Thoughts swirl in my mind. Characters appear on my screen. There are several skills one can work on between those two sentences.

All of that goes into feeding my personal growth and priming my curiosity. Since good conversation is powered by genuine curiosity, all that stuff also enables my person mission.

Should I keep blogging? It doesn’t feel like stopping is realistically an option.

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Systematic abandonment

To that end, Drucker recommends that executives routinely take part in “systematic abandonment.” Every few months, an executive should do a reevaluation of all the organization’s practices, looking at everything the organization is doing and deciding anew if the organization should stop or continue it.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/peter-druckers-question-for-eliminating-practices-that-no-longer-serve-you/

Drucker was writing explicitly in the context of business executives. McKay does a nice job of showing how those principles which serve executives so well, work equally well in one’s personal life. I didn’t have this process—this guiding principle from Drucker’s work—identified clearly in my head. But I have it firmly implanted into how I instinctively do things.

I’ve had more than one person make the joke, “Craig, how many clones do you have?!” (I like to jokingly reply, “Yes, I have several clones, but none of us can get the others to do anything we don’t want to do ourselves.”) I accomplish a lot. While I have a number of clear advantages—such as where I was lucky enough to start in the game of life, luck in biology, and luck in opportunities I was shown—those aren’t the truly magic ingredient. The magic ingredient is what I don’t do. It doesn’t matter what specifically it is that I don’t do; Each of us has to make those decisions for oneself. What does matter is that I am willing to regularly and often spend a prodigious amount of time examining what I am doing, and how I am doing it. And then ruthlessly cutting away things that I should stop doing.

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Merlin Mann

Some time around 2005—if memory serves, which it probably doesn’t—I discovered the work and blogging of Merlin Mann. Back then, he was neck-deep in a project called 43 Folders: Time, Attention, and Creative Work. It’s self-described as, “[a] website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.” The first post there is dated 2004, and the last is gloriously frozen in place from 2011.

There are so many things to mention about that project. Ahhhhhhh, the halcyon days when we all thought “website” was a cool word. (I’m now in the “web site” encampment.) Mann is the guy who, for better [my opinion] or worse [many others’ option], brought “inbox zero” to everyone’s awareness. He also spent years experimenting with processes, and I went on a magical, multi-year journey experimenting with something called the “hipster PDA.” If forced to choose, I’d say Mann is the guy who most greatly influenced my process thinking.

There’s a phrase in cooking, mise en place, meaning to have everything in its proper place before starting. (The classic example of failure in this regard is to be half-way through making something only to realize you’re missing an ingredient and having to throw away the food.)

Well Mann is the guy who—in my opinion—has done the most to improve processes for knowledge workers and creative people. I’m not sure if he’s ever said it explicitly, but a huge part of what he did was to elevate knowledge workers and creatives by cultivating a mise en place mindset.

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Gorge-ous

Sometimes I take photographs, but usually not many.

I flipped over the way I think about taking photographs: I only take a photograph if I have a plan for doing something with it. When I took these, I was thinking that they would be good to share as a blog post—if you’re far away from Watkins Glen, you’d enjoy a bit of a virtual visit. I’ll also capture a photograph if I know someone would appreciate receiving it; at someone’s 90th birthday party, I corralled 50 people into a group photo—and then had it large-format printed, framed and delivered as a gift. …and I printed smaller copies for others, and one is framed and hanging in our house. I’ve set up multiple digital photo-frames, to which images are added by my emailing them to special addresses. The one in my sight has 500+ images that span my photography as well as selections from my father’s vast slide-film collection. There’s an enormous collection on my blog in the Photos category posts, and the best-of-the-best are on my featured photography page.

I have vast processes for everything related to my images. Custom software for managing them in archives, including automagic duplication and checksumming to protect against data degradation. (Hint: A backup of a corrupted image is also corrupted.) I have backups to the “cloud.” I have a recurring “maintenance” todo item that prompts me to go through the photos I’ve taken and move them through all my processes.

And I’m fully aware, that shortly after I die, this small eddy of organization where I’m pushing away entropy will be swept away. That’s precisely why I work so hard (although not actually that often) at doing something with the images.

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Embarking on writing

What’s it for?

For as long as I’ve been recording podcasts I’ve wanted to figure out how to learn more, and retain more, from the conversations. An audio recording of a good conversation can be a good experience for the listener; It can be good experiential learning. But the conversations contain so much more—facts sure, but also connections to other people, projects, stories, new perspectives, insights—which I know I’m missing. If something prompts my memory, I can recall the experience of the conversation, but everything else is either never learned, or if it was, I’ve subsequently lost it.

I’m reminded of…

If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.

~ Mortimer Adler, author of How to Read a Book, 1972

There are multiple levels of understanding and learning, contained in each conversation. At the root of my feeling that I’m missing out is the knowledge that I’m only retaining the most-superficial level of the experience.

Who’s it for?

