The Shirky Principle

Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution, – Clay Shirky, cited by Kevin Kelly and dubbed “The Shirky Principle”

If you doubt the veracity of the Shirky Principle, consider pharmaceutical companies and Congress.

Hall of Presidents and the Election

My wife and I went to Disney World without the kids for the first time in a really long time. That means we got to go to one of my favorite parts of The Magic Kingdom, The Hall of Presidents. The Hall of Presidents has been one of the best attractions ever since my first trip when I was three.

The Hall of Presidents circa 2016

Yes. It’s largely silly nostalgia of being three and seeing someone I’d watched on TV for most of the year. Mom loves to tell everyone about me yelling “Hey! It’s Jimmy Carter!” and the audience laughing. In some childish way, it feels like I’m in the presence of the many great leaders that we have had in the United States.

While there, this time, I had two huge revelations:

  1. It would be awesome to have Morgan Freeman narrate your life.
  2. I can’t imagine having to listen to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton when I go to a place that I revere so much.

Since I hope to outlive Morgan Freeman, I guess that first thought will never happen.

However, unless something drastic happens, I may be facing the other reality soon.

Remember in November, not only are you voting for our next President, but you are electing the next animatronic to adorn the Hall of Presidents.

Gulp!

Stories. They’re All Stories.

One of my colleagues asked me how I remembered details of peoples’ lives like I do.

My answer: Stories. They’re all stories.

Stories are how we connect. No matter what happens to you, you are creating a story about it in your mind. It’s how we cope with things. It’s how we organize what happens to us.

It’s also how we remember things. We can only store between 5 and 9 things in our short term memories at a given time. Those 5 to 9 things can be either facts, songs, or stories. That’s the reason that even as adults when we are having trouble alphabetizing something, we find ourselves singing that song. You know the one.

I actually have a horrible time memorizing. I remember the stories and patterns to something quicker than I can memorize the facts. It’s part of the reason I have to work so hard to remember names. I try extra hard to remember as many names as I can. That’s why I actually remember more names than most. I try really hard.

The best way to remember something that you really want to remember is to make it into a story or a song. This group of techniques is called chunking. Not the most palatable term as the lady at Waffle House told me one time.

Chunking works by combining several factoids into a form so that instead of trying to recall a dozen facts, you are remembering a single song or story.

In addition to building these chunks of memory, we have to build the proper triggers or associations.

When I was in the ninth grade, we had to memorize the periodic table for a test. We had to know the first 92 elements’ name, number and symbol. Potassium is K with a number of 19. The way I remember this to this day is because there is potassium in bananas. You put bananas into cereal. Product 19 and Special K are cereals. Even now, when someone mentions the letter K, I think of potassium. Go figure. The same thing happens with the number 19.

When creating your memory chunks, you have to build them in a way that allows the proper triggers to be put into place. With proper triggers, remembering these factoids actually becomes a habit. Eventually instead of even having to remember the story, the trigger will cause you to remember the facts associated with that trigger instinctively.

 

Date Night at the Theatre

This is a totally off the wall, fresh in my head, and probably bad idea. It’s also a potentially good idea for a movie theatre.

Pair a kid movie and an grown up* movie and package it with popcorn and sodas and call it the Date Night Package.

Have supervision for the kids and let the parents have a couple of hours to themselves while they watch a film. It saves on baby sitter fees. It gives the theatre more revenue. Add in pizza in the birthday party room beforehand and you have a complete date night.

 

*This originally said “adult film” but as the commenter pointed out, that could be misconstrued….or not whichever the case may be.

OK. I Clearly Didn’t Ship

It's been eightish months since my last post. Clearly I didn't ship.

I would call that a failure. It's not a failure because I couldn't do something. It's a failure because I didn't do it when I could have.

Failure is always an option. – Adam Savage

I hate failing. You hear the mantra of “fail early and fail often” all of the time these days. This isn't the failure they are talking about. I didn't even show up.

To have tried and failed is an admirable thing. It builds character. I was listening to a Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, talk yesterday and he was comparing his style of trying to attract a girlfriend in high school with that of a friend of his. He would find one girl and steel up the courage..after weeks.. to go up and ask the girl to be his girlfriend. And inevitably every time he tried, he got shot down. His friend went and asked 20 girls a day to be his girlfriend. Eventually one of them would give in. Without having any discussions about the quality of the relationship, who did the best? His friend of course.

My goal for now is to get one post up per week. That of course means attempting to write at least three to even get to the point of having a post good enough to post. I can do it.

See you next week!

 

I Gotta Ship Today

This isn’t going to be one of those great posts with lots of insightful ideas. It’s one I just have to get out. See, Greg Tirico challenged me to do the Your Turn Challenge, and I’ve been procrastinating all day. Now it’s 9:53pm and I’m way past ready to go to sleep. It’s been over a year since the last real post on this blog.  I could say something about shipping or “The Resistance”, but I’m pretty sure I already said it pretty well in that post.

I often ask myself a question I’ve heard Merlin Mann say several times, “What haven’t you shipped today?”. He admits he borrowed the concept and possibly the phrase itself from Seth Godin, but that’s not the important thing here. The important thing is how I answer that question most days: “Well, I should have written something.” It didn’t have to be a blog post. It could have been a journal entry or something. Regardless, I feel the need to write but often lack the focus time to get anything written. Or like tonight, I procrastinate by going on Facebook or Twitter or watch TV.