It’s obviously for me. But by doing the writing in public everyone who finds a specific episode interesting would be able to capture and retain more of those “levels of experience” for themselves.

What does success look like?

As I mentioned, my urge to do something more with the conversations is not new. In the Movers Mindset project, I have already experimented with ways to enable others to get more from each conversation. Two efforts in particular are worth discussing.

First, I’ve pushed the concept of episode notes to the limits of sanity. We have guest images, embedded audio player, guest pull-quotes, transcript excerpts, highlights, and the entire thing is organized by chapters—the audio files have embedded chapter information if your player-app supports it. Each section is cross-linked to the corresponding part of the full transcript; The transcripts are organized into sections which are linked back to the episode’s page. This takes massive effort involving myself, Melissa, Rev.com, custom software, and hours of time. Here, take a look at, Selene Yeager: Menopause, Health, and Writing.

Second, I’ve created a tool which enables exploring the episodes. If you were looking closely at Selene’s episode notes, you’ve seen one part of this already. The tool enables choosing a perspective, (for example, how did they answer the signature, three-words question,) and that perspective is dynamically inserted into the page that you saw. There are many other perspectives which you can interact with. (Imagine an old-fashioned, twist-adjustable kaleidoscope; the tool I built is the kaleidoscope and you’re pointing it at the entire Movers Mindset project.) If you want to try something mind-bending, take a look at, Exploring the Movers Mindset Project, where I explain it in more detail, and which includes embedded controls for playing with the current perspectives in real time.

Beyond those to efforts, I’ve always wanted to write something based on the Movers Mindset conversations. Unfortunately, they’re quite long adding to the difficulty of finding a “chunk” to work on. One of my goals in creating the Podcaster Community, was to create a short-form-conversations companion podcast. (Look for Podcaster Community wherever you listen, or you can play the episodes via embeds on the community’s forum.) Those conversations are targeted at 20 minutes which usually leads to a single, clear thread appearing in each episode. This gives me terrific material to work with as I explore how to get at the deeper levels of learning within each episode.

On July 15, 2021 I put up an article, On Storytelling, which is based on the first episode of the Podcaster Community’s companion show. That article was an experiment, and based on the responses it was a successful experiment.

Just figuring out how to write that article was an experiment. First I spent hours talking to various people about how to write an article from a conversation, and about what style, format and voice should be used in such an article. I tried a variety of tools for writing; Not simply “which text editor” but rather what process should I use. I tried: Listening and then starting with a blank page; Dumping the transcript into a spreadsheet (transcript in one column with a cell per block of dialog from each speaker) and converting each cell into corresponding prose in a second column; Working conceptually outwards to an outline of principles or topics, and then working back inwards to create prose. I eventually settled on a way to directly transform the raw transcript into a finished piece. Even though I’ve settled on a way to do it, it remains hard work. It took me three hours to write that experimental article. All of that to say: I’ve only done one, but I’m confident I can now do many more.

How many could I write? There are already 40+ episodes of the Podcaster Community’s show. I estimate there are 300 pieces of Movers Mindset episodes that could be articles. (Many episodes have 3+ threads of discussion, each the size of one of the Podcaster Community’s entire episodes.) I’ve also begun recording short-form-conversation episodes for Movers Mindset. With recording continuing across multiple projects, I have an effectively unlimited supply of raw material.

What’s the problem?

To free up enough time to write consistently, to make meaningful progress, my projects need to become a source of income for me. Movers Mindset has some patronage revenue, (you people are awesome,) and the Podcast Community has a core group of supporters, (also awesome,) which are covering its costs. But neither of them currently supports my life and creates space for this new writing.

My questions are…

Are the conversations valuable?

Would it be valuable to create articles from the conversations?

Would you be willing to support my writing efforts by supporting the Podcaster Community, or by supporing Movers Mindset?

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The hive mind

Few working scientists can give a ground-up explanation of the phenomenon they study; they rely on information and techniques borrowed from other scientists. Knowledge and the virtues of the scientific orientation live far more in the community than the individual. When we talk of a “scientific community,” we are pointing to something critical: that advanced science is a social enterprise, characterized by an intricate division of cognitive labor. Individual scientists, no less than the quacks, can be famously bull-headed, overly enamored of pet theories, dismissive of new evidence, and heedless of their fallibility. (Hence Max Planck’s observation that science advances one funeral at a time.) But as a community endeavor, it is beautifully self-correcting.

Beautifully organized, however, it is not. Seen up close, the scientific community—with its muddled peer-review process, badly written journal articles, subtly contemptuous letters to the editor, overtly contemptuous subreddit threads, and pompous pronouncements of the academy— looks like a rickety vehicle for getting to truth. Yet the hive mind swarms ever forward. It now advances knowledge in almost every realm of existence—even the humanities, where neuroscience and computerization are shaping understanding of everything from free will to how art and literature have evolved over time.

~ Atul Gawande from, https://fs.blog/2016/06/atul-gawande-mistrust-science/

I can’t add to that. I only wanted to be sure that others see it too.