I was just telling Greg last week that I needed to write more this year. He agreed which was encouraging. Imagine if he’d said, “Nah. You really shouldn’t.” That would have been devastating. What I didn’t tell him was that one of my goals for the foreseeable future is to read more books than I have the last few years. It takes about an hour for me to write a blog post when I’m in the flow and much, much longer when I’m not, those two goals, while complementary, are at odds with each other. Then I remind myself that if I cut out a couple of hours of procrastination, I’ll find the time to find the focus to both read more and write more. But then I procrastinate anyway.

What am I going to do about it? That’s the beauty of these words that Seth Godin published last Thursday: “This is a chance to practice shipping for one week within a community. It might be hard but it’s doable and it might change you. I hope you’ll give it a shot.“ I’m going to give it a shot.

One of the reasons I joined Toastmasters almost 3 1/2 years ago was to be heard. This blog has the potential of being one of the best ways of being heard.

I’m giving the seven day writing challenge a go starting today.

Look at that. it’s 11:49pm. I’m just in time.

Be What You Are

You think Yoda stops teaching, just because his student does not want to hear? A teacher Yoda is. Yoda teaches like drunkards drink, like killers kill. – Yoda to his young student Dooku

 

I Don’t Have Time To Write This Blog Post

I am sitting here at midnight having a conversation with myself about this blog post. I’m telling myself, “You don’t have time for this post”. There are two things about that thought that strike me:

1. I have the time. It takes about an hour to put out a post that’s readable if not a work of art.

If I don’t have time to write this article, how have I made it to Level 190 in Candy Crush in the last three months? How do I maintain six games of Words With Friends most of the time?

If I don’t have time to write this article, how did I manage to watch at least four movies this weekend, including Ender’s Game in IMAX?

The truth of it is that I have the same amount of time as anybody else, “a lifetime”, to borrow from Neil Gaiman.

The thing I lack is focus and focused time. Speaking of focus, that brings me to the second point.

2. Hey! That’s ‘The Resistance’ talking. It’s also known as that little red devil guy sitting on your shoulder in the old Tom & Jerry cartoons telling Tom or Jerry to do something they know they really shouldn’t do.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say ‘The Resistance’, go read Steven Pressfield’s excellent book on creativity and beating ‘The Resistance’, The War of Art. The TL;DR version of the book is that ‘The Resistance’ will do anything to keep you from listening to your ‘Muse’. It will do anything to keep you unfocused on what needs doing.

‘The Resistance’ will help you find any excuse to not do anything that brings about a positive change in your life or work that needs doing. ‘The Resistance’ as presented by Steven Pressfield reminds me of a gospel song by The Kingsmen (it’s fun to watch them stumble on a song they played a gajillion times in the 1980s ).

The chief difference between The Devil and ‘The Resistance’ is that ‘The Resistance’ is an internal force that encourages procrastination and enticements to draw us away from ‘The Work’, whether it’s creative work, exercise, or just work.

One, if you’re not familiar with it, buy and read The War of Art ( affiliate link that benefits my kids’ school) and two stop using the words ‘I don’t have time’. It’s better to say ‘I have other priorities’. and stop lying to yourself.

Your True Self

Damon Lindelof posited in this piece that Bruce Wayne was always Batman even before his parents died and that Walter White was always Heisenberg before he found out he had cancer. These characters in their real identities encountered triggers that allowed their true selves come out.

As Lindelof puts it:

“The conventional thinking is that Bruce Wayne became Batman on the day that his parents were murdered. This is his origin story. We all know it.  We all accept it. We all love it. Because it makes sense. Your parents are gunned down in front of you, so of course you vow an unending vendetta against crime and then dress up like a winged mammal to exact it.”

and

“We know all this because Walt tells us so. The ticking time bomb that is the cancer becomes his rationale for everything that comes next; the lying, the lawbreaking, the child-poisoning.”

The interesting thing is Walter’s cancer went away and yet he was still Heisenberg. If Bruce’s parents turned out to still be alive, he would still be Batman. Even if they stopped putting on their “costumes”, they’d still be those men. They might have to hide them again. They’d still be on the inside fighting to get out. Then again, I’m not sure either genie would fit back in their bottle.

I think he is onto something. I think we all have someone else inside of us. Some of use multiple someones. We keep those other selves locked away for whatever reason. Maybe we are scared society will laugh at us. Or maybe for some, that someone isn’t socially acceptable. Continue reading “Your True Self”

The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe: Stick With Me Here

Since it’s October, October 7th was the 164th anniversary of his death, today is the 164th anniversary of the publishing of his obituary, and I’ll be 40 on my next birthday, I’m proud to present to you Thus Quoth the Poet: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe.

To introduce my story, I’m going to open with a few selections from his Obituary. Stick with me. There is a point.

The Ludwig Obituary

“Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it”

“He walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers for the happiness of those who at that moment were objects of his idolatry, but never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned. He seemed, except when some fitful pursuit subjected his will and engrossed his faculties, always to bear the memory of some controlling sorrow.”

“As a critic, he was more remarkable as a dissector of sentences than as a commenter upon ideas. He was little better than a carping grammarian.”

“In poetry, as in prose, he was most successful in the metaphysical treatment of the passions. His poems are constructed with wonderful ingenuity, and finished with consummate art. They illustrate a morbid sensitiveness of feeling, a shadowy and gloomy imagination, and a taste almost faultless in the apprehension of that sort of beauty most agreeable to his temper.”

– Selected Passages From the Obituary of Edgar Allan Poe signed Ludwing

The full text of the Ludwig Obituary is here, but don’t read it until you finish reading this post. I promise there is a point.

Continue reading “The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe: Stick With Me Here”