Meanwhile, I never bothered to read Gawande’s hit book, The Checklist Manifesto. (To be candid, bordering on obnoxious: Time is limited, and I don’t need to seek more information about processes. I’ve got that sorted.) But it has hovered in my awareness none the less. Recently, two unrelated sources gave over-the-top praise for Gawande’s newer book, Being Mortal. On those recommendations alone it’s now in my reading queue. I’ve cracked it open, and done the preliminary reading… Have you read it? Do you have any thoughts on it?

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Be the hornet?

Is it better to be the fly on the wall, or the hornet in the room?

I variously categorize conversations on a spectrum from formal to casual. Today I want to talk about conversations that fall in the middle. At the formal end would be police interrogations and then—perhaps—live, antagonistic interviews of politicians. At the casual end would be pillow-talk and long-term friends around a campfire with their preferred beverages. In the middle is fertile ground for great conversations.

So what exactly is in the middle? Therein lie conversations built on a shared intention: Two people who want to resolve a difference, who want to co-create something new from their individual experiences, or who are simply excited about taking a leap into the unknown experience that is a good conversation. It’s that third one which really calls to me these days.

The leap

I’ve now done enough recorded conversations to say two things:

I used to think I was doing interviews. In fact, I began using a process and format intentionally meant to create interviews; I showed up with things I was interested in and I wanted to learn more about from my partner. I soon discovered that when we veered away from the formal-end of the conversation spectrum, (away from the “interview” I had intended to create,) into the more middle-area of simply good conversation, that was when I most enjoyed the experience. My conversation partners clearly enjoyed it more, and the listeners did too. (“hmmmmm… maybe I am onto something here?” )

The first thing I have to say is that the form of the created artifact follows from the process.

If I use a process intended to create formal conversations, that’s what I’ll get, (more or less.) If I use a process intended to create more casual conversations, then I get that, (more or less.) The insight is that the process for creating casual conversation is not itself casual. The process is specific, rigorous, and frankly exhausting. It’s exhausting because I want to execute the process in order to create the best possible conversation, and I want to experience that conversation. That’s in contrast to my conversation partner who is only attempting to do the latter because they’re only aware of their desire to experience the conversation. They’re not aware of the process, and they probably shouldn’t be aware.

Each conversation—each performance, since I’m today talking about when we are recording—is better if we’re comfortable going just a bit farther than we might normally. This is where the process pays off. Everything I’ve done in preparation, and everything I do during the conversation, from the obvious to the subtle to the outright manipulative, is in service of creating the best space for that conversation.

The second thing I have to say is that to create good, casual conversations I have to help my partner leap.

Be the hornet?

I recently listened to Jesse Thorn’s interview of Werner Herzog for The Turnaround. If you’ve read this far, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t enjoy listening to that ~35 minutes of Thorn and Herzog.

In the conversations that I’m currently interested in creating and recording I simply cannot be the fly on the wall. I have to literally sit down with my conversation partner. But there’s an enormous range of engagement that I can vary. (More realistically I can only try to control this, as I’m always balancing the observer-process and the participant-creation experiences.) In my first recorded conversations there quickly became far too much of me performing, (and I’ll leave it at that for today.) Then followed me reigning myself in too far, then some relaxing back towards more of me, and currently I find that I like the amount of me that appears in the conversations.

After listening to Herzog’s thoughts on documentary film-making, (but he talks about a lot more than that in the podcast,) I now see that I need to work on being the active hornet in the room. This is the dimension where I actively lead the conversation—not upstage my partner, but actively lead in the way that two intimate dance partners have a leader, (and, yes, who is leading can change at any moment.)

I need to more often be the hornet. I need to more often suggest simply by my presence that a sting might be imminent. Then if they decline to leap, maybe, sting just a little.

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Barely noticeable

The authors note that a core resource of the digital economy is the data produced by users of services like Facebook and Google, which can then be used to train machine learning algorithms to do valuable things like precisely targeting advertisements or more accurately processing natural language. The current market treats data as capital: the “natural exhaust from consumption to be collected by firms” for use in training their AI-driven golden gooses. Lanier and company suggest an alternative: data as labor. Put simply, if a major platform monopoly wants your data to help build a multi-billion dollar empire, they must pay you for it. Offering a free service in return is not enough.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2018/01/17/on-seriously-rethinking-the-digital-economy/

Well, that would change everything.

Imagine I changed the sidewalk in front of my house to have plates that moved slightly as one walks across it. I’ve rigged the plates to absorb some of the motion created during walking to generate electricity to offset my electric bill. Let’s assume further that the movement of the plates is barely noticeable. Perhaps something seems a bit “off” when you walk past my house, but nothing bad happens to you; you don’t fall and you don’t get tired, but you do work just a little harder when walking past my house.

What happens when we scale up that “harmless” little modification to include everyone, walking everywhere?

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